In the wake of his offensive and hopelessly lowbrow performance at the Oscar Awards ceremony this year, Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane’s misogyny has earned him rebukes from everyone from The New Yorker magazine, to the California Legislative Women’s Caucus, to actresses Jane Fonda, Geena Davis, and Jamie Lee Curtis, while his anti-Semitic remarks resulted in condemnations from both the Anti-Defamation League and the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
But now, two people have leapt to MacFarlane’s defense. Craig Zadan, one of the producers of MacFarlane’s offensive Oscars performance, implied that women who were offended when MacFarlane spent five minutes singing about women’s breasts, or Jews who complained about MacFarlane’s claims that they “control Hollywood,” are idiots who “didn’t understand” the so-called “humor.” Fellow producer Neil Meron went even further, claiming that “Everyone who complained missed the joke. It was satire.”
Now, there is such a thing as satire; and sometimes it can be offensive. But to be genuine satire, the humor has to have a point. Historically, satire has been used to point out examples of hypocrisy or wrong-doing in a society, and in fact often serve as a covert means of encouraging reform. As such, genuine satire often does give offense, particularly to those in charge of the status quo.
But does it therefore follow that everything offensive is therefore automatically “satire”? Are we to regard third-graders laughing at fart jokes as “satirists” the equal Jonathan Swift? Are all adolescent boys who smirk during biology class to be considered budding Voltaires? And what of genuine instances of blatant sexism, racism, and religious prejudice?
Seth MacFarlane falls squarely into this camp. On March 10th, MacFarlane’s program Family Guy aired a gag about a man shoving a rodent up his anus…in a cartoon that airs at 8:00 p.m. Central on Sunday nights, and is watched by millions of children. And this is far from the worst content Family Guy has shown; in the past, the program has exposed children to other scenes sexualizing women and implying pedophilia, a man masturbating a horse, a baby eating horse sperm, or a character eating vomit and excrement out of a baby’s diaper – all on in prime time, on the airwaves the American people own.
The overuse of the word “satire” to defend even the most juvenile, depraved, and bigoted content demonstrates only that most of those in the “entertainment” industry have no idea what genuine satire actually is. Instead, they use the word “satire” as an excuse for deliberately giving offense, and as a cloak for their own bias and ignorance.