May 29, 2008

"Jungle Love" in Family Guy

The main action in the 2005 "Jungle Love" episode of Family Guy takes place in an Amazon Indian village. Here's a summary of the show:

Jungle Love (Family Guy)“Jungle Love” is the thirteenth episode from the fourth season of the Fox animated television series Family Guy.

Plot summary

Chris is excited to become a freshman at the local high school, until Joe tells Chris about the "Freshman Hunt," a hazing ritual in which the freshmen are beaten with paddles by everyone. ... Chris asks Brian for advice. Brian tells Chris about his time in the Peace Corps. Chris decides to join the Corps and goes to South America, where he becomes popular with the natives. When he gets the tribe to dance, he is married to the chief’s daughter, as dictated by the tribe’s customs.

When Lois learns of the marriage, she immediately travels down to South America with the rest of the family. Disillusioned with his new job, Peter is as eager to go there as anyone else. Upon their arrival Peter is seen as the richest man in the country with just $37. Many of the natives of the country then become Peter’s slave for just nickels and dimes. When Chris accuses Peter of “using” the natives to escape his troubles, Lois points out that that is also what Chris did. Chris then decides to return to Rhode Island, telling his wife that he must leave her, casually referring to his status as a freshman. The natives respond exactly as the upperclassmen in Quahog do, so they chase the Griffins in a very hostile manner. The Griffins escape on a seaplane a la Raiders of the Lost Ark, but forget Meg, who is impaled by darts and arrows.
Comment:  How many ways is this episode stereotypical? Let's see:

  • The Indians speak English. This is better than speaking gibberish, but worse than speaking their own language. It denies their rich cultural heritage.

  • The Indians all look young and handsome or beautiful. In particular, the women all look like Hollywood sex objects.

  • The Indians all look like each other. This denies that they're unique individuals.

  • Loka, the chief's daughter, is a classic princess character. Just once it would be nice if the only significant female weren't the chief's daughter.

  • That the chief gives his daughter to Chris after Chris dances suggests how unsophisticated and primitive the Indians are. Again, it denies their rich cultural heritage.

  • The Indians treat Peter like a god after he flashes $37 at them, making him the richest person in the tribe. Even if they understood and bought into the concept of money, it's ridiculous that they'd prostrate themselves to outsiders. I.e., that they'd passively accept masters who have no redeeming qualities.

  • Just as ridiculously, the Indians change from obedient lackeys into spear-wielding maniacs when they learn Chris is a freshman. Whether they're simpleminded children or simpleminded savages, they're simpleminded.

  • Although Family Guy occasionally makes fun of other minorities (blacks, Asians, the handicapped), it's usually only one brief bit. In contrast, "Jungle Love's" Indian subplot takes up half the show. Conclusion: Indians are fair game compared to other minorities.

    For more on the subject, see Skeletal Chief on Family Guy and TV Shows Featuring Indians.

    Below:  Chris dances in front of showgirl-style Indians, proving himself worthy of marriage.

    Peter and company turn the Indians into killers by saying the wrong word.


    dmarks said...

    All good points, except the first. They do the language thing in all type of shows, because translation matters typically bogs down stories (unless it is part of the story, such as "Darmok" in "Star Trek: The Next Generation").

    Besides, if they had used a Native-sounding language instead, no doubt the writers would have made it it would have been some stereotypical tribal/primitive/Zagat sort of thing. That would have been much worse, I think.

    Rob said...

    In Star Trek you can presume everyone has a universal translator handy. Not so in Family Guy.

    I know most (but not all) shows do this. That doesn't mean it isn't stereotypical.

    P.S. I think you mean Zagar, not Zagat.

    Rob said...

    How Family Guy could've handled the language issue:

    1) Use subtitles.

    2) Claim that Chris took a crash course in the Natives' language.

    3) Have one Native--probably Loka--serve as translator.

    4) Have the Natives use enough foreign words and concepts to imply they aren't totally acculturated.

    5) Make an ironic joke of it:

    CHRIS:  Hey, you guys speak English!

    CHIEF:  Not really, but Fox was too cheap to provide subtitles.

    Language isn't an issue in most "foreign" shows like this because we can presume most of the world's inhabitants have learned English. But isolated Natives in the Amazon jungle are about the last group of people who should be speaking perfect English. This bit tells viewers that the entire planet is an extension of middle-brow America.

    dmarks said...

    Do you have a page about a stereotype of Indians being portrayed as speaking perfect English in media? Like there is for the Chief, the Princess, the Savage, etc?

    Rob said...

    No, I don't have a page on this subject. It may be the first time I've thought of it.

    As I indicated, you usually can rationalize the Indians speaking English. In a typical Western, for instance, only one or two Indians speak. You can assume they learned English to deal with the white man. Or the movie doesn't show the cowboys and Indians speaking in the same frame. You can assume the Indians are speaking their own language and it's being translated.

    I think it's relatively rare that the language issue is a problem. But this time it jumped out at me. As we've seen in the news recently, Amazon Indians are likely to have little or no contact with the outside world. If they do have contact, it's likely to be with Portuguese or Spanish speakers.

    When would Amazon Indians speak English? If a mission school moved in and taught them. Or if a multinational corporation moved in and hired them. But neither scenario applies here. A remote jungle tribe implies no English.

    dmarks said...

    I just still think it is not a Native-bashing or stereotyping issue, even if it does not make sense that they speak English.

    It's a television "trope" (if I use the word correctly) for careless writers to blow past the language issue entirely. Or even accents, which are often ignored too

    Rob said...

    It's a television trope that applies to many foreign or exotic people. Since it doesn't apply exclusively to Natives, that's reason enough not to devote a page to it. But even if it applies to most of the world's non-English-speaking people, I say it's stereotypical.

    Therefore, I've noted it as such. I've also explained how Family Guy's creators could've handled the matter. That they didn't choose any of these methods suggests their colonialist bias.

    Anonymous said...

    hey, try a page about how people feel its their obligation to shove their views down other peoples throats, popping out how their some kind of victim as well.

    remember the movie 'Tommy' by The Who? Tommy got cured from his deaf dumb and blindness, declaired to be the 'only way' and all must follow his belife system.

    but thing is, people don't wake up, they just finally get sick of hearing people like you firing off their shit cannon and put a stop to it the way they see fit.

    Rob said...

    If you want to start a page about shoving views down people's throats, Anonymous, go ahead. I'm not particularly interested in the subject.

    In case you're clueless about how blogging works, I don't shove my views down people's throats. They don't hear my views unless they come here and read them voluntarily.

    I never saw Tommy. If people are growing tired of me, it isn't obvious from my site's statistics. is consistently getting 35,000-40,000 hits per day.