Characters in MacFarlane's "Family Guy" on Fox
A lot of virtual ink has been spilled over the last week in a lot of prestigious publications denouncing and decrying the blatant misogyny, racism, and anti-Semitism in Seth MacFarlane’s performance during this year's Oscars telecast. And it’s a worthwhile and important conversation to have, but it does rather beg the question – where have you all been for the past fourteen years?
Why did no one speak up when the Academy announced MacFarlane would be hosting this year? Why haven’t these same writers and critics weighed-in on MacFarlane’s long history of hate speech on any of his animated Fox programs?
Anyone who has ever sat through even one episode of The Cleveland Show, Family Guy, or American Dadwould have seen that this kind of hateful stereotyping is his stock and trade.
Last summer, MacFarlane stirred up controversy when he tweeted, “Here it is--the Emmy Ad the trades refused to run,” with a picture of Family Guy star Peter Griffin and the caption, “Come on, you bloated, over-privileged Brentwood Jews. Let us into your little club.”
Previously, an episode of Family Guy revolved around the mother, Lois, learning that she is Jewish and that her mother is a Holocaust survivor. The family started attending synagogue, where baby Stewie asks the Jewish teacher, “How long before we play pin the eviction notice on the black guy’s door?” Later, Lois’ mother tells her that their family name was originally “Hebrewmoneygrabber.” Elsewhere in the episode, Lois’ father ties a dollar to a string and taunts a mother and daughter, saying, “C’mon you know you Jew girls want that dollar.”
Misogyny? There’s plenty of that in MacFarlane’s oeuvre, too.
In one episode titled, “I Dream of Jesus,” Peter offers to let a waiter have sex with his daughter Meg, if the waiter will give him a jukebox record he likes. The waiter responds, “I don’t know… let’s see what your daughter looks like.” Peter stalls, “She’s… uhh… (as the camera pans past Meg to a “hot” girl in the restaurant) right there!” The waiter replies, “Okay, I’ll do her. But can you tell her to cry and beg me to stop?” Peter: “I think that can be arranged.”
In another, Quagmire supplies Meg with roofies and says to himself, “That’s what it’s all about Glenn, don’t rape it back, rape it forward.”
It would take pages and pages to document the litany of outrageously offensive content on these programs. But reading through example after example, one is struck by how unfunny it all is. It’s not edgy. It’s not witty. It’s not biting social commentary – it’s pathetic and sad, and it reeks of a desperate attempt to be shocking and provocative.
There are those, and I’ve seen them, who will defend this garbage as “meta.” I.e. MacFarlane doesn’t actually subscribe to these points of view, he puts them out there to ridicule them… Peter Griffin is the Archie Bunker of modern television. Our sympathies don’t then lie with the person making these chauvinistic, racist statements; we’re supposed to look down on them.
It’s not simply that those people who don’t appreciate this kind of humor don’t “get” satire. But the “satire” justification begins to wear thin when nearly every episode of every MacFarlane program contains an incident of violence against women, a joke about rape, relentless racial stereotypes.
In fact, MacFarlane seems to have made it his mission to shatter every remaining TV taboo – unfortunately, this Pied Piper is dragging along hundreds of thousands of children on his journey into the sewer.
Fans and Fox executives will claim that these programs are “adult cartoons,” not intended for young viewers, yet banner ads plastered all over advertising industry online trade publications just a couple of years ago boasted that Family Guy was “#1 in teens!”
It seems the executives who reap the profits from this show want to have their cake and eat it, too. “It’s not for kids! But hey, advertisers! Want to reach that elusive but oh-so-lucrative teen market? Buy time on our show!” Nielsen data bears out the fact that Family Guy, American Dad, and The Cleveland Show are among the most-watched shows on primetime broadcast television with children as young as 2-11; and the fact that they are animated all but guarantees a sizable audience of young viewers.
Of course parents are ultimately responsible for what their children watch, but what about Fox and its affiliates? In order to get a broadcast license, they agreed to serve the public interest. Whose interests are served by making light of incest and pedophilia? What about MacFarlane and the other writers and producers of these shows? If they know children are watching, and even use it as a selling point to advertisers, wouldn’t the decent, human thing be for them to tone-down the inappropriate content?
Tim Winter is the President of the Parents Television Council.