Wednesday, November 07, 2007

There's Something (Nasty/Mean?) About Family Guy

At least, that's what I thought as I watched the shows 100th anniversary special this past Sunday on Fox. Part of the celebration involved a clip tribute of the shows first 100 episodes, spliced with footage of creator/writer/voice talent Seth MacFarlane interviewing various people who seem to want Family Guy off the air. (People who don't seem to know that they're being interviewed by MacFarlane.)

As I watched the show and listened to MacFarlane, I realized there was something about him that just rubbed me the wrong way. If you've ever listened to Simpsons DVD commentary, you get the feeling that Matt Groening and the Simpsons writers are basically a bunch of smart, funny nerds. And as a South Park fan, I hold the opinion that Trey Parker and Matt Stone are just plain geniuses- and they just seem like guys I'd want to hang out with. MacFarlane, on the other hand comes across as an arrogant, snobby, know-it-all, prep school type. (And it just so happens, as I discovered on Wikipedia, that McFarlane is from Kent, Connecticut and went to the Kent school.)

I like to say South Park is an equal opportunity offender- taking their shots and any and all comers, but South Park's brand of humor is really more sophisticated than that. South Park doesn't take many cheap shots- generally, when they target someone or something, they do so with good reason. The more I thought about it on Sunday, the more it seemed to me that Family Guy takes a lot of cheap shots.

Two things stood out in my mind, one of which was brought up by my friend John a few months ago. The first is that Family Guy can be outright hostile to religion- not just to organized religion but to peoples faith and religious values. South Park has taken their fair share of shots at religion, but those shots have always been nuanced. They did an entire episode about Mormons, but the not so subtle jabs at Mormon theology were inter spliced with an almost glowing look at Mormon family values. As Trey and Matt said in the commentary, (and I'm paraphrasing) maybe Mormons believe a lot of crazy stuff, but who's to say there's anything wrong with that if it's what makes them happy and helps them build strong families.

The other thought that occurred to me is that Family Guy is pretty big on stereotypes of the South, Texas, and rednecks. I seem to recall an entire episode loosely based around such stereotypes. Unlike, say, King of the Hill, which examines such stereotypes through the lens of the culture wars, Family Guy's use of stereotypes seem to be gratuitous. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that many of the stereotypes used on Family Guy just seem gratuitous. And maybe that makes me a bit like Dave Chapelle, but that makes me a little uncomfortable.

Updated 11/7/07 @ 12:39: It's not that I don't enjoy Family Guy - It makes me laugh at times. But there was a joke the other night with a retarded person, and not only did I not find the joke funny, I wasn't really sure whether there was something more to it, or if the joke was just making fun of the retarded. That's what I mean by uncomfortable.


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