By: Ashleigh Brown
Family Guy and The Simpsons utilize similar controversial humor. So much so that they are frequently grouped together for analysis of genre and content. They have even both been considered to be major advance for the genre of animated satire aimed towards adults and recently developed an episode where their worlds intertwine. Although both of Fox Networks programs are considered examples of middle class satirical comedies, The Simpsons is a better representation of the genre through its use of satire and how it effectively engages in social and political issues.
Family Guy and The Simpsons have almost identical characteristics. They are both considered satirical depictions of idealized family life, through a nuclear family sitcom. They consist of father, mother, son, daughter, baby and dog. Even the head of their households have similar personalities, being that they are somewhat lazy, angry, stupid, working class fathers, who have underlying hints of drinking problems. In terms of content, both shows utilize humor in order to comment on controversial current events and issues, but that is ultimately where their similarities start and end.
The Simpsons forged the path for animated satire. Its success legitimized animation “as a form of entertainment aimed at adults, as well as a vibrant form of social commentary” (Mittell, 299) and is known for being one of the most recognized and celebrated icons of entertainment culture in America. The Simpsons comedic format and satirical characteristics are considered to be the pre-decessor of Comedy Central’s South Park’s insightful perspectives on complicated topics in present-day culture through its lowbrow references and sophisticated relevant satire. The Simpsons is known for its use of satire to challenge dominant ideologies. It’s characters are even one of the most recognizable icons of our popular culture. There is a reason that The Simpsons has been held in such high regard in contemporary American culture. Each episode is entertainment and humorous, filled with effective and carefully constructed satire. The Simpsons is able to influence its audience through a more palatable form of educational entertainment, transforming its jokes into more thought provoking content.
Family Guy, on the other hand, utilizes similar lowbrow references on present-day controversial topics, but without much of an underlying purpose. Instead of engaging its viewers, it appears that the shows only goal is to make them laugh. Each episode is filled with “potty” mouth humor and too much time spent on irrelevant scenes of characters continuous blinking to fight sequences giant chickens. As for social and political commentary, Family Guy’s idea of “satire” does more to just poke fun and mock serious social and political issues, without a wider purpose. Making fun of political figures is an important facet of satire. It is used as a tool to entertain and is “an important form of political and social commentary” (Protection for Satire and Parody). In Family Guy episodes, the jokes seemed to target those in the public eye for the purpose to poke fun, than to make a point. A prime example of this is in season 9, episode 14 “Tiegs for Two”, when they make fun of Michael J. Fox for his incurable medical condition. This type of humor in no way matches the criteria for what satire and parody intend to accomplish. Satire is more often than not offensive, but its overall purpose is to make a positive impact and bring an issue to life in an entertaining, and it seems that Family Guy does little too accomplish this. Each episode seems to attempt at to effectively comment on current social or political issues, but there is never any sort of resolution.
Satire is an important form of political and social commentary, and is found more and more frequently in entertainment today. Our cultures idea of what is humorous is constantly changing, and with that, so does the satirical content of such programs. South Park is a more relevant version of The Simpsons. It took the critical tone of The Simpsons and made it more extreme. If it has not already, The Simpsons long run and popularity will eventually becomes its enemy. With an ever-changing idea of what is considered funny and entertaining, The Simpsons once controversial and edgy form of animated satire has become outdated. Critics seem to agree that after 10 years and over 500 episodes, “there's simply no new ground left to cover” (Clough).
Although The Simpsons will forever be considered a legendary piece of entertainment history, it has already given way to his rivals. Family Guy has been nominated for a couple different awards, and is considered to be more entertaining by most audiences, especially the younger generations. But when the argument is over which text is a better example of culture influencing satire, The Simpsons wins without contest with its use of satire to effectively engaging in social and political issues, while still entertaining its audience.