“Family Guy’s Cutaway from Tragedy”

I know you thought they went too far on that last one, but it can’t be as bad as that time Family Guy, went back to the past to yet again make an offensive 9/11 joke. At this moment, a random cutaway flashback will be appropriate, but as funny as it may be, to what purpose does it serve? Seth MacFarlane’s Family Guy, a show well known for its offensive satire and crude humor, has often referenced the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and the zeitgeist surrounding it during 2001 and up until now. Some of these jokes may have a deeper satirical meaning, but as of recently they have become outright offensive and have a sole purpose of offending the public. In comparison to many other comedy shows, specifically animated cartoons, the topic of 9/11 has been talked about, but never in a way to simply rouse excitement and negative temperament. Family Guy however has determined that ten years is a long enough wait, and uses this opportunity to set the precedent for disassociating the events of 9/11 from tragedy and allowing all stages of comedy to comment on it freely.

Family Guy has a history of using its random comedic structure to talk about whatever they want in whatever context. They are iconoclastic like many other animated cartoons but at a higher level. When portraying Jesus Christ, South Park for example may depict him as one who takes interest in child pornography . This association would come from the already established stereotype of catholic priests. Nevertheless this can be overlooked since Jesus in South Park is always determined to defend the greater good of humanity. Seth Macfarlane in contrast takes Jesus completely out of context. The common caricature of Jesus in a Family Guy reference is; well there isn’t any common one. There are times when he is either an average young hipster who works in a record store , a bad ass whose life was similar to an action movie , a fat man, or a midget . South Park consistently shows him as a super hero; part of the super best friends, but Jesus in Family Guy does not have a sustained image and is not really based on his portrayal in the bible. When it comes to celebrities like Kanye West or Mel Gibson, South Park may go as far as to question their sexuality or make them seem like a pompous jerk. Save for the possibility that these representations may be true, [cough]; I mean, that they are based off common fan discourse; Family Guy instead takes well known celebrities and puts them in such outlandish situations that their personalities do not even remotely resemble reality. An example of Cybil Sheppard being depicted as a dragon conveys how Family Guy’s portrayals of icons are so random that any former thought of them is removed.
With Family Guy’s potential for iconoclasm, it is very well possible for them to strip away the tragic feelings of terrorism. However before doing so, the writers first proved that they were capable of handling the topic of 9/11 in a more mature fashion. In the episode “Baby Not on Board” , Peter and the family visits Ground Zero where Peter questions Brian about the events that truly happened. Through a back and forth of idiotic replies from Peter, and Brian’s attempts to educate him, we get a satire on how disillusioned the common man truly is about the terrorist attacks and also how the media has been confusing them. This satire with its comedic and silly tone brings frustration with laughter as we identify with Brian who represents the people who attempt in trying to educate the ignorant about the truth. This is similar to South Parks approach in “Mystery of the Urinal Deuce” . In this episode it was declared that the conspiracy claiming that the government caused 9/11, was in fact a conspiracy created by the government. This loop of confusion also represents the misunderstanding of the common man while also targeting the so-called “truthers” who declared these conspiracies. It also touches on the government that leads our beliefs into it all. Similarly in an episode of the Boondocks, Huey starts a rant on destructive truths for white America which ends in the words, “The government is lying about 9/11”, which ultimately sends the crowd into frenzy . All three of these cartoons touched on the perceived “truths” concerning 9/11, and everyone’s confusion based on the actual occurrences.
On most occasions though, Family Guy chooses to remove 9/11 and terrorists out of context and puts it in such a ridiculous fashion that one no longer ponders the truth. The question turns from “what has” to “what if”. For example, in one reference to a mentally challenged suicide attack, MacFarlane takes a fearful terrorist crash and gives it a comedic spin when a bike, which starkly decreases the effect of an attack, replaces the plane . A deeper example though would be the episode “PTV”, where Osama and his henchmen are creating a terrorist video to air to America, but then a more humane side of the terrorist is shown . Rather than being stoic villains, they are comedic, friendly, and more importantly have American dialects. They are not only shown in a different light than they usually are by the media, but they are now made similar to the people who have learned to fear them. They jest and tease each other like work buddies in ways an everyday person would. The targets of this satire are the terrorists and the fear that comes with them. Its purpose is to erase all prior feelings of discontent from them and instead joke alongside our enemies. Laughter and amusement comes with this, but for those who remember all too well sulking in pain from terrorists, they may feel offended. For this purpose Stewie at the end defeats them all in the name of justice and America in a very cool and comedic battle which tries to win over even the worst sufferer.
In Family Guy’s most recent attempt to disconnect tragedy and 9/11, they go beyond a simple cutaway and uses the topic to form the conflict of the story. In the episode, “Road to the Pilot”, Brian and Stewie go back in time and stop the events of 9/11 from occurring . The episode pays homage to the show’s premiere episode while simultaneously showing how preventing 9/11 could have resulted in an even worse future. What may have offended the public the most however is the high five done at the end to congratulate each other for causing 9/11 once again, which Stewie admits will look horrible out of context. The fact that it is out of context however is what justifies this episode. It is nothing more than a “what if” situation that tries to alleviate the public by suggesting that perhaps something worse would have happened if the said event did not occur. This causes laughs, outrage, but in some maybe relief. For those who often criticize his work such as the Parents Television Council, MacFarlane turns them away by saying, “nobody is forcing you to watch this show. They say is this taste? No, it’s not, its terrible taste. That’s what’s funny.” . With Family Guy’s solid ratings however, he is confident enough to say this and know that his viewership isn’t drastically diminishing. The next bit of criticism is the exclusive feelings of the tragedy. MacFarlane who missed one of the planes that flew into the twin towers because of a hangover constantly makes these jokes, but some feel that he hasn’t the right to . However, who gives Louis C.K. the right to say the word “Nigger”. Not saying that he shouldn’t be allowed to say it, but then likewise MacFarlane should be allowed to comment on the events no matter how offensive it is. With satire it is either all okay or none of it is, and Family Guy lives up to that criteria. In regards to how empathetic he can be for tragedy, he uses the same time machine in this episode to bring back to life the character Brian in a later one. He tweets on the airdate of this episode, ”…Never take those you love for granted, for they can be gone in a flash.” The time machine used to stop 9/11 and then to cause it all over again in “Road to the Pilot”, has taken a more symbolic meaning and captures the hopes of people who wish that they can go back in time and bring back a loved one.
So by showing a bit empathy should Seth MacFarlane be allowed to comment on the terrorist attacks? Is it ever really too soon to comment on these events in a comedic way? Well no, since many other animated cartoons has already, but is it perhaps too soon to make a statement about it just for mere entertainment. Robot chicken in a sketch called “Too Soon, makes a reference to Cloverfield and 9/11 which captures this criticism . When the Cloverfield monster attacks New York City, the citizens scream how it is too soon to be destroying the city after a tragedy has befallen them so recently. Ironically they were making a joke that was perhaps too soon, but the target is mostly America’s contempt. If media’s coverage of tragic events and constant reminders; republican’s use of the tragedy for emotional collateral, and all the constant memorials, is said to hurt the viewers ; Seth Macfarlane is simply suggesting with Family Guy’s randomness and iconoclasm, that it is not too soon, but perhaps about time that we disassociate 9/11 from sadness and towards comedy.

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