Monday, March 29, 2010

Terri Schiavo 5 Years Later: Is It Too Soon for Jokes?

March 31st marks the 5 year anniversary of the death of Terri Schiavo. The case that got so many families talking about their end of life preferences comes back into the media now in an unexpected way.

To commemorate the anniversary, Family Guy, a Fox Network animated series, aired a short spoof on the case, Terri Schiavo: The Musical. Below is the episode. (It's just the first minute or so of the episode.)



Tasteless? Insensitive to all parties concerned? Disrespectful of the deceased? You can be the judge. I guess we all have different senses of humor. Not quite historically accurate. (I pointed out to my husband how it was medically incorrect. His response was "Amber, I think they were going more for rhyming than medical accuracy.") But is it too soon? Will it always be?

Having watched Family Guy before, I think that it is clearly meant to shock. To make us say out loud "They did not just do that?". As I am sure there will be some upcoming media about this anniversary, Family Guy probably sees that all press is good press. And they have gotten press over this. Schiavo's family was understandably enraged by the episode and many different family members have been quoted stating as much, calling for Fox to drop the series.

Family Guy isn't the only animated series to take on this topic. March 30, 2005, just 12 hours before Schiavo's death, South Park aired the episode "Best Friends Forever" (This is the link is to the episode. It may be offensive to some viewers as South Park always is.), also a spoof of the controversial case. They actually won an Emmy for this episode. There is some interesting commentary on the state of modern medicine. Even if South Park isn't your taste, I recommend watching it. It actually seems to be more making a point than trying to shock the audience.

So am I offended? Not really. I likely would be if it was my family member they were talking about. It honestly makes my inner palliative care doctor cringe a bit to think of the family having to see this, regardless of what my views may be. But I have seen much more offensive material come out of both of these series. They have poked fun at about every controversial issue out there and will continue to do so. No one would even bother if these issues didn't not raise so much emotion already. Maybe it should be an honor to get this kind of attention. It means enough people care.

2 Responses to “Terri Schiavo 5 Years Later: Is It Too Soon for Jokes?”

Christian Sinclair, MD said...
March 29, 2010 at 11:11 PM

I also think an analogy to the court jester comes up in that through humor (no matter how offensive to some) some insight or truth might be discovered.

What most of the Family Guy clip plays off is the words used in an insensitive manner to describe people in persistent vegetative state or even those who may have other decreased levels of consciousness or function. I think the South Park episode (being longer) leaves a lot more room for analysis.

The Wikipedai entry on 'gallows humor' quotes a professor (Paul Lewis) saying: the "liberating" aspect of gallows jokes depends on the context of the joke: whether the joke is being told by the threatened person themselves or by someone else. [1]

Another avenue to analyze these clips further is understanding the humor style 'cringe humor' that emphasizes hum,or derived from that which makes us feel awkward or uneasy. Much like the 'oh, they did not just do that!" you reference.


Earl Q said...
March 30, 2010 at 10:42 AM

3/29/2010
9:30p
Kids asleep. Finished playing guitar (H. Villa-Lobos rocks the house!) Sat down with wife to watch the clip - anticipatory smile at "drip...drip..drip"
9:32p
Grinning when the plug came out
9:33p
Wanted more

10:00p
Taking shower. Thinking "words are important" Do we demystify by bluntly destroying concepts (i.e. violence, sex etc..) Does death fit in that category? Started categories in my head "beauty" and "ugly". Death and sex are in the same category. I'm confused.

11:13p
Get out of shower (hey, it's my best thinking place)
Conclusion: "Family Guy" not helpful, not even gallows humor. Gallows humor helps cope. Clip did not.

3/30/2010
9:55a
Non-randomized, non-double blind, survey on IDT. Play "Family Guy" clip.
Limited grins at the beginning.
9:58a
Team is offended. We talk about gallows humor.

10:05a
Glad I showered last night.