February 19, 2010
WARNING: This article contains spoilers for the Family Guy episode “Extra-Large Medium” (Season 8, Episode 12), originally aired 2/14/2010
It’s been famously said that dying is easy, but comedy is hard. It’s true. Ever told a joke that went flat? Your elation at possibly making someone feel good turns to ash as you realize everyone is looking at you like you just pulled a dead rat out of your nose and started giggling like a madman. It also takes a sharp mind to get comedy, especially complex jokes, or, for some people, anything more confusing than a joke about a chicken and a road.
Enter Sarah Palin.
Sarah Palin is a mother who loves God and country and family. I’m still not sure on the order of the first two, though. On Valentine’s Day, Fox aired an episode of Family Guy that featured Chris trying to and eventually going on a date with a girl with Down syndrome named Ellen. I highly recommend you watch the full episode. The… and I use the term loosely… offending clip is at 16:02.
Basically, Ellen makes an off-hand remark about her mother being the former governor of Alaska. Palin is the former governor of Alaska. And she has a child with Down syndrome named Trig. Seth McFarlane and the Family Guy writers are obviously making fun of her child and everyone with Down syndrome. It’s an outrage. It’s inhuman! Won’t someone think of the children! On top of all this Rahm Emanuel went and called someone “retarded” behind closed doors, insulting the entire mentally handicapped community.
And yet… not a few days after the Family Guy incident, Palin goes and does THIS:
Yup… Satire. Let’s wind the clock back and pull out the ol’ dictionary. Satire is the use of comedy to point out some vice either in a group or individual, usually with the goal of making people aware of the fault so it can be fixed. The tone of the work may be playful or abrasive, but it has the same goal. Satire uses a strong dose of sarcasm, parody, contrast, and other literary tools to make the point as obvious as possible. Satire goes all the way back to ancient times, to both the Egyptians and the Greeks. It’s older than Christianity. Its purpose has always been to point something out we would otherwise miss or might be too scared to accept by showing us the ridiculousness of our situation, going to extremes to highlight the absurdities of life.
Good satire teaches us.
Bad satire is simply parody with delusions of grandeur.
Which was the Family Guy episode? If you actually watched it, and I wonder if Palin herself did, you know Ellen was not teased because she had Down syndrome. Stewie made a few short quips when he met her and in his musical number, but nothing terrible. It looked as if it was more shock that Chris went for the non-traditional girl, that he picked Ellen over the other girls around her.
In fact, he and Chris are convinced that she is a good person, sweet, and is simply handicapped. Stewie helps Chris get ready for his big date, but once the date starts, Ellen makes several snippy comments at Chris, becomes highly demanding, then at the end of the night demands an ice cream Sunday, saying that if Chris wants access to her “temple,” his tribute should be much better. Chris, rightly so, points out that, despite having Down syndrome, she is just like every girl he knows: conceited and demanding.
Did they make fun of her for having Down syndrome? Not really. Like I said, Stewie got off a few snide remarks when he first met her, but he seemed to like her. The only reference to Palin is the one line early in the date where she mentions her mother is the former governor of Alaska.
What was the point of this satire, then? Chris summed it up. We treat others with disabilities as though they were special, wonderful, kind people simply because they are handicapped. Did the show imply that all people with Down syndrome are like this? Only if you believe that a single example is indicative of the whole, which is a logical fallacy. If they’d meant to imply that all people with Down syndrome were mean and conceited, Chris would have said that ALL people with Down syndrome were like this, not just Ellen. Instead, he was referring to her specific behavior.
Then, to top off this little hypocrisy sundae, Palin went on to defend Rush Limbaugh. Is she really upset over the show? Maybe. She seemed visibly upset, but it couldn’t have been because of the way the character was treated. Ellen was treated fairly, though she did end up being the villain. She was treated like a normal human being. Maybe there’s something else at work here…
Remember a few years ago when no one was allowed to mention that Dick Cheney had a gay daughter? Mary Cheney has been in a committed lesbian relationship for years, and yet when the same-sex debate heated up a few years ago, no one could bring her up as an example of the Right’s hypocrisy. While they railed against the destruction of American values, the daughter of the Vice-President was not only in a loving relationship with her partner and parents, but she soon had a child with said partner. It’s almost as if they were ashamed to acknowledge her existence. Tricky Dick Cheney himself dodged the question in interviews.
Wait a minute…
Palin hates her son.
Think about it. Either she completely missed the episode’s theme or she is embarrassed to be reminded that she was a son with Down syndrome. It’s likely that she just didn’t get the satire in the show, but at the same time, if she is reacting only to the fact that they made a reference to her son having Down syndrome, this isn’t outrage on her part. It’s shame.
She is ashamed of him and being reminded that her son, a child not even able to walk yet, is not perfect. After Limbaugh used the word “retarded” and she didn’t call him out like she did Rahm Emanuel, she showed she wasn’t willing to speak against her political allies. Going after Family Guy after they didn’t even make fun of a character with no physical or gender resemblance to any of her children shows her sensitivity with the issue, but not her commitment to actually protecting Trig. There was nothing, NOTHING for her to complain about. They made an ALLUSION to her.
But, like I said, it’s just as likely that she didn’t get it.
It’s one thing to peddle your daughter across a stage and use her unwanted pregnancy to further your agenda. It’s what any good politician would do… but it takes a special kind of icy evil to do the same to a child who is not only going to face hardships later in life, but can’t even speak out yet.
And what have we learned from this?
Trig Palin has Down syndrome. His mother’s the retarded one.