TelevIsm: The Offensive Olympics: Family Guy

Last Tuesday, I reviewed five episodes of South Park and measured how offensive I found each episode to be on the axis of sexism, racism, cissexism, ableism, heterosexism, classism, and sizism. You can read more about my methods of review in parts one and two of this series. Comcast incompetence and exhaustion conspired to keep me from bringing you my analysis of Family Guy, but I have triumphed!

When reviewing early episodes, I thought, "Gee, this show was funny at one point." And it was, kind of, after a fashion. There are some clever allusions and homages to different movies throughout the show, but many of them reminded me more of how good of a movie the parodied subject was than how tickled my funny bone was. I averaged a dozen giggles in the three earlier episodes. But the chuckles got smaller as I got acclimated to the show's humor. This is a show that's not really based on much, a cheap show that falls apart watched at any level other than casual.

My affection for shows like King of the Hill and the Simpsons (the kind of shows that Family Guy half-heartedly rips off) grows the more I watch them and the better I know the characters, the setting, the style of humor. With Family Guy, though, I just grow irritated and bored.

Peter Peter Caviar Eater is about the Griffins inheriting a mansion and Peter being uncouth and embarrassing the family. There's a lot of jokes about how rich people are snobby and poor people are uncouth. If I really wanted to give the show credit, I would say it's a critique of wealth. But this is not a show I'm inclined to give the benefit of the doubt to; it's about how lower-middle-class folks are uncouth and they're going to stay that way so they'd better be happy with it. There were a total of 43 offensive jokes, 15 classist and 14 sexist.

Death is a Bitch introduces one character whom I actually find pretty funny, Death. I don't think I've seen such a literal personification of death in other light cartoons, and I usually find the character pretty amusing. This episode is still kind of funny, but again, it's tiring. It's the least offensive of the shows I surveyed, but there were still 34 instances of oppressive jokes, 12 sexist and 6 heterosexist.

North by North Quahog was the first show back from cancellation. Maybe they tried extra hard, or maybe it was just that I hadn't seen the show in a while, because this was actually pretty funny at least at first–I liked the Simpsons-esque Fox critique at the beginning, and the Bed Bath & Beyond metaphysical gag was actually clever. It devolved into a pretty basic ripoff of the much funnier South Park Mel Gibson episodes. 40 instances of oppression in this one, 14 sexist and 7 each of ableism and ageism.

Go Stewie Go is an homage to Tootsie and Mrs. Doubtfire (both of which I seriously loved in my pre-activist days but haven't revisited since). It's about Stewie dressing up as a girl to get a job on a children's show. The Stewie-wearing-a-dress gag is transmisogynistic–both sexist and cissexist–and I also found it weird that it focused on Stewie's attraction to a girl, considering that FG has been pushing Stewie's homosexuality pretty hard in the past few years (and I hate that this show forces me to talk about the framing of a baby's sexuality). The b-story was a terrible ageist gag about how Lois had to pursue Meg's boyfriend because she felt old. This was also the only one that had any kind of critical jokes–some about how Lois likes fat men, and Stewie critiquing some sexism sort of. Later in this season came a really vile transmisogynistic episode, which you should really read about here and here. There were a total of 47 instances of oppression, including 13 sexist and 13 ageist jokes.

The Splendid Source was the only Family Guy episode I reviewed that focused on the four male friends (probably an oversight on my part). It was about the guys going to find the source of dirty jokes. This was the most offensive episode, and the most sexist episode, with 48 oppressive jokes total and 19 sexist jokes.

There were an average of 43.4 oppressive jokes per 21 minute show. Sexism was the most common current, with an average of 14.4 sexist jokes per show. That's probably partially due to my choice of family-oriented episodes over friend-focused episodes or Stewie/Brian episodes–I'm sure if Cleveland and Joe had been in more episodes, there would have been more racist and ableist jokes.

What I gathered from watching these episodes is that the point of Family Guy is not to be oppressive. It's a side effect of unchecked, unexamined privilege, entitlement, laziness. Most of the jokes that I counted as offensive were throwaways–little jokes about how ugly or mannish Meg is, some cissexist or heterosexist two-second gag with Stewie and Brian, an ableist crack at Joe's expense or a racist aside directed at Cleveland.

As I'll explore in greater detail in my last post in this series, Family Guy is not thoughtful or considered oppression, the way South Park is. It's not committed to exploring and arguing for privilege, the way South Park is. It just doesn't care, period. It's there to coast, to get the easiest joke, the cheapest laugh. It's not a smart show, it's a lazy show. It can't rely on quality, challenging humor because it doesn't want to work that hard. Oppression based humor is a tried and true method of quickly winning over bigots and getting attention.

Family Guy wants the easiest way to laughs. And in a kyriarchal world, what's easier than relying on privilege?

Comments

41 comments have been made. Post a comment.

Blue Harvest

Because I love Star Wars parodies and occasionally enjoy Family Guy, naturally I watched Blue Harvest. That has to be the single most offensive turdfest I have ever seen. The character based on Obi-Wan was a "dirty old man" and they played that to the hilt. It was horrible.
I haven't even bothered with the 2nd Family Guy SW parody since I see they do use the ghost of Obi-Wan to bring back the old creep.

Yeah. Child molestation -

Yeah. Child molestation - it's hilarious!

Thank you

I appreciate your pointing out of the laziness that is so pervasive in Family Guy. (I believe I made a comment like this on the South Park post, too.) You're absolutely right. While I don't believe there can ever be a perfect, social-problem-free show (they're made by people, people are far from perfect), I find Family Guy offensive not only for its oppressive humor, but because it's painfully obvious to me that the writers seem completely unwilling to put any more thought into the creation of the show. The philosophy seems to be, "If it was funny/shocking the first time, it'll be funny/shocking the eight millionth time!" Reliance on shock value and unwillingness to deviate from a stale framework is simply bad writing. Where shows like the Simpsons, South Park and King of the Hill exhibit growth and change, Family Guy seems happy to wallow in the same rut. And the fact that Seth MacFarlane seems unwilling to consider criticism and uses the same, fallacy-riddled arguments to excuse the offensive content of his show is just as distasteful. And besides being offensive in the contexts you describe, RMJ, it's offensive that any group of writers appear to think their audience is so dim-witted that they would keep finding the same old crap amusing.

P.S.

Also, question for you:
Have you ever watched The Boondocks? It's on Adult Swim (Cartoon Network). I'd be interested to hear your opinion of that show.

Exactly! Even though South

Exactly! Even though South Park is extremely problematic, their tone and point of view has grown and changed. The only real change I can see in FG is that it's more pleased with itself, and makes more direct asides to its audience.

Oh, wait, it has spawned a couple shows. I guess that's technically growth.

In ref to your other question - I have not seen the Boondocks, but I loved the comic strip so I should.

It's a sad day when the

It's a sad day when the Cleveland Show is considered "growth."
I'm not as familiar with the Boondocks comic strip as much as I am with the show, but I like it. It runs into many of the same problems as the other shows do (the N word is pervasive, for example), but I tend to like what it has to say in regards to society, I think even more than I like South Park.

I'm not as familiar with the

I'm not as familiar with the Boondocks comic strip as much as I am with the show, but I like it. It runs into many of the same problems as the other shows do (the N word is pervasive, for example), but I tend to like what it has to say in regards to society, I think even more than I like South Park.

I actually referred to it for that reason in one of my first posts - since Boondocks is rhetorically critical and authored by people of color, I give it pretty great latitude.

Does the latitude extend to

Does the latitude extend to instances of sexism and homophobia, or just instances dealing with race and racism? How do you feel about the lack of a strong recurring female character? I'm sorry, I'm being kind of difficult--I still maintain that it's a great show and I prefer it to both SP and FG, and because it is created and written by people other than the privileged set, it tends to be more thoughtfully critical and less oppressive.

I really can't say, as I am

I really can't say, as I am not familiar with the show. If they portrayed those oppressions within a critical context, I'm sure it's fine (and since it's rhetorically anti-oppression, I'd probably give them more latitude.)

I guess the bird is the word.

I've disliked Family Guy for years now.

Their continual use of rape, pedophilia, and abuse towards women in jokes is more shocking and heart breaking than it is funny.

A whole generation of kids are growing up thinking rape is funny, it's okay to strike women, and that pedophiles are lovable characters. I'm simply scratching the surface of what is wrong with this show.

This post on Family Guy was truly disappointing and far too generous.

-Michelle

My point exactly?

Those are indeed some offensive, sexist, ageist and generally disgusting running gags on Family Guy. I probably should have mentioned their promotion of rape culture somehow, so point taken. This is a shitty, and as I mentioned above, extremely sexist show.

Having said that, this is not a post about rape and violence against women in Family Guy (a subject I've critiqued it for in the past), it's a post about how offensive I found five episodes of it on a quantitative basis. The problematic currents that you point out are certainly strong in the show, but none of the episodes I reviewed gave me a platform to directly address them, and word-count limits would have kept me from addressing them in depth in any case. My point about Family Guy is that it constantly disregards oppressed folks and make mockeries of the bodies of women, people with disabilities, children, fat folks, people of color, trans folks, and so on and so forth; it's constant and not easy to parse out each individual oppression.

Edited several times after initial knee-jerk reply.

Jumping the Gun

I admit that my first response was a knee-jerk reaction, too, except I have no editing capabilities to re-write it accordingly. :\

After re-reading this post and reading the rest in the series -- I understand the point and objective you had in mind.

My apologies for jumping the gun.

-Michelle

Seriously?

I hardly think that the teenagers are going to go around raping people because Family Guy said it was OK. And I hardly think that teenagers are going to grow up to become abusive husbands.

That's a problem that the rapist has, not Family Guy. Blame the rapist, not the excuse. Blame the abuser, not the excuse of why they're beating their wives.

I'm not saying that Family Guy is without its problems, but to say that kids are going to grow up to think that rape is OK, abuse is OK, and that pedophelia is funny is silly. 1) Teenagers aren't that stupid, and 2) there's something SERIOUSLY wrong with them in the first place if they think those things are OK based on a cartoon.

re: "seriously?"

who said teens were going to go rape someone after watching FG? That's not the point. It's not that teens will directly imitate the characters' behavior. It's that the jokes create an atmosphere where rape, sexism, racism, homophobia, ableism, etc. are sources of humor rather than oppressions to be critiqued. Any body that is different is subjected to humiliation.

This hurts the feelings of people who happen to have one of these differences, and contributes to an atmosphere where it is acceptable to oppress them. If you don't believe me think about my generation that has grown up calling people "gay," "fags," "homos" "queers" "retards" etc (largely under the influence of shows like South Park and Family Guy).

Maybe no one is stupid enough to go rape someone because they see on TV (maybe they are). But when oppression is seen as a cheap joke, we become lazier and less inclined to challenge it and end it.

The fact that it's just jokes, just a TV show as the common defense goes, makes it all the more insidious, since we're more likely to uncritically absorb the ugly oppressive attitudes.

People will think that

People will think that regardless.

Once again, you're blaming the TV show instead of the person who thinks those things. People have control over their actions and thoughts. And, why blame Family Guy when it's clear that there are parental issues when teenagers behave in that way? Where are the parents? Parents create an environment where children are taught and learn, and obviously something is missing where a teenager is living in an environment where they think those things are acceptable.

Criticize the show all you want, and most of the critiques are correct, but to say that people are going to think that it's OK to make rape jokes because of the show is just silly, IMO. It's common sense to know those things are bad, and when someone thinks it's funny just because a cartoon says it's funny, there's something wrong with the person, not the show.

Okay.

Blaming actual crimes on TV shows is not what this series, or this conversation, is about. In fact, I'm pretty sure that's exactly what bravo is saying. I'm not sure why you keep derailing the discussion with the "TV does not singlehandedly create monsters" point, especially when you say you understand the points of critique on Family Guy that people *are* making.

I'm also troubled by your statements about parents, but this is not the place to talk about that.

Co-signed! This is not about

Co-signed! This is not about whether people watch FG and then immediately go out and rape people based solely on that - it's about how it contributes to rape culture, which it does.

"People will think that regardless."

people will be racist anyways, so we shoudn't challenge racism?

That is a forceful, air-tight argument. allow me to pick myself up off the mat and regroup before i attempt any feeble response.

Couldn't it be said though

Couldn't it be said though shows like Family Guy are helping to dumb down teenagers and set a new standard. I won't even go into the societal standards, but just in terms of comedy alone, teenagers have always been into crude humor, we've all been there, it's true for every generation. However teenagers also use to be into Seinfeld and The Simpsons, King of the Hill and South Park, and South Park despite being as offensive as it sometimes is makes its points and metaphors in an intelligent way that even 14 year olds would be able to follow and get. Character development, history, sarcasm and inuendo are dead. If it's not Pete hitting his wife, pissing himself drunk, making fun of the crippled, ect, with no other meaning behind it except for its surface value, kids literally don't get it anymore.

Like I said above, it starts

Like I said above, it starts with the parents. Teenagers are being "dumbed down" because their parents aren't involved and their teachers don't care, and the schools are lacking in educational standards.

I watched The Simpsons when I was a kid, along with Ren and Stimpy and Beavis and Butthead, but I wasn't stupid enough to think that was real life or acceptable to behave that way because my parents were involved and kept me in check.

I don't disagree that the show has it's problems, but to blame how teenagers think and behave on it is ridiculous. It was like how people tried to blame Marilyn Manson on Columbine.

It's not so much that FG or

It's not so much that FG or any one tv show can turn kids into rapists, racists, or any other form of evil. However, it does convey the mindset that those behaviors and attitudes are ok. Then, as these kids have to react (for example, if they see a woman being attacked) they might be less likely to step in. Look at the recent case of the girl who was gang-raped outside a school dance (I believe it was in Chicago or near Chicago) and it took a long time before one person, and only one person was even willing to call the police.
The underlying attitudes people pick up from movies, tv shows, books, magazines, and video games affect how they will react. In some rare instances, it could feed the fantasies of someone who was already prone to violence, as was the case with the 2 video game addicts who shot up Columbine High School 11 years ago. Even though it doesn't neccasarily lead to a lot of actual violence, it leads to a greater acceptance when that violence occurs. One wonders how many people in Kew Gardens, people who heard Kitty Genovese screaming for over an hour as she slowly bled to death were desensitized by violence on tv and in movies (that was long before video games) which made them less empathetic to her screams.

see above comment. I

see above comment.

I believe people are in control of their actions.

"Look at the recent case of the girl who was gang-raped outside a school dance (I believe it was in Chicago or near Chicago) and it took a long time before one person, and only one person was even willing to call the police."

That was in Richmond, in the Bay Area of California. Those kids didn't participate in that because of the TV shows they were watching, they participated in that because they were sociopaths devoid of any kind of humanity. It's groupthink, and the kids who just stood there and witnessed it didn't call the cops because they feared for their own lives, and they didn't want to be a "snitch."

In fact, the kids who did end up reporting the incident were harassed at school. Repeatedly. So I honestly wouldn't chalk it up to violence in tv shows. And if they do say that it was because of it, then they had problems to begin with.

Imagine if every rapist used the "Twinkie defense." Saying that they're not responsible for their actions because of outside forces. Because a TV show said it was funny and OK.... every rapist would walk free.

Family Guy contributes to rape culture

Family Guy contributes to rape culture. Your derail stops here.

Anonymous: Hey, did you know

Anonymous: Hey, did you know that television doesn't force people to rape?

Everyone: Yes, we did.

Anonymous: No, really! It doesn't!

Everyone: Yes, we know. But that's not what we're talking about. Let's get back on topic. Family Guy adds to rape culture, just like RMJ has been explaining for weeks.

Anonymous: No, let's keep talking about whether TV creates rapists. You clearly think that & are giving every rapist a twinkie defense!

I hope you're not the same Anonymous who posted at http://bitchmagazine.org/post/bitch-blogs-commenting-version-20 saying that the mean authors deleted all their "relevant or explanatory" comments.

Nice to know there are some

Nice to know there are some helpful anons here. You sum this up very well, which is why I don't feel compelled to give Derail Anon any more space to spew their demanding derail (here, or in any other post!)

I think you’ve made some truly interesting points

I think you’ve made some truly interesting points. Not too many people would actually think about this the way you just did. I am really impressed that there is so much information about this subject that have been uncovered and you did it so well, with so much class. Good one you, man!

Death

If I remember correctly there was a flashback of Death raping his date in one of the episodes. The audience saw the car and could hear Death and his date's dialogue. They started hooking up but his date passed out and Death said something along the lines of "I'll always be a virgin" Then he said "Or will I?" and continued. Yeah, in the state I live in, having sex with an unconscious person is rape (whether or not they had started hooking up before the person lost consciousness).

Yes, you're right; I should

Yes, you're right; I should have mentioned that. I don't think it's a matter of unconsciousness though - I think the implication is that he killed her, which is worse. Thanks.

Ableism

Regarding Family Guy's ableism that's touched upon here, I think it's extremely disappointing, since Joe has to be one of the more unstereotypical representations of a person with a physical disability that I can think of. He is extremely capable at his Job and has sexual desire and prowess (though we could simply see these as ironic exaggerations meant to insult and be even more ableist).

However, whatever credit we might give FG is lost by the horrifyingly cruel joke they make of his differently abled body, often showing him in some humiliating or painful situation, where we're simply supposed to laugh at his body.

Not Bad Critique

Like the title says, not a bad critique of Family Guy, and especially the part about the lazy writing. If I may add one other minor point here, that's, far too often on the show, the gags run on for far longer than they should in my opinion. There are times that have wanted to yell at the screen, "It's OVER, you morons!!! Move on!!!", after one particularly lenghty gag or another.

But, that's just me.

CRETV and Project Looksharp

In undergrad at Ithaca College in Ithaca, NY, I worked with Dr. Cyndy Scheibe on her research -- both with CRETV (Center for Research on the Effects of Television) and Project Looksharp (a media literacy initiative. Part of CRETV's research involved gathering an ongoing database of television samples (i.e. recording television from several months out of each year and coding each commercial, PSA, and show on PBS, ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX, and NICK 24 hours a day each of the selected months). This research started in the early '80s and continues today. Shows were coded for several dozen things including then demographics of characters, different levels of derogatory language, sexism, racism, etc. and you're totally right -- Family Guy was and is the most crude, distasteful, oppressive show on network television!

Check out all the work Dr. Scheibe and her numerous students have done over the years here: http://www.ithaca.edu/cretv/ and here: http://www.ithaca.edu/looksharp/

Thanks so much for sharing!

Thanks so much for sharing! :)

Quagmire's Dad episode

I liked the borderline humour from Family Guy for a long time, gradually it became less and less sharp and satirical.

It took a while to notice the shift - am I slow?!? But when I watched the Episode Quagmire's Dad I simply could not watch another episode.

Shocking and shameful - and not in a good way.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quagmire%27s_Dad

In my discussion of Go

In my discussion of Go Stewie Go, I link to a couple of critical articles on that episode. You should check it out!

"Cleveland," anyone?

(Sorry in advance for the length of this.)

It would be hard to discuss these sorts of issues in MacFarlane's shows without considering The Cleveland Show. While the racial issues are obviously the ones that stand out the most — after all, the basic point of the show is to be a racial issue — there's been some other disturbing territory covered recently that would be worth examining in your series. I'll just focus on one scene here and let you dig up the rest if you'd like. (There's only been one season, so it's easy enough to go through the episodes on-line.)

I first decided to give The Cleveland Show a chance by watching an episode ("Gone with the Wind") written by Bill Oakley, a legendary Simpsons alum who's won two GLAAD Awards and whose past writing is, without exaggeration, one of the main reasons I decided I wanted to be a comedy writer myself. I have a huge level of respect for him, and I feel pretty confident that someone of that level of talent and regard ought to be able to put together an episode that can be edgy without relying on being revolting.

But that particular episode ended up involving, amongst many other problems, Quagmire dressing Loretta's dead body up in a French maid costume (after her naked breasts were deemed "gross") and then performing necrophilia on it. (In fairness, the necrophilia is discussed but not shown; the rest of it is on-screen.) I have a ridiculously high level of tolerance for perverse humor, mind you, but I'm pretty sure you can put together 22 minutes of ex-wife jokes without going down that road. Even die-hard MacFarlanites, the sort of people who loved that the episode was fart joke after fart joke, agreed that scene signaled the ultimate shark-jump by going way too far, and in so many ways. And when Family Guy fans say you're being gratuitous with the gross-out misogyny, it's time to listen.

To be honest, I don't think I'll ever see all of the problems with shows like South Park (which I'll defend to the death) and early Family Guy that other Bitch readers might, but the fact that so many fantastic comedy writers — again, two GLAAD Awards and writer of "Lisa vs. Malibu Stacy," for crying out loud! — are now stooping to these levels says something about the current humor culture that doesn't make me feel particularly comfortable. I used to read stories of women in writers' rooms and think, "Oh, they're overreacting, I wouldn't complain that much," but now I think I'm starting to get why there aren't many of us making it into those jobs. Vag or no vag, if you have any trace of decency, I don't know how you sit in that room and sign on for raping a dead woman. But I guess if that's what the networks want, I'll have to learn to like it?

Yup, the Cleveland Show

Yup, the Cleveland Show sucks! Thanks for bringing this up. For the record, I chose to look at Family Guy instead because they have been on longer and thus offer a better comparison to South Park.

I'm so glad others see it

I'm so glad others see it like this! I thought I was alone!

It's in the same vein as 'ironic' sexism used in a lot of US adverts, just an excuse to be racist, sexist and homophobic and then turn around and say 'Oh get over yourselves we were only JOKING!'
The best episode for me is Brian Wallows and Peter's Swallows (written by Allison Adler of Chuck fame), which was not only funny but also really moving! That's when comedy is at it's best, when there's a balance between great characters and great gags, which is why the last two seasons of Futurama's original run were so great.

No mention of Quagmire? Delving further into other issues w/FG

I'm surprised no one has mentioned Quagmire. How can it be funny to have someone who's both misogynistic, views women only as sexual objects, and even depicts at least in one episode where he date rapes someone: and it's supposed to be "funny"? I don't know if any of you have ever been date raped, but there's nothing funny about it. Also, there are frequent references to roofies or other devices enabling him to rape as well. Again, it's reinforcing destructive, hateful acts and subliminally telling people that it's "acceptable" via no consequences or elaboration on meaningful messages. It inspires no questioning or mindfulness of the issue itself.

As someone who personally suffers from a disability, and looks to find humor in anything to get me through adversity (even self-deprecating humor)- I still see NO humor in the jokes about Joe's disability (the neighbor in the wheel chair). There is no regard or respect for anyone- just thoughtless jokes without compassion. I personally think shows like South Park are great because they are thought provoking via their ability to offend and touch on everything, yet get us to question WHY we're offended, and see how certain oppressive norms are unacceptable. There is humanity in South Park's messages, they may just not be that obvious on first glace. Look at the portrayal of the character Jimmy in South Park (a special needs child) and compare that to that of FG's Joe. There is care in the way Matt and Trey write about Jimmy, as they make him human and build his character with compassion, verses the openly hateful/disrespectful thoughtless views of Joe, making him a one note character, as they do with all their jokes and characters. Even Timmy (in South Park) inspires empathy and compassion, and shows that yes, you can have an open discussion about offensive taboos, but do it in a way that inspires intelligent thought-provoking questions, and be able to start a dialogue about how we can better our views in society.

I think shows like Family Guy desensitize people and degenerate a general empathy that we as a society require to function in a healthy beneficial way. I think as a society, all topics should be able to be analyzed and seen through humor, to gain insight into things. I think that FG is not funny- that it reinforces negative views towards any stereotypes or minorities, and is generally redundantly restating the same ignorant views over and over, merely to be "edgy". It's not edgy if it's being so insensitive to people who are so frequently oppressed without depicting any consequences for these extreme acts or inspiring deeper questioning. I don't think anyone would actually go out and rape/hurt someone because of it, but it's reinforcing NEGATIVE views and attitudes that already plagues society and simply denies any responsibility or messages through it.

South Park may be offensive, but they actually show meaningful messages about how these views are blatantly destructive and negative to society as a whole. Everything should be able to be made fun of, but it takes tact to do it the right way. FG has no tact, intelligence, or heart. They exceed in ignorance. Enough said.

well it's not all bad

It creates a casual outlook on life. We really need more of casual. Everyone takes everything way too seriously. Chill out, people.

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