From a guest blogger, one of our MSW Interns:
Although I do not usually watch Family Guy, it was hard to ignore the deluge of angry headlines criticizing a recent episode: “Screams of Silence”. As a fan of both bad TV and educational opportunities concerning domestic violence, I decided to watch it for myself.
The episode re-introduces us to Quagmire’s little sister, Brenda, who comes to town with her abusive boyfriend, Jeff. Brenda and Jeff encapsulate every stereotype of an abusive relationship: he is a large and overly aggressive; she is small and timid. Jeff constantly berates Brenda in front of her family and friends and at one point in the show, drags her into another room where you can actually hear her being beaten. Quagmire and friends are, of course, immediately shocked and horrified at what they see and hear. The men ask Lois to talk to Brenda, who denies the severity of the abuse and makes excuses for Jeff’s behavior.
At one point in the show, Brenda’s friends and family stage an intervention in which they accuse her of being a “punching bag” and berate her for allowing the abuse to continue. The fact that this intervention was portrayed as a serious approach to dealing with a survivor of domestic violence was horrifying. Victims are not responsible for their partner’s actions; blaming them for abuse only reinforces feelings of shame and guilt that contribute to their reluctance to seek help. Furthermore, forcing victims to choose between their social support and an abuser is a dis-empowering approach. Ultimately, this will only increase the isolation the victim, making it more difficult for them to leave the relationship. Unfortunately, this is the scene that millions of viewers will remember as a legitimate method for helping victims. Instead of an intervention, Family Guy could have portrayed more realistic treatment options: Brenda could have visited a local domestic violence center, stayed at an overnight shelter, or attended a support group for victims. If the writers could poke fun at an intervention, they surely could have found the humor in a more legitimate alternative.
I don’t expect accurate depictions of reality from shows such as Family Guy, which is why I found the topic of this episode to be completely inappropriate. Because there are so few realistic representations of domestic violence on TV, generalized stereotypes—even if they are intended as satire—are often the only exposure many people have to these situations. Promoting misconceptions about domestic abuse is harmful and discourages victims from seeking help. Shows that choose to feature domestic violence have a responsibility to understand the basic dynamics of abusive relationships in order to protect the integrity and rights of victims. If shows such as Family Guy feel that they absolutely must use domestic violence for comedic effect, they should feature a more representative portrayal of the issue. Even something as simple as the number for the National Domestic Violence Hotline flashed at the end of the show could have the potential to save lives. I hope to see future shows covering domestic violence in a constructive way that brings attention to the complexity of the issue while providing resources and information to victims, their families, and their friends.
If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse in an intimate partner relationship, please call our 24 hour hotline: 919 929 7122.