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Television Show
an article by Charlie McNally

When advertisers on the FOX television network pull sponsorship from a TV show for being too offensive, common sense says that the show in question must be in truly bad taste. After all, shows on Fox such as "Temptation Island" and the infamous "Jerry Springer" have no trouble whatsoever finding sponsorship, and they routinely carry some of the most offensive material on television. At first glance "The Family Guy," looks like a show geared towards the basest humor of racism, misogyny, and ageism. A thorough analysis provides a more nuanced picture, and some of the motives driving Fox's Corporate sponsors (and ultimately Fox, which cancelled the show) become apparent.

By making offensive jokes about EVERY conceivable group in a nothing is sacred manner, the show completely shields itself from the typical criticisms aimed at liberals of being too PC. One episode about protagonist Peter Griffin's paraplegic neighbor features a depiction of "The Special People's Games." By conflating physical handicaps with mental disorders to come up with events such as bulimic pie-eating, the show could be considered seriously offensive to both the mentally and physically afflicted. In another episode where Peter discovers his feminine side, he gives a speech to an all-male group about how they (men) are responsible for the violent crime in our society. The catch: the speech is delivered at the Million Man March.

What makes The Family Guy remarkable is that through its quite clever (if offensive) humor, it often slips in very unFOXlike progressive themes and important questions without oversimplifying the complex issues it examines. In an episode called "Lethal Weapons" Peter's wife Lois learns to fight and the family relationships deteriorate until they begin a two minute fight sequence with each other. After the fight they wonder what came over them. "Maybe people are just naturally violent" says the son. "I don't believe that," says Lois. "I think its all the TV we watch. There's so much violence." Refusing to oversimplify, Peter continues directly: "Why doesn't the government step in and tell us what we can and can't watch, and shame on the network who puts this junk on the air." This episode attacks the right question as it acknowledges the complexity of tthe answer. Perhaps this level of insight is what really scared away Fox's sponsors. They seem to have a high enough tolerance for offense.

DISCUSSION

Question(s) related to this article:


Can offensive humor be an effective tool to build a culture of peace?,

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Latest reader comment:

Very good points Curiousdwk! I agree that there certainly should be some type of litmus test for offensive humour promoting a culture of peace. Not all of it is productive, but determining what the test is can still be tricky. Your criteria sound good, but applying them is still difficult. For example, follow the link below and watch the clip from the popular comedy "Chapelle's Show." (You'll need Realplayer to see it.)

http://www.comedycentral.com/mp....ar.html

The humour is certainly offensive, but does it encourage critical analysis? Does the race of the comic producing the material make a difference? To both questions, I tend to think the answer is yes, but it really is a subjective judgement. Anyone have any thoughts?


This report was posted on February 17, 2003.