“It seems today that all we see is violence in movies and sex on TV, but where are those good old fashioned values…. on which we use to rely, lucky there’s Family Guy!” These are the opening lyrics to the hit show Family Guy which is a modern day version of the 70’s hit show All in the Family.
The styles of both shows are very similar in the way their plots unfold. A narrative approach was used which is a form of storytelling used by humans to help make sense of our everyday lives. Culture is an important factor to keep in mind when critiquing a TV show using the narrative approach. It is important for reasons of controversy, comedy, drama, etc…. to understand a show, you must understand the culture. Now when looking at Family Guy in this approach we know it’s based on the stereotypical “All American Family.”
In fact this show is mainly based on stereotypes found in American culture. Stereotypes in our culture tend to have negative associations with them. For example Psychologists Joshua Aronson and Claude M. Steele have researched the effects stereotyping can have on people, particularly African Americans and women. They conducted an experiment where they told one group of college students that they would not do well in math. This group was dramatically affected and did not do well on their test performance. They also told another group that they would do well in math and these students were praised, congratulated on their hard work, or told that they scored high. The group praised as smart performed significantly better than the others. They believe that “there is an ‘innate ability bias’. These effects are not just limited to minority groups. Mathematically competent white males, mostly math and engineering students, were asked to take a difficult math test. One group was told that this was being done to determine why Asians were scoring better. This group performed significantly worse than the control group.” http://psycnet.apa.org/journals/psp/69/5/797/
This study helps us understand how stereotyping becomes an issue, an elite group can shape a society by this, keeping certain groups down because they are told they are not good enough therefore the group can sometimes start to believe it. When looking at Family Guy sytagmatically, we can understand some of the messages being told because of the associations with the stereotypes it is referring to. For example the clip above can be found comical because we understand the signifiers involved. Asians tend to score higher in math that is why it was an Asian boy that Peter pulled out. These jokes can also help us understand the author through “encoding the voices for different emotions and situations, and the voices can be either overt or covert —, and through clues that reveal the narrator’s beliefs, values and ideological stances, as well as the author’s attitude towards people, events and things.” http://www.informaworld.com/smpp/content~content=a729208757~db=all~jumptype=rss
So based on the show and it’s style we can also understand the author and some of his/her life experiences. The creator Seth McFarlane,
studied animation at the Rhode Island School of Design, there he studied several different techniques in successful American comedies. McFarlane did something right because the show has one four Emmy awards and The Sydney Morning Herald named Family Guy the “Show of the Week” on April 21, 2009, hailing it a “pop culture-heavy masterpiece.”
McFarlane probably got some of his success from studying Valdimir Propp. Propp is an infamous theorist that believed all folk tales share thirty one elements of function. There are eight main character types which are a hero, villain, donor (someone who gives something to the hero), a magical helper, princess, father, dispatcher, and the false hero/anti-hero. Family Guy tends to incorporate theses characteristic in every show, but the unique twist that these characteristics are not always the same. For example in one show Peter could be the hero, and in another episode his wife Lois could be the hero. Maybe this is why the show is so successful because the view never knows what to expect. Every episode is very similar and very different; this is comforting and discomforting to a viewer which could be a key factor in keeping the show so fresh. The family includes Peter Griffin, who is the father and tends to be the hero quite often. This is interesting because he comes off as unintelligent and usually can’t see obvious answers to problems. He tends to be the hero in a majority of the shows but he can’t pass third grade, yet he can always bring order back to his home. Lois is his wife and a stereotypical stay-at-home mother and piano teacher, she would take the role of princess and the donor. Meg is their awkward teenage daughter who is sometimes the anti-hero. Chris, who is fat, dumb, and in many respects, a younger version of his father, he is usually the dispatcher. Lastly there is Stewie, he is a villains baby who speaks with a stereotypically villains voice and can speak like an adult.
This is interesting because usually a villain is played by someone outside of a family, but Stewie’s main goal is to kill his mother Lois. This is very interesting because if you look Freud’s Psychosexual Theory it states “At the age of 5 or 6, near the end of the phallic stage, boys experience the Oedipus Complex while girls experience the Electra conflict, which is a process through which they learn to identify with the same gender parent by acting as much like that parent as possible. Boys suffer a castration anxiety, where the son believes his father knows about his desire for his mother and hence fears his father will castrate him. He thus represses his desire and defensively identifies with his father.” http://changingminds.org/explanations/learning/freud_stage.htm It is interesting to think about because Freud is an important psychoanalyst in American culture, Stewie seems to be an exaggerated product of Freud’s theories. Stewie’s character seems out there, but so are Freud’s theories, this could be a way McFarlane tries to either discredit Freud because Stewie is an example of how ridiculous his theories are when acted out; or he could be crediting Freud- Stewie is a popular character maybe people do feel like they can relate to him on some level. Creepy!
Concluding, Family Guy tends to break the set of rules and conventions that most television shows tend to follow. This show pushes the limits of what you are “suppose” to say and what you are “not suppose” to say in our culture. The show as a whole is funny because it pokes fun at our culture and how almost “dumb” our society and stereotypes can be.