Thursday, May 26, 2011

Is anything sacred? Why the Harvard Humanists should not honor Seth MacFarlane as the 2011 Humanist of the Year

1)      I have been an avid fan of Family Guy since the show began. I have watched every episode and laughed my way through almost every episode.
2)     I don’t feel like compiling a list of examples, but I think it is fair to say that a majority of Family Guy episodes have at least one gag that makes light of sexual/domestic violence, or at least makes a grievously misogynistic joke. I think any fan of the show would agree with this statement, and if not, they are not watching closely enough.
3)     In the correct entertainment context, violence is funny. Cartoon violence is even funnier.
4)     Misogynistic violence against women is not funny. I say this as a feminist and as a humanist. It should be obvious why I say this as a feminist. As a humanist, I think I am drawing on a couple of lines from the Humanist Manifesto III, including the following:

Humans are social by nature and find meaning in relationships. Humanists long for and strive toward a world of mutual care and concern, free of cruelty and its consequences, where differences are resolved cooperatively without resorting to violence. The joining of individuality with interdependence enriches our lives, encourages us to enrich the lives of others, and inspires hope of attaining peace, justice, and opportunity for all. (emphasis mine)
5)     The italicized line, for me, signifies the intersection between Humanism and feminism (also Humanism and anti-racism). Sexism and racism are inhumane responses to human difference, ones which strip individuals and groups of their “worth and dignity” (to quote another section of the manifesto). They are the opposite of mutual care, concern, and freedom from cruelty.
6)     I think there is a subtle line between appropriate and inappropriate tongue-in-cheek offensive humor. For me, the line is in whether or not a critique of the humor is built into the show. Consider Cartman from South Park—he’s offensive and hilarious, but he rarely says something offensive without being judged by other characters on the show. Peter Griffin, Stewie, Lois, Quagmire, and Herbert (this is just my initial list of the most offensive Family Guy characters) are almost never judged onscreen for their racism, sexism, and pedophilia. If you think everyone in the audience gets that these characters are anti-heroes, try discussing Family Guy with a middle school student.
7)     I know I haven’t connected all of my dots here, but I just wanted to respond to the announcement as soon as possible. While I love Family Guy as entertainment, I do not find it any way to be a Humanist text. Sure, it’s atheistic and proudly so. But Humanism, to me, is far, far more than atheism. Just as an out-spoken atheist is not necessarily a good human/person, an out-spoken atheist show is not necessarily a good example of Humanism.
8)    In conclusion, I do not want Seth MacFarlane to represent Humanism, and I think that if Humanism is in any way related to anti-racism, feminism, or any other forms of anti-oppression work, then honoring him is a major compromise of Humanist values.

1 comment:

  1. I could not agree more. I've had many a guilty laugh at family guy - but just because he speaks out for some humanist ideals, doesn't mean his other foibles should be ignored.