Semiotic Analysis Of The American Family Image In Family Guy
The idea of family shifts as currently construed significantly differs from the notions held for the typical 50s family. For anybody who has watched the popular TV show Family Guy, representation of ideal family behaviors are but a façade.
The expectations for a perfect family usually go with phrases such as “while-hearted hardworking husband,” “a happy housewife,” and children who are “respectful and obedient.” However, the Family Guy is anything but… In a bid to capture its audience, Family Guy twists the ideals with the intension of criticizing and ridiculing the American culture as currently held by the majority of Americans (Ryan, 2). This paper aims to divulge the semiotic analysis of Family Guy TV show.
The advertisement posters and DVD cases for the different seasons of the Family Guy presents different culture issues. The popular view includes a signifier of a feminine figure, masculine man, a teenage girl and boy, a baby boy and a dog presented in differing surroundings. From this view one can already see chaos and dysfunction inherent in this familial unit (Diana).
Much like in the news, people abhor viewing happiness and perfection and instead liking sex, corruption, and discrepancies. In the DVD cover for season 1, all the family members look happy but beyond the happiness and bright sun shining in the background, dysfunction and disintegration can be seen peeping from the view (Ryan, 4).
The father is seen holding a bottle of beer in hand perhaps an indication that he cannot function unless inebriated. On the other hand, the baby holding a “weapon of mass destruction” indicates they are trying to take over before their time. The daughter is holding a brush in her hand showing how being beautiful is important to her and hoping to brush away the ugliness. The son’s left ear is studding an earring indicating need to fit into the cloud. On the other hand, the mother is hiding behind the husband perhaps an indication that the husband has masked her potential and that there is no room in this family for her to exercise her brilliant mind (Diana). Even the dog has to hold a martini in its hand showing that to live with the family one has to accept and join their behavior.
The Family Guy ubiquitously satirizes the family more than other institutions such as religion, politics and media. For instance, Peter Griffin creates personal mock-religion, lobbies congress to ensure cigarette laws are loosened and pushes limits of decency through his TV channel. However, the show mainly revolves around the Griffin family. Never before has a show been criticized as much for its loose morals. Conservatives point fingers at the Family Guy for allusions of pornography, masturbation, necrophilia and incest (Ryan, 14). However, some may say that the TV show being a satire uses these events to ridicule really life situations and be an example of what a family should not be like (Ryan, 16).
Opponents of the show oppose it primarily based on assumptions that it differs from expectations of “didactic model of domestic family” while proponents laud it for being a “Subversive vision of family life” (Ryan, 8). While the former wants TV programs to broadcast good morality lessons by use of model stories and exemplary character, the latter group crave a show that shows things as they are. It is important to note that satire can only be understood if the audience brings some form of knowledge (Sheridan). For a viewer or reader who is ignorant and lacking in background knowledge, interpretation of the show becomes paradoxical. Rather than seeing the satire as an attack on the vices displayed, they interpret it as a promotion of the same (Ryan, 28).
Some scholars have criticized Fox’s Family Guy for using satire in a style that is likely to invite a contrary view. LaChrystal D. Ricke opines that the use of hateful language in Family Guy encourages issues of oppression, inequality, dominant group power and subordination in an attempt to cultivate their application to children, who are the majority of the audience (121). Throughout the show, instances where every race, color, and group being poked with fun are numerous. Making fun of every group may be a way to make the show less discriminatory; but this kills the effectiveness of satire according to Nick Marx (177). The show’s many opponents view this poking of fun as antithetical to satire’s purpose. Therefore, making fun of white collar crime is less offensive than for handicapped people. In bringing satire to the screen, producers and writers must balance between what they have to offer and the knowledge that the audience can bring.
Television Sitcoms such a Family Guy have evolved considerably from the 1950s sitcoms arguably in reflection to changes in society. Family Guy thrives by undermining established institutions such as family (Ryan, 57). It undermines every idea about family and the ideal behavior of a family unit. While many like to criticize the show, it is worth telling that there have been shows of the same ilk before such as the Simpsons which became popular in the early 1990s (Diana). However, the earlier shows like the Family Guy were a reflection of families at their time. It is evident that many of the vices that are highlighted in the Family Guy are offensive and irritating; but the overall aim to criticize the society’s behavior is still maintained (Ryan, 76).
In season 4 DVD cover we see the Griffin family all in uniform. This can be seen as a form of consistency. However, it is indicative to notice that they are on a stage which is a clear indication that they have not found normalcy but are in fact only putting up a show only for the audience. Perhaps this can also be viewed to mean that people should not judge them personally because they are just actors and have their own different lives (Diana). The background seen in this DVD is an indication of the deeper meaning and allusion to their alleged and perceived uniformity. In all these allusions, the Griffin family still has their divisions and are dysfunctional as usual (Sheridan). They present themselves to the audience as a family that is beyond repair and without any form of boundaries on their actions.
In conclusion, the semiotic analysis of the Family Guy is shows culture evolvement in comparison to the predecessors. While many may argue that the show went to the extreme in its satirical portrayal of an American family, t is instructive to note that the show has had numerous others to learn from. The culture has evolved over time and it has become more common to see this vices in society. By using the signs and allusions the Family Guy is able to show the society as it is without sugar-coating any vices present.
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