Film & Media Studies Theory

Whitman College – FMS 387




On February 6, 2005, the slow process of decay that threatened to consume television reached a milestone moment with the advent of FOX’s adult-cartoon entertainment block known as “Animation Domination.” The idea was simple, build a successful block of adult oriented cartoon sitcoms around media sensation The Simpson’s, named by TIME as the best television series of the twentieth century. The result is perhaps one of the most stunning examples of “ruthless unity in the culture industry:” a multi-hour block of television “firmly stamped with sameness… [where] imitation finally becomes absolute” (41, 44-45).

The birth of this culture abomination began in 1989 when FOX first aired The Simpson’s as a stand alone sitcom. From its humble beginnings as three-minute-long sketch on The Tracy Ullman Show, Matt Groening’s brainchild grew to proportions previously unimaginable in network programming. FOX would later look to add more animated offerings to their networks airwaves, including Mike Judge’s hugely successful King of the Hill. These two shows, though linked by their common portrayal of the American family, centered around the patriarchal breadwinner, where very different in animated and comedic style. However the real turning point, where the wheels of the culture industry would begin to turn inevitably faster and faster towards the abyss of vapidity, came in 1999 with the introduction of Family Guy.

Created by writer Seth MacFarlane, Family Guy was a clear attempt to emulate the success of The Simpson’s, even utilizing the same formula (idiot patriarch with a wife, two older children, and a baby) as the classic show. Initially unsuccessful, Family Guy was cancelled in 2002. But, thanks to Animation Domination, Family Guy was revived in 2005 for primetime. This time, however, American audiences embraced the show’s humor, primarily consisting of cruel assaults individual characters, who are more punching bag than person, and brief, inevitably cheap and predicable cutscenes. Family Guy succeeded in transforming “the quantity of organized amusement … into the quality of organized cruelty:” gone was the originality of Groening and Judge, which was instead replaced with the simplicity of formulaic certitude and Meg bashing (48).

So huge was the success of Family Guy in its second life, that FOX green lit multiple spinoffs, including American Dad, and eventually The Cleveland Show; each of which was “firmly stamped with sameness,” and were animated in the same style, produced by the same people, and featured the same formula (idiot patriarch with a wife, two older children, a baby/childish-creature-alien-thing, and a talking animal friend), as Family Guy (44). Thus, in the fall of 2009, FOX viewers tuning into Animation Domination at 8pm Sunday night were treated to one episode of The Simpson’s, followed by a full hour and a half of the same show masquerading as three separate, different shows. The Cleveland Show, followed by Family Guy, followed by American Dad: FOX was now blatantly “subject[ing viewers] to broadcast programs which [were] all exactly the same” (41).  The shows even featured inter-show interactions: one would never know when one of the other show’s characters would suddenly appear, this “prearranged harmony” was indeed “a mockery of what had to be striven after in the great bourgeois works of art,” this was the lowest common denominator of television, the ultimate synergy (43).

Mercifully, this version of FOX’s Sunday night finally came to an end it 2013, with the cancellation of The Cleveland Show, and the announcement that American Dad would be moving to TBS in 2014. But Animation Domination and Family Guy, soon to begin its twelfth season (the ninth since its rebirth), still remain as a reminder of the days when FOX could promise an animated, comedy paradise:  “NEW! From the creators of Family Guy!  A new show that’ll leave you rolling on the ground with laughter!” But “the paradise offered by the culture industry is the same old drudgery,” where the “laughter [inflicted was] a disease,” rendering us oblivious to our own problems (50, 49).

(Please note that I purposely did not mention Futurama, nor did I mention Beavis and Butthead in the above since their only real commonality with The Simpson’s and King of the Hill are their creators (Groening and Judge, respectively) and their animation styles, and are thusly not derived but rather inspired by other works in their genre. Additionally B&B predates King of the Hill.)



© jack coppinger 2013, some of the rights probably reserved. probably.





no. just no.


2 thoughts on “NEW! FROM THE CREATORS OF

  1. Funny story: I wrote a 20 page paper about Animation Domination, focusing specifically on “The Cleveland Show”, so I’m pretty thrilled to have read your post: and I couldn’t agree more. I think this is a great example of the ideologies touched upon in our reading. Repetition, repetition, repetition. Each show really does have the same premise, the same raunchy humor, and even the same voicing of the characters. FOX has essentially made Sunday nights hyper-comedic and animated and is arguably using the stupidity and laziness of Americans to their advantage. FOX has made their consumers their objects, targeting an audience that is lazy enough to actually tune in for 5 hours each Sunday night. The craziest part is…it’s actually working.

  2. Wow, this is a great example of the sameness the culture industry produces. Do you think it matters that The Simpsons started out as a cultural critique, and the choice of Homer as an almost blue collar worker at the time was socially significant? Do you feel that the shows that followed have aimed, in their repetitive copying form, to squash The Simpson’s potentially subversive message?
    I also think it’s interesting that these shows are cartoons, given Adorno and Horkheimer’s attitude toward that genre.. Indeed, I agree with your point about cruelty..

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