Part 1 of a 4 Part series Deconstructing Family Guy
When Seth MacFarlane sang about boobs at the Oscars, I’m pretty sure he was referring to his own fans.
Most of the time it is taken for granted that we recognize the latent moronic nature of most television programming today.
Then again, do we?
If we agreed as a culture that television programming like Family Guy is so moronic, why would a collective cheer rise up at the sight of another Emmy win? Would we be told by media commentary royalty to worship Seth MacFarlane, the show’s creator, as fascinating? Not only does the guy have mega street cred in the pop culture universe, the primetime structure he’s so wholeheartedly mocked is singing his praises. In fact, it could be said that Family Guy’s seemingly counterculture humor has been legalized by the mainstream.
What’s more, like a bad addiction, Family Guy is the drug that has turned a generation of Boob-Tube addicts into junkies. So, what are the signs, Doctor? How do you know when a co-worker, a friend, even a loved one has become a total Boob? Let’s play MediaMD as we examine the 5 most common side effects of watching Family Guy.
I have friends who admit to growing impatient when an internet video lasts longer than 2 minutes. Professional surfers would tag YouTube or social media as prime culprits, but long before high speed (when most of us were still mesmerized by 56k), Family Guy presented 23 one-minute gag reels slapped together. Compared to Warner Brothers shorts, these episodes are the hot pants of the cartoon industry. Between 30 second pop-culture references and 72 second gags, the cutaway nature of Family Guy trained our brains to multitask long before anyone developed the speed to download.
4. Stunted Personal Growth
Never in the history of television have five characters remained so completely static over the course of 11 seasons. In fact, some (including the Cracked crew) would even argue that the Griffins have devolved over the course of the series.
Yes, television is formulaic, but even Lisa Simpson transitioned from being a “female Bart” in her Tracey Ullman days to a vegan, a Buddhist, and a feminist and managed to hold onto those changes as the series progressed. The Griffins may cover a dearth of pop-culture territory in the course of an episode, but as for personal growth, the clock gets reset at the beginning of the next episode. According to the A.V. Club, Brian the dog is the “best and most developed character” in the show. Perhaps because he was able to kick his cocaine habit? Don’t worry – the dog still likes to “hit the sauce.”
3. Apathetic Acceptance of Political Correctness
Whether you’re on the left or the right, you hate Family Guy. If you’re on the left, you hate its endless mockery of political correctness: racism, sexism, homophobia, it’s all there. If you’re on the right, you hate Family Guy because of the crude way in which those politically incorrect jokes are made. In any case, you’re missing the bigger and even more depressing picture.
By making political correctness the object of its humor, Family Guy asserts that political correctness is the structure sustaining our culture. To most of us this is no surprise. Yet our problem with political correctness in our daily life is purely a source of mockery for Family Guy. By doing nothing but cracking lewd jokes in response to PC attitudes, Family Guy argues that the only solution to the PC crisis is to “turn on, tune in, and drop out.” Theirs is a useless deconstruction that mocks the problem without providing a sustainable solution.
And for the “Well, who cares, they offend everyone so they must be okay” crowd, consider this fact: Family Guy does mock political correctness, but they do so within the confines of FCC regulations.
So much for being counterculture icons. You can’t damn The Man and follow the rules.
In other words, Family Guy is as effectively counterculture as the ’60s hippies who traded in their tie-dye for power suits. Not only have they resigned to playing the game, they’re laughing about it and encouraging you to do the same.
2. Creative Dysfunction
Like bad costume jewelry at the flea market, there’s Family Guy: shiny and attractive on the outside, cheap and hollow on the inside. The only reason Seth MacFarlane has been deemed a creative genius is because he was smart enough to mash up a standard cartoon formula with an endless stream of pop-culture references.
MacFarlane’s rape of the creative heights of 20th century pop culture is best mocked by CollegeHumor.com. In a sketch titled “Seth MacFarlane’s Nightmare,” an entire episode of Family Guy is boiled down to 30 seconds, at least 10 of which are total silence. That is exactly how much originality you have per episode. In fact, when Matt Stone and Trey Parker, creators of South Park, mocked Family Guy‘s lack of originality, they received kudos from fellow animators:
…we got flowers from the Simpsons people because we ripped on Family Guy. Then we got calls from the King of the Hill people saying, “You’re doing God’s work ripping on Family Guy.”
1. Craving Moral Relativism
Whether it’s Jesus or Ground Zero, nothing is sacred in Family Guy. Every aspect of human history is a source for mockery. Have a problem with that? Go ahead and sue. The courts will decide if your offense is justified. Hence, Peter Griffin’s wild night out can “one up” Jesus’s death and resurrection and 9/11 is just a card in the campaign deck used to play up to “the biggest idiots on the planet.” Nothing is sacred in the world of Family Guy except for the laugh, and even that lacks intrinsic value.
When Family Guy turns its deconstructive eye towards the sacrosanct in our society, we are being challenged to let go of what we hold dear. We begin to weigh our values in the big scheme of things; like the FCC’s tonnage precept, our values become relative to the scale on which we are being judged. When that scale has been culturally tipped in favor of not taking anything seriously, our own sacred cows are set out to pasture.
I’ll never forget my favorite birthday present, a white, fluffy mechanical dog with an orange and white ball between his paws. I loved that puppy as much as if he were real and wanted to share that love with my newfound kindergarten friends. My mother warned me not to take him to class, but I was sure everyone would think he was the cutest thing and I’d be the coolest kid in school. Sure enough, within five minutes some kid broke my dog and I was tossed off as the loser with the broken puppy. The parents of the child never even bothered to apologize, let alone offer to pay for the toy.
I had unknowingly sacrificed my puppy for five minutes of fame. Now, if we truly treasure our sacred values (which I’d imagine should be a tad more important than a child’s toy), why are we so willing to throw them aside for an empty laugh? When you’re a Family Guy Boob it’s easy to do; you’re trained to react apathetically to the world around you and to give up on your own creative spirit in favor of riffing someone else’s. How much easier is it, then, to laugh in the face of what truly matters? After all, according to Family Guy there’s no point in doing anything else.
On the bright side, I suppose if we’re embracing apathetic nihilism, we might as well enjoy doing it. Family Guy definitely scores some points for originality there. Oh, wait ….nevermind.
New today at PJ Lifestyle, Part Two continuing Susan L. M. Goldberg’s series: