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I recently saw an episode of Family Guy, titled "Family Gay" (season 7, episode 8), where Peter gets a job as a human hamster in medical experiments, and when they inject him with the "gay gene", he starts acting feminine, like making muffins for the family, getting his ears pierced, wearing brightly colored clothing, and walking in a stereotypically feminine way.

I keep thinking about how many gay men who saw this episode were offended by how homosexuality was portrayed in the episode.

I ask this question because I don't understand why a studio as famous as Fox Studios would want to portray homosexual men in this manner when they know that they have a reputation to maintain.

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    “…I don't understand why a studio as famous as Fox Studios would want to portray homosexual men in this manner when they know that they have a reputation to maintain.” Fox is far from the first studio to use stereotypes in their films and TV shows. Fox is also notoriously right wing politics/news-wise. While that doesn’t necessarily spill over into entertainment, I think they could care less what people think and are making cheap jokes to get cheap laughs. Feb 5 at 4:07
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    All stereotypes are often used for comic effects. Not only for gays, for almost every type of person/attitude. And Fox isn't the only channel to do that.
    – OldPadawan
    Feb 5 at 4:42
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    Because a stereotype is exactly that - a portrayal of typical actions of an entire group, not any one specific individual. Also, I've not seen Family Guy but I'm pretty sure that its producers, like those of The Simpsons and many other shows, aren't concerned in the least about offending people. If Fox were that concerned about it, they probably wouldn't have aired the show in the first place.
    – FreeMan
    Feb 5 at 14:06
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    Stereotypes are based on perception of reality. That reality may have changed since the stereotype formed, or they may have been unfair, but, that's how they work.
    – FreeMan
    Feb 5 at 14:57
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    Family Guy is intentionally offensive.
    – Wastrel
    Feb 5 at 15:10

4 Answers 4

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Stereotypes are used for comedy, and not only by Fox.

In the case of Family Guy, it has a history of using stereotypes of anybody and everybody for comedic effect, be it race, religion, sexuality, disabilities, etc. An equal opportunity offender, you may say, and it has also shown Stewie being/acting gay at times, which wasn't feminine (but, of course, suggestive at times).

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Times Change

It's worth noting that season 7 aired from 2008 to 2009 - so >15 years ago.

A lot has changed in terms of LGBQT+ representation and popular culture since then.

You could still be kicked out of the US military for being gay until 2011.

So there was significantly less push back for making stereotypical / offensive jokes about LGBTQ+ people, because they were seen as outside the mainstream.

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Creator Seth MacFarlane discusses the show's portrayal of gay characters an interview with LGBT magazine Advocate. A quote that seems relevant generally is:

On top of that, with most of the gags where it seems like we're taking a potshot at black people, Asian people, Jewish people, or gay people, the joke is that Peter is an idiot. The character is Archie Bunker without the knowledge of what he's doing. He has the mind of a child, basically, and a source of big laughs is when he doesn't realize he's doing something inappropriate.

The interview was published shortly before the episode "Family Gay" aired, so Seth's remarks on this episode are perhaps less interesting, but are repeated here for completeness:

What can we expect from the as yet unscheduled episode titled "Family Gay"?

That has to do with Peter being injected with the gay gene as part of a scientific experiment to determine whether or not it's a learned trait or something that you're born with. The good news is that at the end of the episode we establish that it's the latter. Basically, Peter's in a gay relationship for an episode and winds up in one of those straight camps.

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    So in other words, the show isn't depicting gay people as stereotypically feminine, the show is depicting Peter as an idiot who thinks gay people act stereotypically feminine, and who intentionally plays up to the stereotype because he thinks that's how he should act.
    – F1Krazy
    Feb 5 at 15:35
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    @F1Krazy Like how Peter hammed it up when he thought he was black?
    – DKNguyen
    Feb 5 at 15:38
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    @DKNguyen I wouldn't know, I don't watch Family Guy, but probably.
    – F1Krazy
    Feb 5 at 15:39
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    @F1Krazy I've seen a lot of Family Guy (but don't specifically recall seeing the episode in question) and your summary: "depicting Peter as an idiot who thinks gay people act stereotypically feminine" is exactly what I would expect from the makers.
    – TripeHound
    Feb 5 at 17:02
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    "with most of the gags where it seems like we're taking a potshot...the joke is that Peter is an idiot" This seems disingenuous of MacFarlane. Some of the offensive humor in Family Guy is in the form of a character expressing an offensive view - and it may even be > 50% - but there's plenty of examples of token minority characters acting in negative stereotypical ways. Watch, for instance, a Mort Goldman compilation. There are both examples of Peter being antisemetic and Mort himself acting in accordance with antisemetic stereotypes.
    – Juhasz
    Feb 5 at 18:36
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Television playing with a flouncing fairy gay stereotype, in the right way, has been acceptable in the gay community for decades. 1977's "Three's Company" featured a straight actor (John Ritter) pretending to be a lisping limp-wristed gay man (so that he could move into an apartment with two attractive women). The jokes were made at the expense of the homophobic landlord who was the only person stupid enough to think all gay men really act that way. Quotes from sitcomsonline:

Joyce Dewitt on the gay community: I had no idea that the gay community would come out in such support of our show and enjoy it. [...]

its producers say they received no complaints from gays about Jack's silly charade

Then in 1998 popular (with the gay community, I think) TV show "Will&Grace" featured a gay actor (Sean Hayes) playing another exaggerated gay stereotype character (Jack) in a positive way. He was the fun one, compared to his uptight partly-closeted gay best friend Will. The two sometimes argued about whether Jack was perpetuating a negative stereotype, with Jack usually winning.

So family guy has Jasper -- Brian's gay cousin (who is also a talking bipedal dog) playing into the stereotype. That's safe since Will&Grace proved you can show some gay men act like that some of the time, but it's not the only way (Family Guy's main gay character is a quiet guy, Bruce, who's gayness doesn't define him). Peter's gay-gene silliness is safe since Three's Company proved "this is how stupid people think gay men act" works.

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