Family Guy just backtracked on its promise to drop ‘gay jokes’ – and that’s really not OK

The animated show's ridiculing of LGBTQ+ people is no longer acceptable in 2019

Family Guy

Family Guy has never discriminated in who it goes after, I’ll give it that. That’s why when, earlier this year, the creators appeared to suggest the show would be phasing out gay jokes to reflect the current climate, it came as a surprise to many.

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“If you look at a show from 2005 or 2006 and put it side by side with a show from 2018 or 2019, they’re going to have a few differences,” executive producer Alec Sulkin told TVLine. “Some of the things we felt comfortable saying and joking about back then, we now understand is not acceptable.”

After all, whether it’s the LGBTQ+ community, the disabled community, or BIPOC , after 18 seasons you would be hard-pressed to find a group which hasn’t been the butt of one of Peter Griffin’s jokes.

But that just doesn’t cut it as a defence – so why is it consistently being peddled as one?

After a series of remarks about Peter’s sexuality in the latest episode that aired in the US, a character interjected, “thought I read you guys were phasing out gay jokes,” to which Peter hit back: “That quote was taken out of context and widely misunderstood.”

With one eye-roll inducing sentence, the claim from creators back in January had become nothing but a distant memory. What was an unexpectedly positive gesture became nothing more than the LGBTQ community being used yet again as a way to garner headlines.

The creators made international news by hinting they would stop ridiculing the LGBTQ community for cheap gags – and then they’ve kept doing it regardless. It feels disappointingly similar to when Disney received backlash after it released the live-action Beauty and the Beast for teasing a gay moment, or Marvel for consistently teasing a similar narrative for their franchises without actually following through.

Honestly, at this point it feels as if the LGBTQ community really should be on the books for these corporations.

Over the last few years there’s been the rise of an insidious narrative, pushed seemingly by mostly white, male comedians, that comedy has to be offensive if it’s going to get a laugh.

Shane Gillis
Shane Gillis
Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic for Clusterfest

In the UK we had Dapper Laughs apologise for joking that a woman in the audience of his show should be raped, only to seemingly backtrack on Twitter recently during a rant about the so-called “overreaction” that cost him his career. It’s the same across the pond too. SNL hired and then subsequently fired Shane Gillis after racist and homophobic remarks he’d previously made resurfaced. In response to the backlash, he gave a half-hearted apology about how comedians need to “take risks”.

The problem we’re having is that it’s difficult to know where Family Guy and its creators stand. If their defence is that no one is off limits and that’s why it’s okay, then why are they admitting that times have changed and certain jokes from the show are no longer appropriate?

James Woods was quietly dropped from the show back in 2016 following historical abuse allegations.

By having zero qualms about employing Woods, who at the time had made numerous problematic remarks about the LGBTQ community, it gave credence to his views and suggested that Seth McFarlane and co. thought he was deserving of a platform. This reactionary form of activism really doesn’t cut it and reeks of self preservation.

The reality is that many of Family Guy’s writers, and a substantial portion of the creative team, are white men. It’s not hard to understand why a room full of white men congratulating themselves on yet another joke dragging out tired stereotypes about the LGBTQ community could be seen as a red flag.

Seth MacFarlane
Seth MacFarlane
Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

Hate crimes are rising both in the UK and the US, with transgender hate crime up 37 per cent and sexual orientation up 25 per cent in England and Wales between 2018-2019, according to Home Office figures. There is an attack on our very lives happening in the real world, and having to endure the community most responsible for those attacks ridiculing us on national television every week just doesn’t feel right.

Bizarrely, Family Guy creator MacFarlane claims to be an advocate for gay rights. Yes, really – and that’s what makes Family Guy’s treatment of trans people so appalling. During one episode, Brian was seen throwing up after realising he’d slept with a trans woman. It seemed the show’s overwhelmingly male writers were more disgusted by the idea of having sex with a trans woman than they were of sleeping with a dog.

After a wave of backlash, Seth, who identifies as straight, doubled-down on the narrative, suggesting that he may have reacted in the same way if he’d been – in his point of view – “fooled” into sleeping with a trans person.

“Look, Brian happens to be a heterosexual character, as I am,” he told GQ. “If I found out that I had slept with a transsexual, I might throw up in the same way that a gay guy looks at a vagina and goes, ‘Oh, my God, that’s disgusting.'”

No, Seth. Brian actually happens to be a dog. A fact consistently referenced on the show. This dodging through hoops to find ways to defend offensive humour is exhausting, so why does the show continue to do it?

It’s a struggle to understand Family Guy’s refusal to adapt when McFarlane’s other show, American Dad, mostly manages to pull off its jokes with a nuance that its sister show fails to achieve. Stan – the show’s equivalent of Peter – regularly makes problematic jokes, but they usually come with a consequence and try to advocate morals. When Peter Griffin is homophobic, it’s just another day.

Instead of questioning whether there is space for gay jokes in Family Guy in 2019, it feels more pertinent to ask if there’s space for Family Guy in a society that’s woken up to how damaging the targeting of minorities can be.

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It’s not a question of Millennials and Gen-Z being unable to laugh at themselves – after all, self deprecation has become the hallmark of this generation’s sense of humour. Instead, it’s just that some of us are sick of people laughing at us considering it’s been happening our entire lives in a way straight people just don’t understand.