Monday, February 15, 2010

"Down Syndrome Girl" in Extra Large Medium. . . the title of the most recent Family Guy episode.  I am typically a big fan of Seth MacFarlane's show and I know that it isn't exactly known for being politically correct.  All of that being said, I am not sure if I should be enraged or happy with last night's episode.
Brief background:
Lois and Peter are married.
Sons: Chris, Stewie (the baby with a British Accent)
Daughter: Meg

Last's episode featured a character with DS.  I was ready to walk out and boycott the show given it history of killing a kitty cat (still angry over that) and the insensitive jokes.  I decided to stick it out since the character had red hair like Ellie and her name was Ellen.

The character Chris tells his brother Stewie that he really likes this girl at school and that she is so pretty, but he is nervous about asking her out.  Stewie goes with Chris to the school where he gets the courage to ask Ellen out on a date.  The girl turns around and she is a chubby red-headed girl with Down Syndrome.  His little brother Stewie is shocked and of course makes some off-wall comments.

Stewie: That's the girl?
Chris: Yeah, isn't she special?
Stewie: That's the way the state of Rhode Island would put it. There's something up with her, isn't there?
Chris: Yeah, she has down syndrome.
Stewie: Okay, well there we go.
Chris: She's so sweet and doesn't she have the beautiful eyes?
Stewie: Well, the spacing seems a tad off, but individually they're not awful. 

I actually thought it was good that Chris treated her just like any other girl.  He looked past the syndrome and saw a cute, nice girl in his class that he really wanted a relationship with. The episode was also good in that it showed school inclusion for special needs children.  So I am shocked to say that at this point I am actually impressed with Seth MacFarlane's take on DS.

Later on in the episode, Chris takes Ellen to dinner.  Here Ellen demands respect  by requesting that Chris holds the chair out for her and that he ask her questions rather than just talking about himself.  I like that it showed Ellen had courage and that she knew she deserved respect. So I am still okay with Family Guy.

Then I get a little peeved, but mainly because Ellen turns out to be a not so nice girl.  I am a little upset that her character isn't likable, but then Chris says something amazing "I thought that you were different, but you are just like everyone else!" with regards to her rudeness towards him and he runs off upset that his date was a disaster.  Here is show that often pokes fun at race, religion and what not, but it actually demonstrated that teens with DS are indeed like other teens and not always "happy".  It showed that people can look at those with DS and see the person, not the label or disability.  For once this show treated a character as a person, not just a vehicle for jokes.  (aside from Ellen saying that her mother is the ex-governer of Alaska--a pretty cheap shot if you ask me)

As with most Family Guy episodes there is a huge musical number with Chris and Stewie titled "Down Syndrome Girl".  I could not catch all of the lyrics, but there were some stereotypical beliefs such as "always happy" and whatnot.  This caused me to then google for the lyrics to decide if I really should boycott Family Guy.  What I found was something horrible.

While Family Guy did an okay job in portraying a character with DS, I learned that there are still very many ignorant, narrow-minded, insensitive people out there.  While I did not find the lyrics, which I soon hope will be available, I did find many offensive comments from the show's viewers.  Things like "it was so hilarious that he wanted to date a retard."

Ah the dreaded "R" word.  This then brought me to the National Down Syndrome Society's (NDSS) webpage and position statement on the "R" word.  Retard.  The use of retard, in my opinion is a perfectly acceptable word when used clinically--ie developmental retardation, mental retardation, retarded growth.  All of which mean delayed or stunted. I am NOT okay with retard being used to make fun of others or to make fun of themselves like "I am so retarded" or "what are you? An F*^@ing retard!" It is so hard for me to believe that the world is full of so many insensitive people.  Granted many of the comments that I saw were from ignorant, narrow-minded teens but eventually Ellie may be thrown into school with these types of kids.  It is so frustrating.  I know that I cannot protect her from everything.  Ellie will need to master life's trials.  Yet I hope that name-calling with the "R" word is not one of them.

A child with Down Syndrome is born 1 out of every 700 live births (more frequently if you count the aborted babies).  Many of us have encountered 700 people over our lifetime.  That means everyone should have met someone with DS and should be able to appreciate them as a person.  We still have a long way to go.

Oh and the "Extra Large Medium" most likely refers to Peter thinking he is psychic.

Still, has Seth MacFarlane gone too far? At this point, I think he did pretty well.  However, I still need to see the lyrics to that song.

NDSS' position statement on the "R" Word.

Use of the "R" Word
NDSS uses and encourages the use of person first language (i.e. 'a child with Down syndrome').  NDSS exclusively uses and encourages the use of the socially acceptable term "intellectual disability."
NDSS strongly condemns the use of the word "retarded" in any derogatory or inappropriate context.  People with disabilities, like all people, deserve to be treated as valued citizens and not referred to in a hurtful manner for any purpose.  Using the 'R word' is hurtful and suggests that people with disabilities are not competent.  Negative and inaccurate public perceptions are the greatest barriers the National Down Syndrome Society faces in achieving acceptance and inclusion of people with Down syndrome and other cognitive disabilities.

Here is a picture of a father who loves his baby girl.

You can view episodes of Family Guy on the Fox website or at

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