Stop making me defend Sarah Palin!!!

Oh, Lord. This is going to be one of those posts where, by the end, I feel like I'm ready for a healthy dose of nerve tonic and a few calming episodes of Murder, She Wrote before hitting an earlybird special and going to bed. Bear with me, people. Sometimes my inner bluenose comes out.

Wouldn't it be nice if maybe, just mmmmmmmmmmmaybe we all backed off a little from our current cultural obsession with making every last little thing the subject of humor? Somewhere between early seasons of The Simpsons (still my pick as the best television of all time) and now, we've all apparently decided that the most important thing these days is to evoke the kind of gasping laughter that signals disbelief on the part of the listener. South Park (which is, God help me, genuinely funny) is responsible for much this, but I think it's reached its apotheosis in the oeuvre of Seth Macfarlane. Whatever happened to class?

Jonathan Chait flags the most recent frontier of sub-basement level humor over at TNR -- Trig Palin. From the Times Arts blog:
In the episode [of The Family Guy] , shown Sunday on Fox, the teenage son Chris Griffin courts a female classmate named Ellen who has Down syndrome. During a date with Chris, Ellen tells him, “My dad’s an accountant and my mom is the former governor of Alaska.” The joke appeared to be a swipe at Ms. Palin, whose son Trig also has Down syndrome.

The Palins (by way of Bristol) have responded by calling the writers of The Family Guy "heartless jerks." And they're absolutely right. I would say that Macfarlane and Company are actually something worse, and more reminiscent of the less pleasant digestive functions of large barnyard animals, but the sentiment is the same.

Here's the thing. I cannot stand Sarah Palin. She is (to date) the nadir of American politics, as far as I am concerned. And yes, I think there is room for legitimate criticism of how Trig Palin has become something of a talking point for her. (Somewhere within the murky depths of Andrew Sullivan's dark obsession with her are some honest and important questions.) But mockery isn't legitimate criticism, and nobody (nobody) deserves to have a loved one mocked on national television this way. When the odious Perez Hilton cackles along with you (and if you think I'm linking to his blog, you're nuts), you're on shaky ground. Furthermore, all this will do is add luster to Palin's claim that she is unfairly persecuted by the media.

So, go after Sarah Palin all you want. Tina Fey, you are a national treasure. Feel free to go after every wink and evasion and crib note. But Trig Palin has done nothing to anyone that merits his being the punchline of a mean, cruel joke (even if he never sees it and wouldn't get it), and seeing him used this way just makes me really, really angry.


  1. I saw the episode and was prepared to be pissed but wasn't. He never actually makes fun of people with Downs syndrome, (except in one overly long song and dance sequence by Stewie who is obnoxious) the character in it was highly functioning and mainstreamed, the character Chris is a fat, cherub faced innocent who could find the character attractive. The only joke (such as it was) being that she was also a high maintenance diva. Essentially, the character was a stand in for Palin herself, someone people projected as being sweet and innocent and pure, but was in reality none of them.

    One persistent myth about Downs syndrome is that everyone who has it is mentally disabled.
    There are many who live pretty normal lives (one had his own TV show, if you recall).
    Go to www.sujeet.com to get some sense of many of their potential.

    The way the character in the show was treated is how such people should be treated whenever possible. As normal people with real hopes and desires (including romantic love)

    Now maybe I am reading too much into McFarland's intention, but I, at least, watched it before I went into full hissy fit mode. Can anyone imagine that Palin did?


  2. He never actually makes fun of people with Downs {sic} syndrome, (except in one...

    translation: he makes fun of people with Down's syndrome.

    Making fun of people with genetic disorders is just wrong. Making fun of people with genetic disorders in order to take a shot at their parents is beyond despicable.

  3. agreed, agreed, and agreed.

  4. I really couldn't bring myself to watch it.

    But I don't see how depicting someone as high-functioning is a mitigating factor. Yes, there are people with Down syndrome who are high-functioning, and people don't realize it. People also don't realize how low-functioning people with Down syndrome can be. They don't understand the nature of cognitive disability generally. If anything, it's the low-functioning who are poorly understood and never seen.

    Dan, have you noticed we probably have more posts defending Sarah Palin than full-on criticizing?

  5. good lord gj, you can't distinguish between characters? Are you saying that an obnoxious character in a sitcom, or movie, or anything can't be obnoxious? Or are you saying that some area of obnoxiousness must never be displayed lest someone, somewhere is offended? And that part which is found offensive was a one second facial gesture that Stewie made. (and that facial gesture I have seen displayed countless times, the "duh" or "silly face" look. Little children make that face all the time and think it is funny. Shall little children be forever forbidden from making silly faces? Will you call them despicable?

    Sarah Palin herself said Rush's use of the term retard was fine since it was being done as satire. But it is not fine when it is done on a show based on satire??

    I watched the show, I didn't find that element of it funny or insightful, it was, in fact, lame and overlong. But beyond despicable?
    good lord, how do you ever live in such a world? Save the "beyond despicable" for things that are such, like trafficking children as slaves.

    Personally, I have no desire to defend Family Guy or South Park. And I have no problem with people condemning this episode (provided that they at least know what they are condemning, second hand information doesn't cut it), but to me, the best response to such things is to write Fox and say you will no longer watch the show and will boycott the sponsors. It is not to go into high umbrage mode and act like it is the end of civilization, or use it to score cheap political points.

    The gj response, the "it is beyond despicable" just induces eye rolling. It is the mark of a truly unserious mind.


  6. Elizabeth, I grew up with a neighbor who was S&P, with a mental age of a 2 year old. Occasionally, he ran out of his house naked I remember seeing him as a small child. I won't say it was traumatic, but it was impactful. And the neighboring children often secretly made fun of him by mimicking his (to us) bizarre gestures. When I was older I worked at a camp run by (what was then called) ARC. It was a difficult but joyful experience. I remember once the staff had a conversation about whether or not if we knew our unborn was like this, would we have the baby and nearly everyone said no. Not because we didn't have love for the campers, but because we knew the lifelong commitment that would be required. OTOH, it also taught me I could handle it if it ever occurred.

    What bothers me most about this whole episode is the incredible misuse by Palin about this whole issue. Why is it about her feelings? Where is the real advocacy. I myself have long advocated that there be a specially trained tax payer funded class of Health care aids to work part time helping this class of people so that the full time caregivers (parents, siblings, etc.) can have a guilt free rest.

    This is what we should be talking about.


  7. It's still called the ARC.

    I couldn't agree more that Palin misuses the issue and is no real advocate. She makes it about her own hurt feelings, and about the choice to have the child in the first place. But if she's going to be a friend to families of kids with special needs, stop worrying about who says who is retarded, and start worrying about agitating for respite care, for good early intervention services in every county, for decent residential options. It really should be about a day-to-day grind that parents deal with.

    That said, I didn't watch this TV show, so I don't want to speak to that. In principle, there's no reason with pointing out something is offensive if it is, and she should do that. But it rings hollow given her peculiar position as someone well-poised to argue for such measures, and her complete failure to do it.

  8. Residential options? Don't get me started, so much is a disgrace, and then you have neighbors who protest that they don't want special needs in their neighborhood, as though they need to be protected from them when in reality, given these peoples mindsets the special needs should be protected from them.
    And there is the miserable pay for the industry workers, etc. etc.

    But hey, I am sure upper class tax brackets and smaller government will solve these problems.


  9. Not that it will do any good...

    charo, I don't care about characters. I'm talking about the writers; you know, real human beings. If the writer has a character mock the disabled, the responsibility falls on the writer. End of story.

    And yes, it would be super swell if the government made every single problem in existence go away, and we could all spend our time at Starbucks working on our screenplays. But in Objective Reality, that isn't going to happen.

    Everyone, and I do mean everyone, thinks her little problem ought to be solved because it is so important, and it would only take a few dollars more from taxpayers to solve it, and if society doesn't solve it, then society is cruel and hard-hearted. If we put up free homes for the disabled, take all caregiving responsibility away from the families, guess what, someone else is going to be howling that the mean nasty taxpayers aren't willing to pay just a little bit more to solve his Terribly Important Problem. Lather, rinse, repeat, until we are all sitting down at Starbucks.

    There is no limit to the problems that can be solved if you can just get someone else to pay for it.

  10. oh lord, Jonathan Swift once wrote that the solution to hunger and overpopulation was to raise the Irish as cattle. He wasn't serious. But people at that time exploded in gj faux outrage. Listen, it is called Satire. Shakespeare might as well be banned because lord knows enough of his characters did some terrible things. If writers can't write about characters saying or doing bad things, then all fiction would be useless lest gj be offended. End of story.

    And your ignorance of the issue is astounding. The point of providing assistance to families with special needs is so that they don't become so overwhelmed that the family unit collapses and the child then gets institutionalized at far greater expense to society. I suppose gj wants to go back to those dark days where everyone with disabilities was kept hidden, God forbid one of his tax dollars goes towards training or rehab. My brother is a VP at a company that employs only blind people in manufacturing in a public/private partnership. Instead of staying home collecting disability they are now gainfully employed.

    What a sad binary world you must live in gj, if you view disabled, or handicapped people only as problems and not as potential resources, or, at the very least, as human beings in need of a little assistance the type that only government can provide. You are right, what you wrote did no good.