Family Guy and Adjusting Our Thinking About Demographics
Many shows target a specific audience, or demographic of people, such as crime dramas or home improvement shows. But Family Guy and other social commentary shows like it appeal to a very unique and somewhat split demographic. The demographic is unique because the pop culture references embedded in Family Guy’s format are primarily drawn from the 70s and 80s, so only previous generations are guaranteed to get all the references; yet, the humor tactics involved appeal to younger people and can even be called “immature.” When I was in middle school, “Last night on Family Guy” was an extremely common conversation opener, indicating how popular the show is with pre-teens and early teens. Yet the show is not considered appropriate for children that age and is rated Mature on TV according to TV Parental Guidelines. By college, when this show is socially acceptable to watch, many of us no longer care about Family Guy as much and only watch it if we happen to catch it on TV when we have an interlude in studying. This suggests that Family Guy targets the wrong age group, and should target perhaps teenagers more. This would mean changing the ratings. But is that a good idea? How can a show with such a split demographic be so successful anyway, especially with teenagers?
Part of the show’s success is based on the fact that the younger generations who generally watch the show were exposed to much of the pop culture included in it by their parents. Their parents would play the movies and maybe even the soap operas and sitcoms of past decades, so the references are not entirely lost on younger people. Many of the references are also borrowed from movies or shows that became American icons, with quotes or scenes that people love to quote, so that even if you haven’t watched said movie or show, you know where the reference is from. A good example of this would be “Say hello to my little friend!” on Scarface. But many of the references are lost on younger people. I find that a decent number of Family Guy scenes go over my head. They still work for younger viewers, however, because the writers of the show are great at making them funny or at least silly. Knowing where the reference is from adds to the humor of it, but you can still enjoy the scene without that knowledge.
Another thing to consider is that people are not as black and white as statistics make them seem. Generally, yes, younger people like Family Guy and older people find it offensive and vulgar or just stupid. These differences are most likely due to differences in humor between generations. It may also be related to how people change the way they see the world as they gain life experience and lose patience for certain things, which affects their sense of humor. But, not all people who grew up in the 70s and 80s now find Family Guy too immature for their tastes. There are some viewers older than the expected demographic of this show. There are also much younger viewers, people who may not be old enough to watch this show but do anyway either because they have a more mature sense of humor or else they just like the idea of watching what the older people they know watch.
Family Guy is just one example of a show with a strange demographic that exceeds what is assumed. There are many other shows with viewers much younger or older than the target audience. This brings the way we rate our shows and the age restrictions we place now on media content into question. Perhaps the rating system is unfair. Perhaps the thoughts about demographics our media has are not entirely accurate.
Demographics are fairly tried and true. Certain people are known to prefer cooking or DIY sewing shows; some people just watch serious shows, crime dramas, and maybe the news; and others prefer more vulgar comedy shows. There are fairly consistent stereotypes of who likes which shows, based on age, race, gender, even religion. But these stereotypes may be getting outdated, as people change with time and old divisions between people are becoming blurred.
More young kids may now be “worldly” enough to grasp more mature humor, and hence these younger audiences prefer more mature shows. This is illustrated by the huge number of kids who watch Family Guy or South Park. Should they be barred from the shows they understand and like merely because of their age? Should they be sheltered from having their minds formed by these shows with mature material? Or should they be allowed to watch these shows if they can understand them already? Their minds seem to already be pretty formed if they get the humor included in shows such as Family Guy. The way shows are rated seems to be based on age, not on maturity levels.
Similarly, is it fair to label shows as immature and set social “too old” limits on them? Peoples’ sense of humor may change with age, but not everyone matures at the same rate. Also, the chance that sense of humor is more of a generational thing than an age thing implies that future generations may find things such as Family Guy funnier than previous generations did, regardless of age. So if humor is more of a generational thing than an age thing, the label immature may no longer be relevant if everyone still laughs at certain shows regardless of age. Should we ban ideas of maturity or at least alter them to accommodate the changing generational senses of humor?
Family Guy and many other shows, particularly in the comedy genre, are indications of changes in the sense of humor, maturity, and even speed of growing up in contemporary generations. Our thinking about ratings and maturity have not changed in a while, though. Perhaps it is time we caught up our thinking. If we did this, we could get TV executives to change their thinking as well, and thus alter the way shows are rated and what audiences are targeted with programming.
What do you think? Leave a comment.