- Politics and Social Issues
Family Guy Propaganda & The Effects It Has On Viewers
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Family Guy has generated a substantial amount controversy since its first season in 1999 on FOX. Insensitively addressing touchy subjects, such as homosexuality, drug use, domestic violence, the Holocaust and many other crude topics is essentially what “Family Guy” is best known for. In fact, the show has actually been protested against by numerous groups and companies. According to theweek.com, the Bourne Company objected to Family Guy when an episode parodied “When You Wish Upon a Star” from Walt Disney’s “Pinnocchio” with an anti-Semitic version called “When You Wish Upon a Weinstein.” Additionally, the Parents Television Council got involved in the protesting of Family Guy after an episode that was rated TV-14 on FOX showed Peter becoming involved in bestiality, gay orgies and Stewie accidentally eating horse sperm. Even John McCain’s presidential campaign in 2008 may have been influenced when an episode of Family Guy compared the McCain/Palin ticket to fascists of the Nazi Party. Obviously this was a form of card stacking against the Republican’s ticket, utilized through the show. However, with all of these organizations suing and protesting Family Guy, one may question why it is still on the air. The answer is that Family Guy generally appeals to a younger demographic; one that is typically much more open-minded and is still forming opinions on issues. The popularity of the show with adolescents is undeniable, as it has been nominated for numerous awards and won three Emmys.
Seth MacFarlane, the creator of Family Guy, utilizes mostly gray and black propaganda in order to get his exaggerated message across to certain groups of people. However, depending on specific beliefs and education of viewers, the propaganda could be considered white (or possibly not propaganda at all). First of all, let us analyze the introductory theme song which goes as follows: “It seems today that all you see is violence in movies and sex on TV. But where are those good old fashion values, on which we used to rely? Lucky there’s a family guy!” Anyone who watches the show knows that it promotes just the opposite of what the theme song mentions. However, for parents who are not familiar with Family Guy the song could be deceiving, resulting in a lack of restriction in letting their children tune in to watch it.
Secondly, the appearance of the cartoony characters and setting paired with gleeful music makes it appealing to children and young adults because it is something that is familiar to them. As a result, a transfer is being made that cartoons are fun and acceptable; therefore Family Guy is perceived as fun and acceptable as well. The show is also considered to be a satire on various issues and comedic in its approach. The fact that one is expected to laugh at matters dealing with AIDS and pedophilia could be a bandwagon tactic by MacFarlane; if a popular show (aired by adults) isn’t taking the issues seriously, why should adolescents? Next, the family itself consists of a father, mother, son, daughter, a baby boy and even a family pet. This portrays them as a typical American family, when they are, in actuality, extremely unconventional. As a result, these factors likely provide a degree of comfort to its viewers because the family setup is rather relatable.
In addition, each main character has their own subtle propagandistic values that they personify through their lifestyles. For example, Peter Griffin is an overweight, ignorant and insensitive man that is shown drinking alcohol more often than he is shown working or spending time with his family. Many of the antics that Peter gets involved with are inconceivable and unrealistic, yet his rationalizations are always forgiven by his wife, Lois, at the end of each episode (even when domestic violence occurs). This sends a message to children and young adults that men are dominant over woman and can act similarly in everyday life without any severe consequences. Lois is a stay-at-home mother who is rather educated, sensitive and seemingly conservative, yet very sexual. She is constantly disrespected by Peter and stays with him anyway. The typical solution for Lois and Peter’s differences is to engage in sexual intercourse. This implies to younger viewers that all issues can be resolved through sex because everything will be forgiven afterwards.
Chris Griffin is the son that is quite slow minded and admires his father. Obviously, a teenager like Chris that looks up to a father like Peter and emulates him is not likely to have a successful future. However, Peter is hardly ever disciplined for his actions so it sends the message to easily influenced kids that it is perfectly fine to think highly of people that break the law. Stewie is the baby of the family, yet has the intelligence of a genius adult. Unfortunately, he uses his intellect for evil (mainly world domination and plotting to kill his mother). He also has homosexual tendencies that tend to confuse him. In a scene of the episode “April in Quahog” he is shown playing with male action figures and acting out a homosexual scenario. He then looks directly into the camera and says “See, buy your kid extremely homoerotic dolls and then ask what happened. Yep, your gay son is on you buddy.” That is observably propaganda that is targeted towards adults watching the show implying that exposure to chiseled, attractive looking action figures gives children a predisposition to being a homosexual. Stewie is also constantly being ignored by everyone in the family, except for Brian, the dog. Stewie is additionally propagandistic in the sense that he exemplifies that the most intelligent and insightful people should be ignored and not taken seriously. Meg Griffin is the daughter and is constantly being put down and degraded by her family for her below average looks and has suicidal tendencies. She is made to feel absolutely hideous and is obviously insecure with herself. Her propagandistic value is that of bandwagon appeal because in society people tend to pick on the vulnerable and it is accepted; MacFarlane just reinforces those values through Meg’s character. The last main character is the dog, Brian. He can talk, is quite intelligent and highly involved with politics. He tends to get emotionally and sexually involved with numerous women (humans) on the show. According to prothink.com, this cartoonish form of human and animal interaction is interpreted as a way of using subtle programming to chip away the initial disgust one would have with the concept of bestiality. In other words, the cognitive dissonance that one would feel towards this notion may be first rejected entirely, but over time the attitude will be modified and accepted if perceived as tolerable.
In order to get a true grasp on the common themes and propaganda in “Family Guy”, I decided to watch all 20 episodes of season eight (the last full season available). Within these episodes were constant references to racial stereotypes and gender biases as well as displays of domestic violence, bestiality and digs on celebrities/politicians. Much of Macfarlane’s viewpoints are expressed one way or another through the show. For example, in an interview with Esquire Magazine, he confirmed that he was an atheist which explains why he attacks every possible religion on Family Guy. He also admits to drinking alcohol quite a bit and there are constantly scenes of characters boozing on the show. Additionally, MacFarlane expressed that he supports gay rights on “Real Time with Bill Maher” (an Independent) in 2009. He is clearly an open-minded individual, like most of his audience, who holds strong beliefs about certain issues demonstrated in his work.
The first episode of season eight, called “Road to the Multiverse”, consists of Stewie and Brian traveling to parallel universes that exist simultaneously with Earth. They visit one world where Christianity never existed and therefore there was no repression of science. As a result, according to baby Stewie, this world was 1000 years more advanced than our own world. This may be laughed at by the viewer, yet the appeal to practical consequences is used here to indirectly state that Christianity puts restrictions on our world’s potential advancement. Stewie and Brian also travel to a universe where everything is drawn by Disney. This universe appears to be perfect until a Jewish neighbor, Mort, walks through the door. The jovial vibes suddenly transform to anger and all of the characters beat up and kill Mort. This is clearly a form of transfer because the viewer recognizes the Disney illustrations and when it is shown that the characters hate Jews, it represents that Disney is prejudice against them. Another universe that Stewie and Brian visited was that where Frank Sinatra as never born and was unable to get John F. Kennedy elected as President. As a result, Richard Nixon was elected and was put in charge of the Cuban Missile Crisis, which he botched entirely and caused World War III. The propaganda method is clearly being oversimplified in this circumstance; it’s basically stating that JFK was elected due to Frank Sinatra’s popularity and that Republican Richard Nixon was incompetent as President of the United States.
The final form of notable propaganda in this episode was in a world where dogs owned humans. Brian obviously liked this universe because he was in charge of humans, but also because human females would lick him (like dogs lick humans). Once again, this display of animal and human intimacy is displayed, but in this dog universe it is not looked upon as acceptable. If one looks deeper into this message, they could argue that since bestiality occurs in our “normal” world it is actually probably not far from being considered somewhat allowable. In episode eight, titled “Dog Gone”, there is more propaganda that insists dogs should be equal to humans. Brian is drunk driving when he hits and kills another dog. He tells the family that he killed someone and at first they are concerned. He then explains further that it was a dog and the family proceeds to laugh at him. “I can’t believe our society actually values the life of a dog less than that of a human,” exclaimed Brian. Once again, the utilization of animal and human equality is addressed; this can be related to an appeal to prejudice by MacFarlane through Brian.
Episode 11, “Dial Meg For Murder”, also has bestiality references when a bull that Peter rides at the rodeo rapes him. In another episode, titled “April In Quahog”, there was more sexual inferences to animal attraction from Quagmire, a friend and neighbor of Peter. He says that jury duty is what separates humans from the monkeys at the zoo and then whispers to himself “man, they’ve got some sexy monkeys down there.” Ironically (or not so ironically), the daughter Meg is even more degraded than the family pet. The fact that humans on the show are frequently portrayed as inferior to some of the animals on Family Guy presents even more proof for a debate of MacFarlane’s propagandistic message. If children are growing up with Family Guy and it humans are viewed as equal to animals, wouldn’t it raise the odds that they may consider bestiality normal?
There is quite a bit of anti-religion propaganda in episode two, called “Family Goy”. The episode unfolds when Lois finds a lump on her breast that she presumes to be breast cancer. Peter and Lois go to the hospital to find that the results show no signs of cancer, but her family history showed that her mother was a Holocaust survivor which revealed that Lois was Jewish. Peter replies to the news saying, “Wow, breast cancer is starting to look pretty good.” This statement is a form of name calling propaganda towards Judaism because obviously cancer is not perceived as a good thing by any means. Also, Lois’s mother admits that she lied about her original last name, Moneygrabba, to get into her husband’s country club. Seth MacFarlane is known to not draw the line anywhere within “Family Guy” and illustrating Jewish people as sneaky, liars and greedy just reiterates that. Lois consults a Rabbi, or as she words it, “an actual Jewish person”, for what she should do about the fact that she is Jewish. Brian chimes in by saying “I’ll tell you what you should do…absolutely nothing. That’s the problem with this world; too many people go overboard with what they believe.” Brian’s statement is a way of name calling and criticizing our world’s population; and it is then supported by Peter’s radical transformation into a Jew and then retransforming into Catholic shortly after in the episode.
Peter starts off by going to a Jewish church and then makes his children go to Jewish schools. At the school, Stewie makes a hasty generalization about Jews asking, “how long ‘til we play ‘hang the eviction notice on the black guys door’?” After a revelation, Peter thinks he will go to hell if he forsakes his religion so he changes his entire view of Judaism and tries to embody a devout Catholic. He degrades Lois for being a Jew by tying her to a cross made out of Stewie’s crib and shooting at her with a shotgun. Peter also shows his pure ignorance his own Catholic religion when he says to Lois, “This family believes in the Easter bunny! He died for our sins in that helicopter crash.” At the end of the episode Jesus Christ visits the Griffin family to reveal that he is a Jew, but all religions are “crap”. This scenario is propagandistic because it presents the argument that a person can know nothing about a religion, yet rationalize why they believe in it whole-heartedly without credibility. This further supports Seth MacFarlane’s atheist beliefs.
In episode four, “Brian’s Got a Brand New Bag”, Peter watches the movie Roadhouse and comes to the conclusion that whenever there is any type of conflict, it can be resolved by kicking people. As a result, Peter goes around kicking employees at fast food joints and even Lois while having moments of intimacy. This is a detrimental message that insists to young adults and easily influenced children that violence can get you what you want in the end. Later in the same episode, Brian becomes attracted to a considerably older woman. The family makes fun of Brian and the issue of the age difference. Brian says defensively, “This is what’s wrong with society…nobody bats an eye if a young woman dates an older man, but God forbid it’s the other way around.” This quote is propagandistic in its own right because there is name calling occurring. Yet, once again, there is no concern at all for the fact that a dog and a human are interested in each other in the first place. This gradually could result in viewers of Family Guy being less critical of such relationships.
In “Hannah Banana”, episode 5, Family Guy makes fun of Miley Cyrus, portraying her as a mindless android created by Disney. Cyrus goes on a rampage, killing people and wrecking the city. Once again, the negative subtleties about the Disney Corporation insinuate to Family Guy viewers that they create monsters. MacFarlane could be attacking Disney rather frequently on the show because of recent law suits and also due to the hypocrisies of the corporation. Another episode in season eight, called “Jerome is the New Black”, starts off with a scene from the Rat Pack’s most bigoted songs. Tunes such as “Drunk Old Injun”, “Jewish Nose”, “Chinamen’s Chants”, “Pew Stinky Frenchmen” and “Hey There Fruity” were all songs that were featured to show prejudice against Native American, Jew, Chinese, French and homosexual people. The show followed the theme as Peter and his friends attempted to find a new black friend to replace their old one that moved away. They find a man named Jerome that fits the mold. When Stewie first sees him he says “are we being robbed?” Clearly this is a stereotypical comment reinforcing to younger viewers that African Americans are typically criminals.
More propaganda presents itself with double-standards and stereotypes in episode 14, “Peter-assment”. In one of the rare episodes that Peter is shown at work, his female boss becomes physically attracted to him and begins to sexually harass him. When Peter tells Lois she laughs at him and replies by saying, “a woman can’t sexually harass a man.” Clearly this is not the case, but to a younger child watching Family Guy, they may take that statement seriously. The reaction displayed by Lois could be similar to the imagined response a molested boy would expect from authoritative figures, keeping him from revealing what happened. In addition, this episode promotes more domestic violence and racism when Peter makes the comment, “I thought you had to be in the NBA to hit a woman.” This transfers to those viewing that since most people in the NBA are black and have money they are allowed to hit women without severe consequences. In the episode “Spies Reminiscent of Us” there is numerous stereotypes as well. In it, Brian and Stewie find themselves in a position to be spies for the Federal Government. The password for the group was not something that anyone would say, according to its members: “Gosh, that Italian family at the next table sure is quiet.” They then travel to Russia where the welcome sign says “Birth Place of the Haggard Old Woman”. Every citizen is also portrayed as being a bear on a unicycle. Obviously the stereotypical references are meant to make the viewer laugh, but at the same time these oversimplifications and hasty generalizations could cause Americans to subconsciously not take certain races and nationalities seriously.
Any individual could spend hours upon hours trying to interpret the propaganda that Seth MacFarlane establishes through Family Guy episodes. However, the truth of the matter is that you would likely get several different responses from various demographics, psychographics and sociographics, with some views varying more than others. This is just my personal interpretation of MacFarlane’s work. Surprisingly, the issues of pedophilia, while still present in episodes, were not as prevalent in the whole season. Equally as unexpected, propaganda promoting animal and human intimacy was almost as frequent as non-religious propaganda. Ultimately, the main premise of Seth MacFarlane’s propaganda within Family Guy is to shock its audience with issues that are typically considered uncharted, out-of-line territories. Once the shock value is gone the viewer has probably been exposed to it to the point where it is considered a norm, which I believe is Seth MacFarlane’s main goal. His utilization of countless controversial issues made to be comical mixed with white, gray and black propaganda makes it hard at times to decipher what is just a joke and what has an underlying serious message. This is why people who are uneducated and easily manipulated to begin with, especially adolescents, should not be exposed to Family Guy.
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