The inevitable has happened: Family Guy has upset Sarah Palin. On Sunday’s episode, Chris went on a date with a girl from school who happened to have Down syndrome and who happened, halfway through the date, to say, “my mom’s the former governor of Alaska.” Palin immediately took to Facebook to call it a “kick in the gut” because she felt it “mocked” her infant son, Trig, who has the same genetic condition. She then turned the response over to her daughter, Bristol: “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.” (Fox wasn’t immediately available for comment this morning.)
I’d say that, as a rule, no, there aren’t limits to what Family Guy will do or say. And let’s face it, the writers can be heartless jerks. It’s kind of their thing. Many times, in fact, they seem to strain themselves just to court controversy and be offensive. Many times they succeed in being both funny and offensive. This time, however, they did something else: They courted controversy simply by dropping that vague Palin reference, almost as an afterthought, it seems. (It’s not like the girl was named Trig or was, you know, an infant or a boy like Palin’s real-life kid.) But the rest of the episode – save for a few trademark-Stewie lines that erred on the offensive side – actually treated Ellen very much like any other character, which shows quite a bit of respect in the Family Guy universe. 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:
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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.
What do you think, PopWatchers? Did Family Guy go too far this time? Or is Palin overreacting?