South Park, Family Guy and American Dad are adult animated sitcoms we’re all familiar with. These shows utilise controversial issues in a way that’s comical and it’s this shocking yet humorous format that largely accounts for the sitcoms’ popularity. However, the light-hearted humour has a tendency to veer into darker territory and whether this involves making references to racial stereotypes, gender biases or poking fun at issues of domestic violence, viewing can become quickly uncomfortable. Occasionally, a joke can go too far and cross the line of what’s considered acceptable to the majority, mainly through depictions of tragedies and real historical events. Family Guy on numerous occasions has ridiculed aspects of Nazi Germany; constant references have been made to Jewish stereotypes in a derisive manner, one scene featuring mocking comments towards the holocaust and another portraying a Jewish family hiding in an attic – their position given away to the Nazis by Peter Griffin munching loudly on crisps. Many say Seth Macfarlane’s shows should be taken with a pinch of salt, but it needs to be recognised that television undermining and discrediting events integral to our history for the sake of entertainment will disconcert a large proportion of the population. These shows appeal to a young audience, potentially an age group still forming opinions about historic issues. Airing this form of content has the potential to advocate the ridicule of racial groups, religion and tragic historic events through irony and sarcasm and it’s time tolerance towards depictions of this nature was discouraged.
For my mind, to ask our television to dodge potentially difficult topics is to ask it to ignore the realities of the world we live in. Television, after all is a reflection of us, of our society. To simply gloss over these issues, to prudishly shy away from tough subjects, would be a disservice not just to audiences but to those affected by the issues portrayed. TV is the closest the majority of us can get to experience these things, and how those involved must have felt. If done well, television can give insight into these events that we never would have received, and provoke emotions we never would have felt about them. Yes, you might argue that South Park, Family Guy and other controversial (and for some reason mostly animated) comedies are occasionally guilty of poor taste. But if you want an unrestricted arts which is free to push boundaries, then you have to accept that some things just aren’t going to chime with you, or indeed, cause you to fume with anger. For every occasion where a TV show has caused offence, there have been a dozen others which have made us think, made us feel or which have helped to heal the wounds of the past. If the TV industry had never looked to tackle controversial subject matter, we probably wouldn’t have had the first TV same sex kiss on L.A Law, or TV shows which tackled abortion such as Felicity or Sex and the City. Hell, the exceedingly powerful US “think of the children” lobby would have probably found a way to prevent a show like Breaking Bad from being made under the grounds of glorifying drug culture. Now tell me, is that really a world you want to live in?