"Family Guy" has fun with AIDS

Fox TV’s irreverent animated series aired an episode this summer that showcases a comic musical number called “You Have AIDS.” Overburdened AIDS service organizations are not amused.

BY Bob Adams

August 22 2005 12:00 AM ET

The Fox TV network and its animated comedy series Family Guy apparently think AIDS is a laughing matter.

AIDS groups are leveling harsh criticism against the network after it aired and then reran an episode of the show that includes a lengthy song-and-dance joke about a sick man who is diagnosed with AIDS.

The episode--titled “The Cleveland-Loretta Quagmire”--aired on June 12 and was rerun on August 14.

In the show, the program’s main character, Peter Griffin, offers to tell a friend that his wife is cheating on him because of his self-proclaimed gifted way of breaking bad news to people. As an example of this alleged skill, the program shows a flashback as to how Peter told a gaunt man lying in a hospital bed of his AIDS diagnosis. The man is also depicted as young and sporting a goatee, possibly subtly suggesting that he is gay.

Peter is shown as part of a barbershop quartet that dances around the ill man’s hospital room, singing “You got the AIDS” and making it clear that the man is not just HIV-positive but has developed “full-blown AIDS.” The shocking song-and-dance number continues to speculate about how the man became infected: “when you stuck that filthy needle in here,” sung as the quartet points at the man’s arm, or through unprotected sex.

The full lyrics of the song are as follows:

You have AIDS.Yes, you have AIDS.I hate to tell you, boy, you have AIDS.You got the AIDS.You may have caught it when you stuck that filthy needle in here.Or maybe all that unprotected sex which we hear.It isn’t clear, but what we’re certain of is that you have AIDS.Yes, you have AIDS.Not HIV, but full-blown AIDS.Be sure that you see that this is not HIV, but full blown AIDS.Not HIV, but full-blown AIDS.I’m sorry, I wish it was something less serious, but it’s AIDS.You’ve got the AIDS.

The episode was written by Family Guy writers Patrick Henry and Mike Henry, and directed by James Purdum.

Fox officials defended airing and rerunning the episode, saying Family Guy intends to push the boundaries of good taste through its brand of insult-laden humor and that the show has targeted many demographic groups, not just HIV-positive people.

“Over the years, Family Guy has skewered virtually every ethnic, religious, and social group,” says Fox spokesman Steven Melnick. “The audience that tunes into this series is well-aware of what to expect from the show--a subversive and sometimes shocking comedic view that occasionally skirts the borders of appropriateness. This scene is not a joke about HIV but rather Peter’s ignorance and inability to convey bad news. Given the nature of this series as well as the well-established cluelessness of this particular character, the scene--while certainly abrasive--is not beyond the expectation of the Family Guy audience.”

But AIDS groups aren’t amused. And they’re not buying Fox’s defense of the show, saying that joking about a disease that affects more than 40 million people worldwide, most of whom will die of the ailment, is reprehensible and serves only to worsen AIDS-related stigma.

“A barbershop quartet singing blithely about AIDS is about as funny as a song about breast cancer or leukemia, especially to the people living with the disease,” says AIDS Project Los Angeles executive director Craig E. Thompson. “It is inexcusable for Fox to air a program that stigmatizes AIDS and less than subtly reinforces homophobia. It should be socially unacceptable to see this kind of garbage passing for entertainment in 2005.”

David Munar, associate director of the AIDS Foundation of Chicago, says that while Family Guy may have been attempting to use dark humor to show the inappropriateness of delivering bad news through a song-and-dance number, that message might have been lost due to the subject matter of the song. “The risk, of course, is that some viewers might not get the joke and believe that AIDS has become a casual, laughing matter,” he says.

Both the AIDS Institute, based in Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia’s ActionAIDS believe Fox and Family Guy officials owe HIV-positive people--and all those working in the AIDS arena--an apology for suggesting that becoming infected with HIV or developing AIDS is funny.

“The portrayal of HIV/AIDS on Family Guy was irresponsible,” says AIDS Institute executive director Gene Copello. “There is nothing comical about a person lying in a hospital bed dying of AIDS or any other disease. Fox owes people living with HIV/AIDS and their families an immediate apology.”

Kevin Burns, executive director of ActionAIDS, says, “It is disturbing that Fox television would take such a cavalier approach to the subject of HIV/AIDS and the difficult task of informing someone of an AIDS diagnosis. Fox owes the community an apology. In addition, they should consider the many opportunities they have to support people living with HIV/AIDS and to educate the larger community about HIV/AIDS treatment, care, and prevention.”

Fox officials did not respond to requests for additional comments.

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