Fox, The Simpons, Family Guy and Rape: WTF?

Being a fan of Family Guy, I read this piece from Jessica @ feministing back in October:

The most recent episode, I Dream of Jesus, featured this conversation with Peter and a waiter (Peter is trying to get the waiter to give him a jukebox record he likes):

Peter: Can I have that record? I love that song. I’ll let you have sex with my daughter…

Waiter: I don’t know…let’s see what your daughter looks like.

P: She’s…uhh…(pans past Meg to “hot” girl)…right there!

W: Ok, I’ll do her. But can you tell her to cry and beg me to stop?

P: I think that can be arranged.

And this isn’t the first time the show has made light of violence against women. Usually, I’d consider Family Guy one of my (Un)Feminist guilty pleasures, but I think I have to cut the show off completely. Sigh.

More below the fold (warning, possibly triggering):

This upset me greatly, but I kept watching.  How could I miss the antics of Stewie and Brian when the show so obsviously revels in pushing every single social envelope it can find?  Then I saw the episode with the aqua-man rape scene:

Generally, as with most things, I try to enjoy the good in the show, and when something that offends me occurs I try to think “yes, it’s offensive, but the rest of the show’s good. I can overlook this.” Tonight’s episode, however, was inexcusable.

Tonight, a character on the show said, “this is as useless as Aquaman,” and then cut to a scene of a woman being raped, with Aquaman standing idly by.

Let me repeat that.

A woman was raped for comedic effect.

The scene is incredibly graphic.  The woman is being held down, tears streaming down her face,  and crying for help.  When she cries out “help! he’s hurting me!” aqua man replies “Well maybe you shouldn’t have led him on”:

Finally in the episode Movin’ Out (Brian’s Song), (viewable now on adult swim) and advertisement for the Simpsons on Fox, Quagmire attempts to rape Marge while she fights back:

Fox - Simpons Family Guy Ad

This is vile.  At no point is this funny.  Quagmire tackles Marge, they struggle (with Marge looking terrified at points), and then he chases her off screen with his pants down.

Do the creators of Family Guy and the Simpons find rape that funny?  Do they think rape sells?

Every Fox employee involved in this bullshit should be made to copy down lines until they can recite this post by Jeffrey Rowland by rote (emphasis mine):

Let’s talk about rape for a moment. Rape is not what George Lucas did to your childhood. Rape is not what happens when a sports team beats another sports team by a wide margin. Rape is not what happens when your electric bill is higher this month than it was last month. Rape is when a person violates another person in the most despicable, degrading way imaginable and among the myriad of terrible things humans can do to one another, rape is among the worst. I think the casual misappropriation of the concept of rape extending all the way to its widespread comical usage is disgusting even by Internet standards. Off my chest.

There is always a line of taste in comedy, and the comics job is to step over that line and break new ground.  A good comic should make us uncomfortable.  To paraphrase Adrian Veidt from Watchmen, a great comedian “opens your eyes” to the truth.  What truth do they arrive at by showing rape scenes as often and as graphic as they do?

Considering this, I’m left with questions.  With a country as obsessed with sexuality and violence as ours, why is violent depiction of rape ok in a cartoon?  Is it because the characters didn’t actually get naked?  Because they stopped tastefully before the actual penetration?  How come we alter cartoons  and ban music videos that might cause epileptic symptoms, but don’t consider the effects of airing triggering footage unexpectedly in a cartoon?

Rape, like murder and torture, is a part of life.  For a show like Family Guy to depict it in some fashion is expected (People have been murdered and such throughout the show’s broadcast history).  The repeated and gratuitous depiction of sexual violence is far past the point of good humor and good taste.  But using rape in a fucking ad for the Simpons? I’m left wondering what Fox could have been thinking when they approved this.

Parentstv has a useful contact page for reaching Fox.

UPDATE: I had actually stopped watching at that point, apparently the Simpsons ad continues where Marge and Quagmire walk back on screen.  Marge has just been raped, and Quagmire says “See, that’s wasn’t so bad was it?” and Marge says “Oooh, I gotta say, that was fantastic!”.  They then decide on round two.  What the fuck?


2 Responses

  1. Well, my grown up self agrees with you wholeheartedly. The asinine 8 year old in me didn’t really even think about the implications of the rape scene. Instead it was entertained by the absurdity of it. I’m sure that’s what MacFarlane was going for in terms of comedic effect.

    But if we are being grown up and super serious then I think you’re being a bit hypocritical. It wasn’t too long ago that our grandparents generation was flying into a tizzy when we started using horrific violence to comedic effect. And now in the same show you’re condemning, they show a woman beating her child to a bloody mess. And I don’t remember seeing the blog post about that. In fact, this same show has had Peter having a debilitating stroke and that was also used to comedic effect. No righteous indignation about that either.

    It sounds like what you’re saying here is that all that stuff is okay, but they finally found your decency line by trying to make fun of rape. I guess I agree with you. But I’m also aware that our kids or their kids won’t feel as strongly about it. They’ll probably be okay with it when it’s clearly not supposed to be serious. And as long as they’re taught well, they’ll probably still be okay in the real morals and values department.

    Either that, or we’re all going down in a hand basket, and you’re just coming to understand what you’re grandparents were talking about.

  2. That’s a good point.
    I think the line was crossed in two ways. First by the intensity, second by a mixture of poor delivery and commercialism.
    Showing a scene that so strongly evokes abuse, without at least some kind of warning, is crass at the very least.
    The Simpsons ad is what finally prompted this post. Unlike the brutal aqua man sketch, which has an element of comedy by making fun of aqua man’s uselessness, it contains none whatsoever. Its just quagmire tackling Marge and trying to rape her while they fight. Its not being done as part of a dramatic arc in the storyline, nor as part of a coherent joke. Its simply saying “Hey rape is funny, watch the simpsons!”.

    To put it in perspective, let’s take that very same scene, and apply its direct and graphic nature to other scenerios:

    The creepy old pedophile who is always after Chris chases down Bart and tries to rape him, finally getting his pants off then giving chase as the boy escapes.

    Joe sees Lisa holding a peace sign, and bludgeons her repeatedly while blood spurts everywhere, leaving her unconscious (and planting a knife), then leaving.

    The general problem is two fold: the unironic direct presentation of a violent act and its normalization in an effort to generate more viewers.

    That being said, in regards to rape vs other kinds of violence, there is a single glaring difference: Our culture often excuses rape. Further normalizing something many people think is ok (As when aqua man adds in “well maybe you shouldn’t have led him on”) is harmful. The only parallel I can think of there would be a “joke” where a gay kid was being tortured, and just before he’s killed, aqua man would yell “you should have stayed in the closet!” or “you shouldn’t have winked at him!”.

    Humor should definitely cross lines and offend people. But when it is used to help push people down who are already hurting, that’s fucked up.

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