TelevIsm: The Offensive Olympics' Closing Ceremonies
Today, I conclude my comparative review of South Park and Family Guy. This is the last part of a four-part series (one, two, three for your convenience) called the Offensive Olympics. These shows are both notable for their propensity to rely on political shock value and the oppression of marginalized bodies to make their jokes, so I am investigating which is worse, and on which axis.
I am slightly sad to find that South Park is by my completely unscientific and totally subjective survey a very slightly more offensive show. Family Guy had a total of 212 net instances of oppression to South Park’s net 223. Additionally, South Park’s most offensive episode, with 69 instances (that’s three offensive jokes a minute!) blew Family Guy’s highest scorer (with 47 instances) out of the water. South Park’s least offensive episode (“Die Hippie Die”) had no net offensive jokes, similarly crushing Family Guy’s least offensive episode (which had 34 offensive jokes).
South Park did, however, have many many more jokes critiquing systematic privilege than Family Guy. South Park had a total of 54 critical jokes, whereas Family Guy had three.
Family Guy was the more sexist show, and more ageist. South Park was considerably more racist, with the majority of their jokes being racist by a rather long shot. FG also took a more scattershot approach to enacting privilege – sexist jokes were a plurality rather than a majority.
For comparative measures, I also evaluated an episode of The Simpsons and King of the Hill each. The King of the Hill episode Bobby On Track was slightly sizist – it associated fatness with inactivity and laziness, though that was more character based, and much of it was critical. There were a net six instances. The Simpsons’ recent episode “Judge Me Tender” was a little worse, with 11 net instances of oppression.
The comparison to other animated comedies targeted at similar audiences does confirm my (completely subjective) observation that Family Guy and South Park are unnecessarily and outsized in their oppression. These two shows do not need to be so offensive to be popular or funny – they are exercising their privilege for its own sake.
What does this show us about South Park and Family Guy? Nothing we didn’t know, really. They’re both pretty offensive shows, but for different reasons.
Family Guy is lazy and falls back on oppressive jokes because it’s not a very good or smart show. They don’t think hard or critically about their oppression; it’s just what they turn to when they’re out of ideas. They don’t try to get away from it or have ideas that enable them to move away from oppression and into character development, which is why they have about the same amount of oppressive jokes in every episode.
South Park is a better show than Family Guy. It’s got better characters, more interesting and expressive animation, inventive plots, creative jokes. It’s not just “HEY FARTS” [full disclosure: fart jokes are awesome] or “HEY OPPRESSED PEOPLE SUCK”. They have a considered statement to make about society. Though it’s arguing for privilege, it’s considering the way that it crafts its arguments. The writers of South Park have the ability to critique privilege and the ability to rely on character development.
The writers of Family Guy are lazy, out for a quick buck and a cheap laugh, and they use their privilege to do that, as privileged people do. But the writers of South Park want something more than just a quick erasure. When they want to exercise their privilege, they know what they’re doing and they make a pointed effort to pump up and show off their oppressive points of view, actively proselytizing to their viewers.
And from my perspective, that’s worse than Family Guy, though it’s also, from my perspective, a better show and a more critical show.
South Park is, from my point of view, more offensive than Family Guy because it’s not just plugging the leaks on the structure of kyriarchy. It’s creating tools to further build that structure, and to destroy critical counter-attacks. South Park’s not just passively reinforcing the smug superiority and oppressive behavior of us privileged folks. It’s not just letting us go unchallenged. South Park’s giving us a reason to defend their privilege. It’s giving us an argument against critique.
There are things that South Park does not do as badly or as often as Family Guy. FG frequently traffics in jokes about rape and child molestations, as some folks pointed out in the entry on it in this series. Though I don’t have any numbers to back this up, I’ve perceived South Park to make these kind of jokes far less, and they frequently critique rape culture in the Catholic Church.
When Family Guy makes a joke about “the Blaccuweather forecast ”, viewers laugh and move on, their white privilege reinforced and perpetuated. But when South Park devotes an episode to promulgating hate-crime rhetoric, that results in white people parroting it for years and actively spreads misconceptions. When Family Guy shows a character barfing for forty seconds about sex with a trans woman, the viewer laughs and moves on, their cissupremacist notions about trans sexuality reinforced. But when South Park devotes an episode to dehumanizing and racializing transition experiences and then reinforces the idea that trans woman are deceptive, flighty “men with mutilated penises”, it gives the viewer tools and languages to vocalize and spread cissexist argument.
Both Family Guy and South Park are offensive, hostile to oppressed folks, and invested in defending privilege. Is Family Guy’s oppressive rhetoric better than South Park’s? No, it’s not. They also contribute to the ongoing supremacy of privileged bodies in society, and that is reprehensible. But South Park’s oppression is better developed, more considered, and requires more active engagement of privilege on the part of the viewer. And that’s reflected in the frequency of its oppressive jokes.
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