Thursday, February 18, 2010

Kick In The Gut or Just Another Character

You've all probably heard and read about the controversy over last week's Family Guy episode. But if you haven't, I wanted to share these selected writings from Patricia E. Bauer's blog. She has done an excellent job gathering opinions from both sides of the controversy. Take a few minutes to read through them, and then let me know your thoughts.


Palin describes the show as a ‘kick in the gut’

From the New York Daily News:

Following a Valentine’s Day broadcast of Fox’s Family Guy that got laughs at the expense of a character with Down syndrome, former Alaska governor and Fox commentator Sarah Palin published a Facebook post saying the show had “mocked” her son Trig, who has Down syndrome.

Palin said the show, in which the character was labeled a “little whore” and a “poorly groomin’ Down syndrome girl,” felt like a”kick in the gut.” Her Facebook comment included a paragraph attributed to her daughter Bristol that begged for compassion toward people with disabilities and ended by calling the show’s writers “heartless jerks.” The text follows:

“When you’re the son or daughter of a public figure, you have to develop thick skin. My siblings and I all have that, but insults directed at our youngest brother hurt too much for us to remain silent. People with special needs face challenges that many of us will never confront, and yet they are some of the kindest and most loving people you’ll ever meet. Their lives are difficult enough as it is, so why would anyone want to make their lives more difficult by mocking them? As a culture, shouldn’t we be more compassionate to innocent people – especially those who are less fortunate? Shouldn’t we be willing to say that some things just are not funny? Are there any limits to what some people will do or say in regards to my little brother or others in the special needs community? If the writers of a particularly pathetic cartoon show thought they were being clever in mocking my brother and my family yesterday, they failed. All they proved is that they’re heartless jerks. — Bristol Palin”

(Ellen, the character with Down syndrome, was voiced by Andrea Fay Friedman, an actress who has Down syndrome.)


Ellen Seidman, writing at, says Sarah Palin’s criticism a recent episode of ‘Family Guy’ is “completely misguided.” Seidman, whose son has cerebral palsy, says she applauds what she views as the show’s message — that people with disabilities are people just like everyone else. An excerpt:

I work so hard to spread that message every single day of my son’s life. It is an endless, Sisyphean labor of love. To be sure, I would not enjoy it if someone called Max an asshole, but hey, at least they’d be engaging with him instead of just gaping. At least they’d be treating him like a typical person instead of like a freak show.

Sarah, the genius of this episode is that it made a girl with Down syndrome seem like just another feisty teenager with ‘tude. It also gave people in this country a way to get the conversation going about people with disabilities.

… Really, you should be grateful to “The Family Guy” — for tackling a taboo topic with relatable humor and smarts; for holding a funhouse mirror up to the public so they can recognize their shortcomings in their dealings with people who are handicapped; and for being real.


Assessing Sarah Palin’s criticism of ‘Family Guy,’ Jennifer Armstrong on Entertainment Weekly’s Popwatch blog says the show actually treated Ellen, the character with Down syndrome, “very much like any other character, which shows quite a bit of respect in the Family Guy universe.” An excerpt of her comments (accompanied by a video of the show’s “Down Syndrome Girl” number):

Her defining trait wasn’t her Down syndrome, it was the fact that she was bitchy and demanding and ultimately rejected Chris even though he heeded her every command. You could see it as mocking, I suppose, that Stewie sang a song called “Down Syndrome Girl” while getting Chris ready for his date. But that made a lot more fun of poor Chris and his smelly, gross tendencies than it did of his date.

Yes, there are references to hugs that are “tighter than a vice and go on for an hour,” the “shorty bus,” and the fact that she’s “for some reason always shouting.”(Side note: Ellen herself didn’t shout.) But is this enough to warrant Palin’s wrath? I honestly don’t know — I don’t have a child with Down syndrome. I do, however, salute including those with the condition in our everyday entertainment, and doing so without patronizing them. This episode did that, and even came off pretty sweet, by Family Guy standards.

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