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January 26, 2009


Shows like Family Guy, The Simpsons and insult fat people but also everyone else. They pull everyone down to their level and allow everyone to laugh it off.

I don't actually agree, though I've heard this sentiment a lot. One of the things I'd point to is that, almost invariably, these shows which get categorized as "equal opportunity" in their targets are made by and for white men.

Family Guy is a case in point. Although it may seem to be targeting widely, it's rife with misognyous jokes which paint rape as funny while depicting the father as somewhat charmingly obtuse, even when he's patently abusive toward his family. It's modeled on a nostalgic view of 1950s marriage, and the formula never changes.

In shows like this one, the white man is the protagonist and often fat--the shlub of a hero who stands in for the common man (and with the viewer, who's assumed to be, like the creator of the show, another white man). He's usually an idiot and not terribly affluent and yet he has a thinner wife, oftentimes quite pretty, and the running joke is that for unknown reasons she puts up with him, despite his abuse of her and the children.

The narrative cues (among them, the fact that he's never, ever punished or forced to take responsibility for his actions in any kind of realistic way that suggests he's learning) tell us we are meant to take his side and have sympathy for him, while seeing the abuse of his wife as inevitable and even a part of his charm.

This kind of character has a long history in sitcoms, and I happen to actually quite like The Honeymooners, which is an earlier example of the genre that is, I'd say, a lot better than most modern versions in that at least it took place during a time in which women really did have fewer options.

So I don't think it's overly sensitive to notice that the wide brush of insults tend to smack the backsides of women while offering only a playful swat at men, or to note that fat women are rarely protagonists in their own dramas or comedies.

And I'm not saying that fat men don't live with prejudice or aren't hurt by fatphobia--just that it's different, and they don't live with nearly as much (nor are they economically penalized for it the way that women are).

I'm a feminist, obviously, and from that perspective I'd say that it's not an accident that women are so often told that we lack a sense of humor--that we're not as funny as men--and that it's a sign of a lack of humor to feel hurt by abusive language and unfunny business. Sometimes a joke is just another way of putting us in our place, and it behooves us to resist that, if not for ourselves, than for our children.

Re: the fatsuits at Gamestop: ugh. Like that's gonna convince who to play Wii Fit? Same goes for the other extreme: the use of booth babes to model the game use. *rolls eyes* I do like a good game of Dance Dance Revolution, but Wii Fit doesn't appeal to me. I prefer my aquagym class instead.

Family Guy is completely tone deaf about fatness, but The Simpsons has had some rather beautiful gags. Homer freaking out because he's "down to a B cup" still makes me giggle my head off.

Gamestop is so irrelevant these days that I'm surprised they have the budget for this. I feel for the poor drudges who had to wear stupid hot suits, minimum wage really doesn't compensate you for that kind of hassle. It would probably be nice to tell the employees in the suits that you're sorry their company makes them do humiliating stunts like this. If you were to contact the company, you might mention how appalled you are by how they treat their workers.

Miriam I would be more willing to buy your argument if you provided examples of family abuse in Family Guy or the Simpsons. I'm not a regular viewer of either but do watch occasionally. Stewie's constant references to matricide is probably one.

I would also point out that the exact opposite of your argument has been made about these shows plus King of Queens, Still Standing,etc. Some have argued that these shows present negative images of men. The fact that all of the male protagonists are complete dumbasses and their wives are much smarter and sometimes prettier really gives the impression that the common man is a dumbass and needs a woman to keep him from blowing himself up or drinking himself to death.

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