The 2018 Emmys’ Attempt to Reckon With #MeToo Was Painful to Watch

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Sep 18, 2018

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The first Emmy awards show since #MeToo couldn’t bear to be self-critical. And in the moments it did try, the act was revolting.

It’s been 10 days since CBS Chairman and CEO Leslie Moonves was forced to resign after multiple accusations of sexual harassment and assault. He is effectively the Harvey Weinstein of network television, with as much power, as much clout, and up until now, as much indemnity. He was uninvited from the show only 24 hours before it started — but instead of reckoning, in some way, with this latest industry scandal, the Emmys decided simply to ignore it.

What viewers did get were tone-deaf one-liners from the show’s hosts, Colin Jost and Michael Che, of Saturday Night Live. During their entirely tepid monologues, they delivered gems like, “This year, the audience is allowed to drink in their seats, because the one thing Hollywood needs right now is people losing their inhibitions at a work function.” Che went on to welcome “the many, many talented people in Hollywood who haven’t been caught yet,” and quip that the scariest words for a network executive to hear are “Sir, Ronan Farrow is on line one” — Farrow being one of the journalists on the forefront of exposing the misdeeds of men like Weinstein, Woody Allen, and recently Leslie Moonves.

There’s a way to make jokes about difficult topics. In fact, sometimes comedy is a really effective way to work through things that make us uncomfortable. This, however, was not the way. To reduce a widespread, toxic culture of abuse and harassment to one-too-many drinks at a work function is tactless at best, and at worst, incredibly hurtful to the many survivors who were doubtless sitting in that audience.

In fact, let’s ask a really basic question here — why were these two men hosting the awards in the first place? After #MeToo, after #TimesUp, after everyone wearing those goddamned lapel pins for months, how is it that we had to watch three hours of Jost and Che — who have, by the way, been accused of making transphobic jokes  and defending Louis C.K. — when there are so many women who could’ve handled the show with a lot more class (and comedy). The last woman to host the show was Glee’s Jane Lynch, way back in 2011.

The hosts weren’t the only ones skirting the issue of #MeToo with distasteful comedy. During the opening song and dance number, aimed at (half-heartedly) acknowledging Hollywood’s lack of diversity, came another throwaway joke. Joining Kate McKinnon and Kenan Thompson on stage, Kristen Bell (from The Good Place) and Tituss Burgess (of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt fame) came out singing, “We solved it, banished every creep who broke the law, and now they’re serving hard time in that Arizona spa.” Burgess’s line, a nod to Louis C.K.’s return to comedy, was, “They’ve been away nine whole months, now let them all come back!”

Let’s be clear though. The problem with last night’s show is not with these individuals. The problem is with the ensemble — the industry. The performances at last night’s Emmys represent the face of a very powerful industry that is actively perpetuating sexual violence and protecting predators  — and joking about its own lack of accountability. Perhaps the intent was to skewer its own flaws — but it came across more as a snake eating its own tail. The message viewers got from those performances was worrying: Nothing has changed. And isn’t that funny?

#MeToo and the consequences of the movement are not just a hashtag, not a pin, and not a punchline. In its 70th year, the Emmys should have handled things better. But as Hannah Gadsby put it, when she presented on stage last night, “Nobody knows what jokes are, especially men. Am I right, fellas?” Maybe she is.

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Written By Nadia Nooreyezdan

Nadia Nooreyezdan is The Swaddle’s culture editor. Since graduating from Columbia Journalism School, she spends her time thinking about aliens, cyborgs, and social justice sci-fi. She’s also working on a memoir about her family’s journey from Iran to India.

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