Hey Seth Macfarlane: Rape jokes aren’t funny

I had stopped watching Family Guy a while ago because it felt like there was some sort of “joke” about rape or violence against women in every episode. But recently I thought I would give the show another shot, because I used to find it hilarious. I really wish I hadn’t.

(Some folks may not want to watch the video clip; it’s actually pretty upsetting.)

Transcript below the fold.

I just don’t get it, truly. How is this funny? Are we supposed to suspend disbelief and forget that this how rape happens quite fucking often because it’s a cartoon bull doing the raping?

I’ve written this before, but I think it bears repeating – there isn’t anything edgy about rape jokes. Rape jokes and mocking violence are mainstream; that shit is the norm. And while Family Guy creator Seth Macfarlane has never given a real answer as to why the show has so many rape jokes, I imagine it’s because he and the show’s other writers somehow think it’s controversial. But all they’re doing is upholding the status quo. That, and ensuring that I’ll never watch another episode of Family Guy again.

Related: What’s so funny about rape?

Announcer: Gentleman, Give an indifferent east coast welcome to our newest bullrider, Peter the Kid!

(Peter rides bull, gets bucked off shortly after.)

Bull: You know what I am back at the ranch?  I’m a breeding bull.

Peter: Wha…wha…what’s that?

Bull: You gonna find out.

Peter: (Gasps)

Bull:  Where you going fatty?  We’re gonna have a party.

Peter: No! No!  

(Peter fights as the bull pulls his pants off)

Join the Conversation

  • paperispatient

    Thank you for posting on this, because I just watched that episode online yesterday and was totally appalled. I’m not easily horrified or offended, but I really couldn’t believe I was actually watching this, it was just one bad thing after another: it wasn’t enough for them to leave it at that scene, they had to have the bull call Peter later in the episode too AND include another rape joke when Meg joins Peter in the shower? It wasn’t funny, it wasn’t satirizing or critiquing anything, it just made me extremely uncomfortable.

  • supremepizza

    Though I have friends & family who absolutely love it, I tried FG once, but really just thought the humor too juvenile for me. And, frankly, way too sexual for a general audience. Reviewing this clip it appears to me that the writers are equating the treatment of rodeo bulls to rape, which is somewhat accurate. The way they get those rodeo bulls bucking & angry is by shocking them while they’re still in the pen & by pulling & slapping their testicles. Its awfully inhumane.

  • Brittany

    The majority of Family Guy’s audience are college males. Why should anyone be shocked that there’s rape jokes and jokes putting down and abusing women?

  • DeafBrownTrash

    I stopped watching FAMILY GUY long time ago after the offensive Pakistani acid joke.
    Peter Griffin is a douche-bag who treats his wife and daughter horribly. See that’s where “The Simpsons” is different– Homer Simpson is always trying to please his wife and win his daughter’s admiration. I’ll never forget that old episode where Homer takes on 2 jobs so he can buy a pony for Lisa.
    FUCK Family Guy, I’ll stick with “The Simpsons.”

  • lucierohan

    Thank you! Peter Griffin is scatter-brained, poorly developed, unsympathetic version of Homer Simpson. And Family Guy is horrible insult to the Simpsons’ legacy. I hope Seth MacFarlane loses some good sleep knowing that he’ll never be Matt Groening.

  • bzzxz

    Offensive or not, this show is just so unfunny that it’s not even worth watching. They constantly rely on pop culture references and stupid bullshit, and the writers have no idea how to craft a joke without beating it into the ground.
    But hey, at least Futurama is coming back.

  • emeraldhan

    I completely agree. In fact a lot of the writers/creators of the animated comedies which Family Guy is compared to (e.g. The Simpson’s, South Park) are rumoured to despise Family Guy.
    And as for my opinion of The Cleveland Show which has just premiered in the UK? And American Dad? It’s the same goddamn show. Mr MacFarlane might have been able to write a one-hit wonder (that stopped being funny after season 1) but quit beating the dead horse. Has the man got no respect for his few remaining fans intelligence?

  • lucierohan

    “it wasn’t satirizing or critiquing anything…”
    I think this hits the nail on the head for me.
    “Rape jokes” is a really broad term for me. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with comedians or comedy writers tackling rape as a subject.
    I just want it to be given the treatment it deserves.
    Rape is fucking horrible and it happens to so many people and, like any other subject with those qualities, I want to believe that the person addressing is really trying to work through it to come to some meaningful conclusion in a comedic way.
    There should be SOME acknowledgment that rape is inherently awful. Particularly if it’s a man trying to editorialize on what is *generally* a female experience.
    Conversely, in this clip I can only see the assumption that rape is inherently funny. There’s absolutely nothing that the bull raping Peter adds to the scene, other than a weak twist on realistic brutality.

  • SociologicalMe

    I saw this when it first ran, and was completely horrified. Since I know that at least one journalist has confronted him directly about his unfunny rape jokes, this one- which I found particularly disturbing- seems to be, essentially, a fuck-you from McFarlane to anyone who ever complained. What a jackass.

  • angie k

    Re the transcript I think the announcer is saying, “Give an indifferent East Coast welcome…”
    Also, there’s a part of the episode where Peter lassos Meg, drags her down the stairs, hog-ties her, pulls down her pants and tries to brand her only to find that Mayor Adam West has already branded her. Mayor West then rides up and, declaring Meg his, lassos her and drags her off. Classy.

  • Babydazelala123

    THANK YOU FOR POSTING ABOUT THIS. The second I saw it when it came out I knew this would come up. When I saw this it made me feel SICK and uncomfortable. Its not funny, especially how it was so graphically played out. *shudder* My heart goes out to any and all loyal family guy viewers who have survived rape who had to watch it, especially when the episode first aired. We had no idea it was coming. I like family guy too, it helps me relax and let off some steam at the end of a busy day. This was just too far.

  • Phenicks

    To be more accurate a breeder bull’s sperm is obtained through raping him with a huge vibrating dildo and then selling him sperm to farmers. So yeah, many rodeo bulls are rape victims but most peopple wont see it as rape, they will see it as “good breeding practices.”

  • Jacob

    Nobody is shocked, that’s the thing. Like Jessica said, rape jokes are pretty much the norm; they’re nothing more than a crutch for people trying to pass off their humor as edgy and controversial.

  • Mighty Ponygirl

    No, he just wrote a really protracted “joke” in which Quagmire rapes Marge Simpson and then shoots the rest of her family.
    Earlier this year I met with extended-family in-laws and during the course of discussing television, I got to hear the 18-year-old son talk about how awesome Family Guy was. I don’t think he was expecting someone to call him on how unfunny and mean a lot of the rape jokes the writers indulge in are.

  • GalFawkes

    It’s Peter who’s raped, and Peter is a dude. And *men* getting raped is funny, dontcha know? Because men can’t be raped. /sarcasm
    And, of course, I agree wholeheartedly with everyone else on this thread. I hate Family Guy so much.

  • Eresbel

    I think what particularly makes this “joke” disturbing is how realistic Peter’s fighting back is. Just something about the way he was kicking and pushing seemed too real.
    Also, later on in the show, Peter warns Meg to be careful about who she gets sexually involved with, referencing his rape. Because, you know, rape is really sex.

  • Phenicks

    Oh I think most people know that men/boys can be raped, most Americans have heard at least 1 prison rape or Catholic priest rape joke in recent times.
    Its the concept that if a man gets raped he’s emasculated that makes the jokes so funny. You see he becomes a girl .

  • Heidi

    As happens sometimes, when you analyze something from a feminist view here at Feministing, you miss the point of what makes something funny.
    What is funny about Family Guy is the absurdity of the characters. In no way have I ever seen it as portraying rape as funny, but portraying the rapist as funny. The rapist is absurdly dumb, or absurdly cowboy, or whatever. It is a running joke that Meg never gets respect, and they take that to absurd levels. They, as writers, have even expressed feeling sorry for Meg, but they stick to the gag.
    These most recent rape scenes, they were a groan out loud kind of funny, but at no point did I, as a regular viewer, think the gag was something other than the ‘look how far we took the poor treatment of Meg, a cartoon character’ gag. The rape, the hogtie, these *are* portrayed as bad, but only in this absurd world of Family Guy of these absurd characters would these acts be treated as normal. That these things do happen in real life, Family Guy is pointing out the absurdity that these *are* seen as normal by some some, even some thought of as family men.
    Saying that the humor of Family Guy is saying rape is ok is like saying the Simpsons is saying violent dismemberment is ok through Itchy and Scratchy. While many of the sitcoms have an endearingly doofus of a husband and a super-smart sexy wife, perhaps with a kid who always gets picked on, and another super-smart kid, Family Guy continually turns that over and shows us the absurdity of that premise. While the regular sitcom likes to end it all with a happy lesson, a Moment of Shit, as my sweetie calls it, that reinforces those endearing roles, Family Guy doesn’t let the roles get away with it.
    I can’t tell you what is funny. Either a person finds something funny or not. It’s likely you’re not going to find something funny if you watch scenes you’re predisposed to judge bad, and out of context of the whole show. However, I find much to align with feminism in Family Guy, humanist really. It is not like Pulp Fiction, where I found myself laughing and horrified I was laughing. I’m pretty sure I’m laughing at Family Guy from a feminist, pacifist sensitivity…not from some unconscious internalized acceptance of oppression.

  • Mighty Ponygirl

    Heidi, just because you think you “get it” doesn’t mean you do.
    Family Guy isn’t a show geared toward you. Ever since it came back on the air, Macfarlane has faithfully geared the show towards the bro-mans and frat boys who make up most of the audience. He’s not trying to challenge anyone’s ideas about rape, he’s just trying to make jokes as shocking as he can while hiding behind his show’s purported “edginess.”
    Family Guy has consistently winked and nodded at being a progressive show, but has made sure that their biggest laughs come at the expense of women and minorities. It’s basically a “show me your tits” version of liberalism. Obnoxious, entitled, and tone-deaf. Yes, Peter is a buffoon, but his lack of any sort of intelligence or savvy is simply a facile shield to hide the incredibly mean and hateful jokes that FG traffics in.
    And if you really think that 51% or more of the Family Guy viewers appreciated that rape scene on the oh-so-postmodern deconstructionist level that you did, then I have a bridge I’d like to sell you.

  • creebakthedestroyer

    I don’t think Itchy and Scratchy is a good comparison because it’s a pretty clear satirization of classic children’s cartoons like Tom & Jerry, which were extremely violent yet completely bereft of blood and gore. The Simpson’s mock those cartoons by adding the gore, thus demonstrating how gaphic cartoons really could be.
    With Family Guy I often don’t understand the point of the joke. Someone mentioned earlier that no topic should be so taboo it can’t be explored comedically, but with Family Guy the joke usually just seems to be “isn’t this shocking”. Shock humor is quite popular, but it’s also pretty easy to criticize as much of it is very lazy.
    I actually liked this joke, though. I grew up in a rodeo city, and what they put those animals through isn’t that far off from rape, so the idea of the bull getting some revenge feels…. not progressive, but at least kind of empowering for the animal. As well, it being animated (in a very silly, crude way) takes some of the edge off the scenario. It’s the same way a comedian like Emo Phillips developed a very weird and silly stage character because his jokes had such dark subject matter. One extreme often makes the other extreme more palatable.
    I’m sorry if this seems very wankery, but I do comedy and have a very deep love of analyzing it to the point of irritation for everyone around me.

  • GalFawkes

    I do get your point. However, tangent:
    Some rapes really do start off as consensual encounters, but the consent is withdrawn because the victim wishes to stop and says so. The perpetrator, instead of stopping, continues and justifies that by saying something like, “You were so enthusiastic to hook up with me, so you don’t get to tell me to stop and I’m not going to stop.”
    So in that sense, it’s pretty sobering to realize that someone that you have a strong *desire* to have sex with could rape you.

  • paperispatient

    Despite the billion problems with this particular episode, I do frequently enjoy Family Guy and find it quite funny. I’ve got to disagree with you though; I don’t think this episode was depicting the bull as funny – and if it were, I think trying to make a rapist funny is a huge problem. I see what you’re saying about the absurdity of it all, but I don’t think that always works; yes, it’s a bull making these threats to Peter, but I don’t think that’s enough to make the scenario one that problematizes sexual assault. I think it’s the rape or the prospect of rape that’s supposed to be funny to us, and not in a “it’s so absurd that these people think it’s okay” kind of way.

  • lucierohan

    “The rape, the hogtie, these *are* portrayed as bad, but only in this absurd world of Family Guy of these absurd characters would these acts be treated as normal.”
    Here’s the problem with that, though. Peter Griffin, like many other dummy family man characters, is only disparaged on the thin surface of the show. The “but he’s an idiot!” excuse only goes so far. The fact is, he’s the focus of the show and viewers are expected, and to a degree forced, to sympathize with him.
    You can also apply this to Quagmire, who as someone on this blog once said, is the show’s serial rape joke. Yes, we get it! He’s supposed to be creepy! But after seeing so many of his exploits, he can’t be that creepy anymore. The show’s writers treat him like a little rascal, not a rapist. And the result (which I’ve seen with my own eyes) is that the viewers (especially the younger ones) treat him that way too.
    And by the way, the bull scene has nothing to do with the points you’re making about any of these characters. It doesn’t say anything about them or their crazy universe. It’s just there for the sake of being there. I don’t like the idea that rape jokes are being used as “absurdist” filler. If you’re going to tackle something like rape in comedy there better be a fucking point. You better at least ACKNOWLEDGE that this subject is heavy and very difficult to broach for some men and more than a quarter of women.

  • GalFawkes

    Yeah, what you’re saying. Also, I feel like male victims are even more fair game for jokes than female victims, probably because of homophobia and gender stereotypes. And female victims have it pretty damn bad. Also, this is completely passing over transgendered victims.

  • tacit-galaxy.livejournal.com

    I agree a lot with what Heidi had to say about this…and good lord, I’m not about to start arguing with people about what is and isn’t funny.
    I do think it’s hilarious how this page has turned into a bunch of people are commenting on why they’re too smart to enjoy Family Guy’s humor.
    That being said, it’s just really hard for me to get genuinely outraged about a cartoon. I suppose if you’ve actually been sexually assaulted by an animated, talking, bull…alright, then I can see a reason to be pissed off (I just had a hilarious image of a support group for people who’ve had their legs humped by dogs…). But honestly, there is just too much stuff going on in the real world for me to start picking at cartoons.
    But that’s just me.

  • Edgy1004

    “Heidi, just because you think you “get it” doesn’t mean you do.”
    Mighty Ponygirl, just because you think that Heidi doesn’t actually get what she thinks she does, doesn’t mean that she doesn’t.
    Did you just take away Heidi’s agency to think something or did you just take away her agency to get something?

  • Liv_S

    thank you thank you THANK YOU for writing this!! I love Family Guy so much but this is completely unacceptable, and I haven’t known how to voice my frustration and anger about the trivialization of sexual violence in the show.

  • paperispatient

    Terrible things going on in the world doesn’t mean that it’s wrong to get angry at a popular TV show that makes a joke out of rape.

  • CaseyDancer

    “…there is just too much stuff going on in the real world for me to start picking at cartoons.”
    Yeah, like… um, rape.

  • Edgy1004

    I would really like to have a serious discussion about this issue because isn’t this the criticism that people are always throwing at Feminists? We tell people what to think (is funny). The title of this post is “Hey Seth Macfarlane: Rape Jokes Aren’t Funny” But What we really mean is “If you understood rape the way we do then you wouldn’t think this was funny.” But the thing is, that is the case for a lot of things. When Dick Cheney shot a guy in the face I almost died laughing but I doubt a member of the guy’s family would agree.
    Rape is terrible and not funny to those who know this fact. I just wish more people knew this fact.

  • circusnurse

    I don’t find this clip particularly amusing, nor the show in general for that matter… but isn’t this a satirical reference to Deliverance which has had its fair share of social/political commentary over the past 38 years and has been followed by a million and one social commentaries about masculinity since?
    Irony: it throws a wrench in the critical works every time.

  • ladybeethoven

    I agree with pretty much all you said here. I think the rape-y moments in Family Guy are supposed to make you feel uncomfortable – at least, that’s the reaction I (and others I’ve watched it with) have always had. And thus I think the reaction is supposed to be more absurd (as in, why is this being treated as normal?) than funny-haha. Family Guy has a lot of moments where they take something completely abhorrent and treat it like an everyday, normal thing – and it’s designed to clue you into how messed-up the Family Guy universe is.
    That being said, I don’t think everyone who watches the show gets that reaction. And that’s the problem. Offensive humor is only “subversive” if everyone is in on the fact that you’re supposed to be appalled. Too many people are just going to see this and think “Haha, a guy’s getting raped! What a pansy!” and all that does is make rape into a punchline and diminish the hurt of it. Which is why – to make a long story short – I have issues with Family Guy, despite the fact that I like it.

  • morning-radio

    I found the initial rape scene distasteful but par for the course for a show like Family Guy. What really disturbed me were the subsequent references to Peter’s rape, including the “booty call” from the bull. These scenes both extended a sick and distasteful joke long past its due, and insulted not only rape victims of all genders but anyone who has ever been in a coercive or disrespectful relationship.
    The really disturbing thing is that the scene reads as “bad,” so you know there is at least an understanding that this scenario is wrong, but it’s still Peter as the pathetic victim who is played for laughs.
    Basically, the joke is not that sexual coercion and humiliation is okay, but that it is not okay, but those who are subjected to it are pathetic and therefore funny.
    I used to tolerate Family Guy, but at this point it’s just too depressing.

  • lucierohan

    “I suppose if you’ve actually been sexually assaulted by an animated, talking, bull…alright, then I can see a reason to be pissed off”
    Thanks for telling rape survivors when they’re allowed to feel triggered.

  • GalFawkes

    And yet, you bothered to comment on this thread that’s on something so trivial as a cartoon. How very meta.

  • Toongrrl

    I find it intresting since in this episode, Meg soon turns very violent and inflicts abuse on Peter and the rest of the family. Breaking Peter’s teeth, using Lois’s shirts as toilet paper, and all those stuff. I don’t know why they had her rape Peter. I look at Family Guy with a critical eye. Lately it’s been in the realm of “Dude thats not funny…at all”

  • A Fortiori

    The reality is, as a bunch of feminists we may or may not be able to appreciate this humor on a level beyond “rape is funny” (I’ve known victims who find rape humor liberating and victims who find it appalling and triggering), and we may be able to look at it and see it as removing the power of the rapist by making them into a joke, but when we think about the sort of work this show is doing within our culture, can we honestly say that it’s positive? Are we seriously suggesting that most of the people watching this shit aren’t thinking – WOW, THANK GOD I DON’T HAVE TO BE UNCOMFORTABLE ABOUT RAPE. AFTER ALL, IT WAS ON FAMILY GUY.
    I watch Family Guy, and I laugh. But Family Guy is perpetuating the idea that rape is not so bad. Let’s please admit that. We already know that it’s okay for feminists to like things that are not progressive. So let’s please not us the “WELL I LIKE IT AND I AM A FEMINIST SO IT MUST BE COOL” crap argument, okay?

  • Mighty Ponygirl

    I’m pointing out that her decision to apologize for Macfarlane’s rape jokes is misguided at best and obnoxious at worst. You cannot watch the clip above and declare that Macfarlane was making fun of the rapist and not the act of rape and the victim.

  • analogue.rockk

    @tactgalaxy.livejournal: I was raped by a man, not a bull, and when I was watching this episode with a large group of my friends it was definitely triggering. Leading to me feeling forced to awkwardly explain my emotions to people whom I didn’t want to explain them to.
    I’m completely anti-censorship, and I don’t think any subject is off-limits in art and that includes comedy, but I didn’t find this clip funny or entertaining. It hurt me. And you just hurt me by mocking the fact that it bothered me. I let you have your opinions, don’t try to silence or trivialize mine.
    While I’m against censorship, I think it’s important to criticize pop-culture and try and understand why things that we as individuals find offensive are acceptable to the mainstream, and what aspects of our society and culture lead to this brand of comedy.
    I have a question I would appreciate some discussion about. How would reactions have been different to this scene if it had been Lois getting raped by the bull? Or do you think it would have been similar?

  • livinginthefridge

    I agreed with what you were saying up until you said “Family Guy is perpetuating the idea that rape is not so bad.” where the heck do you get that?
    In the two rape jokes I can specifically remember Family Guy doing (un-named woman raped on the beach while aqua-man looks on helplessly, and the bull raping Peter) the victims were clearly afraid and unhappy. They may have been using rape as a VEHICLE for a ANOTHER joke (Aquaman is a crappy superhero, bulls talking and dominating the person who rode them with fear/violence) but the joke itself wasn’t the rape.
    Personally, the jokes made me uncomfortable, I didn’t laugh at all at the Aquaman one, I was too disturbed (though in retrospect Aquaman’s line is pretty funny “You’re lucky you’re not in the water!” ) and only chuckled a bit at the bull one.
    All this to say, Family Guy protrays rape as scary and negative and the victims as hurting, just because there are neanderthals out there would would laugh at that isn’t Family Guy’s fault, or the joke’s fault, and personally I think if one of their jokes makes someone (or a few someones) uncomfortable and triggers a discussion, debate, or merely a personal revelation that rape is real and really happens to people and isn’t just something you read about in the paper… well I think that’s a good thing.
    If we want to end rape, silencing speech about it (even jokes) is NOT the answer.

  • GalFawkes

    I think we’d find more non-feministers having similar sentiments to us, if it had been Lois and not Peter. Although that number would still be too low.

  • paperispatient

    We disagree in our interpretations of where the joke lies here and what FG was trying to do with this scene, but I agree completely that silencing or censorship is never the answer.
    However, I think it’s too optimistic to think that a scene like this is going to spark thoughtful and nuanced discussion of rape and consent among people who have never seriously considered the issue before.

  • argolis

    Are you fucking kidding me? Do you have any experience at all with farm animals? I can’t believe you just compared semen collection from a bull to the trauma of rape.