I was sad that Family Guy killed off the dog Brian Griffin in an episode screened in Britain on Sunday night. Brian has both human and canine characteristics (he can drive a car, but is scared of the vacuum cleaner). Also he has liberal views but is a bit of a sponger, which many of Family Guy’s educated audience seem to identify with. But his death was done well and the correct moral message that “life goes on” after a family death was portrayed both movingly and amusingly at the same time. It was a kind of ‘face reality’ moment that had the silver lining that life’s onward journey and the support of family ultimately keeps you going.
It was absolutely tragic then that when this episode aired in the USA last Winter, there were petitions for the cartoon dog’s reincarnation, ‘RIP Brian Griffin’ tattoos and furious tweets by the ton, much to the astonishment of creator Seth MacFarlane. When he was on a press panel supposed to be talking about his space documentary, MacFarlane was instead confronted by more questions about Brian’s demise, presumably from angry journalists asking how could he be so cruel.
MacFarlane therefore decided to bring Brian back with a time travel storyline a couple of weeks later to ease fans’ ‘pain’, so he will be back on British screens in August.
But come on folks, throughout history, art-forms have dealt with death. It is partly through engaging with the material that individuals develop the resources to deal with real life tragedy. Not any more. If you are upset, you can complain to the artist to change it so your emotions aren’t pricked. Not only does this make for bad, bland art, but robs humanity of a means through which to express and understand the predicaments we all face. It was a bad move for MacFarlane to capitulate. Even something like ‘Bambi’ or ‘Watership Down’ wouldn’t be made today under stifling emotional correctness.
Genius toddler Stewie Griffin’s desire to change the past through reinventing his time machine is understandable given his grief at the loss of his best friend. But there is way too much emphasis in contemporary fiction on changing the past to better the present. Cuckoo-la-la time travel stories into the past abound in modern consciousness. This reflects real social trends where the past is judged from the standpoint of today, and sometimes rewritten and airbrushed to convey modern prejudices.
With the “right to be forgotten”, legislated for by the EU, chapters from one’s past can now be erased from the internet. Hence on many Google searches, one is now told that “certain results may have been omitted”, and if you ask why, it refers to legislation that compels search engines to delete references to someone’s past that individual finds get in the way of their career. Similar to the nightmarish society depicted in George Orwell’s 1984, inconvenient facts can now be shoved down a ‘memory hole’ to escape responsibility and accountability in the present which is why this law has been used by thousands of unscrupulous powerful people in society today.
Of course, actual time travel into the past is theoretically impossible, as Albert Einstein said (though time travel into the future is possible from the perspective of the individual if one journeys at light speed). This scientific truth is backed up by a logical understanding of what ‘the past’ is. Time, as counted in numbers, is essential for humanity’s prospering, but it should not be taken that all that is needed is the right machine to make the reversing of the dial equivalent to reversing the evolution of the universe. Nevertheless this fact does not seem to stand in the way of today’s dreamy wishful thinking that if only the past could be different, things would be better today.
The irrational obsession with changing the past is ultimately a mind-trick to deny the reality of the present and an abjuration of responsibility for shaping the future. Whilst it is undeniably difficult to face present day facts, both in one’s personal life and in the life of society, the desire to alter the past is both impossible and destructive to one’s ability to deal with life in the present. Stewie and the rest of the Griffin family would be better off accepting reality and helping each other deal with the new situation rather than morbidly obsess over what might have been. Therefore Brian Griffin should have stayed dead, and this exciting comedy, and us with it, could have moved forward.