Family Guy and abortion jokes

Sarah Seltzer

Do abortion jokes--even if they're in poor taste or misogynist--need to be heard?

By now most readers of the feminist blogosphere know all about the Family Guy "Abortion episode" that was initially given a green-light by FOX and then kept off the air.

As no one’s actually seen the episode–which is apparently slated for a DVD release–it’s hard to judge one way or another and the conversation is slightly abstract. But I’m going to throw in my lot with those who say that even if the content is iffy, I’d rather have a chance to see and critique the epside than not. As Amanda wrote:

If you want a textbook example of how systemic sexism works, the taboo about portraying abortion on TV will suffice.  It’s the most common outpatient procedure in the country, and yet we write it off as fringe.

The word "abortion" is so rarely even uttered on TV, often spoken of via euphemism or oblique reference, that the idea of an "abortion episode" of any show sounds too intriguing to ignore. I’ve written for Rewire about a number of plotlines on edgy, sexually hip shows like Friday Night Lights and Big Love that, based on characterization and plot arc logic, should have at least gestured further towards abortions for their pregnant characters–but instead took the typical TV copout route of a miscarriage or a pregnancy carried to term. This happens again and again. TV has created this bizarro world where a choice that most American women would consider strongly after an unintended pregnancy is all but erased.

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It’s a damning silence. And that silence is why jokes about abortion, even if they’re off-color, are different from other types of misogynist jokes (specifically rape jokes). Yes, the proliferation of rape jokes can do damage by trivializing a horrible and all too accepted crime. But conversely the lack of abortion jokes creates this hyped-up atmosphere of tragedy and controversy around something that is quite common and needs to be discussed more. Even if Seth McFarlane and the Family Guy team failed miserably to be funny or edgy in their attempts to milk humor from abortion, even if they were crass and sexist, I’d hope the episode would be an opening salvo for more comics, artists and others to talk about this reality in women’s lives that, like all realities, has to contain fodder for humor.

But what do you think? Should we leave the abortion jokes to more reliably friendly sources?

 


Other discussions of the Family Guy abortion episode around the web:

 

How to be funny: Start by not sucking

from pandagon.net by Amanda Marcotte

 

Family Guy" takes on abortion

 

 

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