Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Cleveland Show: Why MacFarlane Needs To Stop Writing About Marginalized Bodies

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This is supposed to be funny?  A Black man doing a rap at the behest of a White kid.  Of course no rap segue would be complete, without a Black woman shaking her ass. This is not the kind of comedy that says I am laughing with you. No, MacFarlane is laughing at us.  He is not putting these images out there to challenge stereotypes, he does so to get a cheap laugh. 

People have repeatedly defended MacFarlane by claiming he is attempting to show how ridiculous these stereotypes are, but if there is no larger conversation to explain why this is damaging,  it never gets placed into a context that encourages deconstruction.  MacFarlane cannot even hide behind the label of satire, to justify the racism and sexism that he regularly engages in on The Cleveland Show.  This is exactly why White people writing Black characters, is always going to be problematic. 

We are raised in a racist society and therefore; anything that MacFarlane writes, will always necessarily be infused by his White privilege.  When you write outside of your own experience, without openly acknowledging your  personal biases, media like The Cleveland Show is the result.  The Cleveland show is even further complicated  because it is a cartoon.  We still function with the idea that cartoons are not damaging because they began as children's entertainment. 

It would be a terrible thing, if The Cleveland show only focused on racism, however; it seems that MacFarlane aim, is to reduce as many people as he can, within the span of thirty minutes.

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Every time this character is in an episode, she is eating.  What is this but a manifestation of Fat hatred?  Of course she feel asleep with the tub of ice cream and has litter surrounding her.  Of course she has no life and lives to eat. 

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That is all that she has now that she is so big, that she cannot fit through the doorway of her own home.  There are certainly obese people that are housebound, but this character not only reifies every single negative belief about fatness; she has no recognizable human personality.  She exists to consume food.  It is dehumanizing to construct a character like this.  People are encouraged to laugh at her physical body. Since she exists solely as a consumptive entity, we need not be concerned that she might actually have real feelings. 

Even her mobility device is a source of humour for MacFarlane.  Had he the slightest understanding of the prejudice and ableism that is aimed at those that are dependent on scooters, he would see that this so-called humour, supports othering and able bodied privilege.  People don’t ride scooters because they are lazy, but because they allow for a freedom of movement that would  otherwise be restricted. There is often a disability hidden behind the use of a mobility scooter, regardless of the weight of the person involved. Why is someone attempting to negotiate an ableist world and having a productive life, so threatening that it must be ridiculed at every turn?

It would be easy to turn off the television and not watch shows like The Cleveland Show.   Unfortunately, not watching does not mean that the dissemination of such open hatred and ignorance will not touch you.  These shows have a tendency to support undeserved privilege and those that do watch, cannot help but manifest such behaviour in their interactions with others.  You can turn off the television, but the moment you interact with the outside world, there will always be those, that feel that they have the right to be oppressive.  The media is an agent of socialization, in that it both informs and supports hegemonic discourses.    What we choose to devalue in fantasy, often reflects that which we have socially devalued.  Good comedy need not demean in order to be funny, but this is something that MacFarlane has yet to learn.