From the start of his Golden Globes opening monologue, host Seth Meyers made it clear that he wasn't letting anyone get away with anything. Meyers' very first joke directly addressed the mood that has characterized Hollywood these past few months: "This was the year of big little lies and get out, and also of the television show Big Little Lies, and the movie, Get Out."
That joke elicited pure laughter, as did the next few. After making some broad jokes, Meyers started naming names about the figures whose behavior has been the focus of recent outrage and scrutiny. And those jokes received far fewer laughs. In fact, one could hear a chorus of groans cutting beneath the laughter.
Meyers swiftly identified the elephant in the room — or, as he put it, the "elephant not in the room." Harvey Weinstein, the Hollywood titan dismantled by the brave women speaking out against his years and years of systematic sexual misconduct, was notably absent from the ceremony. In the past, Weinstein had dominated awards season.
After acknowledging Weinstein's absence, Meyers said, "Don't worry. He'll be back in 20 years when he becomes the first person to ever get booed during the in memoriam." To that, a large rumble of groans rippled through the audience. Meyers looked amused. "It'll sound like that," he said, expertly riffing off the mood in the audience.
Meyers then roasted Kevin Spacey, whose alleged sexual misconduct involving underage boys became public earlier this year. Meyers joked that Christopher Plummer would replace Spacey in House of Cards, as he had replaced Spacey in the recent movie All The Money in the World. "I hope he can do a Southern accent, because Kevin Spacey sure couldn't."
This time, the audience didn't groan, as it had done with the Weinstein joke. The sound was more like audience members saying "oh" collectively, as people did when a savage diss was thrown during the old MTV show Yo Momma.
Once again, Meyers called out the audience for its reaction. "Oh, is that too mean? To Kevin Spacey?" he responded, a prompt for the audience members to question why they would cringe so emphatically at a joke directed at an alleged predator.
The last subject Meyers called out was Woody Allen, who has been accused of sexual assault by his daughter, Dylan Farrow. "I have to admit, when I first heard of a film in which a naive young woman falls in love with a disgusting sea monster, I thought, oh man — not another Woody Allen movie," Meyers said, to a large "ohhh" from the audience.
All in all, the audience reaction was a little something like this. A laugh, mixed with a cringe.
How does one interpret a groan? In the past, groans indicated the joke was bad — but tonight, groans more likely meant the joke was uncomfortable. Were the groans an acknowledgement of Meyers' correct observations? Were they a collective, "We still can't believe people are capable of this behavior?" Was the Hollywood elite not ready to laugh? Or, was is possible that people — gasp — felt bad for the individuals being roasted?
Either way, Meyers pulled off these bold jokes precisely because he wove the audience reaction into his monologue. Not only did Meyers call out Allen, Weinstein, and Spacey. He called out individuals whose reaction was to possibly feel pity or discomfort for jokes directed at Allen, Weinstein, and Spacey.
Humor is just Meyers' way of calling attention to the problem, and holding these men accountable for their behavior. We should be facing it head-on. With a laugh, or with a groan, but above all: With an acknowledgement.
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