Seth MacFarlane Loves Rape Jokes

by Elle on February 28, 2013 · 15 comments

in Television, You're Not Funny

FamilyGuyOvalOrificeMy generation has seen its share of dysfunctional cartoon characters. Many of us were raised on The Simpsons, which arguably paved the way for South Park. I recall South Park making a huge impression on television and popular culture, even though I wasn’t allowed to watch it when it premiered in 1997. Adults older than I are more likely to associate their adolescence with Beavis and Butthead. All of these shows have incited controversy at some point and all were popular. So it should come as no surprise that another occasionally controversial animated comedy would succeed with the same audience. But oh, it irritates me when people assume that I like Family Guy.

I have never felt comfortable with Seth MacFarlane’s brand of humor. And I’m not alone, judging by the reactions to the multiple gross sexist offenses during his turn hosting the Oscars. There is always something about his jokes that gets under my skin and causes me to consider the implications of certain statements.

For one, there are so many rape jokes.

In 2013, as a stripper of four years, I had come to know female coworkers who had been attacked, assaulted and stalked (including myself). Four nights at week at 3 a.m, I always eased my car slowly into the driveway, allowing my headlights to fill the dark bushes and fence of my yard, and marched with my keys in my hand, quickly entering my home. I felt comforted by the low scream of my alarm, which did not get turned off until the door was locked behind me.

After shower, food, and puppy-belly-rubs the television usually went on about thirty minutes later. There was never much on, except infomercials, decade-old Forensic Files, and Family Guy. Having no interest in the first, and having viewed all the former, I decided to give the latter another try. I had mostly avoided Family Guy for much of its run, since I was busy with school and day jobs. Lying in bed, after an evening of being harassed and harangued for what feels like minimum wage, I was rubbing my sore knees with my calloused hands, when I was greeted by the image of Peter Griffin, and these words:

“…but I’ll tell you what’s not cool–killing strippers. Strippers are people too; naked people who may be willing to pleasure you for a price you negotiate later behind the curtain of a VIP room. Besides, there’s no reason to kill them, ’cause most of them are already dead inside…Good night, folks!”

I was finished as soon as I began with Family Guy. I don’t think it’s funny. If you think that might be a rare instance of tolerating brutality against women, here are some more neat examples. Let’s start with Stewie shooting a prostitute. How about necrophilia and pedophilia?

Quagmire’s Rape Couch

Hope and Rape

Raped by a Clown

It is at this point that fans of Family Guy have begun formulating arguments against me. Here’s a few that I have come across.

1) “MacFarlane has staff writers for his show, he doesn’t write all of the jokes! Therefore he isn’t to blame.”

No shit he has writers. So does Jon Stewart of The Daily Show, but you can bet your ass that nothing will make it to the airwaves without Stewart’s approval.

2) “The protagonist, Peter Griffin, is meant to be poking fun at men; he’s overweight, ignorant, and sexist. Therefore it is the stereotype that MacFarlane is belittling, since the words are coming from Peter’s animated mouth. As the ‘fat, blue-collar, ignoramous’ he shouldn’t be taken seriously.”

Unfortunately, there are a lot of slow, middle-class undereducated men who will identify with Griffin, without realizing that they, too, are part of the joke.

3) “Family Guy is an adult cartoon, and therefore deals with adult material, which shouldn’t be censored.”

Even if Family Guy is a cartoon for adults, most of its viewers are teenagers, and are still formulating opinions about the world around them.

Entertainment Weekly estimated the viewer ages in groups for males and persons. Here is the breakdown:

Adult Men 18-34: 2 Million
Persons 12-34: 4.3 Million

If we reinforce ideas such as the ones presented by MacFarlane, is it really such a surprise that we are raising a rape culture? (See: the case of the University of Vermont fraternity whose members were suspended after they circulated a quiz asking the men who they would rape if they had the chance.)

4) “Seth MacFarlane is hugely popular; he’s built an empire for himself, and is highly successful. Leave him alone.”

WHY IS THIS AN ARGUMENT? Just because something makes a load of money and has followers, doesn’t make it valuable or ethical! Some of the most successful business ventures are arguably the most controversial, such as the tobacco industry and the fast food empires of America. Even some Jersey Shore cast members are allegedly pulling in six figures a season; that certainly doesn’t make the show socially redeemable.

5) Lastly, someone will point out that “Family Guy makes fun of all kinds of people, not just women!” You are quite right, there are also plenty of jokes about mentally-handicapped people, minorities, gays, lesbians and transgender individuals.

One thing at a time, people. My focus is women.

In conclusion, I want you to read this follow script, from an episode titled: “I Dream of Jesus.”

Peter: Can I have that record? I love that song. I’ll let you have sex with my daughter…
Man: I don’t know…let’s see what your daughter looks like.
P: She’s…uhh…(pans past Meg to “hot” girl)…right there!
M: Ok, I’ll do her. But can you tell her to cry and beg me to stop?
P: I think that can be arranged.

As a woman, I want people to stop thinking that disrespecting women is funny. As a stripper, I want them to stop thinking that disrespecting strippers is fun. Making rape and sexual assault humorous takes away the power of the victims and survivors and lessens the culpability of offenders. I don’t expect everyone to agree with me. It’s much easier to argue that I’m oversensitive and splitting hairs, so that you can watch your television show without any guilt, rather than making a stand—or at the very least, changing the channel.

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

phyllis February 28, 2013 at 10:13 am

I can see your point, but with views like that All in the Family wouldn’t never have been made and the subjects wouldn’t have been talked about, change wouldn’t have started to happen. Maybe we as a society have been dumbed down. This argument is no different then all the religious people that screamed about heavy metal leading to suicide. These shows don’t cause a problem; the problem of misogyny and bigotry were already there. They help us to deal with it because they are so absurd. They dealt with serious topics. Without shows that push our taboos we wouldn’t be talking about it. Subjects like rape and any sort of bigotry need to be talked about and made fun of. And if you find Family Guy offensive don’t listen to Lenny Bruce or read his book How to Talk Dirty and Influence People, or watch TV from the 70’s. In a lot of ways it was a lot more progressive then it is now.

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Elle Elle February 28, 2013 at 4:11 pm

I agree that these things need to be talked about; that is what I am doing.

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Jessie Nicole Jessie Nicole February 28, 2013 at 5:16 pm

I completely disagree with most of this argument, but want to focus on two specific points.

“These shows don’t cause a problem; the problem of misogyny and bigotry were already there.”
These shows may not be the original creators of oppression – but they certainly perpetuate the problems. Cultural acceptance of oppression is part of what keeps it in practice, and that is exactly what these kinds of jokes do.

“Subjects like rape and any sort of bigotry need to be talked about and made fun of.”
I agree on principle, but feel that is inapplicable to the specifics of this article. These jokes don’t make fun of RAPE they make fun of RAPE VICTIMS and that’s an important differentiation. There are plenty of examples of mockery of serious subjects that aren’t offensive or dependent on misogyny transphobia racism classism (ect…)

Yeah, maybe pop culture is more progressive than it was the 70s… but frankly that’s not good enough for me. Are we handing out cookies for being less offensive than Lenny Bruce? That’s just sad to me.

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Elle Elle February 28, 2013 at 10:35 pm

Thank you.

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Sylvia March 13, 2013 at 9:48 pm

I never could stomach Family Guy but it got progressively worse in it’s blatant misogyny. It makes me ill when I see women have ringtones and screensavers of Quagmire, the ultimate date-rapists.

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HoneyNee February 28, 2013 at 12:22 pm

This is great but the term you are looking for is transgender, not transgenderED and most (all?) of the jokes around trans* identites are directed at trans* women, which is transmisogyny and should be acknowledged as such. Again, great article thanks.

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Elle Elle February 28, 2013 at 4:11 pm

Ah, you are right! Thank you for the clarification.

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Wendy March 1, 2013 at 3:32 am

I have been a stripper for seven years and have always hated Family Guy. I have never watched an entire show, rather I have multiple piece of shit misogynist males in my family who often watch the show. They know that I hate misogyny, so what they do is turn the volume up really loudly if the show is on, in order to bother me. I have recognized this piece of shit show as disgustingly misogynistic for many years. I had no idea that piece of shit misogynist Seth MacFarlene was involved in the creation of the show until reading this post, but it doesn’t surprise me in the slightest. Perhaps he and Tina Fey get together in their SNL group, scheming ways to hurt sex workers and create a culture that makes our existence unsafe. I feel that Phyllis is expressing a great deal of ignorance in her statements.

Seth MacFarlene is probably terrible in bed and cannot please a woman sexually if his life depended on it.

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D March 2, 2013 at 9:00 pm

I like edgy humor as much as the next guy, but Family Guy has never done it for me either. I think it’s a little too self-satisfied, plus they tend to overdo the non-sequitur detours.

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Irony Butterfly Irony Butterfly March 3, 2013 at 10:39 am

I’m in the camp that finds Family Guy funny (although I wouldn’t want to actually defend single every family guy joke). I watch it, and I find it engages with hyperbole and irony – like I don’t think the joke is that “dead strippers are funny” – I think the joke is “old white dudes view the dead stripper as a minor inconvenience in their evening.” Like it is not meant to be “funny because its true” – it’s meant to be funny because it is ridiculously not true. Like when I watch it, what I see is that it is bringing out stereotype, often one that is poorly defined and kind of amorphous and totally blowing it right up and then saying “look at it.”

This is why I find it funny (sometimes – again, don’t want to defend every single joke) – I’m not trying to convince anyone else to find it funny because that would be weird, but I watch family guy and I laugh and I don’t think I’m misogynist and I don’t think I’m callous to actual abuse of actual sex workers. However, I don’t think the benchmark for acceptable humour can be “does it make slow, middle-class undereducated men think what we want them to think?” or, for that matter “do slow, middle-class undereducated men really get it?” If that is the benchmark, relatively little of what I’ve loved from Gosford Park to Buffy the Vampire Slayer will pass a test.

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Brodie March 3, 2013 at 3:48 pm

That’s fair, and I definitely think it’s possible to enjoy things while being aware that they have problematic aspects.

That said, I’m strongly opposed to Family Guy and other shows with that brand of humor because I just don’t feel like there’s enough distance between the sincere sexists (and racists, and transphobes, and homophobes, etc etc) and the jokes made on that show. It’s one thing to explicitly parody harmful attitudes in a way that it’s quite clear that the jokes are laughing AT bigots instead of with them, and quite another to make jokes at the expense of marginalized people. There’s a great post on the now-defunct blog Fugitivus called “a woman walks into a rape, uh, bar” about rape jokes that explains it better than I do (I’d link to it but I’m on my phone here, so I recommend googling it).

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Sarah Woolley March 6, 2013 at 6:43 am

After many were asking “Why can’t Tina Fey host the Oscars” I wrote a piece on why a Mean Girl is no better than a Family Guy.

http://sarahwoolley.tumblr.com/post/44633816012/tina-fey-for-the-oscars-only-a-mean-girl-can-top

I’ve linked to the Tits & Sass ‘Tina Fey Hates Sex Workers’ and Anna Breslaw’s essay, at the end.

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Elle Elle March 14, 2013 at 8:42 pm

Thanks Sarah! I will read that right now.

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Ethan August 1, 2014 at 3:44 am

For starters, holy crap, I used my name and not my go-to pseudonym; anyway, the point of my comment is that, yes, Family Guy is, frankly, a pathetic show that panders to the “lowest common denominator”. The first season was the only one that was, to me, truly and (added after searching through the episodes: ALMOST) fully enjoyable. I’m sorry if there are rape jokes in it; I honestly don’t remember, though I do remember many other deplorable jokes, but the worst didn’t come until a couple of seasons later. I try to keep my watching of the show limited to those episodes that focus on Brian and Stewie, particularly the “Road to…” episodes, since they’re the only ones that still bring more complex humor than “bodily functions and sickening sex ‘jokes'”. However, one episode did something I still can’t believe Family Guy could do: it made me cry. The season 3 episode “Death Lives” starts, as often, with Peter being a moron (keep in mind, this was back when Peter was just a bumbling oaf, but still a decent father; not the jackass he is today) and ditching his wife on their anniversary. Yes ladies, he didn’t forget; he CONSCIOUSLY DITCHED HER. During this, he crashes his car, gets struck by lightning and dies. Death visits him and shows him all the things he messed up over the years. After this, Peter convinces Death that he’s worth a second chance, and as Lois storms up to him (he’s smiling and waving), Peter Frampton (Death tricked him into being there, I think) comes out from behind a tree with his guitar, playing “Baby I Love Your Way”, apparently “their song” (I never understood that sentiment, but that’s beside the point). That scene, right there, as they’re both crying, always hits me hard.
Anyway, while the show may generally be trite rubbish, occasionally sifting through the dung will get you a lovely diamond. Sadly, that’s only slightly more common than it is in the literal sense; however, for all its offensiveness, it does occasionally have honestly funny episodes, and sometimes it even has a beautiful moment. While it may not get the same reaction from you, or most people, I felt the need to share that.
I’m sorry for the rambling, and if anybody gets to this line, thanks for putting up with it. As I’ve said before, I am…. I can’t say just as furious as you, Elle, but I am very furious at the show for many of the same reasons, and several different ones…. anyway, I’m furious at the show’s preferred “humor”, and gladly condemn it. I know I said that at the beginning, but it felt like I should reiterate. Thank you again, whoever was willing to put up with my rambling.

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Ethan August 1, 2014 at 3:45 am

Ummm… That was MUCH longer than I thought; sorry.

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