Remember when your parents required you to do your homework before you could watch TV? I clearly recall working to quickly solve my math equations or finish my English essay so I could kick my parents out of the living room, change the channel away from those droning Bob Vila informercials and watch something truly entertaining—like “Family Guy.”
At 9-years-old, watching Peter Griffin fight a maniacal chicken or seeing baby genius Stewie Griffin further his plot for world domination may be stupid, but I thought it was hilarious. Sometimes I would stay up all night playing my Gameboy, killing time while excitedly awaiting the newest “Family Guy” episode Sunday night. My parents trusted my television viewing habits provided I did my chores and kept my grades up. On the surface, the series has mediocre plots dumbed down with nonstop cultural references and upbeat but idiotic montages. This Frankenstein-like debauchery is perfect for young people with short attention spans. I tried showing my parents “Family Guy,” but they didn’t get it.
Will Smith said it best: “Parents just don’t understand.” The raunchy animated series hits hard, covering many controversial subjects satirically. Often parents are more lenient with animated shows as they don’t necessarily understand adult cartoons. Television in the early 2000s was much different from the streaming we know today. Channel locks were the only option for parents to thwart access to inappropriate content. I remember having to show my parents how to use the TV guide and the DVR settings because they had no clue how to work the cable box. Blocking sensitive content was the least of their concerns. Growing up, much of my peer group was exposed to unsuitable material on “Adult Swim” which was an afterhours segment on Cartoon Network specifically aimed at mature audiences. At school, my friends and I would discuss the character’s absurd antics and make jokes about them. To a casual viewer the show makes no sense. My naive parents were under the impression I was watching age-appropriate content.
Today’s parents are more aware of the sophisticated content in adult cartoons. The Sunday night FOX lineup cleverly dubbed “Animation Domination” consists of “The Simpsons,” “Bob’s Burgers,” and “Family Guy” which all have mature themes and vulgar humor. Interestingly enough, “Family Guy” is the highest age-rated show in the lineup with a TV-14. Veronica Glissen discusses the show’s reliance on “shock humor” which stirred up criticism and controversy in several different countries. In the U.S., Glissen notes that concerned citizens have petitioned the network demanding that the show be removed from airplay and it has been canceled it twice. Fox even banned the episode “Partial Terms of Endearment.” According to creator Seth MacFarlane the word abortion was used several times in that episode and even an al-Qaida reference was slipped in. Macfarlane shares that certain words and phrases are “comedy red zones that you just shouldn’t enter.” While “Family Guy” is synonymous with pushing comedy boundaries, for some, the show is a dismal foray into contentious issues.
Several countries have completely banned the series. Screen Rant’s Chris Hodges reports that Egypt banned “Family Guy” “due to moral censorship and religious reasons.” Russia removed the show from airplay because it was “too immoral” and Iran is not down with gay characters in the show. Comic Book Resources (CBR) claims that countries without “hefty free speech protections” like South Korea, India, Malaysia, Indonesia, South Africa, Taiwan, Vietnam, and the Philippines have banned “Family Guy” due its “offensiveness and indecency.”
“Family Guy” unabashedly mocks many sensitive subjects, which might explain why it receives negative attention from critics worldwide. Screen Rant notes one particularly crass episode, “Turban Cowboy” in which Peter Griffin befriends a Muslim man named Mahmoud who later turns out to be a radical terrorist plotting an attack. In that same episode, it is revealed that Peter jokingly killed several people at a Boston Marathon race, weeks before the actual bombing that occurred. It’s astounding that FOX signed off on this installment. Another unseemly example is “Shot in the Dark,” which pokes fun at the tragic shooting of Trayvon Martin. In this episode, Peter starts a neighborhood watch and ends up shooting Cleveland Jr. who he thinks is breaking into his own home. With all this distasteful humor one may ask how is this show even still on air?
“Family Guy” is not written for and was never intended to be a show for 9-year-olds, but kids can find it and that’s the dilemma. Parents are the first line of defense in helping their children navigate appropriate programming, but governments will step in when there is a need. One thing that triggers government censors and regulators are creators who handle sensitive topics inappropriately for their culture. The challenge for content creators is understanding these issues and ensuring those topics are handled properly for the countries in which they want to exhibit their content.
Granted, not all shows are an appropriate fit for all countries and cultures, but knowing the guidelines increases the likelihood that content intended for international distribution won’t be rejected and titles will gain access to age-appropriate audiences.