Cartoon

By Ryan Keefe

What is there to say about sexism in television, it seeps into our every day lives and affects the perspective in which we see the world. I understand that this claim seems rather strong, but as we progress through the times as a society. We look around and see so much wrong in the world. Although we cannot conquer every indiscretion, we can as society learn about the inconsistencies and seek to change them. As an aside taking a look at these sort of pictures, I can explain the scope of these sorts of problems.

One inconsistency that is apparent in our society is the sexism in our television programming. Research is currently showing, as a society we are watching around four hours of television daily. That is a glaring statistic, but if we cannot separate ourselves from this medium. As a society, we must monitor the sort of content that is manipulating our perspective on society. Chiefly, I will be speaking of cartoon television and its relative nature to the sexist relationship. This elaboration will occur in consideration to specific arguments, firstly, in considering the excessive relationship our contemporary society possesses towards television. I will expand on the excessive amount of sexism portrayed in cartoon television, specifically the shows and networks, as well as relations to specific age demographics. Secondly, a more specific argument will occur in the characters in these cartoons solely. Individual characters in certain shows go way beyond the societal norms on sexist nature, and I will discuss how their jokes and mannerisms are acceptable in the current television culture. Lastly, I will remove myself from the individual components of the cartoon sitcoms, and discuss the creators of these television shows.

One must understand that these sexist characters are not created out of thin air, they are carefully constructed and their sexist notions are at the behest of the shows editors. Certain scholars have been taking a stand, such as Marina DelVecchio, a college educator who elaborates on the growing problem on a cutting edge website NewAgenda.com, “Sexism is all over — in the media, television shows, the news, cartoons, and music videos. Let us take control of it for the sake of our kids because corporate media moguls responsible for this smut won’t — they make too much money off the sex they sell to us and our children” (NewAgenda.com). This explains the problem quite concisely and aptly, DelVecchio describes this as a money relationship, and that is the true nature of the beast.

The problems of cartoon television are not going unnoticed by the major population. An independent children’s’ action group dubbed TrueChild has made significant efforts in this field. In 2009 TrueChild conducted a study to understand the children’s perspective on sexist shows, and to understand how to curb the programming more aptly. They presented surveys to children on cartoon television shows during primetime (3-9pm), and their conclusions bring to light the inconsistencies of these cartoon shows. The major example of the most inaccurate representation of women is the lead character discrepancy. Overall, girl leader characters make up 33 percent of the television programming. In evolving this argument further, TrueChild discussed how the prominence of the women lead character differs in age differences. The findings show that while 94% of preschool shows feature confident girl characters, only 42% of the school age shows feature confident girls (TrueChild.com). The age difference is a very large point in this argument, it is the quintessential fact that has kids grow and mature the content of which their material becomes less and less standardized. Though TrueChild is making significant progress, when it comes to lead characters, the archetypes commonly represented, such as nerdy un-popular girl or boy-crazy girl, have been systemically removed from contemporary culture. Although in this discussion it is very easy to dismiss certain aspects of research, it is the simple notion that stereotypes do matter in contemporary society.

As we evolve, even though these statistics are being shown, we still have yet to discuss what specific shows are actually being discussed. Family Guy and American Dad are two shows that are overtly sexist and can give us a very different picture. Both shows possess similar archetypes; they are surrounded by the male dominant figure with a family to support. Each family has a husband, wife, son, daughter, and young child. Though the plot lines are different, these characters and their sexist banter give us great pause as a society. Firstly, Peter Griffin is a middle-age family man from Rhode Island, he possess a job, though he is fired on occasion. The normal social obligations are never really followed, and he treats his wife very unfairly. Quotes from the character like this: “Peter: Women are not people, they are devices built by our Lord Jesus Christ for our entertainment”. This type of material is always dominating every situation. Peter’s relationship with his wife consists of constant jokes about intellectual ability. Although in the show Family Guy, each individual character possesses some form of sexist nature, it is more specifically the writing that we will discuss later on. Secondly, American Dad, which is centered on Stan Smith, a Republican CIA agent, that combats home life and every common terrorist. The character Stan Smith is extremely sexist towards his wife and every character he meets. Smith treats his wife more of a slave then an actually partner in a household. As you can by the video clip I am not the only one who understands the growing problem in this television program:

, the wife in this clip has actually convinced the viewers and herself that her value to the home is best served by doing household chores. This is the type of information our viewers are receiving, and the humor masks the situation that is glaring. It is inherently wrong to view women in this light, but the cycle will perpetuate itself until someone takes a stand.

Lastly, and the most fundamental issue regarding the sexist nature of television programs; is the writers, cartoonists, and networks that give their acceptance to this sort of programming. The writers and cartoonists analyze and attempt to fill our minds with humorous and sexist dialogue in the effort to shield what is truly going on. As I discussed earlier, Family Guy is an extremely sexist show, but the real problem is in the writing. This show every few minutes will cut to a particular joke discussing either sexist or racist notions, and this is quite commonplace. You will see here both sexism and racism are intertwined in this gross depiction of common Black women:

Obviously the aim is humor, and that is the medium they use to remove the sociological problems with this kind of writing. There obviously is a money relationship to understand and that is something we as a society must come to terms. The FOX network actually began to take a stand towards this type of programming, there have been multiple articles wrote on the cancellation of Family Guy, and one writer speculates: “Why was it cancelled? No doubt Fox was nervous about the show’s racial, religious and downright crude jokes”(About.com). Though eventually FOX netowrk fell to power of the almighty dollar and brought back Family Guy in an effort to boost ratings. But the decision is ultimately up to us, as viewers, to finally remove this kind of programming.

I mentioned earlier about cartoonists depictions of normal societal imagery, cartoonist depict women in the worst possible way. They either show their physical attributes overly exaggerated with a large butt and breasts. As viewers we understand that this is not a typical depiction, but the notions of women’s physical attributes selling a product completely conflicts with who we are as a contemporary society. Television shows still use this type of loose standardization when it comes to depicting beautiful women; they usually dress them in very tight and small clothing. Attempting to reveal as much as legally possible, South Park, another very controversial show, has cartoonists showing women in a very poor light:

, and as we watch this a non skeptic would allow this to continue, but we must begin to remove ourselves from this type of material.

In closing, I have shown the three aspects of cartoon media with sexist notions. These three aspects include, specifically the characters as an entity, then with less scope the shows themselves, and finally the creators of these programs. The latter is the most prominent problem in today’s society, you can shy away from a character or a television show with great ease, but the actual editors and administrators will continue to stay in power unless there is a significant effort to alter the material being displayed. As the saying goes you must fight the problem at the source, but as Seth McFarlane the creator of Family Guy and American Dad said publically during Family Guy’s 100th episode: “This show looks at America and critiques society, and then laughs at the problems we have”(Seth McFarlane). Sadly he is right, it is up to us to make a stand and begin to contribute to society in a positive way. With each episode created or joke told, the problem is only furthered and will never stop.

References:

I. Basile, Nancy. “Family Guy Returns to Primetime – The Return of Family Guy to Fox.” About Animated TV – Classic Cartoons, The Simpsons, Family Guy, South Park. Web. 12 May 2011. <http://animatedtv.about.com/cs/familyguy/a/fgreturn.htm&gt;.

II. “TrueChild.” TrueChild: Let Every Child Shine. Web. 12 May 2011. <http://www.truechild.org/PageDisplay.asp?p1=6656&gt;.

III. Youtube.com “Family Guy – Black Women”, “American Dad Laundry Clip”, “South Park – Major Boobage”

IV. DelVecchio, Marina. “Sexism and Teen Girls.” The New Agenda. 1 Feb. 2011. Web. 8 May 2011. <http://marinagraphy.com/sexism-teen-girls/&gt;.

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  1. ben
    November 8, 2011 at 7:16 pm

    Fail. You forgot to mention that all the men in Family Guy and American Dad are portrayed as buffoons. Both show’s make jokes about both sexes and all races in just about equal measure.

  2. March 11, 2013 at 5:49 pm

    Another thing I think you should write about is the sexism in comic strips. Comic strips, like the rest of the media, is another vehicle that reinforces sexist stereotypes. Take a look at strips like “Luann,” “Zits,” “Dennis the Menace,” “Blondie,” “Hagar the Horrible,” “The Born Loser,” and “Baldo.” All these strips feature women who are portrayed as housewives. To be sure, strips like “Dennis the Menace,” “Blondie,” and “The Born Loser” were all launched in an era when a woman’s place was in the home and the media portrayed them accordingly. But even strips that were launched in the 70’s and onward still have female characters who are portrayed as flighty, shopping-obsessed, or neurotic (or sometimes, all three). Take the now-defunct “Cathy,” for instance. Even though the strip featured a woman as the central character (and created by a woman, no less), a woman that we considered a “modern” working woman, she was portrayed as a neurotic, diet-obsessed wreck. One of the few strips I can think of today that portrays women as something other than a homemaker is the “Sally Forth” strip whose main character is an HR representative, wife, AND mother. Another one that does feature a woman in a non-homemaker role is “Garfield,” which features a woman as a veterinarian. But for the most part, it seems like most of today’s cartoonists never heard of the women’s movement or of the fact that the majority of women–married, single, or divorced–are out there making contributions that don’t just include making meatloaf and cleaning house.

    This is something important that you should write about.

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