‘Family guy’ and post hoc cultural relativism

Family guy may well have exhausted its own formula of non sequitur pop culture reference, say, two seasons ago.  There was a moment earlier this season, though, that has managed, briefly and unexpectedly, to restore some of Seth McFarlane’s charm for me.  Toward the end of “Baby on board,” Peter Griffin launches into a line for line recital of a pivotal scene from Planes, trains and automobiles. I hadn’t actually seen Planes before the Family guy parody (despite my father’s repeated exhortations) but at the time, even just the sudden change in Peter’s tone — the hurt in his voice, particularly — struck me as hilarious.  Hurt feelings always make me laugh.

But there’s also a beautiful, unintended consequence to (or rather, for any Derrideans in the crowd, an intertextual dissemination resulting from) McFarlane’s parody.  By re-presenting the original so faithfully, by going so far as to include the Dream Academy song that graces the scene in Planes, the parody has effectively back-contaminated that song’s three-chord progression, stripping it of its sentimentality and reinscribing it with the over-the-top goofiness of the Family guy bit.

Enter my own non sequitur experience of pop culture: as I mentioned in a previous post, I’ve begun working my way through the early seasons of nip/tuck.  Throughout the first few episodes of the second season, the show’s original music purveyor, James Levine, has seen fit to sprinkle his own synthesized rendition of that same three-chord progression onto several different scenes.  The most egregious of these (for a number of reasons) is from the episode “Manya Mabika,” which features former Talk soup hostess Aisha Tyler as the titular patient.  After the surgical reparation of her vaginal infibulation, Tyler chokes through (what presumably passes for) a Somali accent, describing the near-divine beauty of her first orgasm.

"It was like God was waking up inside of me."
"It was like God was waking up inside of me."

Now, thanks to Family guy, we’re in a much better position to reject this clumsy attempt at grafting sentimentality to the scene via its soundtrack.  More awesome still, we’re also in a position to infect the entire episode with our skepticism, and consequently to question the profound ethnocentrism comprehending it (and most any putatively liberal discussion about female genital cutting).  Of course, my very Butlerian reading of this particular moment from nip/tuck depends entirely on my also having seen that particular episode of Family guy.  But such is the encyclopedic breadth and depth of TubaTV, folks.

– J.C. Freñán


3 thoughts on “‘Family guy’ and post hoc cultural relativism”

  1. Another scene from season two, same soundtrack: Christian and Russo learn the results of their custody battle for Wilbur aaaaaand cue the synths!

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