The incredibly dark comic Couples Therapy is the kind of thing that would normally make us cry— either jokingly or actually— that it will “ruin” your favorite shows. But this glimpse into the potential lasting effects of growing up in the houses of The Simpsons or Family Guy is so cutting, and so sincere, it may genuinely change the way you view these shows, but it’s sure as hell not ruining anything.
The comic is centered on the premise of Bart Simpson and Chris Griffin are both coming to terms with how growing up in abusive households has affected them, and is now damaging their relationship. This thesis could easily be fodder for a simplistic, assholish joke (especially since their therapist is King of the Hill’s Bobby Hill), but it is not. The idea is treated carefully and the result is brutal.
The person behind the comic goes by Panic-Volkushka on Tumblr, and identifies as “a queer transgender dude who grew up in Texas and is totally unsuited for Southern concepts of masculinity.” When one commenter pointed out the fact that Hank Hill’s catchphrase disapproval of “That boy ain’t right” can be construed as a form of emotional abuse, PV says he totally agrees, but that he has “a real soft spot for King of the Hill and for Bobby. It’s a far more real and complex depiction of family, compared to the pointless cruelty of Family Guy or the lesser cruelties of The Simpsons.” He then explains the inspiration behind the comic.
This comic came about because I’d read several commentaries comparing Homer Simpson and Peter Griffin, specifically in regards to how they treat their daughters.
Almost everyone I know who takes the time to think critically about The Simpsons or Family Guy hones in on the fact that Peter physically and emotionally abuses Meg, whereas Homer is incompetent, neglectful, and absolutely does not understand Lisa - but he loves her and he tries.
In the commentary about how Peter and Homer treat their daughters, I didn’t really see anyone bring up the physical/emotional abuse of their sons.
To lay it out there - I loathe Family Guy. Fucking hate it.
I grew up watching The Simpsons and can have entire conversations purely through quoting the show. But as much as I love The Simpsons, I think the overall cultural attitude to corporal punishment (physical abuse) has changed enough that it’s time to retire the running “joke” of Homer choking Bart. It may have been a culturally acceptable joke ten years ago, but more and more research is showing seriously negative outcomes for kids that have experienced any form of physical punishment. We need to stop normalizing it.
As for King of the Hill, Hank and Peggy are hardly perfect parents and both have a tendency towards stifling Bobby’s more flamboyant and/or “feminine” behavior. But they both love Bobby; they have both, at different times during the show, been able to connect to Bobby through his various interests. While not perfect, they are a much healthier depiction of a family.
As someone who also fucking loathes Family Guy and is now embarrassed to realize that despite growing up on The Simpsons, I never paid attention to the father-son physical abuse, I’m finding myself totally floored and haunted by this comic. Both the exploration of the abuse that most viewers let wash right over them, as well as the breakthroughs found in this imagined session, are more poignant than most of us expect to find in a cartoon-inspired web comic.
H/T Daily Dot.