While skipping a host for the Oscars every once in a while is nothing new for the Academy, this year many are speculating that this will become the new norm after the second year in a row of not having a host, seeming to surface in the era of “cancel culture.”
In late 2018, comedian Kevin Hart publicly stated he would be hosting the 2019 Oscars; an announcement that triggered intense public scrutiny regarding homophobic jokes and tweets he had previously put forth.
While backlash against Hart came from all directions, a majority derived from social media platforms like Twitter. Although it is not a particularly new phenomenon as it has been particularly prevalent in the last five years, “cancel culture” was brought to the forefront of American pop culture after Hart’s “canceling.”
According to Vox, to be canceled is defined as being, “culturally blocked from having a prominent public platform or career.” Whether justified or not, it is evident that this was the intention of the public backlash as many fighting for social justice sought to tear down Hart’s career by resurfacing old instances of homophobia reflected in his style comedy.
After a back and forth of Hart refusing to apologize and claiming he had already adequately addressed his past comments, Hart ultimately stepped away from hosting the Oscars, citing the whirlwind of drama that followed him as the reasoning behind the decision, not wanting to be a distraction to the main purpose of the ceremony.
This opinion seemed to be shared by other celebrities, with Seth MacFarlane declining the offer to be Hart’s replacement in 2019. MacFarlane hosted in 2013, opening the ceremony with a skit that included a number called “We Saw Your Boobs” in which he named the various actresses who have appeared topless in their movies, effectively minimizing their performances in Oscar-nominated films to the fact that the audience saw their breasts.
Considering the Academy was already infamous for its lack of diversity, this host inflamed tensions by making the women in the room feel even more isolated and objectified. Although MacFarlane was accused of sexism and faced scrutiny for the manner in which he hosted the Oscars, he was asked to return six years later.
Perhaps this was out of desperation on the Academy’s part as they sought to quickly find a replacement for Kevin Hart. Regardless, MacFarlane pointed out that there would always be a target on the host’s back, no matter who was asked. Any celebrity that would agree to host would immediately be placed in the public eye to be scrutinized if they had made mistakes in the past.
More so than who hosts the Oscars (or if anyone even hosts at all), the larger issue at hand is cancel culture itself. Many find themselves asking what the purpose even is—some view canceling as a tool to hold powerful figures accountable who, without extreme backlash from a public audience, would face little to no consequences for their actions, while on the other hand some view canceling as a toxic practice that impedes improvement without accounting for character development.
Those in favor of the practice cite the fact that it is necessary for powerful celebrities to face consequences for their words and actions, especially considering that most of the celebrities who have been “canceled” in the past few years have been only minimally impacted by it. A Time article mentions comedian Louis C.K. getting dropped by his agency, losing almost all of his career opportunities at the time, only to sell out extremely controversial shows a short time later.
While his career was temporarily affected by public backlash, it is clear C.K.’s career did not and will not suffer in the long term, even considering the fact that he abused his power as a celebrity in order to take advantage of female comedians he worked with.
More of the same was seen with actress Gina Rodriguez, who was canceled after using the n-word in an Instagram story in October of 2019. While this caused some scandal for her in the short term as she has almost entirely disappeared from social media since, it is likely Rodriguez will continue with acting without long term repercussions to her career.
To some extent, it does feel unfair that celebrities can seemingly “get away” with hurting other people or making damaging and harmful statements, even after being canceled for a little while. At the same time, it is worrisome and perhaps detrimental that as a society, we perpetuate a culture of simply canceling someone instead of encouraging them to be better and holding them accountable in a constructive way.
Public outrage against celebrities is expected and perhaps even justified in some cases (especially in those like Louis C.K.’s where there are nearly unforgivable atrocities that have been committed), but many disagree with and push back against this culture and acknowledge the fact that apologies should suffice for smaller missteps, that growth should be allowed for celebrities just as much as it is for the general public. Really, the only difference between them and us is every mistake they make is recorded and put on display for everyone to see and remember for years to come.
Both positions make sense—celebrities should absolutely be held accountable for their actions, but at the same time, they should be allowed to make amends when there is an opportunity for growth.
Though I disagree with Seth MacFarlane’s approach to comedy as it appeared in the 2013 Oscars, it is true that whoever hosts the Oscars will have a target on their back. In general, celebrities should try to be better people and probably not seek out offending other people out of cruelty, nor should we want people who will attempt to make other people uncomfortable in a degrading way, but we should also give them the chance to be better.
At this point, with most celebrities having politically incorrect pasts (especially comedians,) it is unlikely there will be a host for a few more years. Hopefully in time we will be able to get to a place where we hold people accountable in a constructive way so that we can continue the tradition of great comedy at the Oscars instead of opting out of having a host at all.