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the film criticism aspect of cyber | by maryann johanson

because Seth MacFarlane is a bigger jerk than we knew

On the recent episode of Family Guy entitled “Big Man on Hippocampus,” a blurb on a Pretty Woman video box reads: “This movie made me laugh so hard, I had mild headaches. So I went to the doctor and got myself checked out. I am currently waiting for the results. –Gene Siskel.”

Because brain cancer is always good for a laugh.

This has been your WTF Thought for the Day.

(via reader Chris by email)



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  • Brian

    Is there a Facebook group for “1,000,000 people who would like to kick Seth McFarlane in the gonads” yet?

  • Knightgee

    I’ll admit, I giggled, but only at the prospect of Pretty Women giving someone brain cancer. But seriously though, Maryanne, is this your first run-in with Family Guy? Seth McFarlane has done far worse.

  • I am still baffled why anyone thinks he/his shoes are funny. He reminds me of the guy who you laugh at while drunk but when you go to tell people his jokes later they aren’t funny.

  • Knightgee

    I don’t think anyone finds his shoes funny.

  • Not even his “rilly big shoes?”

  • Michael

    I don’t think anyone finds his shoes funny.

    The kid from Mimic does. (“Funny, funny shoes…”) Might explain a thing or two. ;)

  • Mathias

    I’m beginning to really hate Family Guy now, which is sad since it actually used to be, you know, funny. It’s gotten to the point where its spin-offs, American Dad and The Cleveland Show, are both running circles around it every Sunday.

    Maybe if Seth ditched the rape jokes, stopped treating Meg like a leper for no apparent reason and started to trim down on the non-squitors, maybe it’ll regain its footing.

    Until then, you’ll find me enjoying AD & TCS.

  • fett101

    Is this your first time watching Family Guy or something?

  • MaryAnn

    I don’t watch *Family Guy,* because what I have seen of it is noxious. This was sent in by a reader, as noted in the OP.

  • JoshDM

    Best “Pretty Woman” joke this week was on Cougar Town, courtesy of Busy Phillips doing an excellent Julia Roberts impression, teeth-y smile and all.

    Don’t tell anyone I watch that show. Guilty pleasure.

  • Ogami Itto

    I don’t think anyone finds his shoes funny.

    I think they’re a helluva lot funnier than he is, which ain’t saying much. “Family Guy” has always been an inferior knock-off of “The Simpsons”, but without the heart and wit (back when the show was still good).

  • GotGm

    Yeah…. The chances of Seth MacFarlane actually writing that joke are pretty slim…

  • Miller

    Family Guy is fucking hilarious, you fucks. Perhaps if more people we’re intelligent enough to get most of the jokes, people wouldn’t put Family Guy down so much. There’s no doubt its the most offensive show I’ve ever watched. But who doesn’t like to laugh at someone else? It’s good for the ego and high in protein. Don’t be so damn Amish and get real here. Family Guy represents nearly everything we want to do or say, but most of which we haven’t the sack to say.

  • JoshDM

    The chances of Seth MacFarlane having at least recited that joke were 100% since he’s the voice of Peter Griffen, who read the box.

    Yes, I watch Family Guy, but I did think that was the most tasteless joke in the episode.

  • Patrick

    In fairness, if this gag was on “South Park” no one would bat an eye, and just write if off on Trey and Matt’s whimsical nihilism. (And don’t tell me those two haven’t sunk just as low for laughs whenever it suited them). But why does “SP” get a pass, and “FG” get raked over the coals for the same lack of taste?

    That said a lot of this shock humor is just pathetic, as it is applied so frequently, and thoughtlessly, that it no longer “shocks”.

    P.S.–I’m with Mathias. TCS and AD! are much better shows (for what it’s worth).

  • MaryAnn

    Family Guy is fucking hilarious, you fucks.

    Thanks for checking in, Seth.

    But why does “SP” get a pass, and “FG” get raked over the coals for the same lack of taste?

    So send me a really tasteless joke from a new episode of *South Park* and I’ll make it a WTFTFTD.

  • Martin

    South Park gets a free pass because (on the whole) they are trying to make a point. Most of the shows either make a political statement or a statement about how messed up life is.

    Family Guy is just shock humour for shock sake. Sure there are some messages in there eventually but it’s never really handled with quite the same touch that Matt Stone and Trey Parker have.

    But maybe it’s just a matter of taste.

  • fett101

    I don’t watch *Family Guy,* because what I have seen of it is noxious. This was sent in by a reader, as noted in the OP.

    Ah. Because there’s many clips that are far more offensive. Here’s a sampling.

    The “You Have Aids” song
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fwGP9DAAi4A&feature=related

    At the expense of Michael J Fox’s Parkinson’s.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n6nApaP2_ak

    The ipecac incident.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4eYSpIz2FjU

    Stewie Beats Brian
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9XZ1crkgtmc

  • Accounting Ninja

    What about all the rape jokes? That’s where FG started to lose me: all the misogyny. I used to be a fan (I can still enjoy the early eps just fine), but over the years the misogyny has been ramped up to 11. The rape jokes, the domestic violence jokes, the way Meg’s treated, Lois’s incredibly inconsistent character coupled with virgin/whore all over her, the way female minor characters are killed off/made into psychos….
    I know it’s a Dead Baby Comedy, and they make fun of everything, but the subject of women is always treated with more viciousness.

    Even South Park treats its women with far more respect than FG.

  • Knightgee

    @Martin:

    I disagree. SP likes to pretend it has a point and often times it is some small degree of social commentary, but the thing is that South Park is often offensive just for the sake of it, because they think people should “lighten up”, which is arguably the same message FG has, but because McFarlane doesn’t pretend to be making some kind of social commentary in each episode, he’s just crass, while Matt and Trey are “making a point”. I was completely offended by SP’s recent episode where they used the word f-word over and over, with the “poignant” message being that the word should no longer be offensive because it no longer refers to gay people. As a gay man, in 2009 when that word still precedes vicious assaults and bashings, that offended me, more so than any joke on FG ever has, because it was based in ignorance and straight white male privilege and not just an attempt to shock. I have a sense of humor about myself and I can handle shows that are just there to be offensive and noxious, I can even laugh. What I can’t handle is when that offensiveness is based in some kind of sincere belief, that’s when I get offended.

  • Martin

    Knightgee, you make a fair point and I wouldn’t say that Matt and Trey don’t do things that are offensive (and I’m sorry to say that as a Brit I’m a little behind with new SP so I don’t know about the episode you are referring to) but I still think that South Park is a consistently better written show than Family Guy.
    To ape the message in the episode Cartoon Wars; South Park’s humour is mostly relevant to the plot and/or situation whilst Family Guy blurts out whatever random stuff their writers thinks is funny at the time.

    When you are simply saying naughty things to get a reaction, you have to keep pushing that envelope until you are crossing some really dangerous lines (I have a few colleagues – big Family Guy fans – that operate in exactly the same way). Whilst South Park has that side to it (and there are a few moments in my mind which are just there to shock), it stands on steadier ground than FG.

  • e

    I kinda like this whole thread. First off because I agree that Family Guy just doesn’t cut it anymore, it’s too stitched together. It use to manage to be more astute on it’s social commentary, now it just feels lazy. (Mainly after it was resurrected).

    I hadn’t really thought about how I do give South Park a pass, but the reasons given by others are why. In context as a whole, south park manages to expose our collective idiocy about things far more often than it does gross-out/over the line humor, and so things slide.

    I just hope the new Futurama’s manage to capture the spirit/tone of it’s first run. Because I love that show way too much. (The DVD movies were ok, but it felt like they didn’t manage the pacing as well, trying to make it a normal length movie that also could break into episodes for air.)

  • Dart

    “Family Guy” has nothing to say or do but refer to current North American pop culture. Every episode is your latest issue of Entertainment Weekly. The show has gotten funny like those “Epic Movie” and “Superhero Movie” films are “funny”: if you saw the shows or movies they’re talking about, you’ll get it. In that sense the show is only funny if you’re a Western citizen. “South Park” on the other hand makes fun of how hypocritical and insane the world is, and so the comedy is more universal and effective.

  • Knightgee

    I think you’ll find FG does that too, like it’s episode about the FCC, it’s episode about Fox News, etc. Family Guy just doesn’t do those episodes all the time, whereas whole seasons of South park will end up being social commentary on something.South park also isn’t above commenting(read: lampooning) on the latest pop culture event, as it’s many episodes about insane celebrities and fads will show. Of course, South Park is also just as Western-centric. There’s honestly nothing you can attribute to Family Guy that can;t be found in South Park and vice versa. The only exception to that may be that South Park gets preachy, whereas Family Guy makes fun of the fact that it lacks a poignant message to the episodes half the time.

  • Bluejay

    Because brain cancer is always good for a laugh.

    But MaryAnn–if you think making light of the death of real people is beyond the pale, shouldn’t you be avoiding using war atrocities lightly, for the sake of a clever metaphor?

    …from director Brian Levant, who is to cinema what Pol Pot is to human rights…

    Thursday was a day of recovery from the Bataan death march of a round trip to London on Wednesday…

    …their second outing as a supposedly all-American family is a cinematic Bataan death march of pratfalls…

    Just a thought. Or maybe I’m being oversensitive; I get that way sometimes, after a Holocaust of a week.

    :-)

  • “But MaryAnn–if you think making light of the death of real people is beyond the pale, shouldn’t you be avoiding using war atrocities lightly, for the sake of a clever metaphor?”

    war, such as WWII, has shared cultural references, and using an expression such as “Bataan Death March” is a quick touchstone for readers. not quite the same as mocking a person actually dying of brain cancer.

  • Bluejay

    war, such as WWII, has shared cultural references, and using an expression such as “Bataan Death March” is a quick touchstone for readers. not quite the same as mocking a person actually dying of brain cancer.

    bronxbee, people “actually died” during the Death March too. They died long ago and perhaps were strangers to you, but they were just as real as Gene Siskel and their deaths just as much of a tragedy. Using their deaths as “an expression” for something so clearly not in the same league merits, I think, at least the same raised eyebrow that we give to the Siskel joke.

    At the risk of seeming even more oversensitive, dare I wonder if there might be a bit of unintended brown-people insensitivity here? Would more hackles be raised if MA called a family comedy “a cinematic Holocaust”? Or called some director “the Hitler of cinema”?

    In any case, of course MA is free to make such references–but if she thinks it’s okay, then taking offense at the Siskel joke is a bit inconsistent, in my view.

  • Matthew

    Using their deaths as “an expression” for something so clearly not in the same league merits, I think, at least the same raised eyebrow that we give to the Siskel joke.

    To chime in briefly, I think this is ridiculous. The FG joke simply invites people to laugh at somebody dying of brain cancer, for no other reason than that it’s “funny”. MaryAnn’s statement, on the other hand, uses the Bataan Death March as a metaphor, as cultural shorthand to convey a particular idea about a film. Nothing in MaryAnn’s words suggests that she is inviting people to laugh at any victims of the Death March. Big difference there.

  • MBI

    I am not defending the quote in question, and while I don’t hate Family Guy and find it quite funny on occasion, I understand and am sympathetic to those who think it a contemptible pus stain on society. It’s not as bad as the Epic/Date Movie guys (not by a fucking long shot), but it’s easy to say it enabled them.

    That said, because I grew up with Zucker Brothers comedies, I’m more sympathetic to Seth MacFarlane’s gag-a-second style than to South Park’s one-joke-beaten-into-the-ground style. As far as South Park’s much-vaunted political commentary goes, I find that I prefer Family Guy’s motivation towards being offensive (to be funny) than South Park’s (to be congratulated), and quite frankly, after the hilarious-but-intellectually-vacant “Team America,” I’ve given up believing that Trey and Matt believe any actual point they try to make. I don’t mean to completely shit on “South Park,” at times they can be just absolutely on-point, but I can’t get behind that one of them is undeniably superior over the other.

  • JoshDM

    When are all you kids gonna grow up and watch good cartoons like “Metalocalypse” (at least, last season; the new 30 minute episodes are 15 minutes too long), “The Venture Bros.” and “Robot Chicken”?

  • @Bluejay: i am very well aware that people died during the Bataan Death March, and in the Holocaust, and all during the first, second, and multiple wars. however, under your restrictions, there would be no metaphor or shorthand cultural touchstones. shall we stop saying “phyrric victory”? stop making references to “valley forge”? never make an sentence using the words “Spanish Armada”, “Waterloo”, Stalingrad, atomic bomb? where do you suggest we stop? what cultural references can we use under your rules?

    to mock a person like gene siskel is not a social commentary, nor is it a metaphor for a larger idea. it’s just mean spirited. to use a reference like the Bataan Death March, or something as cold as a winter at Valley Forge to use a cultural shorthand.

    there’s sensitive, and there’s ridiculous.

  • Bluejay

    @Matthew and bronxbee: I see your point, and I withdraw my contention that the FG joke was equivalent to MA’s cultural references. I think, owing to my background, I’m particularly sensitive to Death March references, which made me overreact (and which made me remember MA’s long-ago statements to begin with).

    Having said that, I think there’s a flexible understanding of how much time should pass before a traumatic event can be used as a cultural reference when discussing comparatively trivial topics. People may vary on this. Obviously, I got stuck on the Death March; on the other hand, mentioning pyrrhic victories or Waterloo isn’t likely to stir recent memories or offend victims’ families, so I feel more comfortable using them casually as metaphors. But the fresher (or the more relevant to one’s family), the more problematic, no? Wouldn’t someone griping “I had a 9/11 of a day at the office” give you pause? If you hate going to work, could you easily say “I dread going to the gas chambers again” to your Jewish friends?

    MA didn’t actively mock the Bataan dead, but she did invoke their horrific experience to describe a long plane trip and a slapstick Steve Martin film. If that’s a personal sore point for me and a ridiculous point for everyone else, so be it.

  • P.

    I just watched this episode, and while I agree that the Gene Siskel joke wasn’t in the best of taste, I really think it’s overstating things to say it “mocked” him. It was just riffing on the strange collision between movie-box rhetoric and real life — in this case, Siskel’s public reviewer persona vs. his private illness.

    It’s really one of Family Guy’s main comedy templates anyway, i.e. how the fronts that people put on (like glitzy showbiz imagery) can collide with the hard realities of life. People poop, have disfigured children, commit crimes, and are on the giving or receiving end of every manner of embarrassing or unfortunate thing, with death being the last of those things. Gallows humor helps us deal with our own absurdity, and with the inevitable. It’s tricky to make those jokes about other people, and the Family Guy joke about Siskel didn’t quite get the tone right, but it wasn’t contemptuous of him or his work.

    Far closer to offensiveness was the Mexican wedding gag: it wasn’t an interesting riff on a stereotype, it was just a stereotype bluntly presented. Not funny.

  • Dr Rocketscience

    I didn’t realize Gene Siskel’s death was still recent enough to warrant a “What? Too soon?”

  • Derek Wright

    Hey, here’s another WTF thought, this might sound crazy but… if you don’t like it… don’t watch it…! I KNOW RIGHT? CRAZY.

  • MaryAnn

    In that sense the show is only funny if you’re a Western citizen.

    And sometimes not even then.

    It was just riffing on the strange collision between movie-box rhetoric and real life — in this case, Siskel’s public reviewer persona vs. his private illness.

    How does brain cancer connect to film criticism? Perhaps if Siskel had died in a freak accident in which he bled to death after his thumbs were ripped off, there might be something “funny” in connecting his reviewing to his death. But there’s nothing like that going on here. It’s just a mean, pointless swipe at someone who cannot swipe back.

    MA didn’t actively mock the Bataan dead, but she did invoke their horrific experience to describe a long plane trip and a slapstick Steve Martin film. If that’s a personal sore point for me and a ridiculous point for everyone else, so be it.

    I can understand why it could be sore point for some. I certainly didn’t intend to hurt anyone (which I don’t think can be said of FG), and I certainly do think there’s value in metaphor, even an extreme one.

  • Bluejay

    I can understand why it could be sore point for some. I certainly didn’t intend to hurt anyone (which I don’t think can be said of FG), and I certainly do think there’s value in metaphor, even an extreme one.

    I know you didn’t intend any hurt, MaryAnn, and I apologize for my overreaction.

    I certainly don’t have anything against metaphors–even war atrocities as metaphors, given enough time for cultural wounds to heal over. But this discussion has made me think of how we tread around some atrocities more respectfully than others. Consider that the Bataan Death March and the Holocaust both took place during the same war, over half a century ago. It seems that, with the passage of time, people are okay with using the Death March as a metaphor for non-atrocity subjects; yet we’re uncomfortable using Holocaust-related terms in the same way. I don’t think we’d say things like “I’ve found a Final Solution for my rat infestation” or describe a comedy about a frat party as “a cinematic Kristallnacht of drunken brawls.” Or, consider how we feel about the tea party protesters, waving signs that say things like “Taxpayers are the Jews for Obama’s ovens.” Are we delighted at their clever use of a cultural touchstone as a metaphor to make a political point? Or horrified that they would desecrate the memory of Hitler’s victims?

    I understand that the Death March is psychologically more “distant” from Western culture than is the Holocaust; perhaps they use casual Holocaust metaphors in Asia, for all I know. It just seems to me that the gravity of both events should be considered equally when we refer to them. It’s too soon to be so desensitized to what those atrocities actually were; but maybe that’s just me.

    …I have a feeling Mel Brooks would just laugh at my arguments and riddle them full of holes, but maybe he should be granted a special exemption from all this.

    And I do apologize for taking this off-topic.

  • Dr Rocketscience

    I know some will look at this as a “Some folks, if they don’t know, you can’t tell ’em”, but here goes…

    Here’s the set-up: Gene Siskel, famous and influential film critic, died 10 years ago of a brain tumor. About a decade before his death, he inexplicably gave a glowing review to Pretty Woman, a contemptible piece of dreck of a movie if ever there was one.

    Interpretation A: Wouldn’t it be darkly ironic if that awful, awful movie is literally what killed Siskel?

    Interpretation B: I, Seth MacFarland, have long held in check my burning hatred of Gene Siskel and his “Thumbs Up” to Pretty Woman lo these 20 years, and now, at long last, I can unleash that hatred and finally, finally, spit upon his grave! Muahahahahahahha!

    OK, so maybe B is a little over the top, but you get my point. :-)

    I think the swipe here is not at Gene, but at Pretty Woman, implying that the movie was so bad it killed a man. Yes, it tied brain cancer to film criticism, patently ridiculous notion, but did so in order to take aim at a third object, the actual target of the joke.

    Is the joke tasteless? Possibly. It is, after all, a joke about death. People are funny in how they cope with death. Some make any manner of joke about it (I guess to try and make it less scary), others treat it with solemn reverence (I guess in the hopes of appeasing death so it won’t come for them). The latter group will find the former group crass and tasteless, while the former will wish the latter would lighten up.

    Two last thoughts: first, I suspect MAJ’s problem with this joke has less to do with my last paragraph, and more to do with her feeling that MacFarland writes some egregiously sexist and misogynistic humor, a topic in which she is heavily engaged, giving her a very low tolerance for anything on Family Guy. Fair or not, I won’t fault her that – since its return to primetime, I’ve only been able to take the show in small doses.

    And finally, sophistication of political and social commentary aside, I’m not sure how any show that includes a running gag about one character’s past appearances in German Sheisse porn can claim moral high ground over anything. ;-)

  • Dr. Rocketscience: As a former fan of FG turned hater, I have to agree with this:

    Two last thoughts: first, I suspect MAJ’s problem with this joke has less to do with my last paragraph, and more to do with her feeling that MacFarland writes some egregiously sexist and misogynistic humor, a topic in which she is heavily engaged, giving her a very low tolerance for anything on Family Guy.

    It’s true for me, anyway. Personally, I interpreted the Siskel joke as your #1, and it was slightly humorous to me and more a knock on Pretty Woman than anything. But I still don’t give MacFarlane much benefit of the doubt most of the time. As a fan, I was repeatedly slapped down by his unrepentant misogyny again and again. I tried taking it in stride at first, but he’s shown himself to hate all us “bitches”. So, yeah, I’m a bit tired of giving the guy a break. He obviously doesn’t think much of women, so why should I be his fan and give him chance after chance? FEH.

  • wesley

    But then—what should we expect from an atheist? The Bible (The Book of Proverbs, authored by The Holy Spirit and put on paper by King Solomon) says: “The fool saith in his heart: ‘There is no God.’ “.
    If you really want to laugh (and possibly cry simultaneously) read Macfarlane’s attempts to provide rationale for and comments on his absolutely ridiculous beliefs.
    Macfarlane’s head is so far up his anal orifice, a battalion of proctologists couldn’t remove it.

  • So, Wesley, are you actually saying that MaryAnn, the most openly atheistic person I know who is not Dr. Gregory House, shouldn’t expect that much from Seth MacFarlane because he’s just an atheist?

    Words fail me…

  • Samantha

    You’re an idiot. You really think Seth has the time to waste defending himself on your blog? He’s too busy being the highest paid animator in history.. Obviously plenty of people find him funny, including myself.

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