April 9, 2015

Hitting the Nerve: Family Guy Confronts Domestic Violence

This week, In Media Res features topics on 'Domestic Abuse in Movies & Television' that runs through Friday. 360 Degrees will follow the contributions of my colleagues. Today, Thursday,  Robert Sevenich presents 'Hitting the Nerve: Family Guy Confronts Domestic Violence.'

Is satire a useful rhetorical device for addressing interpersonal violence?

Sevenich argued that "sans compassion and sentiment found in many sitcoms, 'Screams of Silence: The Story of Brenda Q' still has a worthy pedagogical objective and provides audiences the tools to identify warning signs of abusive relationships."

However, though the episode is a virtual textbook on the signs of domestic violence, it was widely denounced by
audiences and critics. Satirizing events and acts associated with violence has proven to be problematic, often alienating audiences. Closely held values and violence seem to be two areas where the use of satire is risky. In my work, I have found this to be the case because satire is inherently vague and has the propensity to produce noise, causing viewer's to miss the intended message. And satire intrinsically carries multiple meanings that compete with the message senders intended meaning.

This episode of 'Family Guy' failed with audiences because satire drowned out the intended message. This is a tragedy because the episode is a useful and powerful corrective to interpersonal violence. When using satire, producers should consider embedding clear and multiple signs and symbols to signal to viewers that they should look for the underlying intention or message in an artwork.

Click 'Hitting the Nerve: Family Guy Confronts Domestic Violence' to watch the clip, and read curated post and comments on this important subject.

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