This child is fat, and other jokes by Seth MacFarlane

Tuesday July 31st 2012

Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane is — by his own description — an ‘equal opportunity offender’. If you’re not familiar with the term, allow me to explain: an equal opportunity offender is someone who uses a meaningless buzz phrase to defend bigoted jokes on the thin pretense that they’re giving just as good to whitey.

Dear god. Look at those chins.

MacFarlane has, in the space of a decade, become one of Hollywood’s most powerful creative entities, despite his apparent refusal to compromise on matters of taste. Whereas other careers might flounder at the utterance of a single controversial statement, his seems to grow with each transgression. It’s a shame then, that with free reign to tackle any taboo of his choosing, MacFarlane consistently opts for the taboo of ‘bullying the weakest members of society’. Way to stick it to ’em, Seth, you tell those minority fucks.

Pretty much every way of life (with the marked exception of Caucasian heterosexual monogamy) comes under fire in Ted, MacFarlane’s debut feature, and with relentlessly hateful results. In one scene, a coked-up Sam Jones (of Flash Gordon fame) mistakes his Asian neighbour Ming for the fictional emperor of the same name. It’s a weak set piece at best, but one that might sort of work if the individual in question was clearly just an ordinary member of society, and therefore the butt of the joke was Jones and his drug-fuelled racial bigotry. Instead, Ming is a splutteringly incomprehensible Asian stereotype intent on cooking and eating his pet duck, and so we’re encouraged to laugh at him rather than Jones. That is, if we’re laughing at all.

There’s a good rule of thumb in comedy that you should always aim to punch up — at the CEOs, politicians and general bastards of this Earth — rather than down, at the people for whom the world is already a pretty shitty place. In his private life, MacFarlane seems to understand this: he was a key proponent of the WGA strike back in 2008 and has publicly campaigned for gay rights. But when it comes to his work, the 2011 Harvard Outstanding Humanist of the Year seems to have a somewhat shakier sense of direction.

Take Robert, the pre-pubescent antagonist of Ted played by 11-year-old child actor Aedin Mincks (pictured above). Serving very little function in the film’s plot, he exists primarily to give the film’s eponymous stuffed bear someone to make fat jokes about. These come thick and fast throughout the film’s third act and revolve mainly around comparing Robert to various unattractive celebrities. Now, I’m not saying that we need to worry about Mincks here. Years of playing ‘the fat kid’ in various Disney Channel shows have probably given him a fairly thick skin. But I for one can’t sit through this barrage of abuse without picturing slender multi-millionaire Seth MacFarlane sitting in his Beverly Hills mansion guffawing to himself as he unleashes a systematic takedown of a fictional child’s self-esteem in the script for his new $65million movie.

There’s no denying that MacFarlane is a funny guy. He knows how to structure a joke and there are plenty of moments in Ted that work really well, not least a throwaway bit about rape that — against all odds — is probably the film’s smartest gag. But the undercurrent of genuine malice that runs through Ted makes it almost impossible to give him the benefit of the doubt on some of his dodgier material. So feel free to tell me to lighten up and get a sense of humour, but it’s also worth asking whether it’s humour that really drives Ted‘s nasty streak.