Jonathon Van Maren

From the front lines of the culture wars

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The Family Guy generation

Thu May 22, 2014 - 10:36 am EST

Outside the high school as we engaged students in conversation about abortion, one teenage boy stood out. Smoking and pointing, he called the girls the most inventively vile names he could think of, and proceeded to think of the worst, most personal (under the circmstances) things he could possibly say, and then said them. A few of the other boys laughed harshly. It sounded hollow. He announced that abortion had to be legal because if he “knobbed” a girl, he’d need her to “kill the kid.”

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When the crowd of high school students surrounding us grew, I decided to see what other teenagers actually thought of this fellow’s insults and views. “What do the girls in your school think of you calling other girls these names?” I asked, citing a few of them. He began to shift awkwardly. Girls started looking at him with discomfort, even disgust. Some of them were not a fan of our anti-abortion message. They were even less impressed by the crude and misogynist name-calling. I asked him if he thought we should respect all women and girls, regardless of their views. He mumbled a vague response.

“Or even you saying you need abortion to be legal in case you get one of them pregnant,” I continued. “You’re not standing up for women’s rights, you’re standing up for your right to physically use girls you don’t love enough to have children with.” He attempted a bit of bravado, mocking one of my friends. At that point, even one of his more vociferious buddies looked at him and said, “Dude, that was mean.”

He continued to invent vile names and degrade the female volunteers. And after fifteen short minutes, he was standing alone as the other students distanced themselves from him.

Kids have always been cruel to one another. It’s why we have anti-bullying campaigns and people say things like “kids can be cruel.” It is only this generation, however, that has been encouraged to be cruel by the marketing gurus: As corporations realized that kids these days have more disposable cash than any other generation of young people (watch the PBS Frontline documentary “Hunting for Cool” for a full breakdown of this trend), they began to utilize the baser tendencies in human nature like unihibited sexual desire and cruelty to make a buck, rather than discouraging these tendencies as unwanted and unwelcome in a compassionate society. Thus we have “Family Guy,” a TV show that has utilized the previously innocuous art form of animated cartoons to produce so-called “humor” that takes the form of mercilessly mocking every disability, physical feature, and human characteristic possible of scorn. As I’ve written before, we seem to have confused “humor” with “shock value.” You might not get laughter, but you will get a gasp and an awkward chuckle as people stare in disbelief: Did he just say that?!

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A lot of the entertainment marketed to Generation Y plays to the nihilistic and to cruel iconoclasm. The Internet, providing a youth culture completely free from adult oversight, has also allowed cruelty to flourish, as it’s easier to say vicious things when you don’t have to watch pain and hurt spread across the victim’s face. This does spill over into situations where, placed in a context where their worldview is threatened, some teens will respond with crudeness and viciousness.

Many others do not. So many teenagers walk up to the abortion signs, chat with us, take our literature, change their minds. They recognize the ugliness of abortion. And when a few respond with repulsive name-calling, they realize how distasteful a reaction that is.

And that is why reaching out to “The Family Guy Generation” can save so many families.

Reprinted with permission from Unmasking Choice


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