It’s Time We All Stopped Hating on Seth MacFarlane

There are a lot of reasons not to like Seth McFarlane. There have been complaints about his hackery as far back as 1999, when Family Guy arrived on television and was immediately pegged as a slightly dumber, dirtier ripoff of The Simpsons. And since that time, likely owing to the astronomical success of said ripoff (especially among the kind of people one should intentionally avoid being friends with), the reasons to not like McFarlane have only increased.

He’s unoriginal. He confuses references for wit. His humour is rank with racist, homophobic and misogynistic stereotypes. He is the poster boy for white male privilege. And he’s smug. There’s this sense that, since all right-thinking people know he’s not funny, when we see him deriving so much joy from doing what he is doing, he must be an egomaniac and woefully out of touch.

Those are fair complaints. Or, at least, one can find evidence to support them in his work. But they also tend to sound a bit like the people who insist that Saturday Night Live hasn’t been funny since [insert cast]. Or, now that SNL is more popular than it’s been in decades, the people who complain about how the comedy institution is toothless, unoriginal — since they basically just repeat what Trump says verbatim — or are responsible for normalizing the current administration. Which is to say: they are complaints as tired and uninspired as the material they are complaining about.

I’m not about to add any new reasons to not like Seth MacFarlane, because the truth is I kind of like him. In some parts of the internet, that’s almost like defending Nickelback, neither of whom need defenders. Especially not MacFarlane. The reason I’m writing about him now is because the trailer for his new show, The Orville, was just released yesterday. It looks like he’s doing okay. The show doesn’t look bad, either.

Actually, that trailer also demonstrates why I like MacFarlane, and why I think a lot of people don’t, and it has very little to do with his sense of humour (though, I LOL’d a couple of times in the trailer. I bet you did too).

Seth MacFarlane is living the hell out of the American Dream, and when that happens to someone you don’t care for — whether it’s because they play on the wrong basketball team, make music differently, or make jokes you find unoriginal — it pisses you off. Because it’s seemingly proof of a few disappointing truths, [1] all leading to the same conclusion: you don’t matter. [2]

It sounds gross to say it, but at the root of most people’s MacFarlane-hate is simple jealousy. And yes, that sounds glib and hollow, like the thing your mom would tell you after Stacey spread a rumour about you in third period, but it’s still true. Success is a finite resource, and when someone has so much of it — whether it’s deserved or not — it reminds us of our own crippling anonymity. [3]

And while all that might be true, look at what MacFarlane does with his success. This is why I can’t help but admire — and even root for — the guy. He’s achieved the level of success we all want: near total freedom. And, while some successful people use that freedom to commit crimes, oppress others, or run for president, MacFarlane seems to just want to pursue his interests. And his interests are hella nerdy.

He croons. He uses every chance he gets to insert musical numbers into everything he does. And he fucking loves space [4] and Star Trek. I love that he loves what he loves so much, and that he gets to do that. And, not for nothing, I also love what he loves. Star Trek — of which The Orville is a clear, and honest spoof — is a wonderful show, one that hasn’t had a proper place on television for too long. When a genre is spoofed with as much love as MacFarlane clearly has for science fiction, the result tends to be pretty great. (See also: Galaxy Quest and Edgar Wright’s Cornetto Trilogy.)

Say what you will about some of his choices, but there is something undeniably heartwarming about a grown man living what is clearly his dream. And sure, it’s depressingly familiar to have yet another example of a white straight dude getting to follow his bliss, but there’s still some joy to be had in experiencing it. Especially since Star Trek’s message has always been one of inclusivity and cooperation.

Let’s all just share in the love, I guess, is what this is about. Because Star Trek is a really great show. And this is basically all we have right now.


[1] 1. Your taste is not the standard upon which we build a meritocracy.
2. People with inferior taste carry equal, or greater, weight than you.
3. And, this is actually a problem, your identity isn’t safe from being a punchline. (And while one could argue that MacFarlane’s white characters are just as often the target of ridicule, it’s not really a fair comparison since, ratio-wise, there are a whole lot more white characters). To be fair, if MacFarlane’s work happened in a vacuum, this wouldn’t be a problem—one could claim the tired “equal-opportunity offender” defence (which, for MacFarlane, would be accurate in the same way it’s accurate for, say, Bill Maher).

[2] Hey, this is the last online piece I’ll be writing for a while, at least in my current role here at SHARP. If you think I’m not going to use a footnote or two, well, you’re wrong.

[3] Or is that just me? I suppose it’s possible to not have everything remind you of the meaninglessness of your life, but where’s the fun in that?

[4] You’ll recall that a few years ago he executive produced a kind of reboot of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos starring Neil Degrasse-Tyson.