Academic journal article Journal of Film and Video

"Oh Yeah!": Family Guy as Magical Realism?

Academic journal article Journal of Film and Video

"Oh Yeah!": Family Guy as Magical Realism?

Article excerpt

THE PREMIERE EPISODE OF FAMILY GUY, titled "Death Has a Shadow," was first broadcast on the FOX Network on 31 January 1999, after Super Bowl XXXIII. It begins with patriarch Peter Griffin preparing for the bachelor party of a work colleague and promising his wife, Lois, that he will not overindulge. He does, however, to the tune of thirty-seven beers, which his son Chris heralds as a "new family record." Despite suffering from a hangover, Peter goes to work the next morning and falls asleep while moni- toring the production line at the toy factory. Following a subsequent local news report on the large number of unsafe toys suddenly being sold, Peter is fired for negligence. To keep Lois from finding out, he applies for welfare support and, because of a bureaucratic error, receives a weekly check for $150,000. He tells Lois he has been given a big raise at work and starts spending the money extravagantly. When she discovers Peter's deception, she orders him to return the money, and he decides the best way to do this is by throwing the cash from a blimp during the Super Bowl, which causes a riot in the stadium. After being arrested and spending some time in jail, he appears in court where the judge sentences him to twenty-four months in prison for welfare fraud. The family reacts badly to the news, each taking a turn to exclaim, "Oh no!"-first Lois, then the family's talking dog, Brian, followed by oldest son Chris, and then daughter Meg. The scene reaches its climax when a giant anthropomorphized jug of Kool-Aid bursts through the courtroom wall and bellows, "Oh, yeah!" Everyone in the courtroom stares, nonplussed, at the large talking jug, and then, as if realizing the impropriety of his outburst, the Kool-Aid Man backs slowly out of the room via the hole he just punched through the wall.

The scene continues, and Peter is exonerated of his crime with the help of his baby son, Stewie, but it is clear that the climax of the episode was reached with the interruption by this magical figure. Although it is not explained within the episode, the intruder is the icon of Kool-Aid, an artificially flavored soft drink. The Kool-Aid Man is a gigantic frosty pitcher filled with the red liquid and marked with a smiley face, as seen in advertisements for Kool-Aid. In television commercials, the Kool-Aid Man is known for suddenly bursting through walls after being magically summoned wherever children are making Kool-Aid and yelling "Oh, yeah!"

As an ardent fan of all kinds of animation for many years, I recall watching this episode around the turn of the millennium and finding the appearance of this intruder startling, as it disrupted the narrative so violently. It left me feeling bemused. The episode offers no explanation for this sudden incursion and hardly any time to dwell on it because as soon as the invading creature exits the scene, the episode continues apace, forcing the viewer to move on with the renewed flow of narrative. This was a familiar Sensation, however, one I recognized but never before from animation. In fact, I was reminded of works from the literary world, particularly those that use a technique called magical realism.

Strange, inexplicable events are common-place in what is arguably magical realism's most famous novel, Gabriel García Márquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude, first published in Spanish in 1967. For example, José Arcadio Buendia stumbles upon a Spanish galleon marooned in the midst of the jungle. Never explained, it leaves the reader to wonder how, in the midst of a realist narrative, this can be? How can it be possible that a marvelous cloud of butterflies follows Mauricio Babilonia wherever he goes and that Remedios the Beauty can miraculously ascend into heaven? All these magical events are dealt with in a matter-of-fact way, grounded in a realist narrative, which is a hallmark of this type of fiction.

The difficulty is that these magical occurrences break the rules of what are, in every other way, realistic narratives. …

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