I considered not writing this, because so much has been written already on this subject, but then again it has been poorly written. This last weekend as Americans both honored the memory of John Fitzgerald Kennedy and celebrated tragedy (because at some point, all the repeated dialogue, film footage and conspiracy theories just become disaster porn), one artist and satirist was brave enough to show us our own reflection. Yes, the death of JFK was tragic and sad. Death, especially when it takes one so young, often is. Yes, it may be difficult to accept that someone so inconsequential as Lee Harvey Oswald had snuffed out the life of someone as important as our 35th president, but that it is how it happened.
For many, it is also hard to accept that some random motorist could snuff out the life of a beloved television character. Yes, I am speaking of Brian Griffin, who along with the character of Stewie Griffin, ranked as a fan favorite for devotees of the Seth McFarland series Family Guy.
With no fanfare leading up the event, Family Guy managed to do something that very few things in today’s pop culture are able to do: It made us feel something real, raw and complex. Fans cried along with the Griffins as their beloved pet lay on the vet’s examination table dying. After the episode aired, the Twitterverse exploded with comments expressing all of the five stages of grief, but especially denial and anger. I admit that I still have my doubts that the character of Brian is gone for good from the series, but I have more doubts about the reasons people have offered up as speculation to explain this turn of events. If Seth McFarland truly wants to end the series, the comments of Steve Callaghan, executive producer on the series, did not reflect that.
Callaghan may seem callous when he describes the decision that lead to this plot twist as, “a fun way to shake things up,” and may appear a bit out of touch when he credits fans as being smart enough to accept this and return to the show. After all, since the airing of the November 24th episode, fans have begun circulating petitions to bring Brian back. As a side note, a zombie dog could be what the series needs to compete with the highly over-rated AMC series The Walking Dead.
Perhaps the tone of Callaghan’s remarks only feeds into the series sabotage theories. I, myself, would beg to differ that the death of Brian would be more readily accepted by the viewers than the death of one of the kids; the death of Stewie would seem unfathomable, but I don’t think many viewers would miss Chris or Meg all that terribly.
While Callaghan may not be scared of the backlash, a lot of the comments hurled at Seth McFarland make me think that if the whole Stephen King Misery situation happened to the series’ creator that no one would really be surprised. The kinds of people who troll social media sites and comments sections are rather frightening. They are often completely out of touch with reality… and God forbid, along came an auteur so crass as to override the schemes and tropes of the cartoon genre that he was a part of.
There are rules to this game. When you create a series where the main characters never age, never really change, they are also never supposed to die. This is not a reflection of real life at all; it is the equivalent of comfort food for the brain. It is why Maggie still sucks on a pacifier on The Simpsons, the reason why characters of such series celebrate no more than one birthday even if the series itself spans decades, and why more than 13 years after the death of Charles Schulz very few newspaper editors have the courage to drop the Peanuts strip from their comics page.
Once you kill off a main character, you create something that didn’t exist before: A character arc. No longer are the other characters immune from growth. This is creative destruction at its best! It is progressive! It is change, and we are damned if we will accept it!
Of course, anyone who was paying attention to begin with could have seen that McFarland wasn’t completely sticking to the same old script. Family Guy episodes often included moments of non-diegesis that would clue viewers into seeing the characters as independent actors playing certain roles in an ongoing television play. Furthermore, it was always hinted at that Brian dies before “his time.” Somehow, we failed to believe that it is an event on the timeline that we as viewers would get to see.
The other satirical accomplishment of the Life of Brian episode is a bit more subtle; by replacing a highly intelligent character with one who has little intelligence, McFarland is reflecting the reality that is the dumbing down of America. A character such as Brian, with his Keith Olbermann hubris and intellectual elitism is just so last year. Now is the time for caricatures of know-nothings ruled by emotions that they don’t fully understand. Enter Vinny.
Who can say what is to become of our beloved, morally bankrupt family? Perhaps McFarland really does plan to end the series. Maybe Vinny, after he has fully earned the trust of everyone in the household, will go on a killing spree, leaving the Griffins in a heap of bloody annihilation, and hence embody the most negative stereotypes of both Italian-Americans and foster children alike. Perhaps a Stewie and Brian from another time will arrive in this Quohog, looking to utilize the time machine that was destroyed by this Stewie, necessitating some good old fashioned baby killing. Or maybe the series will be pretty much the same as always, only with one less intelligent character and less demands on the vocal talents of McFarland.
As an artist and satirist myself, I cannot blame someone for getting sick of doing the same old schtick. It would seem a bit ironic, though, that McFarland would choose his most successful project as the one that must go away. Let’s face it, American Dad and The Cleveland Show are little more than weak spin-offs. While McFarland’s ventures into the big screen and musical recording have afforded him some success, it could be difficult to shed the initial brand after having been so well established… despite any alleged sabotage.
I will just close by saying that when it comes to expecting the American people to get over anything… well, good luck with that!
I have been dealing with a lupus flare for about a month now. In that time, as I remained highly medicated, I decided to rent Escape From Tomorrow, the subversive creation of Randy Moore. During the film’s simultaneous release on big screens and little screens alike, most of the write-ups on this movie focused on Moore’s uncanny ability to basically get away with secretly shooting a film within Disney theme parks.
To those whose research and writing often focus on Disney’s control-freakish empire, this indeed seems to be the most fascinating element of the film, however the narrative of the movie is strong enough to stand on its own.
The tomorrow that the lead character, Jim, appears to be escaping is one where his world will undoubtedly fall apart. The film opens with Jim taking a phone call from his boss while standing out on the balcony of his Disney World hotel. He is informed that he no longer has a job. Jim attempts to keep the dire news from his family and make the last day of their vacation enjoyable, but he can’t shake the bizarre imagery and events he experiences throughout the day, and begins developing the most inappropriate of obsessions.
Until the end of the film, my happily childfree take had been that Jim is ultimately escaping the nightmare of having a wife and children… that turns out not to be the case. He is merely escaping the family and life that he has throughout most of the film in favor of a more ideal one.
Reflection on my own experience at a Disney theme park when I was 9 years old leads me to say that the prolific use of vomit scenes in the film is by no means an exaggeration. Disney theme parks are loaded with vomit… and that is the way it is despite the fact that the cat flu is complete fiction. I never was one who got sick on rides, but I really detest escalators and conveyer belts of all types. I would rather move by exerting my own energy. That said, my mom and I sat out the People Mover at Disneyland, while my dad, grandparents and aunt took a ride. There are trashcans everywhere, and most certainly by every bench (including the one we were seated on). Sometimes a person, when they know that they will never make it to a restroom, make a mad dash for the trash, all to stop short and spew all over the sidewalk. Being seated near a pile of fresh vomit is perhaps my most pervasive memory of Disneyland. Yes, the walkways of Disneyland in the 1980s were paved with puke!
Watching the film may be an experience heightened by certain substances, but if you are running a fever, you may end up believing that your fate is that of Jim’s and that the cat flu is a real and serious threat to your very existence. I had a hard time shaking that notion for awhile.
This film is definitely worth at least one viewing, whether it costs you $7 to rent or $11 to see at a theater. Don’t let the abundance of vomit deter you… it is shot in black and white, so the vomit may as well be black ink. As a fan of the most gastronomically distressed series on television, Mad Men, I might even suggest that the best art of our times includes just as many spew scenes as sex scenes… hell, even the most innovative porn now features vomit! This is where the 21st century has brought us to… the vomitorium! Perhaps it is the only way to keep people from eating half their weight in oily popcorn, nachos and candy as they bask in the blue glow of their sloth. Although I somewhat doubt it.
Will inspired the saying on this one. Original art by Jen Dolan. Another design available on T-shirts at Redbubble.com
Choose the hip Scottie with his brown ‘stache or his evil twin. Both are available on T-shirts, hoodies and stickers at Redbubble.com