Growing up, Family Guy was a television shows that my older brother and I were not allowed to watch. Our parents felt the show’s humor was “too crazy”. Yet, when John, our younger autistic brother, became a fan of Family Guy, in high school, our opinions changed. Over time, we saw that Family Guy influenced John, in five distinct and positive ways.
- Learned about classic and retro pop culture:
Before Family Guy, we tried to expose John to classic and retro pop culture. But, beyond Abbott and Costello, and Disney, John had no interest in classic or retro pop culture. We almost felt compiled to stop trying, until John saw the Family Guy episode, “Road to Rupert”.
In “Road to Rupert”, Stewie, the baby genius, and Brian, the family dog, go on an adventure to rescue Stewie’s beloved teddy bear, Rupert. Along the way, Stewie gets a chance to dance with classic film star Gene Kelly. When John saw this, he asked us, “What movie did this dance come from? It looks old.” Since this dance is from the classic Hollywood film Anchors Aweigh (1945), we asked John if he wanted to see the movie. Surprisingly, he agreed. After watching Anchors Aweigh, John not only became an instant fan of Gene Kelly but, he also gained a desire to learn about every classic and retro pop culture references on Family Guy. This helped to expand his interest, far beyond our wildest dreams.
- Became a fan of age appropriate material:
When John started high school, like most autistic teenagers, he struggled socially. He was very shy and had very little to talk about, with his classmates. Even at a school lunch group for autistic students, John struggled to talk to his fellow autistic students. He felt isolated and awkward.
Family Guy was the first age appropriate content John enjoyed. It helped him understand and enjoy other age-appropriate content, like PG-13 and R comedy films (Back to the Future and Let’s Be Cops), musicals (Spamalot), stand up comedy (Jeff Ross), and other animated television shows (South Park). His new interest in age-appropriate content made John feel like he’s “one of the guys”.
- A passion for social issues:
Through Family Guy, John became exposed to current social issues. We started to have conversations with John about the social issues discussed on Family Guy. These conversations covered a variety of social issues from the rights of disabled people to the environment. Though this sparked interest in social issues, he found political satire. Today, John admires and adores John Oliver and Jon Stewart.
If we are not educated enough on a particular social or political issue, John wants to talk about; we research the topic with him. This helps John to learn about the issue, as well as which internet sites are factual sources. Today, when we have conversations about social or political issues, John has informed opinions. He is able to challenge views, with informed opinions, and, at times, changes our opinions.
- Better communication skills:
John has a witty sense of humor. But he struggled to find subjects to joke about, outside of the family. Thanks to Family Guy broadening his interest, John has more subjects to joke about. Recently, John, and his Special Olympic swim team, where participating at a Special Olympics torch run, with the local police department. To assist in the torch run, police captains brought cadets from the local police academy. When John heard about the police academy participation, he immediately thought about the classic comedy film, Police Academy. He smiled, “Police Academy!? I love that movie!” The police captains nearby heard John. They couldn’t help but break out in laughter.
John’s interest in age-appropriate comedy helped him make conversation with other people his age, which has made socializing with them age a little easier for John. Today, he attends a weekly public game of Dungeons and Dragons, builds models at his favorite model shop, and has a close-knit group of friends. John and his friends do everything together, from playing video games to introducing each other to new interests, to watching their favorite television shows and movies.
- Helped us to become closer as a family:
Looking back, it’s funny, to think that Family Guy, a cartoon our parents didn’t like, would help John this much. Normally, it doesn’t feel great to be proven wrong, but in this case, we couldn’t be happier. Before Family Guy, we were close to John. But now, we have connected with John at a deeper level. We are able to share more interest with John and have more to talk about.
For our family, Family Guy has been a blessing in disguise. Though Family Guy does contain jokes and story lines that can be seen as controversial, we are never the less grateful for its help. Thank you, Family Guy, for giving John a way to have a stronger connection to the world.