Magic Realism and Family Guy

Last night, discussion with Teisha somehow turned to Family Guy and the universe it presents. Teisha made an interesting comment about whether the show would qualify as Magic Realism. I think it does.
For those of you who aren’t in the know, Family Guy is an animated sitcom similar to the Simpsons, but a little more crude and with a shorter attention span. Often on the show, bizarre and inexplicable things related to pop culture, such as famous personalities running by or mini-scenes that break the established rules of casuality or physics to make a joke, leap forth in-between plot elements. Interestingly, these aren’t presented as “one character’s imaginings” (as I’ve seen in other shows), or as un-related events… They simply ARE, and the characters treat them as such.

For example, in a recent episode, Peter is in the middle of a lecture about morals when a giant chicken attacks him. What follows is five minutes of him wrestling the beast to the ground and parodying lots of action movies. Then, bruised, bleeding, but victorious, he walks back to his family, says “Sorry about that”, wipes the blood off his lip, and continues lecturing. Or in an earlier episode, Peter unexpectedly shows up wearing a radiation suit, and his son screams, “Oh no! It’s the government! Run, E.T.!” They then all stop and watch as E.T. runs by them, fleeing the house. No surprise to them– their world doesn’t obey the laws of our world.

I think you could argue that it presents a form of magic realism. Clearly, I’m just dabbling at the idea, but what do you all think?

15 Responses to “Magic Realism and Family Guy”


Oh look! A tumbleweed!

It’s an interesting assertion. I guess it fits the type of story and such. I would also guess by the resounding number of responces, that most people who read this would also agree but don’t care enough about putting labels like that on cartoons to share.

stephen - May 25th, 2005 at 11:28 am

I’m a scientist following in the proud footsteps of Aristotle, damnit– Everything needs categories and demarcations. 😛

Paradoxdruid - May 25th, 2005 at 1:36 pm

Maybe a very powerful Entropomancer has taken up residence in their neighborhood.

Owen - May 26th, 2005 at 6:37 pm

I haven’t seen much of this particular cartoon, as what I’ve seen wasn’t overly amusing to me. However, from what I’ve heard from you and others, it does sound like it could be classified as magic realism. However, not everything that disobeys the laws of our own world is magic realism, at least not to my understanding of it.

Couldn’t you just call it “random zaniness” or “appealing to people’s short attention spans” or “crazy-ass writers with bizarre senses of humor” or something like that? Is all science fiction that disobeys the laws of our world really just magic realism in disguise?

ShortSpeedFreak - May 28th, 2005 at 7:34 am

I think the real difference between magic realism and, say, something like science fiction is that in magic realism it’s not the entire world that’s contrived, or even an appreciable amount — it’s only a thing here or there that’s different from our world. “100 Years of Solitude”:http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0060740450/qid=1117724492/sr=8-1/ref=pd_csp_1/104-2405091-9162321?v=glance&s=books&n=507846 by Gabriel Garca Mrquez is a classic example of magic realism — a few “fantastical” things happen here and there, such as a magic carpet flying by, a boy who is always surrounded by butterflies, or an entire village is taken over by a disease that makes them unable to sleep but eventually forget the words to everything (or is that really so fictional?). These “odd” events are not even frequent enough to say they’re “‘appealing to people’s short attention spans,'” I think (though it might be a slightly different story with “Family Guy,” admittedly, and in retrospect this “hyperactiveness” might be one reason to slightly disqualify it as being magic realism).

And as a side note, magic realism is more to put in a touch of the fantastical, not necessarily the humorous. Uses of magical realism can even be rather tragic, such as a character in 100 Years of Solitude witnessing, and then escaping from, the slaughter of most of the people in his village only to return to his village to find that the survivors do not believe such a thing ever happened.

I think magic realism comes closest to “random zaniness” in your descriptions, but I wouldn’t quite call it “zaniness” because the people in the stories accept it wholy and without question — it’s normal life to them, with nothing questionable about it.

Teisha - June 2nd, 2005 at 6:24 am

I actually spent a good deal of high school studying magic realism for a class. We read Pedro Paramo by Juan Rulfo, Chronicles of a Death Foretold by Marquez, and The House of The Spirits by Isabelle Allende. I also read some magic realism for my Spanish clss, though I can’t remember what, exactly. 🙂

Pedro Paramo was probably the most “extreme” example of magic realism that I read. In this case, it wasn’t just a touch of the fantastical, but a total emersion. It was almost like reading a surrealistic painting, if that makes any sense. But, for the most part, the main character was unquestioning of the bizarre things happening around him. And I whole-heartedly agree with you, Teisha, that it can be quite tragic. In The House of the Spirits, one of the main characters is clarvoiyant (spelling?) and it brings her no end of trouble.

Mostly though, I’m playing devil’s advocate here. Family Guy- again, I’ve only seen a little- reminds me more of Futurama or the Simpsons (and other non-cartoon skit shows) than it does of the magical realism texts I’ve read.

ShortSpeedFreak - June 3rd, 2005 at 2:16 pm

I’m getting into this discussion *very* late (sorry!) (for those of you who know what FCQs are, they shipped out yesterday and my life begins again…) I think that even for literature professors, magic realism is a somewhat undefined term still. In my own mind, the function of it has to be to enhance the metaphorical imagery of the story. I think of it as having a “shimmering” effect on a story — magic realism forces you to process non-logically, and the mind’s attempt to ‘make sense’ forces metaphorical meanings to the fore as meaning is sought. I haven’t seen much of Family Guy, but it does sound as though the ‘zaniness’ could fit this function. (Once you get into enough lit theory, almost *anything* can be assigned deep meaning!)

Meg - June 14th, 2005 at 7:37 am

Meg said: “Once you get into enough lit theory, almost anything can be assigned deep meaning!”

I couldn’t agree more, making this both the greatest strength and biggest weakness of lit theory. For instance, literary critics who argue that the author doesn’t have a privledged insight into their own work drive me freaking batty.

Paradoxdruid - June 14th, 2005 at 9:58 am

Two… Megs… wha?

When phrases like “Marxist Criticism” start getting used my eyes roll back in my head.

Owen - June 14th, 2005 at 12:47 pm

(That Meg is my mom… she’s an English graduate student at CU and the FCQ coordinator. 🙂 )

Teisha - June 14th, 2005 at 2:58 pm

And I don’t really like being called “Meg” all that much. 🙂

I think it’s really cool that your mom’s in graduate school, on a tanget. My dad’s working on his BA right now. Having parents in school is fun!

ShortSpeedFreak - June 14th, 2005 at 3:23 pm

And yet that’s what you’re called in my cellphone’s memory 🙂

I don’t know if my aunt is still progressing on her comp sci courses. I think she is (though, she’s developed a romantic life that may or may not have distracted her).

Owen - June 14th, 2005 at 5:02 pm

This discussion, divorced as it is from its roots, has reminded me to start haranguing my father to take some university courses when he retires. I know he’d love to get back into History, if given the chance. Excellent.

Paradoxdruid - June 15th, 2005 at 1:08 pm

Red-herring. The Family Guy is anti-liberal propaganda dressed as “funny”… I guess it seems kinda’ like magical realism from what I understand of this conversation.

Josh - June 21st, 2005 at 7:01 pm

Any live lectures on Pedro Paramo? From a university I mean…

clarice - July 23rd, 2010 at 3:01 am

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