Family Guy goaded Palin into a mistake

I didn’t see the whole episode, but this scene in Family Guy has apparently gotten Sarah Palin upset:

Both Gov. Palin and her daughter Bristol have responded.

Sarah Palin writes:

People are asking me to comment on yesterday’s Fox show that felt like another kick in the gut. Bristol was one who asked what I thought of the show that mocked her baby brother, Trig (and/or others with special needs), in an episode yesterday. Instead of answering, I asked her what she thought. Here is her conscientious reply, which is a much more restrained and gracious statement than I want to make about an issue that begs the question, “when is enough, enough?”

And Bristol:

. . . People with special needs face challenges that many of us will never confront, and yet they are some of the kindest and most loving people you’ll ever meet. Their lives are difficult enough as it is, so why would anyone want to make their lives more difficult by mocking them? As a culture, shouldn’t we be more compassionate to innocent people – especially those who are less fortunate? . . .”

You know, I don’t like humor that makes fun of people. It’s why I can’t watch Ben Stiller, and why Jerry Seinfeld’s latest tv endeavor looks unwatchable to me. Having said that, where is the insult, here?

Family Guy represented Chris’ date as having the common sense, social awareness and self-confidence than the (so-called) “normal” character lacked. The character says her mother is the Governor of Alaska. So?

What exactly is the victimization, here? The Down syndrome character was respectfully rendered (by FG standards); the Governor of Alaska is the mother of child with Down syndrome. By reacting as she has, all Palin has done is helped reinforce a notion that she is brittle and defensive and not-unwilling to play the victim card on behalf of Trig, who–she has said, herself–is perfect, beautiful and will be participating in life and athletics and everyday challenges like everyone, and will be lucky enough to do it with a proud, loving and supportive family.

Ironically, Bristol Palin’s response -by focusing on people with Down syndrome as being “less fortunate” and having “difficult enough” lives actually undermined the positive (and true) message that Palin has been putting out about her son, and all people with Down syndrome. And I hate to say it, but by inviting Bristol to comment, Palin has also invited Andrew Sullivan’s mad speculation back into the mix.

The producers of Family Guy went hunting for Palins, and the Palins took the bait.

Were I Palin, I would have taken this cartoon in the best possible spirit: (regardless of how I thought it was meant) and commented:

“It was gratifying to see Family Guy depict people with Down syndrome as functional, social, courteous, outgoing and independent, and I was so glad to see it. In an era where the word “retard” gets thoughtlessly thrown around by even the most “sophisticated” of people, and when so many in the medical community are so quick to recommend aborting babies that are correctly (or sometimes incorrectly) diagnosed with Down syndrome, my family and I so are grateful to the producers of The Family Guy; they had the insight and generosity of spirit to help normalize the notion of what it means to live with Down syndrome, and how full any life can be, even when the definition of “ordinary” becomes a little changed. While my family was not specifically named in that episode, we are proud to be associated with it.

It’s called hoisting a gang by their own petard. Or, you know, heaping coals on their heads. Or, simply, making the very best of a dubious dig.

Although, as I say, I’m not sure there was a “dig” here. I think it was simply a trap, and it worked. Had the same episode aired, with no mention at all of Palin, would there be any issue here, or would the character of Chris’ date instead be applauded?

I understand the protectiveness of a mother; if my kid was constantly being made mention of or mocked, I’d want to rip people’s eyes out, too. But Trig was not mocked here. Actually, no one was mocked, unless you take the view that it is a mean thing to suggest that anyone gives birth to a Down syndrome child. Fair or not, Palin’s children are part of her whole story, and the press (and the popular culture) will continue to aim at them. Whether Palin-haters make a kill or their weapons blow up in their faces has much to do with how Palin reacts to them.

This time, Palin made mistakes. She may not have “lost” this particular battle. But she could have won it, outright.

And the bigger winner would have been all people with Down syndrome and their families.


Jim Hoft has a few minutes of Fox News.

Allahpundit links: thanks!

UPDATE: Have had several emails from people asking me if I have “exposure” to people with Down syndrome, either in my family or elsewhere. Not in my family, but I grew up playing with all the kids “on the block,” including one boy who was DS. Although back then there were few programs in place, his family treated him like all the other kids, and we did, too. A few have remarked that The Family Guy rendering of the Down syndrome character was not “respectful” because they’re incapable of being respectful to anyone; true enough, but to my way of thinking, the fact that they did not pander to the character’s disability is–in that show’s perverse way–rather “respectful.” Another point was made that people with Down syndrome are usually sweet-dispositioned and loving, while this character was a self-centered diva, and therefore Family Guy was disrespectful. It is true that people with Down syndrome tend to be very sweet, very considerate and loving. But–again, twist your thinking a little, because you’re dealing with a twisted show–by portraying this character as being capable of self-centeredness and even rudeness, well…again…it works more to mainstream people with DS. I still don’t see the insult and I’ll repeat: if the joke about the Gov. of Alaska had not been made, no one would have said boo about this character. For that matter, the joke, it seems to me, was at Palin’s expense, not her son’s.

Palin is surely tired of her kids being targeted, and with good reason, and I think it’s quite unfair for the same sort of people who never had a problem with John-John Kennedy being brought out in public, to claim that Palin is “using” Trig as a prop (more email). People want to see politician’s kids. Unfortunately, when it’s a Republican politician, the kids are all-too-often considered “fair game.” I’ve always said all the kids should be left out of things. All that said, I still think Palin could have turned played this differently, and better.

Noel Shepherd has another clip from the show; reading his remarks I thought it was going to be so offensive I would have to change my thinking about this. But after watching the clip, I still think it’s all pretty tame by Family Guy standards. The show is vulgar, the humor adolescent and it’s all of a piece; they do not treat the Down syndrome character any better or worse than they treat anyone else. I know some don’t find that compelling, but I do.

However, I think the FG producers should make Stewie do a song-and-dance about being gay, and make a few “patented Stewie” jokes honing in on gay stereotypes, or something. Why not? No sacred cows, right? Perhaps FG can do the whole society a service by “insulting” everyone enough that no one needs to carry on about insulted they are, ever again.

Althouse has links to a de-glamorized Palin. She seems a little offended by the effort to “defeminize” Palin; I think she still looks darn good. even without makeup and hairdo. In fact, if you “deglamorize” her…she sort of looks like many female Dem pols! :-)

I will say this, though: she is definitely in their heads.

There is an art to good politics

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  • Pops

    I certainly get your point, I mean it would be nice to see family guy set up a date with a Wade, the dead kid, and joke about, Hey, I’m the son of the former Senator from North Carolina.
    Or say a fat black girl eating fried chicken and joke that she’s the daughter of the President.
    I could see the left having a good laugh at such funny stuff.
    But lets get serious, these people would never act this way to a liberals family, especially to make jokes at the expense of a disabled child.
    Its just not funny.

    But I am pretty sure what goes around comes and lets hope these people get treated the way they treat others.

    Remember how everyone laughed when Obama made fun of special olympics athletes – ohh what a hoot! Typical of people who believed special needs children shouldn’t be around in the first place, and if your not going to abort them, just don’t bring them out in public.

  • Victor

    I have only looked at the video but I’m sure that somewhere you explained that your heart was not in “IT” when “IT” came to showing “IT” and “I” “ME” and “MYSELF” would have also been UPSET and hurt if a member of my family was ridiculed in this manner but then again I’m nobody important or newsworthy so I need not worry about “IT”! :)


  • http://disqus freelancer

    If anybody watched the video of the FG episode and listened to the words of the song that was played which demeaned/ridiculed both the guy and his DS date and felt good about the show and themselves, they have more stomach for pretentious sophistication, culturaly cool nastiness, than have I. Sara Palin continues to amaze me with her serious morality that pays attention to a cause she has made a special interest of hers, i.e. being an advocate for the disabled and very vulnerable mentally handicaped human beings that God has sent to this earth. I have watched some of the tsk tsking about Tiger Woods and his apology and I am thinking why should we be so taken up with his broken vows to his wife? He has grown up in a society that thinks how clever such shows as FG and others of that elk are when they mock the virtue of family values at any level. Sara is no moral lightweight in the areas that this country is concerned about. Whether she runs for political office or remains a leading voice in an increasingly vocal rebellion against the social sordidness that has infested our country at all levels, she is making an impact where others have failed. I do not think Sara Palin views FG, David Letterman, and the other low lifes as playing games to yank her chain. Why give them a rational cover when we all know these are just plain nasty individuals whose lives are obviously lacking the substance that inspires them to raise above their baser instincts.

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  • Rhinestone Suderman

    Freelancer, I did listen the song. I thought it was horrible. It’s one of the reasons I just can’t accept the argument that this show actually made DS people look good, by showing them as “normal” and just like the rest of us.

    I especially disliked the “little whore” reference. . . Oh, yes, that’s gonna do wonders for the way people see the mentally retarded!

  • ThankYOU

    This really is a teaching moment about where we are about our attitude toward people with disabilities. Unfortunately there are too many people who are unwilling students in this area. If we learn anything from this, I hope it is the acceptance about what disability looks like and being comfortable with it.

    I agree that Sarah can’t play both ends of the stick, the advocate and the victim. The only person who is hurt in this situation are the people who do not have advocacy and are treated as objects to be pitied.

    Bristol is a young girl who will learn in time how her limited of the view of the world really limits her understanding of disability. It is unfortunate that she has no one in her family to teach her except for the youngest member in her family, Trig.

    The burden these children carrythroughout their life as a result of the disability goes far beyond their own limitation…

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