Thursday, March 21, 2013

Psychology of animated shows such as Simpsons and Family Guy

I’ve been meaning to write about the psychology of popular animated shows such as Simpsons, Family Guy, Futurama, American Dad and South Park. Many have argued that such shows might reflect contemporary attitudes and values. Much has also been said about the role humor in asserting various ideologies.

I have been watching a lot of the Family Guy just the last few weeks and absolutely enjoy most episodes. For those not familiar with this show, this is a cartoon that focuses around a family, the Griffins and located in the fictional city of Quahog, Rhode Island.

The man of the family is Peter, a supposed Irish Catholic and his wife Lois, a Protestant. They have two sons, Chris and Stewie, and a daughter, Meg. There is also a talking dog that lives with the family, Brian. One of the most interesting characters is Brian who is by far the wisest and most sensible of all the characters, regardless of the fact that his still urinates on the carpet in Lois' presence.

Peter Griffin on the other hand lives his life operates as if he is smarter than everyone else, but in reality he's clueless. He spends his free time drinking at the Drunken Clam with his buddies, and has worked for various companies, including the Pawtucket Patriot Brewery and the Happy-Go-Lucky Toy Factory.

Now this isn’t just about Family Guy, but it does seem that the writers, from time to time are able to perhaps discredit a belief, a value, an attitude simply by using a straw man misrepresenting an opponent’s position in order to make it seem ridiculous. Glitzy generalities, oversimplifications, loaded expressions, emotionally-charged words, labeling, sarcasm and or jokes. Consider for example, the show’s rape jokes especially unfunny. In one episode, Peter learns that three co-eds were raped and murdered. He says to himself, “Everyone’s getting laid but me.” So, obviously, not too funny.

What makes these shows funny then? It’s partly about how jokes are executed – they come suddenly and unexpectedly. But more so, the use of satire (making fun of stereotypical America) which patronizes the so called American life style.  Homer Simpson, arguably the dumbest person in The Simpson's works as the safety officer at a nuclear power plant.

Intertextuality is often used as well – films and books are used to base an episode around that we readily recognize.  In one Simpsons episode, Bart, Lisa and their classmates get stranded on an island  - what follows is the same sort of things characters from The Lord of the Flies played out. 

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