Totally Petarded: The Top 5 Masculinity Myths on Family Guy

Watch out, ladies in the dating world: Family Guy’s prized demographic is totally Petarded.

According to the show’s creator, Family Guy’s target audience is men ages 18-34.  This happens to be one of the most desirable demographics for advertisers and women looking to eventually get married and settle down.

Who hasn’t dreamed of a life with Peter Griffin?

Obviously, not all men between the ages of 18 and 34 are going to find the humor of Family Guy appealing.  Yet a growing majority of them do.  I long ago learned as a woman not to attempt to comment on the male psyche; why these men find Family Guy so appealing is not in my realm of interest.  However, the message Family Guy sends about masculinity is so apparent that I can’t help but laugh at this not-so-subtle irony:  Most women looking for men, the ladies trolling the clubs and hitting Happy Hours at the bars, are the ones who tend to stereotype men exactly the way they are portrayed on the show.

5. Men Are Idiots

This is my personal favorite: “All men are idiots.”  You’ve heard it, usually expressed loudly at a bar by some chick who just can’t understand why after four shots and twice as many beers some guy wouldn’t want to take her home.  For the women with men in their lives, the statement usually gets expressed during a girl’s night out or mommy-time venture.  “All men are idiots” is the most outspoken secret of the female mind.

In the case of Peter Griffin, he’s not just an idiot; he’s “Petarded.”  Yet, despite being uniquely mentally retarded, Peter is bright enough to realize that his diagnosis can get him off the hook in a number of circumstances, from running over the local TV news anchor to having to provide for his family.  After accidentally burning Lois with hot oil and losing custody of their children, Peter is rendered helpless thanks to his diagnosis.  Only Lois can come through and save the day, leaving Peter to be Petarded to his heart’s content.

According to show creator Seth MacFarlane, Family Guy’s humor can run the gamut from rape to racism because lead character Peter Griffin isn’t so much mentally retarded as, well, “oblivious.”

NYT: Personally, I find the show’s rape jokes especially unfunny. In one episode, Peter learns that three co-eds were raped and murdered. He says to himself, “Everyone’s getting laid but me.” Why is that funny?

SM: Because he’s so oblivious. You’re not laughing at rape; you’re laughing at him being an idiot.

NYT: In another episode, Peter asks, “Would you rather be black or crippled?” Why is that funny?

SM: Once again, it all comes back to Peter’s obliviousness. If Peter meant that maliciously, then it wouldn’t be as funny. We try to keep it so that there’s an innocence to the way that he conducts himself.

4. Men Are Children

With the 21st century trending towards rejuvenile behavior among adults, in particular adult males, the idea that men are just grown boys has taken on a whole new meaning.  It is an accepted fact of womanhood that most men can live in a house that looks like a bomb went off, prefer junk food to vegetables, and get lost in oddball projects in the garage or behind the computer.  Family Guy’s type of rejuvenilia, however, has the potential to draw viewers to a newfound dark side of youthful innocence.

According to Susanna Schrobsdorff at Time magazine, Peter’s “innocence” may fly past the censors, but carries with it the potential for serious consequences in real life.  In an article commenting on the recent Steubenville rape case, Schrobsdorff writes:

 [Family Guy], which has become hugely popular among teen boys and young men, features more rape humor than one could tally, including one scene in which a woman is being assaulted on a beach and screams for help while another character, Aquaman, issues lame threats to the perpetrator without leaving the water. The scene ends when Aquaman gives up, saying: “Well, maybe you shouldn’t have led him on.” Maybe this was brilliant, sophisticated meta-humor in which we’re supposed to see this as a commentary on the pressure men feel to be heroes, but is that really how the show’s prime audience of young men will understand it?

Even the superheroes who show up in Family Guy glom off its apathetic vibe.  As a result, innocent youthful notions of heroism are replaced with ignorant attitudes towards violent behavior that can have dangerous real-life consequences.

3. Men Are Fraidy-Cats

Whether it’s the military, the doctor, or the monkey in the closet, the men on Family Guy do more to avoid perceived threats than to confront them, even if it means putting their own self-respect on the line.  Ironically, while feminism focuses on the disenfranchisement of women, it has often done so by disenfranchising men.  The “we don’t need men” mantras of the second-wave feminism movement in the 1960s and 1970s liberated women in the workforce while creating huge psychological gaps in the way men perceive themselves and their roles as fiscal and emotional providers.  As a result, today’s third-wave feminists like Carlos Andres Gomez argue that while “modern masculinity” may involve admitting vulnerability, that does not translate into running from responsibility or giving into childhood fears.

2. Men Are Terrible Fathers

Never has a term been so despised in the ivy halls as “The Patriarchy.”  Whose fault is it when things go wrong?  The Patriarchy.  Who do we love to loathe?  The Patriarchy.  It is as if feminist scholars have an Electra complex for dominant father figures: These men are complete failures, yet our world revolves around them.

Peter Griffin is an incompetent provider who’d rather rely on welfare than have to work for a living.  He’s immature, ignorant, and most likely scared of his own shadow.  Yet, Peter’s belief that “women are things” translates into a truly disturbing pattern of mental and emotional abuse of his daughter Meg.  In fact, Peter’s line, “Shut up, Meg,” has become a catchphrase of the show.

Peter is the one who establishes that Meg is the outsider in the family.  Meg takes on an Electra-feminist response, continuously struggling to create some kind of a relationship with her father through a variety of circumstances including learning how to drive and dating.  Yet all of this is to no avail.  In one episode, Peter reminds Lois, “We agreed, if we could only save two we’d leave Meg!”  In the end, her unfulfilled need for a father figure results in an apathetic and sometimes violent response to Peter’s insults. 

1. Men Are Perverts

“All men are perverts.”  I don’t know who said it, but they should have copyrighted the phrase.  It has become an all-too-common everyday mantra, the “Om” of Cosmo readers around the world.  No one stops to ask why all men are perceived to be sexual nutjobs, it’s just an accepted pop-culture fact stemming from the “men are beasts” school of feminist theory.

Family Guy embraces this assumption in a multitude of ways. Herbert the Pervert is a dirty old man trolling the streets of Quahog scheming up ways to inadvertently molest underage boys.

While nothing will stop Peter Griffin from seeking sexual pleasure, even if it means inflicting bodily harm on himself.

Yet Peter’s neighbor Glenn Quagmire trumps them all. This guy is a walking orgasm, living the life you’d imagine Jack Tripper’s best friend Larry from Threee’s Company would have gone onto once everybody abandoned the apartment complex for the suburbs. New women (or cross-dressers) every night and the kind of varied sex life that would make the Kama Sutra look like an Idiot’s Guide to the First Time Out.  Top it off with an unhealthy addiction to Peter’s wife Lois and you’ve got the perfect perv next door.

Whether playing up to feminist theory or playing into the results of a generation of male bashing, Family Guy’s definition of masculinity is the monster pieced together between books and over Cosmos. Idiotic immaturity that spirals into abusive behavior and perverted tendencies depict men in a far different light than media role models of generations past.

The line between how much the media affects culture and vice-versa may never truly be drawn.  As some commentators have observed, Family Guy’s portrayal of masculinity may very well have a negative impact on its target audience.  And, as still many more single women have observed, Peter Griffin and his crew aren’t unique. Perhaps the answer lies in the words of the great Theodore Herzl as quoted by Walter Sobchak: “If you will it, it is no dream.”

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