Why Is Family Guy Okay When Imus Wasn’t?

Don Imus is back on the radio, brimming with apology and announcing a new cast that includes two African-American comedians. He was run off the air a few months ago for calling the Rutgers women’s basketball team “nappy headed ho’s.”

I understand why he was canned. I understand why he is back. I understand that our culture loves the whole hero-sins/is-sent-into exile/then-is-redeemed cycle. It seems to perfectly embody the Christian ideals on which much of our culture operates.

What I don’t understand is why Imus got fired for his sins, albeit temporarily, while Family Guy rolls merrily along. I am not saying that Family Guy should be canned, or that Imus shouldn’t have been, but it’s a pretty curious situation.

I haven’t seen Family Guy all that much, but whenever I do I am pretty surprised that it’s allowed on the airwaves right there during prime time on broadcast TV (not cable). It’s a cartoon comedy that packs more gags per minute about race, sex, incest, bestiality, etc. than any other show I can think of. (It may have been beaten by South Park and a dozen others for all I know, but I can’t think of anything that comes close on broadcast TV.) Its characters include a father whose cartoon chin is drawn as a pair of testicles, a masochistic toddler, and a talking dog who, I believe, is both homosexual and an alcoholic. Let me put it this way: if you have or had a mother, any sort of mother, it is the kind of show you would not dare watch while sitting beside her.

Keep in mind that PBS was forced to clean up Ken Burns‘s World War II documentary because some of the soldiers had the temerity to swear. Keep in mind that Santa Clauses in Australia are no longer allowed to say “Ho ho ho” since it has been deemed offensive to women (I wonder if they have Don Imus to thank for that?); instead, they are encouraged to say “Ha ha ha.” Keep in mind, too, that Family Guy is broadcast on Fox, which was recently charged with censoring the notoriously rough language at the Emmy Awards.

Now read this simple but elegantly illustrative line from a Family Guy episode I saw not long ago, a repeat from last year I believe:

Stewie (the evil toddler): What kind of a man would I be if I ran off now?

Brian (the dog): Well, you’d be a black man.

This and many other clips used to live on YouTube, but have been taken down because of copyright issues. There’s still a lot of Family Guy stuff there, however; though the clips probably don’t last long. For a longer discussion of this episode, and a nice piece of writing on the very Imus point I’m trying to make here, see this National Review article by Mark Goldbatt.

FWIW, also keep in mind that the show is currently being produced without its creator, Seth McFarlane, because of the writers’ strike. And finally, especially if you are a media-conspiracy-theorist type, keep in mind that one recent episode was super pro-Al Gore — which might not mean much except that Fox is part of News Corp., the realm of the putatively uber-conservative Rupert Murdoch.

So, keeping all that in mind, let me ask you this: Why is Family Guy okay when Imus wasn’t?

Here are a few thoughts that come to mind; I’m eager to hear from you too.

1. Imus is human and Family Guy is a cartoon.

2. Imus is non-fiction and Family Guy is fiction (although it often has non-fiction elements).

3. Imus aspires to some level of intellectual sophistication while Family Guy is brazenly juvenile.

4. Imus is live talk while Family Guy is taped entertainment.

5. There is no real difference between the two, but the kind of big public storm that resulted in Imus being fired is essentially a random event, unpredictable and nearly inexplicable, and it typically arises when political, social, and media pressures all align just right. It can’t be concocted, or controlled. It happened to Imus because it happened; and it hasn’t happened to Family Guy just because it hasn’t.


Chance

Adrian in post #15 hit the nail on the head. Imus was not parodying racism in his comments (and that wasn't the first incident of it's kind, just the last straw). Family Guy, which I'm not a fan of, is expressly making fun of racism and not endorsing it. Comparing the two is apples and oranges. Now, compare him to Howard Stern, who uses the "n-word" quite a bit, and you'll see the differance is parody versus being serious.

Now, if Imus were playing or acting over the top as a racist character, then his comments likely would have cause a minor stir, if any at all, and he would not have been fired.

jacob

in 2007 in American being racist is defined by who listens to you (Not what you say or think). politicians and business men (powerful people) listen to Imus so he got canned for saying something bad. Family guy and South park say worse things because no one expects them to be sensitive.

charles botson

Don Imus is an idiot, featuring the type of humor I used to hear at the high school lunch table. I once listened to him because of the political interviews he conducted which gave additional insights into the fungible flock of political candidates and the inscrutable political process.

That said, my disgust for the former overtook my pleasure form the latter.

IMUS was completely out of line, but should have been fined, not fired.

But look at the racial hucksters involved: "corporate shakedown artist" the Rev'rund "hymietown" Jackson and Al "Tawana Brawley" Sharpton.

Here was a wealthy, high profile white man verbally assaulting the beleaguered black female athlete. An easy target to wax "holier-than-thou" about, extort reparations, deny him his livelyhood, pillory him.

The lesson one must learn is, if you are white, watch what you say, especially if you are wealthy. If you are black, say what ever you want to say with impunity, even the N Word.

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clay

How about general versus specific targets. From what I've seen, Family Guy generally casts broad strokes, hitting many elements of society and not picking on individuals, whereas Imus's comments were directed towards a small group of individuals, who also happened to be minorities and women.

Don

It's because Imus is a bigot and Family Guy is purposefully written to make us question the very prejudices we so easily accept as status quo.

i've also wondered

I didn't read through all of the comments above mine, but...

Maybe _Family Guy_ gets away with all of its incorrectness because the show is equal opportunist in its incorrectness. I haven't listened to Don Imus so I can't say that he is or that he isn't. But in _Family Guy_ everything is fair game.

The influence of a cartoon is much more far reaching because of the animated nature. And, likewise, easier to dismiss. Real people saying real things is harder to dismiss.

John

I confess I don't know the nature of american media storms very well, but I'd cite that much of the racism, sexism, etc. in family guy is meant for ironic value/comedy (the "I can't believe he just said that" form). To take the example given that line would have no comic value if taken seriously but is comic because it is immensely politically incorrect, and therefore funny. But also in media terms its easier to campaign against an individual then a show, therefore it's easier for anyone wanting to use the case for their own political ends, whatever these may be, I don't know the scenario itself, to be honest I'd never heard of Imus before he seems a purely american phenomenom.

Joe Wikert

Perhaps the best way to sum it up is to say that The Family Guy parodies people like Don Imus and the stupid situations they create for themselves. Imus is real. The Family Guy is made up.

Rich

Family guy is a satire!

Enough said, but unfortunately for you all I'll elaborate on the list in the post.

1) This isn't the whole thing, but it helps remind us Family Guy is a scripted satire.

2) It's not fiction vs non-fiction, it's satire vs reality. Family guy is satire. Imus is giving his real opinions.

3) lol.

4) This is a big part too. Family guy is scripted and the jokes are deliberate. Imus's comment just slipped out.

5) There has been some controversy over Family Guy and South Park. Both have had episodes pulled or modified. The writers had their opportunity to strike back in their shows by ridiculing the networks. Imus might not be so lucky.

But most of all, as someone else pointed out, at least to some of us Family Guy is frickin' hilarious and Imus is just a creepy old man with a case of verbal diarrhea.

eve

therefore satire is not damaging to the society? i mean if you have kids sitting there watching it - it affects them, whether it's a parody or not. and with family guy it's constant, a kid sits there day by day learning racism or at least stereotypes - basically getting brainwashed. silly me, i never watched family guy, you guys opened my eyes, and i was wondering where do young people learn to hate, why do they hang nooses on trees around their schools...

some people - obviously a lot of them - find Imus very entertaining, and probably "hilarious".
and to some people -like myself - family guy is not even mildly amusing.
in my opinion a show like family guy is much more damaging to our society because it aims at younger audiences, Imus doesn't.

Dave

Most of the young students at my elementary school love Family Guy... I guess parents think it is a cartoon and harmless. Part of the 'hands off' parenting and 'leave it to the schools' school of thought these days.

Josh

Are you kidding me?

How about No. 6:
Family Guy is a comedic parody, whereas Imus is say-whatever-ridiculous-thing-that-pops-into-your-head talk radio.

There might be an age factor in understanding this.

Reverend Flash

Brian - HOMOSEXUAL? He dates a Hot Blonde voiced by Drew Barrymore! What show are YOU watching?

Reverend Flash

Frankenduf from comment #45 sounds like he's never laughed in his life. He wants us to forego all this 'crass' humor and be 'uplifted' by Dostoevsky. Is that so we can all be turned on to Dostoevsky's alleged anti-semitism?

Reverend Flash

Kay in comment #48 doesn't get it. For the umpteenth time in this thread, 'Family Guy' makes jokes ABOUT racism to portray how ridiculous it is. One must really learn the difference between literal truth and satirical wisdom if one expects to understand one's world.

Alex Rayman

Ok dear friends, let's set the record straight.

I've said it before and I say it again: Family Guy is _PostModern Satire_ and the frequent mishabit of lumping it together with SouthPark is wrong, because belive it or not, Family Guy (as oposed to South park) is an intellectual show.

Noone seems to have noticed the way Freudian theory has been used to shape Stewies, (the evil toddler's) personality.

First the oedipuscomplex:
Instead of a patricide, Stewie wants to commit a matricide. Rarely does Stewie show any positive interest in his mother, but on the other hand his feelings of neglect are directed towards his father when finally revealed (See ep. "Lois kills Stewie")

Fittingly, Stewie is sometimes portrayed as potentially gay.

At the same time Stewie is a child, notoriously ID-ridden. His superego has little control over his actions.Thus he is extremely egotistical and refuses to take no for an answer.

How beautifully does this not fit with his aspirations to become ruler & dictator of the world?

What does this say about the series as such?

I could go on about how Freudian theory can be applied to Stewie as a character, or I could describe how Stewie is a critique against both Freudianism and certain types of feminism.. I for one am convinced that the influences described above is not an unreflected fluke coincidence, because FG is a highly self-concious series.

The show is usually jam-packed with cultural or political references, may it be other TV-series or movies, records, celebrity rumours etc.

What may appear to be nothing but sleeze can also be understood on a more refined level, given that you have the education to grasp it.

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Kanye West

Imus was completely out of line and racist towards African American Women whereas Family Guy makes fun of all races, genders, ages, sexualities, & things. As a black male Imus was totally out of line. Family Guy is a very funny show and I will always love it but I do think it should be put on at a later time and not 6:30 n 7:30 where minors have clear access to it. But it has ran into its problems also as it was cancelled before but because of its broad fanbase it was reinstituted and it isn't goin anywhere!!!

Zach

I think it is mostly 1 and 4. First (#4), there is a huge difference between someone's racist nature being exposed as part of a live talk show, and a writing staff's social commentary and/or crude entertainment (depending on your view). Second (#1), you can get away with saying much more offensive things when the speakers are cartoon characters.

dnl2ba

Sounds about right. If you're watching Family Guy or South Park, you know what you're getting yourself into.

Just in general, those shows seem to get away with a lot more than their live action counterparts. The shows' creators may have chosen animation because they knew that.

Do you mean Stewie is *sadistic,* not masochistic?

Brian

The dog is an alcoholic, but is not homosexual. Although he does have a homosexual cousin who has made a handful of appearances.