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October 25, 2011

“The Simpsons”

by admin
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Contributor: Maira Jorge

Co-executive producers Matt Groening, Sam Simon, and James L. Brooks directed their controversial and well-known cartoon series, “The Simpsons,” for the adult audience from their first appearance in 1987 in between sketches of “The Tracy Ullman Show”. [1]  The satire of a dysfunctional American family, however, grabbed the attention of the entire family, whether with wide acceptance or extremely negative criticisms.  Indeed, one of its creators, Simon, recognized how offensive the show might result to some Americans and admitted that he was made nervous by “so much angry mail, and because kids like the show so much”. [2]

As any other kid, I was attracted to all cartoons, and this, of course, included FOX’s well known “Simpsons”, a show that my older siblings and some family members enjoyed too. I felt appalled at the fact that my mother, grandmother, and older sister had great disapproval of the lemon-skinned citizens of Springfield and placed on me a strict restriction on watching the show simply because I was said to be “too young.”  I might have not been capable of understanding the show’s indirect assaults on American life, but I was certainly amused by little Bart’s endlessly troublesome ideas and Homer’s goofy expressions in that idiotic voice.

My older female relatives, on the other hand, clearly absorbed the show’s consistent display of “disrespect for authority”[3] and claimed it was “vulgar”.  But even then I conjured unspoken arguments in my head: Bugs Bunny always defies authority and ageless viewers still love him…The Little Mermaid is reprimanded over and over again by her father, King Tritan of Atlantica (as if that title wasn’t enough to instill intimidation)…And the beloved Mickey Mouse, Disney’s most valuable treasure, is …Well, the idea of a talking mouse with huge ears, immature voice, a steadfast smile, and the ability to control your children’s actions and motives for an hour, five days a week just creeps me out.

I refused to grasp my mother’s acute criticism toward those (as my brothers argued) harmless yellow cartoons.  I only ever experienced these flagrant characters when I suddenly walked in on my brothers and uncles honoring the Simpson’s hour at home and imitated their raucous laughter as they focused their full attention on the screen, too busy to notice that I was around and forgetting about my mother’s condemnation toward these comedic subjects.  The guys seemed to be having a good time laughing at Bart’s rebellious nature and Homer’s indulgence in donuts and beer.

I admired Lisa’s unappreciated intelligence throughout the show and giggled at Marge (the mother) with her candy-blue hair and Maggie, the pacifier-silent baby.  The Simpson family and the rest of Springfield’s wacky characters evoked in me guilty pleasure with their adventures and misfortunes, but the women in my family only viewed them as rude, obnoxious, and disrespectful to the household, especially to a little girl like me.  Why was there such an inequality between guys and me?  I suppose the women’s condemnation derived from their feminist yet essentialist view.  My mother, and eventually my sister acquired this attitude too, was the type of woman that believed herself independent enough to pay the bills and serve steaks on the table.  She loved being a woman, but she also upheld the opinion that men were freer in their ability to combat the struggles of the world, emotionally, psychologically, and physically.  Her beliefs irritated me a little during my childhood.  I deeply desired to be a member of the “Simpsons”’ fans, and banning me from them only fed that want.  This dynamic between parent and child is still occurring all over our nation and across international boundaries.  A seven year old in Canada can’t go to bed without “huge arguments” in which he “grab[s]” onto the feet of his mother and begs for more time to watch “The Simpsons.” [4]  My nephew in Brownsville, TX throws fits and performs scenes of manipulative heartbreaking tears when he wants to watch “The Simpsons” DVD.  My mother’s close friend in Mexico feels obligated to turn on the famous cartoons to pacify her ten grandsons and granddaughters when they visit her. The seven-year-old boy in Canada claims that his love for Homer Simpsons is simply owed to Homer’s signature remark, “D’oh!”

That seven-year-old, as the majority of seven-year-old kids, can’t possibly grasp the show writers’ satire and crudeness because he doesn’t yet have a complete knowledge of the cartoon’s victims. Journalist Bob Baker states that the cartoon series is “layered with so many levels of meaning that a teenager can watch the same episode once a year and discover something new every time”[5].  I am living proof of this. Having rarely watched “The Simpsons” as a kid, I was astounded when my English teacher played a portion of an episode in which the actors enacted Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven”.  There are many other similar episodes in which “The Simpsons” are based on classic literary texts like A Streetcar Named Desire, Lord of the Flies,  and “Macbeth.” [6]  Nowadays, English teachers are even assigning homework and analyzing “Simpsons” episodes in the classroom, which isn’t so happily accepted by parents. [7]  An LA Times journalist remarks, “No TV show has ever generated as many excuses for ‘Simpsons’-loving academics to use characters as reference points, secure in the belief that most of their students have watched the show since elementary school”.[8]  This goes to show that even intellectuals accept the fact that “The Simpsons” is integrated into our culture, especially American childhood culture.

If schools are integrating the series into lectures, then the show must be a good influence on our younger generation, right? Not quite.  Critics have claimed that “The Simpsons” has increased its adult content over the years, thus alarming parents.  This was another topic that worried co-executive producer Sam Simon when he was planning an episode with the presence of “sex tapes” and in which Marge was “contemplating an affair”. [9]  These are subjects which conservative Americans look down on because they undermine American family values and pride.  Concerned psychologist Lynne Namka warns parents about the show and others alike because “children who watch ‘The Simpsons’ and ‘South Park’ will model disrespectful behavior.”[10]  Because of shows like these, children are becoming more aware of adult content, but not all children who watch “The Simpsons” will offend their school principal and parents as Bart is accustomed to do or become bullies like the one that constantly intimidates the children in Bart and Lisa’s elementary school.

The show is today a major social source for children, teenagers, and a large proportion of adults.  It cannot be ignored.  At school when the other children in class were talking about the previous day’s episode, I felt completely alienated and ignorant.  Watching a cartoon as well-known as “The Simpsons” doesn’t spoil your personality and mold you into an irrational and violent being.  To the contrary, it helps you socialize and establish your position among friends and intellectuals.  ”The Simpsons” show is only one object in a vast choice within children’s culture.  Parents shouldn’t resist this factor, especially if they enjoy this and other cartoon shows, whether controversial or conservative, as much as their children do.  It’s a safe outlet for expression and communication.  “The Simpsons” cartoon series is an integral part of American childhood.  American children’s culture nowadays seems to be quite welcoming to anything that entertains and helps the child develop an understanding of its world.  “The Simpsons” clearly falls into these standards.



[1] Howard Rosenberg, “Smart, Vulgar, Subversive, Quirky, Hilarious-and a Hit: [Home Edition],” Los Angeles Times (pre-1997 Fulltext) (Los Angeles, Calif., February 23, 1990), sec. Calendar; PART-F; Entertainment Desk.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Bob Baker, “TELEVISION; The real first family; How did ‘The Simpsons’ get to be such a cultural touchstone? We meet the enemy — and they are us.: [HOME EDITION],” Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles, Calif., February 16, 2003), sec. Sunday Calendar; Part E; Calendar Desk.

[4] Joe Chidley, “Toxic TV: Is TV violence contributing to aggression in kids? | Article,” Media Awareness Network, June 17, 1996, http://www.media-awareness.ca/english/resources/articles/violence/toxic_tv.cfm.

[5] Baker, “TELEVISION; The real first family; How did ‘The Simpsons’ get to be such a cultural touchstone?”.

[6] Amanda Christy Brown and Katherine Schulten, “‘Me Fail English? That’s Unpossible’: Studying Literature with ‘The Simpsons’ – NYTimes.com”, October 22, 2009, http://learning.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/10/22/me-fail-english-thats-unpossible-studying-literature-with-the-simpsons/.

[7] Laura Clark, “Angry parents accuse school of ‘dumbing down’ English by showing The Simpsons in class | Mail Online,” Mail Online, July 16, 2010, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1295062/Angry-parents-accuse-school-dumbing-English-showing-The-Simpsons-class.html.

[8] Baker, “TELEVISION; The real first family; How did ‘The Simpsons’ get to be such a cultural touchstone?”.

[9] Rosenberg, “Smart, Vulgar, Subversive, Quirky, Hilarious-and a Hit.”

[10] Lynne Namka, “Get Your ANGRIES Out – A Letter to Parents of Children with Problems of Anger,” Talk, Trust adn Feel Catalog, 2001, http://www.angriesout.com/parent8.htm.


 

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