Portrayal of Fertilization on Family Guy

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The Martin article seems to focus most intensely on descriptions of fertilization in textbooks, but the problem she highlights extends far beyond the formal protrayal of reproduction. Popular culture seems to suffer from this problem as well. The following is a clip from an episode of family guy:

The portrayal of the sperm in this case is hypermasculinized. The sperm are active, competing, fighting, charging to the be the one sperm who will come out on top. The egg on the other hand, is almost completely unpersonified in any way.

Some questions to ponder:
1. Given that the family guy audience is predominately male, is this type of portrayal intentional?
2. What other informal portrayals of fertilization may suffer (or not suffer) from the issue Martin describes?
3. How does the socialization caused by informal portrayals of fertilization differ from the socialization caused by more formal portrayals (like textbooks and academic journals).

5 Comments

Wow, thanks for posting this clip. It reminds me so much of the finale in Star Wars: A New Hope, when Luke Skywalker blows up the Death Star. Here's the clip. Even the music is similar (I'll bet it's a reference).

I am struck by how the body of the mother is represented. On one hand, she is a passive, empty vessel who is attacked and penetrated by the incoming sperm. On the other hand, she embodies evil (like the Death Star?) and functions as the prison (amniotic Attica) that incarcerates Stewie. This second representation reminds me of Martin's discussion of cultural stereotypes of women "as a dangerous and aggressive threat" (37).

Taken as individual accounts, these versions of the heroic sperm conquering the evil egg may seem to be insignificant. But, (how) have they collectively shaped the popular imagination and our visions of how reproduction functions?

I wouldn't argue that the sperm are hypermasculinized. After all, this is how sperm behave. Racing to be first to the egg. Killing each other along the way (albeit, not with ray guns).

The Star Wars references are common in this television show, and this is one of them as Sara pointed out. The mother's egg is the Death Star in this case, which is in line with a recurring theme of Stewie's mother being his archenemy.

Is "racing to be first to the egg" and "killing each other along the way" really how sperm behave? How does this description fit with the scientific facts--like the ones described on the wikipedia entry that SaMe mentions?: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_fertilization What would Martin say?

Actually, Sara, the Wikipedia entry I found does not describe the sperm's collective journey at all, it only describes the process of fertilization from when the sperm that will fuse with the egg first touches the egg. I think Martin may agree that this example does give the sperm a hypermasculinized role. I do not think that she would have included it, however, in her argument because her focus was on sources that have the authority to naturalize the idea as scientific fact. I think she would recognize that this is a comedic television show that makes fun of a lot of things. Take for example how the clip also portrays the doctor as evil. I don't think you could count this as evidence for a popular belief that all doctors are evil. However, collectively with other pop culture references or scientific papers, such an argument would be more plausible.

This clip doesn't surprise me at all. Family guy often has these type of connotations with their jokes. Women are made fun of often on the show. Meg, the daughter of the family always is being made fun of for not being feminine/pretty enough. And also, like Mike said, Stewie's archenemy is his mother on the show. Women are not viewed very positively on the show. It isn't something I read into very much, I actually really like Family Guy. It isn't meant to be taken too seriously.

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