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(Salon)   The one terrifying monster Stephen King sees in his nightmares and cannot confront? His mother-in-law   ( divider line
    More: Scary, mother-in-law  
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9275 clicks; posted to Main » on 08 Dec 2012 at 12:09 PM (5 years ago)   |   Favorite    |   share:  Share on Twitter share via Email Share on Facebook   more»

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2012-12-08 01:09:59 PM  
2 votes:
The Family Guy is, like its writers and like most people today, obsessed with the same pop culture references as the web and TV and ordinary people, but it also explores taboos in ways that underscore and sometimes parody the rules of the TV sitcom.

The dumbass dad is a long standing cliché of American humour. It goes back over two hundred years and has routes in the European comedy and popular entertainments. Dad is "fair game", wife and children less so.

The basic formula is as fixed as the mouse-cat-dog hierarchy of cartoons. Dad is fat and dumb, Mom is inexplicably hot and smart, but horny; the girl is either a slut or fugly; the boy is a mini-Dad, and the dog rules. Sort of.

I don't like the way the show treats Meg and Brian. It is over-done and it has basically ruined those characters. Too heavy-handed, clichéed and mean. I liked the older, less fey and more Evil Genius Stewie better. The character of the Alien on American Dad is similarly ruined, but the children are stronger characters. Roger is just too mean, too fey, and too stereotyped. As the animal foil (which dates back at least to Krazy Kat in the days when it was a mini-strip under the floorboards of the Dingbat Family), Roger is not a complete success and Brian has been damaged by mis-treatment.

I should be able to like these characters better since Brian is the Liberal foil to the Fox-Crazy conservatism of Peter and Roger is the foil to the dated Sitcom chauvinist and bigot of Stan. The formula overwhelms the writers' humour, wit and invention. This is one of the strengths and possible weaknesses of The Simpsons: the family members are so perfectly balanced the formula can come and go freely. There's so much perfection and balance that the art tends to disappear and some viewers just don't see it at all. This may contribute to their complaints of "repetition" and sameness. You don't get the disjunctions when everything flows smoothly and all of the characters are equally strong, all of the incongruities and contrasts between extreme childishness and wisdom, between idiocy and ignorance and remarkably intelligent university graduate references, and the other contrasting elements of a show where the children are at once urbane sophisticates and simple children, are equally acceptable.

When the dog or the cat on The Simpsons break out of the constraints of behaving like animals and do an anthropomorphic gag, it is done so slickly that you don't mind. In less competitent hands you would howl that the rules are being broken. In the cartoony-sitcomy world of Family Guy, American Dad, and the Cleveland Show, the animals are just a different kind of human and this is generally consistent. The gag occurs when Brian acts like a dog or the bears behave like wild animals but there is a constant reminder that this a cartoon and that it will break the rules of cartoons and realiism pretty willy-nilly.

The Simpsons is almost unique in the way it deals with frame-breaking. They seek a smoothness that annoys some fans of the old-timey roughness of art, characterization, writing, etc. Some people prefer the roughness of early cartoons to the neoteny, pedomorphism, and slickness of work in its prime, prefer the early pointy-nosed and rat-like Mickey to the three-year child Mickey of today.

Different jokes for different folks.

Personally, I have never been a big fan of Stephen King. He has something of the smaltzy nostalgia of Azimov without the same level of intelligence or wit. There's a theology under some of his work I don't care for--for example The Stand on TV seemed preachy and Mormonized, thus trite and annoying.

Carrie is a bit blunt and obvious but it is my favourite King movie. It is most purely psychological and least political (at least in the obvious and usual sense of "political"--everything about sex is political, of course, but Papa shouldn't preach).

King doesn't rise above the best-seller level of writing or thinking. He is genre, General Fiction, not Literature, not "serious" or better yet, non-serious, since "Serous Literature" is just above Best Seller and Pulp, and thus tends to be bland, middle-class and boring to those of us who like the good stuff, high-brow and low-brow alike. A lot of his stuff is the kind of thing I would scan through on fast-forward, looking for ideas and key plot-points rather than enjoying as a good read because it is flawed and can't hold my attention from page to page, let alone word to word, very often.
2012-12-08 12:37:15 PM  
1 vote:
This does not surprise me. Horror stories exist on the edge of taboo and censorship. In movies like Carrie this made painfully obvious but an alert reader can spot trends as taboos fall or change.

Mother-in-laws were the subject of an enormous number of jokes in the 1950s but PC thinking killed them. This is probably connected to the rise of feminism. The old Male Chauvinist Pig thinking dominated comedy in the 1950s. A wartime generation still resisted women who wanted to remain in the workforce after the wartime effort was dropped like a stone and reaction set in. You could still laugh at ethnic jokes and other bad-taste gags because the rising Jewish comedians shared the concerns of earlier generations, and you could still laugh at mothers-in-law although it was increasingly unacceptable to laugh at blacks and Jews.

Great historical events (such as the Holocaust) as well as changes in what is considered taboo make for the rise of many types of jokes and their inevitable fall. For example, it is believed that elephant jokes replaced N-word jokes in the 1960s. This may seem far-fetched, but then look at all the Voodoo, Jungle Adventure and Zombie movies that were made in the 1930s and 1940s. America was exploring the edges of its views on African Americans. To this very day, the Reverend Pat Robertson believes that Haiti is being punished for a deal with the Devil. He obviously watched too many of those Zombie and Voodoo movies back in the 1930s and 1940s.

The Mother-in-Law joke is dead. Comedians now joke about masturbation or gay marriage. In fact, now that the mother-in-law joke is dead, horror is probably the only genre free enough to deal with anxieties and fears about mothers-in-law. Taboos are born as well as die.
2012-12-08 11:57:11 AM  
1 vote:
Nothing to see here. Carrie on.
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