Queering in Animated Sitcom ‘Family Guy’
Queering is the means that one can apply to popular culture to look for instances where sexuality, gender fluidity, masculinity and femininity can be questioned or disputed. “Queering popular culture then, involves critically engaging with the cultural artifacts in order to explore the ways in which meaning and identity is (inter)textually (re)produced”(Sullivan 2003:189-190) It is itself a mode of thinking that seeks to challenge normalization of heteronormativity , that is the assumption, practices, and beliefs that reinforce the normalness of heterosexuality as the only normal and acceptable form of sexuality. Although queer is thought to be gender-neutral, its use in popular television associates it with the male homosexuality (Brontsema:2004). In this analysis I will be examining queering in the character Stewie from the animated sitcom Family Guy.
The character Stewie is a 1-year old baby who has incredible intelligence and struggles to “fit in” with his fellow baby peers throughout the life of the show. It is his age that makes the queering around that much more interesting to dissect. His characters gender identity is kept vary vague, often hinting at homosexuality or even being transgender often seen in women clothing and makeup that could be interpreted as drag. He is represented as queer on the show using subtext to hint at his homosexuality with flamboyant elements (hand movements, gay comments) and also as pansexual.
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A rolling theme of Stewie is that he is portrayed as an aggressive often angry person (baby), which could be constituted as aggression because of frustration in his journey of finding himself as a homosexual. This idea is reinforced in an interview by the show’s creator Seth McFarlane to Playboy magazine where he says the following after responding to a question on finally revealing Stewie’s gender/sexual identity “But we decided it’s better to keep it vague, which makes more sense because he’s a 1-year-old. Ultimately, Stewie will be gay or a very unhappy repressed heterosexual. It also explains why he’s so hellbent on killing [his mother, Lois] and taking over the world: He has a lot of aggression, which comes from confusion and uncertainty about his orientation.” (Gatecrasher. 2009). Here the show’s creator acknowledges the struggles that homosexuals and queer people still face today “coming out” or publicly identifying to the gender they feel they belong to and not the one that society views as normal. Stewie’s character also has an ultimatum, pretend to be “normal” and live an unhappy life or come out and risk being judged or outed by peers.
In a episode named “Send in Stewie, Please” Stewie finally subtly comes out as homosexual. Although very ambiguous in the end, his sexuality is finally very vaguely confirmed as homosexual. In the episode Stewie is sent to a child’s physiologist office (Dr. Pritchfield) after pushing another classmate down the stairs. There is one moment that is worth dissecting a little further. As soon as Stewie enters the room with Dr. Pritchfied, he spots a picture of the physiologist and his much younger partner. He begins to dive into every aspect of their relationship. He scrutinizes every detail about their relationship and how the doctor is slowly losing his younger partner. He continues analyzing the picture noting that they bought some cheap Ralph Lauren dress shirts from an outlet store in order to appear much more successful than they really are at this gay vacation destination, bringing to the spotlight the pressures and self-doubt shoved on to them by gay elitism often portrayed in TV as young successful white men dressed in designer clothing.
Later in the episode Stewie admits to the physiologist that he pushed the classmate down the stairs because he likes him. Quickly on the defensive side he clarifies “not like him, like him”. He re asserts his confidence in his heterosexuality but still mentions fluidity “…If anything I’m less gay than I used to be…But do I think that Grant Gustin and I would make the most adorable Instagram couple? Yes, I do.” He continues on talking about his struggles fitting in with his peers who do not share the same interest as he does. After this is the moment when he reveals that he has been faking a persona using a fake accent as a “coat of armor” to get him through the day.
Although Family Guy never made a definitive statement about Stewie’s sexuality, it did most importantly acknowledge the journey. Through subtle and mostly not so subtle messaging Family Guy has experimented with queering in many of its character and especially in Stewie. Queering in pop culture is much more prominent than in past times and much of its content has some meaningfulness rather than just blatant disrespect or undermining of queers.