You’re Not Going to Do a Feminist Reading of “Family Guy” Are You?

If you’ll forgive me, I want to take a more serious tone with today’s blog—like on those very special episodes of “Blossom” or “Full House”. Or when someone speaks in the middle of a song—and you know they mean business when they just start talking when you know they should be singing.  This topic has pressed on my mind as of late, and though I tried to think of lighter alternatives, this is what I’m exploring today.  Maybe you thought you were gearing up for some wacky misadventures with Blossom and Six in their spunky hats, with Joey and all his “Whoa’s”, but just roll with it, maybe we could all learn something together as a family.  I could even try to rustle up some of that touching mid-nineties sitcom ‘special moment’ music if you’d like.   

In this past last week Ben and I have been watching rather large doses of “Family Guy“.  This show is very smart, clever and laugh-out-loud funny; then at least once an episode it will chuck you a dead baby.  More specifically, this show is rife with some serious rape jokes.  And it’s not just a passing remark—there are women being attacked or violated and whole jokes are structured around that image. Now, I am a very bawdy lady and I’m all for black humour.  I love the impact of an offensive joke; it’s like a punch to the gut or an axe to the chest.  Hey, I’ve even been known to use the “c-word” when it suits (and I’m not talking ‘cockle-shells’ people…it’s the one that rhymes with ‘bunt’.  So—despite Louis C.K’s remark that feminism and comedy are ‘natural enemies’, I feel like I can objectively appreciate a disturbing quip, even if I don’t find it funny.  And I like Seth MacFarlane—I follow him on Twitter, I gave my father “Ted” for Christmas, I watch “Family Guy”—I even laughed when he hosted the Oscars.  But seriously, what is with all the rape jokes?  MacFarlane is by no means alone, “30 Rock” made such jokes, and I trust Tina Fey implicitly.  And there seems to be a general rise in rape jokes throughout the sitcom realm.  But to what end are these jokes pursuing? I understand that in comedy, the worst time the character is having, the better time the viewer is having…but how bad a time do you want your character to be having?In one “Family Guy” episode, they make a reference to Aquaman being a useless superhero, and to prove this, they have him standing in the ocean, helpless to protect a woman being raped on dry land.  And the scene went on forever, like MacFarlane really wanted that image to soak in.  Did she need to be raped? Couldn’t someone just try to steal her purse?  Is it funnier because she’s being assaulted? 

I don’t know why I feel reluctant to throw this subject into the ring.  But if you explore the internet enough, there is endless material on “Family Guy”.  Oh my goodness is there a bursting pocket of humanity that wants to see MacFarlane’s head on a swivel.  There are petitions and open letters, people who want the show cancelled or censored, feminists who vilify the show, feminists who reluctantly admit that it makes them laugh.  There is also a ton of information on humour in rape culture, and whether one breeds the other.  Which brings up a serious question: are we in a rape culture? Is this a definable era?  Bronze to Flapper, WW II to Y2K, then rape culture? I mean, sexual violence has always been a fact, that’s a pretty common thread across the span of time.  But we haven’t always been laughing about it…at least I hope the ancient Egyptians weren’t making rape jokes in hieroglyphics.   The term ‘rape culture’ is being utilized more in the social media era; especially with the recent focus on the young girls who’s undoing was precipitated by the toxic mix of sexual violence and the internet.  And this is not what this blog is about—god, nothing that heavy.   The question I am posing is: can a rape joke be funny, when rape is not funny? 

One recent newspaper article blamed “Family Guy” for those athletes molesting and photographing that drunk girl in the United States (oh yes, those guys, that one time…I know, it’s rampant, but what can I tell you, it’s rape culture!).  According to this writer, this 22 minute, animated comedy has raised a generation of rapists.  Whoa, don’t give MacFarlane that much power. MacFarlane states in an interview that we are meant to laugh at the ignorance of the joker or attacker, which is not the same thing as condoning it. So when Peter Griffin makes a searing remark about rape or Quagmire rapes Marge Simpson, you are meant to laugh ironically, not conclude that unlawful penetration is A-OK.  But in the same breath, he says his main demographic are males, 18-34.  Which is not always the most discerning or ironically robust of all the statistical groups.  But that one article was on top of a very large pile of attacks that state that this kind of comedy is dangerous: that by laughing at the attack makes it easier to be an attacker.  But then…by that end would watching “Dexter” make you a vicious, but wholly sympathetic serial killer (is that what that shows about? I’m going on IMDB for this one).  There has to be more viewer responsibility—I think to blame a television program for a rapist’s action is ludicrous.  (There is so much more going on there than a few cracks on a cartoon).  You know, for me, it’s that the rape jokes are a serious buzz kill. I’m not saying it has to be cut out of the humour palette entirely. But I can wholeheartedly affirm that it is not my personal cup o’ tea.     


What do you think of these kind of jokes? Is there a place for rape in comedy?    I really welcome your thoughts.



2 thoughts on “You’re Not Going to Do a Feminist Reading of “Family Guy” Are You?

  1. Oh Alicia, that’s an intense topic. I personally think continued exposure to casual violence, including rape, desensitises people to it. I watched a documentary about research into a group of young teenage boys who were separated into two groups – one who played some violent video games, and others who played non violent video games. Following this they did some experiments to see their reactions to various things (I can’t remember the exact details). But what I do clearly remember was the distinct loss of compassion in the boys who had played the violent video games. I think if a comedy programme has to resort to rape jokes to get a laugh, that’s not clever comedy – they could do much better. It’s not funny, it’s not okay. I think people who think rape jokes are funny, should imagine if it was funny if the joke was about their mum/sister/grandma/aunty/daughter/wife being raped. Well, every woman who is raped IS someone’s mum/sister etc. So I should hope the answer would probably be no …

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