How Death and Resurrection Made Brian Griffin a Pop Culture Powerhouse
Brian Griffin the dog has had quite a year. Or maybe it would be more accurate to say quite a few weeks. Faced with declining ratings, the producers of the Family Guy first killed him off in a tearjerker episode and replaced him with a new dog. Almost before his animated corpse had cooled, the fan outrage had reached such a level that producers announced that Brian would return from the dead. And indeed, just last Sunday, the events of the original Brian-killing episode were undone by enfant terrible Stewie Griffin with some help from his reconstructed time machine.
All of this back-and-forth has just improved Brian's status as a pop cultural icon. On December 9, Time Magazine listed him as one of The 11 Most Influential Fictional Characters of 2013. In the Time list, Brian came in at number 11, but he did better last week, when he topped DOGTV's list of the World's Most Powerful Dogs of 2013.
Obviously, heading the DOGTV list is quite an accomplishment for an imaginary animal, but at the same time, they don't seem to have been paying close attention to the developing story. Their brief writeup doesn't even acknowledge that his death was already known to be a temporary inconvenience: "Family Guy fans everywhere were shocked about the untimely demise of the Griffin family's beloved dog, Brian. He might be headed for retirement, but his TV death led the way to the show's best ratings of the year the following week (2.6 million viewers)."
The line about "retirement" seems dated after less than a week, since Brian's made it back into the family, and his replacement, Vinny, seems to have been wiped from the timestream completely. It's not just that Brian came back from the dead; from the perspective of the show, it never happened at all. That's show business for you. If only the deaths of my numerous pets as a child could have been so neatly resolved, my childhood would have been a very different place.
But the point remains: death, even if it was only a momentary glitch in the space-time continuum of an animated universe, confirmed Brian's place in modern culture, and probably got the show at least an extra season or two. Like some animated canine Christ, Brian died so that Family Guy might live.
At this point, the question still remains: Was Brian's dash back across the Rainbow Bridge always planned out, or was it just an attempt to undo a massive miscalculation? The answer lies in which you think is greater: Seth MacFarlane's stupidity or his cynicism. That's one of those debates that I expect philosophers to be debating for eons. Having seen more of his work than I care to, I think that they feed each other, like a massive ouroboros of mediocrity devouring its own tail.
What about you? What dogs would you put on your yearly list of "Most Powerful" or "Most Important"? For those who are into such things, the complete DOGTV list is as follows:
- Brian Griffin -- Family Guy
- Baxter -- Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues
- Stella -- Modern Family
- Wilfred -- A human dressed as a dog in the show of the same name.
- Giggy -- Vanderpump Rules and Real Housewives of Beverly Hills
- Jewel -- Winner of National Dog Show, 2013
- Walle -- World's Ugliest Dog, 2013
- Isis -- Downton Abbey
- Boomer -- Star of Google Nexus 7 commercials
- Snoop Dogg
More on the death and rebirth of Brian the Dog: