I used to sort of enjoy the show Family Guy. I can enjoy raunchy humor as much as the next guy. But no more. I should have stopped watching it a few years ago when the show featured a disgusting, over-the-top musical number called Prom Night Dumpster Baby. I’m not going to go into detail… you can probably get the jist of it from the name. If you really want to watch it though, you can see it here.
On Valentines Day this year, one of the plot lines was the oafish son of the Griffin family, Chris, finally got a date with his dream girl, who had Down Syndrome. For a moment I thought this was going to be, finally, a rare moment of sweetness and light. But I forgot. This is Family Guy. Turns out the girl is rude and nasty. Then Chris asks her what her parents do. She responds, “my dad is an accountant, and my mom is the former governor of Alaska.” Okay, that’s it. That’s enough.
Now, I’m no fan at all of political correctness. I’m no fan of government censorship. But at some point shouldn’t Fox just have said, Nope. That’s just… indecent. That’s mean, that’s vicious, and we’re not going to tolerate it? In 1964, Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, in an opinion written on a case involving a movie that was alleged to be hard-core pornography, said, “I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description [“hard-core pornography”]; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it…” In other words, there are some thing which may not have clear parameters, or are too subjective to which to assign definitions. But when something is over the top and should be rejected as indecent, mean, or vicious, most of us know it when we see it.
But apparently not Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane. There’s no doubt about this guy’s talent, but there’s also no doubt about his giant sized ego either. And maybe that’s what compels him to think that, for him at least, anything goes. It would be different if this show appeared exclusively very late at night on cable. But it’s on during what they used to call prime time, on a broadcast network. And on any evening you can find hours of re-runs on TBS.
On the other hand, I’ve always been a fan of The Simpsons. They too are a dysfunctional family, and the show skewers some sacred cows (mmmm…. skewered cows….) but there’s a difference. There’s a sweetness to The Simpsons that is completely lacking in Family Guy. Family Guy features an oafish dad, a mom who appears to be the only normal one in the family, and three kids: Chris, the boy; Meg the girl; and Stewie, the evil baby with a football-shaped head and an inexplicable British accent. And Brian, the dog. The Simpson features an oafish dad, a mom who appears to be the only normal one in the family, and three kids: Bart, the boy; Lisa, the girl; and Maggie, the baby who says nothing and always has a pacifier in her mouth. And Santa’s Little Helper, the dog.
The Simpsons’ Homer is an alcoholic, Marge is, for some reason attracted to Homer, Bart is a trouble-maker, Lisa is a saxophone-playing little know-it-all, Maggie is a… well, a baby. And Santa’s Little Helper is a… well, a dog.
Family Guys’ Peter is a jackass, Lois is, for some reason attracted to Peter, Chris is an overweight oaf, Meg is, supposedly ugly, and Stewie is always trying to kill Lois. And Brian, the dog, smokes, drinks, talks and dates human women. He also is secretly in love with Lois, and made a pass at her in one episode. Oh, and there’s another episode in which he and Meg make out.
On Family Guy, the entire family is cruel to Meg, and there’s some really nasty domestic violence: In one episode they all beat each other up. In another, Stewie tortures and shoots Brian. In another, there’s a gun battle between Stewie the baby and Lois the mom.
For all their dysfunction, though, the Simpsons undoubtedly love one another, and there’s always something of a redemption by the end of the show. Not only that, but, although it’s declined a bit in recent years, the writing of the show is occasionally brilliant.
There’s a little bit of cartoony violence, when Homer gets angry at Bart, says, why you little… and attempts to strangle him for just a few seconds. And, of course there’s The Itchy and Scratchy Show, the cartoon within a cartoon. That’s a take-off on the old cartoons we used to see, like Tom and Jerry. When we were kids, cartoons frequently featured characters being shot in the face with shotguns, or blown up with bombs. But they never retained their injuries, and we thought they were funny. On The Itchy and Scratchy Show, the violence is ramped up to ridiculous levels, and everyone on the show just accepts it as hilarious, like we did when we watched those old cartoons.
Okay, I’ve made my point. Probably over made it. But Family Guy is, I think, a symptom of a society and culture that is sick, and getting sicker. It’s an example of the coarseness and vulgarity that we have come to accept as common. I wonder what we’ll be like in another 20 or 30 years.
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