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Family Guy reversed its stance on 'gay jokes'. Why?

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24.10.2019

I’m not sure how to tell you this, but here we go: I watch a lot of Family Guy. I don’t remember making a conscious decision to start watching a lot of Family Guy. Basically, I met an American man who had come of age, like me, in the 2000s, when watching shows like Family Guy (i.e. cartoons for adults with a knack for political and/or crass jokes) was a harmless, kind of edgy thing to do. Then, said American man and I got married, and, like most millennial couples, we’re incapable of consuming a meal together without simultaneously watching a TV show.

Most nights, we try to stick to slightly more high-brow staples such as The Handmaid’s Tale or Succession, but as it turns out, we’re busy people! We don’t always have time to watch 45 minutes to an hour of TV! This is 2019, and even keeping up with televisual output is much, much harder than it should be.

Cue Family Guy, an easily digestible show that can be watched out of order, any time, and without much previous knowledge. Most episodes last 20 minutes and they're pretty much self-contained. For better or worse, this junk food of the televisual world has become a larger part of my life than I ever intended.

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This is why I paid attention when, last year, in the January 2019 episode “Trump Guy” (an interesting episode in and of itself, since it took on the Trump administration and featured Meg Griffin as a victim of sexual assault on the president’s part), the show announced its intention to stop resorting to “gay jokes”. The way in which the decision was communicated, too, was worthy of attention. It started with a fictional Donald Trump telling Peter: “Many children have learned their favourite Jewish, black, and gay jokes by watching your show over the years”, to which Peter replied: “In fairness, we’ve been trying to phase out the gay stuff.”

This moment was great in many ways: the show acknowledged its responsibility in shaping young viewers’ minds, Peter attempted to deflect the criticism with a little touch of meta humour – a Family Guy hallmark – and we were all left looking forward to a gay-joke-free future. Executive producer Alec Sulkin shared this thoughtful tidbit in an interview with TV Line around the same time: “If you look at a show from 2005 or 2006 and put it side-by-side with a show from 2018 or 2019, they’re going to have a few differences. Some of the things we felt comfortable saying and joking about back then, we now understand is not acceptable.”

Sulkin’s quote might not seem extraordinary at first glance, but it’s truly remarkable. Go ahead and think back to the last time in recent memory that anyone in the entertainment industry brought up their own past behaviour, acknowledged it no longer held up to today’s standards, didn’t get defensive, and committed to adopting a different approach in the future. All I can think of are half-hearted apologies and rehashed complaints about “PC culture” and how it’s slowly killing the very concept of comedy. Not many actors, producers or directors ever get to the point that Sulkin seemed easily to have gotten to.

But of course, this is 2019 and we can’t have anything nice, remember? So it’s not exactly surprising that, in a recent season 18 episode, Family Guy appeared to do a complete 180 by reversing its stance on so-called “gay........

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