Will close-reading these TV comedies reveal the next Hollywood predator?
Seth McFarlane, WHAT ELSE DO YOU KNOW?
by Katie Way
In light of the outpouring of revelations about abusive men in the entertainment industry, it's become clear that the allegations weren't as shocking to industry insiders as they were to the general public.
In fact, these "secrets" were so well known that they even made their way into a few fictional universes under the guise of jokes.
The biggest example of this is Seth McFarlane's animated comedy for dumb people, Family Guy. The show is famous for throwing in a melange of pop culture references, often totally unrelated to the actual plot line of the show.
Turns out a few of the jokes were, however, related to actual systematic sexual abuse. Haha!
This clip of Stewie running naked through a mall, after the talking dog dares him to, is a prime example:
The season four episode originally aired in June 2005. At the time, the sequence was little more than a throwaway joke in the style of the show's signature sequiturs. But now that multiple actors have publicly accused Spacey of making advances on them while they were underage, it's… different.
Family Guy also joked about Brett Ratner, whom multiple women have brought sexual misconduct claims against, including Olivia Munn. The clip below mentions Ratner's name as a bidder at a Taken-style human trafficking auction.
This episode, from the show's tenth season, originally aired in May 2012. The gag is a little bit less pointed that the Kevin Spacey joke, but still implies that Brett Ratner is the kind of guy who'd buy a sex slave, so it's not flattering, either.
But perhaps the most damning gags are the ones that surround Harvey Weinstein. When McFarlane hosted the 2013 Oscars, he made a now-infamous joke that the women nominated for Best Supporting Actress "no longer have to pretend to be attracted to Harvey Weinstein."
The joke gets a few uncomfortable laughs from the audience, but no applause. McFarlane released a statement on Twitter earlier in October, in which he said that the joke was his way of taking "a hard swing in [Weinstein's] direction" after learning about the producer's predatory behavior from a colleague.
Weinstein's behavior also became somewhat of a running joke on NBC's 30 Rock, and was mentioned in passing twice during the series's sixth and seventh seasons, both of which aired in 2012.
"I turned down intercourse with Harvey Weinstein three times. Out of five," Jenna says, as an example of being unafraid of powerful men in the entertainment industry in a season six episode. This relationship pops up again, as a throwaway joke, in season seven.
Another 30 Rock Harvey Weinstein joke from S7E10. pic.twitter.com/haAC3QPHhh
— Mira G (@TheLiberalPulse) October 9, 2017
Some publications have praised McFarlane and the writers of 30 Rock for "calling out" Harvey Weinstein, but honestly? These feel more like inside jokes about something that's not very funny at all.
But calling out powerful men is difficult, and the rate at which it's happening now is wholly unprecedented. At the time, these jokes probably felt highly subversive to the people who were writing them. And if the men who were joked about caught wind of them, it's likely that they were pissed, if not nervous about being exposed.
So even though these gags aren't aging gracefully, maybe the lesson to be learned is that sometimes a joke is more than just a joke. Maybe, we should be paying a little more attention.