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Down Syndrome, the Punch Line

8/18/2010 3:06:31 PM

Tags: Keith Goetzman, arts, disability, Down syndrome, television, Family Guy, Sarah Palin

Family Guy fanPeople with disabilities are accustomed to being made fun of, but current pop culture seems to be growing even crasser in its treatment of them. Retard is back as a noun, the short bus is always good for a knowing laugh, and now a song about a girl with Down syndrome is up for an Emmy award. The song appeared this spring on the Fox show Family Guy; these are some of the lyrics:

And though her pretty face may seem a special person’s wettest dream. ...
You must impress that ultra-boomin’, all consumin’, poorly groomin’, Down syndrome girl. ...
You want to take that little whore and spin her on the dancing floor. ...
My boy between the two of us we’ll get her on the shorty bus and then you’re gonna take it on a whirl.
Now go impress that super-thrilling, wish-fulfilling, YooHoo-spilling, ultra-swinging, boner-bringing, gaily singing, dingalinging, stupefying, fortifying, as of Monday shoelace-tying, stimulating, titillating, kitty-cat impersonating, mega-rocking, pillow talking, just a little crooked walking, poorly pouting, poopie-sprouting, for some reason always shouting, fascinating, captivating, happiness and joy-creating Down syndrome girl.

Now, I’ve never watched Family Guy, and I’m not going to start now (life is too short), but apparently part of the show’s cachet is its sheer offensiveness. Fine—I’ve laughed at patently offensive material on South Park and The Simpsons, knowing that someone, somewhere was probably seething with anger over the same lines. But to me this crosses the line into cruel and heartless, and in this one unprecedented instance I find myself on the same page as Sarah Palin, who called out the Down syndrome girl character as beyond the pale.

Some folks in the disability community are absolutely incensed by the song, and they’re speaking up about it. Many of them are writing to Fox Broadcasting (Family Guy, P.O. Box 900, Attn: Fox Broadcasting Publicity Dept., Beverly Hills, CA 90213-0900) and the Emmy-bestowing Academy of Television Arts and Sciences (www.emmys.tv/contact).

One disability advocate would like to take it a step further. She wrote to friends: “I would so love to get 1,000 or so people with Down syndrome standing in front of the place the Emmys are held on the night of the grand occasion [August 29], so people can look them in the eye as they file by in dressed in their designer clothes.”

Organizers and activists, the red carpet awaits.

Not all of TV-land is unenlightened. Watch actor John C. McGinley of Scrubs, whose son Max has Down syndrome, explain why we should end our use of “the r-word”:

UPDATE 8/24/10: The song “Down Syndrome Girl” will not be aired on the Emmys broadcast, according to Jerry and Judy Horton of Down Home Ranch, a Texas residence for people with disabilities. The Hortons, who had voiced strong opposition to to the song’s nomination, report in an e-mail to supporters that John Shaffner, chairman of the Emmy parent organization, sent a letter to the National Down Syndrome Congress, an advocacy organization, notifying them of the decision. See the National Down Syndrom Congresss Facebook page for reactions to Shaffner’s decision.

Image by Joe Shlabotnik, licensed under Creative Commons.



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Michele McClure
8/25/2010 8:07:30 PM
What would happen if the N word would have been used?

cm_4
8/24/2010 3:04:39 PM
I've seen family Guy and this bit in context. It is hilarious. They do a wonderful skewering of social expectations around dating and the mentally disabled. The "little whore" comment is completely in character for Stewie. Why are people upset about a one-time episode with a parody of a Down's syndrome girl when the show has an ongoing character, a little two-year-old gay misogynist obsessed with matricide? I can see people getting somewhat upset with skewering the public image of Downs children as being sweet and lovable. I've met a bunch, they are sweethearts which made turning this character into a selfish Little Miss bossy such a hoot. Even the voice actress, who has down syndrome, got the joke http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/02/18/family-guy-voice-actor-says-palin-does-not-have-a-sense-of-humor/ Yes, the humor from family Guy, Simpsons, South Park can be rough. I believe that every time it hurts or leaves you feeling a little banged up, it's a point where society to get a clue, not the program. They are our social canary in the coal mine. listen for when the bird song stops, it stops for thee.

Christine
8/23/2010 4:05:13 PM
I have watched the show. There's a VERY GOOD REASON that Family Guy is shown on Adult Swim on Cartoon Network, which is exclusively late at night. It is not appropriate for children...and personally I'm appalled by the picture used to illustrate the article. I'm hoping it was Photoshopped, but somehow I doubt it. Family Guy shows the males of the family as appallingly moronic with few redeeming qualities, particularly the father who's a giant, spoiled, horribly behaved manchild. Once you realize this, the show can be funny. Unlike South Park, however, the offensiveness rarely has an underlying parody/social commentary intention...thus its really of little redeeming value. 'Blame Canada' from the South Park movie was nominated for an Oscar, but its not the same as this awful song. 'Blame Canada' was a riff on those who don't take responsibility and blame other people for what they themselves caused. This Family Guy song...while I'm absolutely unsurprised its in the show, it has no redeeming value and never should have been nominated for an award.

Joy Moor
8/23/2010 12:13:37 PM
As someone working with children, a constant I see is parents viewing any television show or movie that has cartoons as being for children. It doesn't matter the rating, whether it is geared for adults, whether it is inappropriate. I also see children, quite young, who watch skits on youtube etc. that are violent or sexual but it's shrugged off as "just youtube". When you watch enough violence, listen to enough race/sex/special needs bashing, learn that nothing is to be respected and no one is to be treated with care - what kind of adult are these children going to be? And what kind of adult now thinks that any of this is worth anybody's time much less a reward for excellence?

JuJuFish_3
8/23/2010 10:06:08 AM
When Simpsons and South Park made groups angry, it was generally because they were taking taboo subjects and showing people how silly it is to focus on them. However, there is nothing taboo about Down Syndrome, it's just complete inappropriate to make fun of them. Now, I can see a joke for what it is, but this is not a joke so much as saying offensive things knowing that the vast majority of people watching that show will laugh at any offensive joke. They made a lot of money off of doing the show that way, so now it's not funny for the sake of the joke, it's forthe sake of getting those laughs. Simpsons and South Park will always be in an entirely different realm than Family Guy.

karen_11
8/22/2010 11:27:46 AM
Well, I couldn't get offended by this before reading the article because I didn't know about it, so the way I see it is this - it is a free country, and if you don't think a song about a hooker with down syndrome is funny, then you can easily avoid listening to it (how many people will go 'omg how horrible!' and then go youtube the clip?) The real issue with taste here isn't the creator, it is the panel of people that nominated it for an emmy, and perhaps showing it during primetime on non-cable TV. Oh yeah...and anyone that lets their kids watch this show. It's not like this is the first time Family Guy has been offensive, lets just keep in mind that the offended are not the viewership, and offense is totally relative to begin with.

samd11
8/21/2010 7:33:56 PM
Absolutely appalling and thoughtless. Television culture continues its race to the bottom of poor taste. Shame on the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.



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