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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Sarah Palin vs. "Family Guy": Which side are you on?

Or maybe -- like me -- you're not a fan of either.

Yet regardless of how you might feel about Sarah Palin's politics, the topic of Down syndrome doesn't really get me in a "har, har" mood. When you consider that we're also talking about a child with Down syndrome, well, I become even more disturbed.

Here's the background in case you've missed the headline grabbing spat.

In a Facebook posting headlined “Fox Hollywood — What a Disappointment,” Palin, whose youngest son, Trig, has Down syndrome, said Sunday night’s "Family Guy" episode felt like “another kick in the gut.” The episode features the character Chris falling for a girl with Down syndrome. On a date, he asks what her parents do.

She replies: “My dad’s an accountant, and my mom is the former governor of Alaska.”

"Those in the special needs community truly are some of the most loving and compassionate people in the world," Palin later said on Fox News' "The O'Reilly Factor." "So why pile it onto them and make their lives even that much more challenging?"

Look, I'm not an easily offended individual, and based on Sarah Silverman's recent flap about use of the word "retard," apparently there's a PC vs. un-PC debate playing out that's meant to somehow keep a subversive level of comedy alive.

But when it comes to Seth MacFarlane's "Family Guy" using a Down syndrome character to make a dig at the Palin family, well, is that even funny? Perhaps if "Family Guy" had addressed Palin's hypocritical sidestep of Rush Limbaugh's "retard" fixation, there'd be an actual point to make. Or maybe if the "Family Guy" character in question was actually supposed to be Trig, it might have made sense.

So while I don't find the actual joke or premise offensive, I do find the idea of jabbing at the Palin family when it serves no greater purpose other than to say -- "Hey, they have a kid with Down syndrome" -- rather ridiculous. Or to make a "Seinfeld"-ian analogy, it's like when Tim Whatley converts to Judaism just so he can tell jokes about Jewish people -- except his punchlines offend Jerry, not as a Jewish person, but as a comedian.

"South Park" makes intelligent points all the time with controversial or seemingly off-limits topics. And even more important, they're usually hilarious. Now, in fairness to "Family Guy," I didn't watch the whole episode -- so maybe they shed a positive light on Down syndrome in some capacity, as well.

But that's not really the issue here. Was this particular use of the Palin name either a) funny or b) constructive? I'd say no on both counts.

If you find this dig at the Palin family comical, I'd honestly be interested to know why. If you're highly offended that any of this is even up for discussion, also feel free to leave a comment. (Yes, I know that "Family Guy" is in the business of courting controversy, but again, do it with some purpose ...)

Here's the clip in question:

-- Thomas Rozwadowski,

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Here's an exchange that's taking place at the PG-sanctioned Pluck version of our blog. Thought it'd be worthwhile to post here in case anyone wants to jump in.

lippswife wrote:

Family Guy rips on everyone and everything. No one and nothing is off limits and that is part of what makes it great. If you are not a regular viewer, please don't start watching part of an episode now just to give us your opinion. All this PC stuff makes me sick. If you don't like what you are viewing on your tv or listening to on your radio, turn it off. But please, leave the rest of us alone.

ChannelSurfing wrote:

Look, I love subversive comedy. You're not going to be able to blindly say, "Leave those of us with an unfiltered sense of humor alone" to me when I love "Kids in the Hall," "Mr. Show," "Chappelle's Show," "The Simpsons" and "South Park," among others. And you're right, maybe the entire "Family Guy" episode was chock full of laughs and actually made an important point about Down syndrome. I didn't see the whole thing. But from this clip alone, I'm seriously asking: what was so funny about Chris' date saying she was Sarah Palin's kid? It was a pointless jab meant to court controversy. And a weak writing staff should be called out on that whether you like Sarah Palin or not. Just my opinion.

-- Tom

By Blogger Press-Gazette blogger, At February 17, 2010 at 12:49 PM  

I think it's a funny joke, and that's what it is, a joke. Family Guy is nonstop comedy and one, two punches of fast-paced funny. No I do not think they "went too far" or were out of line with the comment. If you truly watched this show, you would just expect these jabs at celebrities, especially those who are always drawing attention to themselves. Sarah Palin is in the spot light and, like all celebrities, they are naturally easy targets for comedy.

By Anonymous Anonymous, At February 17, 2010 at 1:06 PM  

I have to agree that it's neither funny nor constructive. While not wildly offensive, I do find the joke unnecessary because there's no use in pointing out that Sarah Palin has a child with Down syndrome. She's correct in saying those people deal with enough. If a joke - however unfunny - adds the slightest amount of grief to their lives, it should go unsaid. It isn't like poking fun at her or some other celebrity who willingly puts herself in the spotlight and has some sort of flaw - like an incredibly irritating accent. Damn you, Family Guy, for making me defend Sarah Palin! (And for giving her more headline opportunities ... grr.)

By Anonymous Mary, At February 17, 2010 at 1:59 PM  

I think the more Sarah Palin whines and complains when she feels someone has "kicked her in the gut" the more she will continue to be mocked by the media and society in general. And please explain how it would have "made more sense" if the character was actually Trig? Trig is an infant. And why would they feel the need to "shed a positive light on Down syndrome?" It's comedy. It's entertainment. It's not everyone's type of comedy, but it IS COMEDY. It's not meant to be taken so seriously, and you are over-thinking it. Sarah Palin needs to stop whining everytime someone pokes fun at her and/or her family. It only makes her look like Trig (a baby).

By Anonymous Anonymous, At February 17, 2010 at 3:42 PM  

lippswife wrote:

Weak writing staff? Pots and kettles.

ChannelSurfing wrote:

Seriously, why is that joke funny? The "Family Guy" character in question is a female. Palin has a son with Down syndrome. It doesn't even make sense within the context of the show. If you read my post, you'd see that I'm not being hard on "Family Guy" for taking potshots at people. Yes, I don't find Seth MacFarlane remotely funny, but I'd give him credit if there was something worth referencing here. His staff's dig at Palin isn't remotely clever or funny -- and that should be the number one rule of any comedy. That has nothing to do with being PC.

Also, I don't make $100 million, so nice try with pots and kettles.

-- Tom

By Blogger Press-Gazette blogger, At February 17, 2010 at 3:42 PM  

This comment has been removed by the author.

By Blogger Press-Gazette blogger, At February 17, 2010 at 3:47 PM  

Look, I'm not defending Sarah Palin. You're all missing the boat by feeling as though you have to have sympathy for her if you decide that the joke isn't necessary. I'm not advocating censorship here. I'm saying the joke wasn't A) funny or B) constructive.

At least if the character was Trig, it would have made sense to point out that Palin has an actual kid with Down syndrome. Fine, mock all you want then. But to just make a general reference to a teenage girl with Down syndrome being Palin's kid, well, how does that even make sense? And no, comedy doesn't have to have a greater moral lesson. Make fun of Down syndrome all you want. I honestly don't care. Have a purpose for doing so then.

And for anyone who saw the entire episode, what was that purpose? Please share.

-- Tom

By Blogger Press-Gazette blogger, At February 17, 2010 at 3:50 PM  

It makes sense because Sarah Palin touts him around like, "Look at me! I'm Sarah Palin! I have a baby with down syndrome! But don't make fun of me or my family or Mama Bear will get defensive and attack, RARRRRRRR!" It's not like she's keeping her kids in hiding, she willingly parades them around tv, magazines, YOU NAME IT! She is practically begging to be made fun of! 99% of the time, she brings it on herself. The comment about being the daughter of the former governor of Alaksa, is funny. Having to explain a joke to someone, not funny.

By Anonymous Anonymous, At February 17, 2010 at 3:59 PM  

Unfortunately, I find myself siding (sort of) with Palin on this one. It is kind of offensive, not to mention stupid to make a half-hearted joke about her having a Downs Syndrome kid that, really, isn't even about her. Whatever your opinion about Palin or her politics, leave her kids -- especially the 2-year-old -- out of it. The joke -- if I can even call it that -- could have easily been about Palin, who, hello, is actually quite EASY to satirize (SNL anyone?). Instead of a smart-ass political joke, McFarlane took the low road and made it stupid. (Not shocking)

I'm not one to advocate for censorship, but if "Family Guy" gets to make a stupid crack about Downs Syndrome, then Palin has every right to call them out for being idiots on national TV.


By Blogger Press-Gazette blogger, At February 17, 2010 at 4:03 PM  

EVERYTHING on Family Guy is "kind of offensive." Maybe if your TV viewing involved anything outside of Gilmore Girls, you would have seen more episodes and realized that they make fun of people from ALL WALKS OF LIFE. Other sensitive subjects they poke fun at: abortion, homosexuality, AIDS, cancer, and pretty much any and every disability. It is what the show is ALL ABOUT. How is throwing Sarah Palin and her baby into this, any different than all of the other subjects they make fun of? It's not! It fits right in with everything else they do. They make fun of many celebrities, including George "don't make me do stuff" Bush. Why does a joke NEED A PURPOSE? Why does entertainment NEED A PURPOSE?

By Anonymous Anonymous, At February 17, 2010 at 4:17 PM  

Wow, easy with the CAPS there, tiger.

As a "South Park" fan -- and I promise that show has made fun of far more than "Family Guy" could ever poop out on a good night -- I'm all for offensive satire. But controversial comedy should 1. be funny and 2. make sense. Neither of those things apply to this joke.

If you want an example of a way a show can actually tackle a disability with satire? Watch the episode of "South Park" that made fun of Tourette's syndrome by having Cartman PRETEND to have Tourettes? It was funny -- because Cartman was pretending and it was ridiculous -- and it made sense because he actually learned something about the affliction.


By Blogger Press-Gazette blogger, At February 17, 2010 at 4:27 PM  

C'mon man, if you're going to rip on me, could you at least pretend like you've actually read my work on this blog instead of only bashing me for watching "Gilmore Girls" recently?

I acknowledge that dissecting comedy is a frivolous task. It's arbitrary whether someone likes "Family Guy," I GET IT! But if you think jokes about AIDS or Down syndrome babies are funny just because they have a perceived "edginess" -- and please, stop acting like "Family Guy" is the most aggressive, avant garde comedy in the history of the known universe -- then I guess there's a reason why I've always thought "Family Guy" was a lazy imitation of "South Park" or classic "Simpsons."

There are no sacred cows in comedy. Honestly, if you knew me, you'd know I stand behind that statement 100 percent. Christ, I love "It's Always Sunny" and they did an entire show about a dumpster baby. But if they'd thrown in a lame joke about a down syndrome baby just to take a a run at Sarah Palin, they'd be idiots, too. How can you say that comedy isn't supposed to serve a purpose? Then what separates Dave Chappelle from some guy who stands on a street corner and hits himself in the testicles with a hammer?

You all want Sarah Palin's head served on a platter. Fine. We have consensus.

-- Tom

By Blogger Press-Gazette blogger, At February 17, 2010 at 4:35 PM  

The Times did an interview with Andrea Fay Friedman, the actress with Down Syndrome who voiced Ellen.

She has some interesting things to say:

By Blogger Ms. Quarter, At February 19, 2010 at 1:22 PM  

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