Family Guy: a Commentary on the Mentally Handicapped and Imagination
Recently I have been binge watching Family Guy. During the tenth season I realized the material was becoming more in depth and that the material was becoming more than just the single offbeat comic relief I grew up watching. Often I would find that the episode was focusing less on just being funny and more commenting on the obvious mental handicap that Peter suffers from or upon the dream world that the overly intelligent baby Stewie lives in.
I will use the example of Mom’s the Word, episode 12 from season 12. In this episode Peter’s mother passes away and prior to finding out about it Peter has a terrible day at work in which he soils himself at a meeting, denoting Peter’s low IQ that he would just sit through a meeting rather than getting up and going to the restroom. After his accident at work, Peter comes home and angrily goes into exactly how dumb he believes he is, citing that he soiled himself and everyone there has come over to poke fun at him and that he; had someone walk into his office while he was sucking on his toes; fast walks in nurses shoes in the park every Saturday (a throw back to Forrest Gump I believe); he was holding hands with a man at Quiznos; he raises the subject that he might have been involved in the Oklahoma City bombing; he was swindled by a cat that claimed it was from the future; shouting racial taunts at the jailhouse windows; and he believes ducks are magic. At this time his friends and family tell him that his mother had passed.
After his mother’s funeral Peter and Lois go to move Peter’s mothers things from the nursing home. This is the same nursing home where Peter’s mother once mentioned in a phone call that she believed the staff was touching her in her sleep and Peter is cold and rejecting of the insinuation and Lois informs him coldly that “she is not moving in here.” from Grumpy Old Man, episode 9 season 10. As they are packing up his mothers things the Griffin’s talk about how pleasant the place is, to solidify the delusion most middle-aged people use to justify the selfish need to place their parents in a home, and while they are you can hear a resident say, “My tube is out! But it’s not my fault, don’t punch me.” as a cold reminder that many twilight homes are nothing less than hellholes for those that have reached their “golden years”, something that most people continue to ignore because they aren’t sure how to change the broken system. MacFarlane’s team is making a strong commentary about the continued abuse of the elderly in our society, and the dismissive way the children of our elders handle that abuse.
Peter, who is confirmed to be mentally handicapped in the episode Petarded, episode 6 from season 4, continues in this story by dealing with the loss of his mother by compensating with the affection of his mother’s friend Evelyn. The two enjoy each others company until Evelyn kisses Peter while they are visiting his friends at the bar. When Peter confesses to Lois about the kiss she doesn’t truly believe him and tells him that he has been wrong before about someone coming onto him. This is a strong commentary of how society seems to dismiss the accusations by the mentally ill when they do come forward with issues in their life of neglect, abuse, or just misunderstanding of social situations without finding out more behind the comments.
Evelyn blames her medication for her actions, but continues to sexually harass Peter, because of her starvation for affection. Peter confronts her again and she feels rejected once more. Peter goes to the cemetery and attempts to confide to his mother, again showing his ignorance by saying, “You know, ever since you turned into a stone with your name on it,” and then follows with a statement about how her friend has been inappropriate with him, mirroring how some mentally handicapped people have to find animals or inanimate objects to personify in order to feel as though they are connecting with someone that is not just judging them, giving them passing concern, or just humoring them by listening to their issues but not addressing them. Evelyn comes to Peter and admits her wrong doing, but mentions that her actions were due to her starvation for attention since her husband passed, once more addressing the disposable way in which we treat our elderly, especially when Peter accidentally kills her when giving her a hug.
Stewie in contrast in the same episode deals with some of the common issues that plague intelligent children, such as early existential crisis. He is confronted with his own mortality as his grandmother passes and Brian informs him that he too will someday die. This comes to a shock to Stewie and the young toddler ends up tossing and turning at night throughout the next scene until Brian the dog comes to his aid to help him come to grips with the mortal coil. The two most intelligent regular characters of the show then go from religious house of worship to another trying to find a way to help Stewie find peace.
While at the Jewish Temple they are confronted by Skinhead graffiti that says, “Get Out Of Our Town” and of course Brian and Stewie poke fun of an organized religion by insinuating that the religion is just an excuse for more days off of work. They then visit a Buddhist Temple and go through the most basic beliefs of their religion and poke fun of it slightly, then to a Catholic Church and poke fun of Christians with the belief that, “as long as you accept Jesus before you die, anyone can get into Heaven” as a jab at them. This statement is followed by a cut away of Osama Bin Laden accepting Christ just before being shot in a raid and going to heaven as his eternal reward.
With Stewie and Brian back at the house Stewie continues to obsess over the meaning of life and what happens to us once we die. He then decides that suicide might be preferable than continuing to live on in torture of the inevitable end. Stewie then attempts to hang himself, failing miserably, followed by shooting out the back window of a police cruiser in order to tempt a fate of Death by Cop, wherein Joe comes out and attempts to have Stewie kill him instead, revealing that he is not wearing a bulletproof vest and sarcastically talking to Stewie in a mock talk down, without any feeling. (Side note: Joe’s downward spiral and suicidal issues throughout the seasons is a commentary about how society treats our physically handicapped as well.)
The conclusion of Stewie’s existential crisis comes when Brian finds Stewie getting ready to dive out the window of his room to end it all. Brian informs Stewie that, “you can’t live your life being scared of death. Nobody knows what comes next, so all we can do is pack the most we can into each day we’ve got.” Of course they return to humor at the end but the conclusion stands.
I realize that I have only analyzed a single episode of Family Guy for this post, however, I believe I could analyze each episode from the beginning of season 10 and find great hidden meaning and intent throughout nearly every episode. My point in this post is that I believe that the entire show has migrated from being little more than goofball humor with fart jokes and sexual humor to being something deep and filled with meaning.
The hijinks of the Griffin family aren’t in fact happening as they are being portrayed in the show (in a cartoon? You don’t say). Instead think about this, Peter is a mentally handicapped man, not to a point that he is unable to care for himself at all, but to the point that he is not without serious challenges. He is living in a delusional world in which his wife is beautiful, with a reality crossing into the delusion where his children are a closer resemblance of their union, Meg being ugly, Chris being heavy and unintelligent himself. The delusion returns with Stewie being this low achieving man’s final hope in making his family into something to be proud of. The show is just a day to day account of these delusions. Peter going to his limited responsibility job (fishing or later paper work shuffler at the brewery) and living in a constant day dream.
This delusion comes with a hyper intelligent dog who drives a car, speaks like a pseudo intellectual, is his best friend, and is in love with Peter’s wife. The genius baby with a matricidal tendency is Peter’s unconscious disgust with his wife’s intellectual superiority over him and her “freedom” from work in being a housewife. Lois’ beauty is a delusion as well. She is actually not all that attractive, Brain is in love with her because she is in the family, and is his owners wife and is just reacting like he adores his owners partner, something that most pets fall into. Quagmire is a sexually abused child grown into a man that has major intimacy issues that are slowly being brought to light throughout the series. These, as well as former President Clinton, are the primary men that have lusted over Lois, which leads me to believe that she is actually unattractive to say the least. Meg is ugly, though not so much to the audience, which is another confirmation that this is a dream world of Peter’s. Even though the whole family picks on Meg, Peter still sees her as his child and finds her to be beautiful to a degree. Chris is slow and heavy, as is his father, to me this once more confirms the delusion theory that Peter cannot break away the truth of Chris as much as he can the truth of the rest of the family because he sees so much of himself in his oldest son.
Another confirmation that is brought up periodically is the size of Chris’ penis in comparison to Peter’s. This is not truly the reality of the situation but another expression of Peter’s insecurity. He is a failure as a man, as a father, and as a provider, so in his own mind his oldest son, a near mirror of himself, is even better than he is at least in one area.
Finally back to Stewie. As I stated above, in Peter’s delusion Stewie is extremely intelligent, he is able to travel in time, through dimensions, wander the world on his own, carry on conversations with adults and the dog. This is all just the extreme hopes of a man that knows, in his heart, that he cannot achieve much more than he already has. He sees himself as a failure and sees that his already developed children, Meg and Chris, are already in a similar cast. As such all the amazing things that Stewie does is just in Peter’s head.
I believe that many of the horrible actions that Peter plays out throughout the series are just imagined tragic events that Peter plays through in order to maintain an adventure in his extremely mediocre life as he watches each day pass from one to another and the world around him get bleaker.
It is my observation that the show took on a deeper meaning when characters began dying and remaining dead, Diane Simmons, Muriel Goldman, Francis Griffin, and Thelma Griffin to be specific. When these characters died each one had a meaningful tie to Peter. Diane was his constant news anchor, a face he would see daily. Muriel was a neighbor, another face he would see frequently if not daily. Francis and Thelma, his mother and father, would have been major impacts in the mans life. Each of these deaths is a reflection on Peter’s mortality and of the constant threat of death each of us faces in our lives.