New Family Guy Serves Up Stereotypes in Spades

March 8, 2009
There are some shows that have a reputation of "offending everyone" and relish in the fact that they can get away with most anything as long as its funny. Fox's Family Guy is just one of those shows that has built a cult following with its non sequiturs, purposefully lame double entendres, and culturally offensive one-liners and visual gags. Sunday's episode, entitled "Family Gay," delivered all that and such a piling heap of rapid-fire gay stereotypes that it could be perceived as more defamatory than funny. The set up: Peter, terribly in debt, participates in medical research to make extra cash and is injected with the experimental "gay gene." Fox's official press synopsis takes the high road and says the gene "leads him to a new mate, leaving a broken-hearted Lois behind. Although the family is crushed, they quickly realize the most important thing is that Peter is happy." If only it was that 7th Heaven. As a longtime fan of Family Guy, I don't consider myself overly sensitive to its satire, but there was such an excess of offensive gay images crammed into a short amount of time that it felt more like a show from 1979 than 2009. Bundle center square Paul Lynde with Jodie Dallas and faux-mo Jack Tripper and you might get a sense of how "gay Peter" was portrayed. Peter minces, wears a scarf and speaks with an affectation (but Lois accepts her gay husband because he is “fabulous”). The episode makes it clear that gay men love musicals, as evidenced by a show-stopping number staged by the men who find themselves at "Straight Camp." But clearly they love something even more in the show's hypersexual universe: Cruising for anonymous sex, sodomy at "Straight Camp," an orgy, and plenty of double entendres are on display or discussed while Peter is under the effect of the "gay gene." If Peter having that always-dreamed-about 11-way orgy wasn't enough, the chorus line of underwear-clad men he beds all have limp wrists! Limp wrists? Who decided to dig up that long-buried anti-gay gem and introduce it to the kids again? Baby Stewie’s Bible-thumping views on homosexuality is an ironic nod to regular viewers who know he grows up to be gay, but for everyone else, his words, along with those of the "Straight Camp" counselor provide a stinging reminder of the kind of vitriol gay people live with every day. Any one of these “moments” could usually be overlooked, and may even be considered humorous in the context of the offenses Family Guy regularly offers up, but the continuous barrage of negative images in this episode without the balance of any fair and accurate gay characters on the show is harmful and irresponsible. Last week, the California Supreme Court heard arguments about overturning the discriminatory Prop. 8. Separately, federal legislation was introduced that could end “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” These two events are historic in the gay rights movement, but in the same week, viewers of Family Guy saw an episode that shined an extended spotlight on stereotypes and grossly-exaggerated misrepresentations about the gay community that have long harmed us and stalled our achievement of equal rights. GLAAD has met with representatives of Fox and Family Guy to discuss the volume of damaging images in this episode, and are cautiously optimistic that there will be greater sensitivity moving forward. To be fair, yes, there are two positive messages delivered in the episode: The gene therapy doctor says, “homosexuality is genetic, and not a matter of choice or environment.” While Lois concludes, “A person’s sexual identity is no more a choice than the color of his skin. This is who you are. I can’t change you and it would be wrong for me to try.” Even with this pretty bow on top, a nice message delivered in wrapping that is derisive, misleading and offensive is perhaps a gift best left unopened.