Radio Freethinker

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Seth MacFarlane is One of Ours

Posted by Ethan Clow on February 26, 2013

If you’ve been anywhere near social media these last few days, you know the Oscars happened on Sunday. And you also probably know they were terrible.

Sadly, or I guess goodly, I missed the Oscars. I was out all evening Sunday, however I did pvr the Academy Awards to watch when I got home. But when I attempted to sit and watch the award show gala, I was so put off by the terribleness, I just couldn’t sit through it. The overwhelming badness of the show was caused by two problems. One was that my pvr did a horrible job recording, it was skipping and choppy and made it awful. The second reason was the terrible hosting of Seth MacFarlane.

Seth MacFarlane, is the creator of Family Guy and American Dad cartoons for Fox. Their pretty juvenile shows, sort of like South Park but without the satire. I admit to being a fan when it first came out but its sort of lost its vibe.

So the question of course is where did MacFarlane go wrong? The big strike against him seems to be offensive nature of his jokes. Unlike, say Ricky Gervais, who essentially roasted the attendees when he hosted the Golden Globes, MacFarlane decided to rely on some crass stereotypes for his humour.

Of course, even if no one cared about mean stereotypes, MacFarlane’s attempts at humour were lacking. At one point he asked Daniel Day Lewis if he had tried to free Don Cheadle because he was “so in character as Lincoln.”

There was polite laughter from the audience but few others are laughing. There have been a series of negative reviews of the award show, most calling out MacFarlane for his misogynistic jokes and racial stereotypes that he trodded out.

So he’s another bad comedian. Big deal right? Well I’m sorry to do this to you, skeptic community… but Seth MacFarlane is one of ours.

One of the characters on his show, which he voices, is a fan of Hitchens and Bill Maher and is also an outspoken atheist. And he’s mentioned how that character has sort of become his “voice” both metaphorically and literally on Family Guy.

In fact in 2011 MacFarlane received the Harvard Humanist of the Year award, obviously put on by the Harvard Humanist association.

MacFarlane also announced that he was was teaming up with Neil deGrasse Tyson and Ann Druyan (Carl Sagan’s widow) to produce a new version of Cosmos for Fox.


So… the same guy who sung a song at the Oscars about movies that female actresses in the audience showed their boobs in, is producing the next version of Cosmos….

So all this is to say, Seth MacFarlane is or will soon be a house hold name when it comes to the free-thought community. And since he’s a good deal more famous than pretty much any “celebrity” in the skeptic community, there’s a good chance this guy could become the face of our movement in the near future.



6 Responses to “Seth MacFarlane is One of Ours”

  1. […] Seth MacFarlane is One of Ours […]

  2. A few thoughts on your comments on Seth MacFarlane at the Oscars (I didn’t see it, and am not a TV watcher these days so am out of date re Family Guy, etc.) To me, the issue is not whether we accept a person’s actions/words entirely “because no one is perfect” – or we reject the whole person.

    I’ve been researching information on cognitive dissonance – The Bystander Effect, Asch’s conformity experiment, rationalization – and just listened to a Point of Inquiry August 2007 interview with Carol Tavris, co-author of “Mistakes Were Made, But Not By Me: …” She makes a good argument that we are uncomfortable with “being wrong” (and also with finding ‘wrong’ in another). Because of this, as I under stand her and understand our psychology, we “explain away” on behalf of others as well as ourselves.

    Seth MacFarlane might in the end benefit if people simply let him know that at “moment X” he went too far. All society might benefit if all of us could learn to “be OK” with relating to one another (and to ourselves) more honestly in these situations, while simultaneously making clear our respect and enjoyment of one another.

    Ideally, if the audience behaved as if “enjoying” inappropriate humor, people close to MacFarlane would touch base on it at an appropriate time. I happened to also hear a news commenter yesterday go out of her way to “justify/rationalize” what sounded to me like humor that degraded humanity in one way or another. I think as a culture we need to look at this.

    I’m a new listener to your podcasts – I’m glad to have found you – thank you – looking forward to hearing more!

    • Ethan Clow said

      Thanks for the thoughtful comments!

      I have noticed that when it comes to comedians who I like, I’m more willing to rationalize when “they go to far” compared to comedians I don’t particularly like. I guess it’s one of those things we need to keep our skeptical eyes on.

  3. maggieannthoeni said

    This broadcast is my first listen – I’m glad I found you and look forward to interesting, good humored, exploration of situations and ideas.

    Your thoughts about Seth MacFarlane especially caught my attention. It so happens “cognitive dissonance” is of great interest to me and his performance/humour seems to be a great situation for discussing ways we – all of us – deal with moments when our behavior is in some way cruel. Earlier today I listened to a Point of Inquiry March 2007 interview with Carol Tavris who co-authored the book “Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me): …”. She speaks of our natural inclination to not find fault in ourselves, or in someone we’d like to admire. She notes our discomfort with admitting we have, or another has, quite simply – ‘gone too far’:

    I’ve recently also found a paper by Paul Levy discussing Jung’s concern with our ‘shadow side’: “Diagnosis: Psychic Epidemic”, (“All that is needed to see the madness of our species is to open our eyes and look at what we are doing to each other, to the environment which we depend on for our survival, and to ourselves.”).

    Both these references, to my mind, are relevant. How *do* we respond when we witness harmful excess or notice it in our own behavior? To my observation, we – all humanity – will benefit when we recognize that any/all of us are likely to slip up from time to time, and can learn to be more mindful before “next time”. Better that we speak up or ‘wake up’ sooner than later’, when excess might become habitual. I think it’s hard for us; we carry a lot of ‘baggage’ culturally and individually that makes us feel awkward, so we “go along with the unfunny joke” or deal with the cognitive dissonance in some other indirect way.

    “Polite laughter” – if weak enough – could send a message that might be helpful, to MacFarlane also! “Harsh anger” is counterproductive. We should not pillory one another – our past tendency to do so is part of our culture’s baggage. It has made us all the more reluctant to give one another honest feedback.

    • Stephen Even said

      I don’t think you’re giving MacFarlane enough credit for his own self-awareness. He knows perfectly well that he’s gone too far. We don’t have to tell him. Going too far is the basis of his humour. His humour is based on going against convention and rattling cages – in short, shock humour. His humour is not intellectually defensible because his humour lacks any intellect. It’s just plain crude. Or if it’s not crude it’s just plain silly. The kind of silliness which appeals to stoners.

      I don’t know much about the man, only from what I see on Family Guy. But what is his intellectual basis for being an atheist? I bet you he has none. He’s an atheist because the majority of the US population is not. He just wants to go against convention and shock people.

      Why did the Academy of Motion Pictures pick him to host The Oscars? Probably desperation for ratings. Why does he get to produce the new Cosmos? Probably because he has lots of money.

      I’ll admit this post is cynical and it’s because I despise MacFarlane’s humour and the fact that some people find it funny. And just because he’s an atheist and a skeptic does not give him an automatic pass or sympathy (not that he needs sympathy but I can’t think of the word I’m looking for where you’re suppose to allow someone more leeway).

  4. maggieannthoeni said

    Hmm … thought my first post didn’t go through as I logged in late and saw no evidence. (Second post was clearly successful for moderation.) Sorry for the double – maybe links in 2nd will be of interest. Thanks again for an engaging program.

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