11 October 2013
Family Guy is Smart In discussions of television viewing, a controversial issue is whether a viewer’s intelligence is benefiting from television shows. Steven Johnson, in his article, “Watching TV Makes You Smarter,” argues that television has nutritional value. He believes that the cognitive ability of viewers has increased over years as television shows combined multiple story lines into single episodes. In Antonia Peacocke’s article, “Family Guy and Freud: Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious,” she makes a similar point. While she describes the goal that the writers of Family Guy are aiming to achieve with their crude jokes and inappropriate behavior, she also explains that viewers have to think actively to understand these satirical sketches. Both authors believe that watching television requires thought and cognitive ability. Peacocke and Johnson share the opinion that television watchers are actively participating as they watch a show. Viewers today have a challenging job to do as they absorb a show. They must “pay attention, make inferences, [and] track shifting social relationships” (Johnson 279). This keeps watchers from “zoning out” as they watch television. Instead of “mindless escapism,” as the media puts it, watching television is a cognitive exercise (Johnson 279). Peacocke quotes Douglas Rushkoff’s article “Bart Simpson: Prince of Irreverence” when he says watching television “is not an involuntary surrender” (quoted in 305). He explains that viewers are not willing to be “programmed by the programmers,” thus causing viewers to think critically when they are sitting down in front of the screen (quoted in 305).
Johnson states that in order to keep up with the multiple story lines, which he deems, “multiple threading,” in shows like 24, and The Sopranos, viewers must pay attention (280). Johnson is able to demonstrate these multiple threads through what he calls “The Sleeper Curve.” Basically, the sleeper curve is a graph that maps out the multiple story lines in a show to prove how complex today’s stories have become, as shown in the figures below. The y-axis expresses the different threads while the x-axis depicts the time.
Peacocke also notes that to understand an episode of Family Guy, watchers have to pay close attention to understand that the characters are not just making jokes to offend, but rather to educate. She gives the example of an episode that addresses sexism in the workplace.