With the news that Microsoft is withdrawing its ads from Fox’s “Family Guy” because “the content was not a fit with the Windows brand,” the animated sitcom continues its long streak of raising hackles. Since its 1999 post–Super Bowl debut, the show has pursued recklessly irreverent comedy that’s earned its producers consistently high ratings—and a lot of headaches. Here are nine other groups who’ve protested its testing of social limits.
The 2008 John McCain Presidential Campaign
Objection: Hints that McCain and Sarah Palin are fascists
Last year, many questioned whether the show had ventured “into uncharted territory” by appearing to liken the McCain/Palin ticket to the Nazi Party. In the episode, the family’s talking infant and talking dog find themselves transported to WWII Europe. When the baby notes a McCain/Palin campaign pin on his Nazi uniform, he remarks, “Huh, that’s weird.”
The Parents Television Council
The advocacy group took special exception to an episode that aired in March, initiating a complaint campaign to the FCC: “Should a Sunday night cartoon show YOUR children bestiality, gay orgies, and babies eating sperm?” the PTC asked. “Fox thinks so.”
Objection: Her portrayal as a porn-store janitor
Comedian Carol Burnett filed a $6 million lawsuit against Twentieth Century Fox over a scene that depicted her as a custodian in an adult-film store, claiming it “disparaged” her and ripped off trademarked elements of her act. Burnett ultimately lost the suit.
Objection: His depiction as a gay kidnapper
In one provocative episode, Cruise is shown literally trying to run away from his gay thoughts (represented by a thought bubble). In another, he’s depicted keeping Katie Holmes and an array of what appear to be male concubines prisoner at his home with electronic ankle bracelets and a “forcefield.”
Objection: An anti-Semitic parody of “When You Wish Upon a Star” from the 1940 film “Pinocchio”
Parodying Walt Disney’s alleged anti-Semitism, Peter Griffin sings lyrics such as “Though by many they're abhorred, / Hebrew people I’ve adored, / Even though they killed my lord, / I need a Jew!” Though Fox chose not to air the episode, the owners of the original song sued anyway.
First Lady Laura Bush
Objection: Gratuitously rehashing a personal tragedy
A 2008 episode made repeated and—to many observers—gratuitous reference to a tragedy from Laura Bush’s distant past (at age 17 she ran a stop sign, causing an accident that took the life of a friend). Lois and Peter Griffin attend a Halloween party dressed as, respectively, Laura Bush and “a bleeding man crisscrossed with tire tracks.”
AIDS advocacy groups
Objection: Glib treatment of the AIDS epidemic
When a 2005 episode featured a jaunty musical number about the disease, groups such as AIDS Project Los Angeles protested that “joking about a disease that affects more than 40 million people worldwide, most of whom will die of the ailment, is reprehensible and serves only to worsen AIDS-related stigma.”
Objection: A depiction of John F. Kennedy as a Pez dispenser
A disturbing scene (since deleted) featured a miniature version of the 35th president of the United States with a bullet wound in his head from which candy popped. In a panel discussion, creator Seth MacFarlane cited the sequence as one of the most offensive in series history.
Fox network executives
Objection: An abortion-themed episode
Focusing on the question of whether Lois would terminate a pregnancy, this boundary-pushing episode—which Fox declined to air—featured a number of jokes that “caused audible gasps and demonstrated the episode is not TV-safe” when the script was read aloud to a live theater audience earlier this year.