Seth MacFarlane has consistently blasted audiences with the foulest and most sickening content on broadcast TV, with his prime-time cartoons Family Guy and American Dad; and this fall, MacFarlane may have another opportunity to offend audiences with his first live-action comedy.
As the PTC has previously demonstrated, it’s not news that Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane’s previous programs have consistently indulged in racial and ethnic bigotry. Thus, it cannot come as a surprise that his new show does also. MacFarlane’s new “comedy,” Dads, has a paper-thin plot device: two young friends are forced to accept their elderly, fathers as roommates. The show’s “humor” derives from the older men’s bigoted remarks: as the men watch a boxing match, one father asks if they are watching Punch the Puerto Rican, and mistakes a Latina friend of his son’s for the maid. Naturally, the program goes on to also denigrate African-Americans, Jews, and the handicapped.
Yet notably, it’s not only the fathers who are bigots; at one point, desperate to land a lucrative deal with a group of Asian businessmen, the sons force their Asian-American co-worker to dress up like a sexy schoolgirl character from Japanese anime. (Audiences get to hear the woman note, ““That creepy translator texted me a picture of his tiny Chinese penis.”) So blatant are the show’s attacks on Asians that the Media Action Network for Asian Americans demanded Fox reshoot the pilot. Fox refused, on the grounds that doing so would interfere with the show’s “multiple levels” and “comic sensibility.”
In the wake of the show’s sneak preview at the Television Critics Association tour earlier this summer, many TV critics blasted the show’s racist “humor.” So poorly received was the program that Fox Chairman Kevin Reilly later pleaded with critics to be patient and not “pre-judge” a show. And in a move that has become de rigueur for Hollywood, MacFarlane and his producers have defended the show’s lack of taste by pointing out that the classic TV comedy All in the Family also contained jokes about racial stereotypes.
Almost as offensive as the show’s bigotry is MacFarlane’s cynical attempt to wrap himself in the mantle of All in the Family to excuse his race-baiting. MacFarlane says All in the Family’s Archie Bunker was also a racist, and that show and character were really satire pointing out flaws in American culture; so by the same token, ANY program that features racist dialogue delivered by a white male must also be “satire,” right?
For one thing, despite all the character’s flaws, actor Carroll O’Connor and creator Norman Lear also endowed Archie Bunker with several positive traits, which made him realistically complex and fully human. The same cannot be said of MacFarlane’s cartoon protagonists on Family Guy and American Dad, or the literally human but no less cartoonish protagonists of Dads.
For another, true satire always involves a degree of subtlety. While much of All in the Family’s content involved Archie’s over-the-top, malaprop-ridden rants, in every episode there was a telling moment in which Archie or another character was seen to have achieved a new understanding, often demonstrated by little more than a pregnant pause, facial expression, or glint in the eye. But MacFarlane’s idea of “subtlety” is a baby talking about sexually torturing his mother, or characters being riddled with bullets and having their heads graphically blown off. (Funny – we don’t remember Archie Bunker ever making references to the size of other characters’ genitals, or eating the contents of a dirty diaper, as MacFarlane’s characters have. Apparently, that just shows how much more “satirical” and “sophisticated” MacFarlane’s programming is.)
Most importantly, true satire has a purpose. All in the Family employed comedy, caricature, and racist dialogue as tools, but genuinely intended to teach moral lessons about the evils of bigotry and the necessity for people to accept one another. By contrast, Seth MacFarlane’s programs have absolutely no purpose, other than to bombard viewers – many of them children – with ever-more obnoxious, crude, and disgusting content.
It is clear that, in the wake of his $100 million dollar TV deal with Fox and the success of his mostly live-action film Ted, Seth MacFarlane believes he is invincible, that he can get away with anything in his shows, and that audiences are eager to lap up whatever garbage he pushes at them. But thankfully, if the reactions of TV’s critics are any indication, the Napoleon of trash TV may have met his Waterloo.