‘Shut Up, Meg!’: Exploring The Art Of Turning A Character Into A Punching Bag

Having one character that every other character absolutely cannot stand is a long-running TV tradition. Many prominent shows have used this trope; the punching bag who every other character takes out their anger and frustration on. What’s the best way to approach this? Let’s look at five examples that some shows have taken and see which ones are fun and lighthearted, and which ones are just cruel.

The Just-Treat-Her-Like-Absolute-Garbage-All-Time Method — Key Example: Meg Griffin (Family Guy)

Let’s be honest, the excessive Meg hate has gotten to be a bit much. In the first three seasons, the show made subtle references to the fact that Meg was the least popular character. When it returned to the air in 2005, that was immediately ratcheted up to an extreme level. Peter farts in her face, throws scalding hot soup at her, and in general, the family is just viciously cruel to her. There have been multiple episodes that involve either:

A. Peter deciding to be nicer to her

B. Meg telling the family how sick she is of them

None of it ever sticks, though, and Meg is always right back to being a punching bag the next episode. Honestly, this is one of the show’s most tedious qualities, and it would be nice if they dropped it in the future.

The It’s-Okay-Because-His-Home-Life-Is-Really-Awesome Method — Key Example: Jerry Gergich (Parks and Recreation)

Jerry deals with a lot of crap from his co-workers at the parks department, but he goes home to a beautiful wife and family, and they all sing disturbingly cheerful songs about their love of eggs, bacon, and toast. Sure, his work is constantly being insulted, and everyone basically unloads their frustrations on him, but he goes home to the most wonderful family in the world. It’s no wonder that he can take all the abuse in stride!

The Only-Hate-Him-Some-Of-The-Time Method — Key Example: Klaus (American Dad!)

This is a stark contrast to Seth MacFarlane’s other show, as the hate for Klaus on American Dad! is far more subtle, and sometimes non-existent. In the clip above, Roger tells Klaus that he hates him. But in another episode, they go to Europe together and are generally seen as pals. Talk about mixed messages. Klaus’s biggest problem is that because he’s a fish, no one takes him seriously. This was best explored in “Dr. Klaustus,” where the family only pays attention to Klaus’s psychiatric advice when it comes from the more authoritative voice of Roger’s Army sergeant persona.

The Make-Him-So-Naive-And-Oblivious-That-It’s-Impossible-To-Not-Laugh Method — Key Example: Butters (South Park)

Even if Cartman’s legendary pranks on Butters represent the worst abuse he’s gotten, it’s not like anyone else is nicer to him. When he replaced Kenny as the fourth friend in the group, he frequently had to be embarrassed, like gain a bunch of weight so he could be the next Jared from Subway, or for a more severe example, put fake testicles on his chin and go on the Maury Povich show. For all his efforts, he was still kicked out of the group and replaced by Tweek! When Kenny returned at the end of the sixth season, Butters basically just existed as a target of abuse for Cartman. The thing is, Butters was so damn naive. He really couldn’t tell that AWESOME-O was just Cartman in a cardboard robot costume? He really thought Cartman was a ghost? Come on, if you were a 9-year-old, and you knew someone that dumb, you’d pull tons of pranks on him, too.

The Make-It-Up-To-Him-By-Ordering-Blimpie-On-The-Last-Day-Of-Work Method — Key Example: Lutz (30 Rock)

I’ve covered this before, but Lutz was the perpetual sad sack of 30 Rock, receiving the same contempt as Jerry Gergich, but without the beautiful family to make it okay. At least they went to Blimpie.