Did Family Guy cause 179,997 FCC indecency complaints?
Every three months the Federal Communications Commission comes up with its Quarterly Report on indecency complaints, and we sit around scratching our heads. How come the latest stats, in this instance for the first quarter of this year, show the viewers relatively calm at 578 complaints in January, then 505 in February, followed by 179,997 in March?
179,997? Um, did we miss something? Did television really get that much more indecent in March? No worries. In these situations, we know what to do. We go over and check out the Parents Television Council’s website. And sure enough, there’s a plausible instigator—a PTC viewer action alert crusade against a March 8 episode of the animated comedy show the PTC just loves to hate, Fox TV’s Family Guy.
PTC’s parental advisory system rates Family Guy “red for sex,” it should be noted. “Should a Sunday night cartoon show YOUR children bestiality, gay orgies and babies eating sperm?” the PTC alert declared. “Fox thinks so.”
Well, that definitely got our attention. So we ran over to another institution that the PTC keeps sharp eyes on, youtube.com, and got some clips of the episode. Frankly, it’s not one of the better Family Guy episodes, but here goes.
Welcome home surprise
Man of the house Peter Griffin has decided to take in a horse, a brain damaged one, in fact, that isn’t good for much except licking dad’s derrier at night (PTC objection number one here). The next morning the Griffins are sitting at the breakfast table. “Why are there so many bottles of milk in the refrigerator?” Lois the housewife asks. “Oh. Thanks for reminding me,” her husband Peter hurriedly responds. “It’s not milk. It’s horse sperm. I’m a horse breeder now.”
Next thing you see is baby Stewie very reflectively sampling his bowl of breakfast cereal and equestrian protein (PTC gripe number two).
But the horse breeding project doesn’t pan out, Peter finds himself in debt, so for cash he submits to a series of genetic injections that turn him first into a squirrel, then into Seth Rogan, and, finally, gay. Suddenly he’s swishing around at a party being thrown for him by the guys. “Guess what? I have a welcome home suprise for you,” one of them tells Peter. “Dish dish dish!” he exhales. “Remember how you told me your ultimate fantasy was to have an eleven way?” his friend reminds him.
Anyway, to make a short story shorter, out come a dozen-minus-one limp-wristed volunteers, and they all rush into the room on the left. You never actually see anything happen, just a lot of oohing and mumbling. But unfortunately for Peter, the effects of the gay gene wear off just as the action is getting hot, and he runs out of the house in his birthday suit screaming homophobic screams.
This, as you’ve doubtless surmised, is PTC objection number three. We won’t ruin the ending, but it does involve Peter helping his son with some math homework by conjuring up a word problem involving “glory holes.”
“Bestiality. Glory holes. Circuit parties. Gay orgies. Eating horse sperm,” PTC’s rant concludes. “This is the kind of ‘entertainment’ Fox thinks is ideal for your kids to see on a Sunday night cartoon.”
Take action now
As is usually the case with these campaigns, PTC gave its readers the chance to “take action now” by filling out a pre-scripted FCC Web complaint with details about the show, enabling a potentially limitless number of champions of decency to file objections with the Commission. And as we’ve noted in the past, it’s easy to pile the gripes on, because the FCC does not require complainers to certify that they’ve actually seen the program in question.
And that, Ars readers, could very well be how we got the horses’ share of 179,997 indecency complaints in March.
This roller-coaster indecency statistics phenomenon is now a long-established pattern, with 543,255 protests coming in during the Febuary of 2004 that Janet Jackson had her famous 9/16ths-of-a-second wardrobe malfunction. But the outrage trickled down to 835 filed objections by the subsequent June. Sure, that half a million could have been a spontaneous outcry of righteous indignation. But how come two years earlier Cher’s famous Billboard Music Awards comment that “People have been telling me I’m on the way out every year, right? So fuck ‘em,” only provoked 17 complaints?
Our guess? The Web filing system hadn’t been perfected yet. As we’ve noted before, an Internet Archives scan of the PTC’s website circa 2002 reveals no database page where a consumer could go, look up a specific show, then file a grievance against a program. Then by 2003, parentstv.org offered a drop down option bar leading to ratings for dozens of TV shows. And, by 2004, the nonprofit had a sophisticated FCC complaint form, with options bars at the top displaying PTC TV program guides and movie reviews.
But let’s put the theorizing aside and end this story on a lighter note. If you haven’t seen Family Guy‘s FCC routine, check it out here.