Ted 2, Seth MacFarlane, and the Age of the Brogressive

Perhaps, I'm just a masochist, but I cannot stop thinking about Ted 2. I've made no bones about my distaste for the film, but it's rare that a film so dumbly vulgar holds my attention for nearly two weeks after its release.

As I continue to marvel at the stoner-comedy's baffling sense of self-satisfaction and subversion, I can't help but turn to its director Seth MacFarlane. Now, it's far from bold or novel to criticize the maker of Family Guy and The Cleveland Show for his sense of humor. Hell, half the conversation around any of his projects is necessarily centered on MacFarlane's dependence on shock value, his seeming worship of the empty "he did not just say that"-style of comedy. But, as I spoke about in my earlier piece on the Ted sequel, what is most enraging about the film, and about MacFarlane is general, is not his comedy's reliance on racism, misogyny, homophobia, transmisogyny, classism, and ableism, but rather, the writer's insistence that he is somehow radically enlightened: the antidote to the ills he perpetuates under the guise of satire. MacFarlane may consider himself liberal (a word, which, is full of historical and ideological contradictions in and of itself), but if so it is in name alone. Ultimately, MacFarlane is the best and most visible example of a new type of social force: the Brogressive.

What is a Brogressive? I'm glad you asked. The Brogressive is a privileged individual (most often a white, straight, cis male) who outwardly claims to support progressive causes, but insists on doing so without challenging their own comfort or ideas. It's the guy who says he supports gay marriage, but really doesn't like how "they" need to be so "in-your-face" about it. It's the guy who claims to be opposed to domestic violence, but can't address the issue in his work without laying heavy blame on the victim. It's the television writer who says they oppose transphobia, but also perpetuate the stereotype of transwomen out to deceive straight men.

Perhaps one of the best examples of MacFarlane's lazy Brogressivism comes from a 2008 interview with the Advocate, in which the comedian and voice actor expresses his solidarity with the LGBT community. MacFarlane ranted: "Why is it that Johnny Spaghetti Stain in fucking Georgia can knock a woman up, legally be married to her, and then beat the shit out of her, but these two intelligent, sophisticated writers who have been together for 20 years can't get married?"

Okay, multiple things here. First, this "radical" expression of support is founded on stereotypes, both of the impoverished (they are violent, unintelligent, animalistic, dirty, uncultured) and of the homonormative idea of the modern gay man (smart, artistic, urbane). Neither of these caricatures says anything about the experience of gay Americans. Furthermore, MacFarlane's weird invocation and marginalization of domestic violence feels deeply off-putting. In many ways, it turns the issue into a side punchline that both buttresses stereotypes about the environment that relationship violence occurs in, while also exuding a palpable disinterest.

In his blistering and moving takedown of Ted 2, Grantland film critic and Pulitzer Prize Winner Wesley Morris refers to MacFarlane's "tolerant intolerance." In many ways, this is the perfect distillation of Brogressivism and its Animation-Domination-Patron-Saint. It's the self-satisfied proclamation of Humanism without any regard for the humanity in others. It's the rigorous and conspicuous challenging of the easy targets without ever considering the harder ones, the ones that the Brogressive happily benefits from. It's writing a movie that is proud to acknowledge that slavery was a bad thing, but still delights in the exploitation of images of black suffering, the fetishization and dehumanization of black sexuality, and the need to make a Ferguson joke, the punchline to which is simply that Ferguson was an event.

Again, the criticism of MacFarlane is no novel crusade. In the end, this problem is far bigger than one successful television writer. The Ted director just happens to be one of the most visible examples. At its core, Brogressivism is really about complacency. It's about demanding praise for meeting the bare minimum of social decency, and really only squeaking by even there. It's a political "We Didn't Start the Fire" mentality: that you should not be forced to sacrifice for the problems that weren't caused by you, directly. This sort of socio-political back-patting is all around us: Family Guy, Reddit, Bill Maher, anyone who talks more about political correctness more than they talk about ingrained cultural oppression.

Certainly, no one is perfect. I write this from a position of immense privilege myself, and I know there are times when I fail to examine myself, my choices, and the things I take for granted. Still, all of us need to be sure to interrogate ourselves as best we can, to question why we find things funny or meaningful, what we ignore and why we ignore it. Otherwise we risk making the fundamental mistake of this vitriolic complacency: that progressivism is just about checking a box, and staking out cheap real estate on the moral high ground.