Last Tuesday, I reviewed five episodes of South Park and measured how offensive I found each episode to be on the axis of sexism, racism, cissexism, ableism, heterosexism, classism, and sizism. You can read more about my methods of review in parts one and two of this series. Comcast incompetence and exhaustion conspired to keep me from bringing you my analysis of Family Guy, but I have triumphed!
When reviewing early episodes, I thought, "Gee, this show was funny at one point." And it was, kind of, after a fashion. There are some clever allusions and homages to different movies throughout the show, but many of them reminded me more of how good of a movie the parodied subject was than how tickled my funny bone was. I averaged a dozen giggles in the three earlier episodes. But the chuckles got smaller as I got acclimated to the show's humor. This is a show that's not really based on much, a cheap show that falls apart watched at any level other than casual.
My affection for shows like King of the Hill and the Simpsons (the kind of shows that Family Guy half-heartedly rips off) grows the more I watch them and the better I know the characters, the setting, the style of humor. With Family Guy, though, I just grow irritated and bored.
Peter Peter Caviar Eater is about the Griffins inheriting a mansion and Peter being uncouth and embarrassing the family. There's a lot of jokes about how rich people are snobby and poor people are uncouth. If I really wanted to give the show credit, I would say it's a critique of wealth. But this is not a show I'm inclined to give the benefit of the doubt to; it's about how lower-middle-class folks are uncouth and they're going to stay that way so they'd better be happy with it. There were a total of 43 offensive jokes, 15 classist and 14 sexist.
Death is a Bitch introduces one character whom I actually find pretty funny, Death. I don't think I've seen such a literal personification of death in other light cartoons, and I usually find the character pretty amusing. This episode is still kind of funny, but again, it's tiring. It's the least offensive of the shows I surveyed, but there were still 34 instances of oppressive jokes, 12 sexist and 6 heterosexist.
North by North Quahog was the first show back from cancellation. Maybe they tried extra hard, or maybe it was just that I hadn't seen the show in a while, because this was actually pretty funny at least at first–I liked the Simpsons-esque Fox critique at the beginning, and the Bed Bath & Beyond metaphysical gag was actually clever. It devolved into a pretty basic ripoff of the much funnier South Park Mel Gibson episodes. 40 instances of oppression in this one, 14 sexist and 7 each of ableism and ageism.
Go Stewie Go is an homage to Tootsie and Mrs. Doubtfire (both of which I seriously loved in my pre-activist days but haven't revisited since). It's about Stewie dressing up as a girl to get a job on a children's show. The Stewie-wearing-a-dress gag is transmisogynistic–both sexist and cissexist–and I also found it weird that it focused on Stewie's attraction to a girl, considering that FG has been pushing Stewie's homosexuality pretty hard in the past few years (and I hate that this show forces me to talk about the framing of a baby's sexuality). The b-story was a terrible ageist gag about how Lois had to pursue Meg's boyfriend because she felt old. This was also the only one that had any kind of critical jokes–some about how Lois likes fat men, and Stewie critiquing some sexism sort of. Later in this season came a really vile transmisogynistic episode, which you should really read about here and here. There were a total of 47 instances of oppression, including 13 sexist and 13 ageist jokes.
The Splendid Source was the only Family Guy episode I reviewed that focused on the four male friends (probably an oversight on my part). It was about the guys going to find the source of dirty jokes. This was the most offensive episode, and the most sexist episode, with 48 oppressive jokes total and 19 sexist jokes.
There were an average of 43.4 oppressive jokes per 21 minute show. Sexism was the most common current, with an average of 14.4 sexist jokes per show. That's probably partially due to my choice of family-oriented episodes over friend-focused episodes or Stewie/Brian episodes–I'm sure if Cleveland and Joe had been in more episodes, there would have been more racist and ableist jokes.
What I gathered from watching these episodes is that the point of Family Guy is not to be oppressive. It's a side effect of unchecked, unexamined privilege, entitlement, laziness. Most of the jokes that I counted as offensive were throwaways–little jokes about how ugly or mannish Meg is, some cissexist or heterosexist two-second gag with Stewie and Brian, an ableist crack at Joe's expense or a racist aside directed at Cleveland.
As I'll explore in greater detail in my last post in this series, Family Guy is not thoughtful or considered oppression, the way South Park is. It's not committed to exploring and arguing for privilege, the way South Park is. It just doesn't care, period. It's there to coast, to get the easiest joke, the cheapest laugh. It's not a smart show, it's a lazy show. It can't rely on quality, challenging humor because it doesn't want to work that hard. Oppression based humor is a tried and true method of quickly winning over bigots and getting attention.
Family Guy wants the easiest way to laughs. And in a kyriarchal world, what's easier than relying on privilege?