Five Thoughts On: Peter’s Palestinian Alarm Clock

November 19, 2009
By | 4 Comments

I don’t know if I’m the only Jew who watched this episode of Family Guy while residing in the Palestinian Territories, but I’ve got a suspicion that if we all got together we’d have trouble making a minyan. This  doesn’t, in and of itself, compel me to comment on the subject, however it’s a good opportunity to offer up a new gimmick for the blog:

Thought #1:  I don’t entirely get the joke- at least insofar as the alarm clock aspect is involved.  The joke is about a suicide bomber, right?  For better or for worse, that’s the joke.  The clock blowing up, however, is much more reminiscent of a scene from Munich in which one of the Mossad guys who might actually be Jewish (i.e. not The Hulk) plants a bomb in a PLO hotel room.

Thought #2:  In the inevitable Internet squabbling that’s resulted, a prevalent “It’s racist!” argument is that, while Family Guy’s incessant Jew Jokes are about religion, this is about race (the implication being religion is fair game, race is not).  However, neither of these positions is particularly coherent.  Family Guy mocks Judaism, Jewishness and everything in between.  The Goldman’s aren’t so comically insufferable due to their insistence on observing the Shabbos- it’s the shrill voices, effeminate men, hypochondria and so on- ethnic and racial traits.  On the other side of the coin, the “Palestinian” in the clock is clearly acting out an extremely warped view of Islam that, while perhaps sadly intertwined with Palestinian national resistance, is nonetheless a ‘religious’ act.  If it is, for one reason or another, ok to mock religion, this may well be in bounds.

Thought #3:  Then why, exactly, is the alarm clock “Palestinian” and not “Muslim” or, even less offensive, “Jihadi?” A tough question. “Muslim Alahm Clahck” BOOM! would be incredibly offensive but in a way that wouldn’t particularly standout from the rest of the series.

Thought #4:  As always, the real thing here is the burden of representation.  Jon Stewart, Shmuely Boteach and Neil Diamond are out there to balance out the Goldmans whereas I would have to guess that less than half of America, and far less than half of Americans in the Family Guy demographic, can name a single living Palestinian.  And certainly not anyone outside of realm of politics.  So when “Palestinian” pops up in American popular culture, it’s in this context pretty much 100% of the time.  That’s undeniably problematic.

Thought #5:  It’s probably worth noting that just as the joke is offensive to Palestinians who face the burdens of oppression throughout the world and particularly in the West Bank and Gaza, it’s also a joke that makes light of the way in which lots of innocent people have been murdered and maimed. I have no interest in policing such humor, but it’s worth considering how the safety of an American living room recontextualizes the horrors of others.


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4 Responses to “ Five Thoughts On: Peter’s Palestinian Alarm Clock ”

  1. Nick Marx on November 20, 2009 at 2:48 PM

    I think this is a great gimmick. Not Seth MacFarlane’s strained attempts at making funny, but the “Five Thoughts On” thing.

  2. Nick Marx on November 21, 2009 at 12:56 PM

    Also, and not that they’re the same thing, there’s this: The Borat comment is utterly confusing.

  3. Matt Sienkiewicz on November 21, 2009 at 2:13 PM

    Yeah, the Haddadi thing is pretty bizarre. On the one hand, the Borat thing is actually not as wrong (factually speaking) as you might think in that at least they speak Persian in both Kazakhstan and Iran. Not that that’s what they were thinking. The really bizarre aspect is that these guy’s call NBA games but are somehow totally thrown by a foreign name. There’s a classic Johnny Most call where he’s doing a Celtics exhibition against the USSR and about two minutes in he just gives up on the names and resorts to calling them things like ‘The Big Fella’ and ‘The Little Guy.’ That was 30 years ago though, in them meantime about 1,000 foreign players have played in the NBA and I’m unsure how one being from Iran threw these guy’s so badly. Maybe they thought it was Iraq? Maybe they assume that everyone in Iran is either at the Mosque plotting the death of Western society and/or having an election unjustly stolen from them?

    All I know is that Michael Smith first broke my heart as an utterly useless first round pick by the Celtics and now is part of this nonsense. He’s rising on my list of least favorite Basketball personalities. Kobe, Bill Laimbeer and Kurt Rambis might be off the hook soon.

  4. Ben Teaford on November 29, 2009 at 10:30 PM

    I think if you’ve ever watched local broadcasts of professional sports, the bigger surprise is, why things like this don’t happen more often. You’ve generally got a washed up former player (in this case Michael Smith) and some other guy who wishes he had played. Neither is very smart and they’ve got to talk for 2-3 hours a night for 6 months. Plus they travel a ton and no doubt drink a ton. None of this is a good combination and thus you end up with stupid comments like this and the one Bob Griese made earlier this year about Juan Pablo Montoya getting a taco.

    My point being, I don’t see these comments as particularly racist, but more the product of tired, drunk morons desperate to fill the dead air.

    As for the original topic, I didn’t see that particular episode of Family Guy, but from what I know of the show, this seems more similar to the Haddadi incident than you’d think. I think the writers of Family Guy understand that their target audience isn’t the smartest group of people. Therefore many of their jokes are based on simple preconceived notions, rather than a reflection of the actual situation. Just like with the stereotypical Goldman family, the alarm clock joke relies on limited knowledge by the audience for its humor. The audience thinks of Palestinians as people in the Middle East and that people in the Middle East are terrorists. They don’t know who Netanyahu is or anything about Hamas. They may have picked up somewhere on the internet or TV a headline or two regarding an incident in Gaza, but they certainly didn’t read it or watch it. Their ignorance makes the joke funny.

    Those of us who are discussing it here obviously understand the Palestinian situation much better and we find the joke inappropriate and also not really that funny because it makes little sense.