Journal

American Dad, Gulliver’s Travels and Satire (Reader’s Notebook #6)

Satire is a weapon, and it can be quite cruel
~Molly Ivins

This semester, I fell head over heels in love with satire. 
 
Satire is the literary art of diminishing or derogating someone or something by making it ridiculous and evoking attitudes of amusement, contempt, or scorn towards it. 
 
Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels opened up my mind to the true gift writers have of taking serious, often controversial, topics and using humor to convey their true beliefs to audiences. 
 
One of my favorite works of satire is the TV show, and animated comedy, American Dad.
 
The main character is Stan Smith, an all-American husband and father. He’s a conservative republican, and a CIA agent. 
 
He’s supposed to be living the “American Dream” with his big house, wife, and two children, but unfortunately for him, no one else wants to fit his idea of a perfect life. 
 
His gorgeous trophy/housewife Francine tries her best to put up with him, but every once in a while, she shakes things up and gets a job or shares her own opinions. 
 
His daughter, Hayley was supposed to be his “little girl”, maybe ask him to a daddy-daughter dance, but instead she became a hippie and a liberal. 
 
No matter what he does she disagrees with him, and most decisions she makes cause conflict between the two of them. 
 
His son, Steve could have been the perfect American boy – a football player, a ladies’ man – but, instead he’s socially awkward with questionable book smarts. 
 
To seal the deal that this is not an ordinary family, they have an alien (technically illegal), Roger, and a talking fish (Klaus) as part of the family.
 
Stan’s values and ideals are constantly being challenged, often in ways that show his opinion or actions are the wrong ones. 
 
Stan sees all of the people in his life as failures because they don’t fit the image of the perfect Americans that all American citizens should be. 
 
However, he is a hypocrite who violates the rules and expectations he sets for others. 
 
For example, Roger was found by the CIA and was supposed to be tested on, but he saved Stan’s life, so Stan commits treason and rescues Roger from the government, hiding him in their large house in the suburbs. 
 
In the episode “American Dream Factory” Stan rants that he “hates illegals” and gets into arguments with Hayley because she’s dating an undocumented worker.
 
In typical Stan fashion, when he has the chance to make his dream of producing teddy bears, he doesn’t flinch at hiring “illegals”. 
 
When Hayley gets dumped, she herself becomes a hypocrite by calling the INS (Immigration and Naturalization Service) as revenge. 
 
At the end of the episode, at Steve’s concert performance for Independence Day, Stan hears the “illegals” sing and realizes that they just wanted a better life and to live the “American Dream” just like him. 
 
The Smiths help protect their former workers from the INS and get all of their families across the border to West Virginia.
 
The entire episode was a commentary on American attitudes about immigration and undocumented workers. 
These people make up most of the agricultural, restaurant, hotel (and many other industries) workforce, but are  seen as nuisances who should be sent back to wherever they came from. 
 
To many, it doesn’t matter whether they were escaping crime or other horrible situations. 
 
The question of what the “American Dream” truly is and whether anyone has to right to dictate whether natural-born Americans embody it more than the people who are motivated by it to build better lives for themselves and their families.
 
Similar to Gulliver’s Travels, the main protagonist has his worldview altered, in order to show the audience, the weaknesses in human perception. 
 
Gulliver starts out as an ordinary, well-off gentleman from England who only wants to experience the world outside of his country. 
 
He encounters the Lilliputians and Blesfucians, unable to understand any of the events from their perspective, simply because they’re six inches tall. 
 
It’s very difficult for people to understand one another when their differences, especially physical, are so pronounced.
 
He then does a complete 180 once he meets the Brobdingnagians, recognizing that he is seen as inferior, and that, while cared for, he is simply a beloved pet. 
 
Stan’s opinions on situations often reverses, as well, since the situations become too ridiculous and he is left with no choice but to realize that he was wrong. 
 
Although, much like real life, there is always something else to disagree on and mistakes to be made.
 
I never gave American Dad much credit for its cleverness. 
 
Growing up, I always laughed at the jokes, though now that I understand the points being made, my own perspective has shifted. 
 
People can be rather narrow-minded, myself included, but by allowing our beliefs to be challenged, we can grow as people, or not.
 
 
~
Hi there, I just wanted to add that these “Reader’s Notebook” posts are unedited versions of what I submitted to my English professor for my final project. 
 
Honestly, I am pretty hard on myself – especially when it comes to writing – so having a record of what I deemed to “acceptable” work will help me hold myself accountable. In this way, I will be able to truly track my progress as a writer.

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