Wednesday, July 25, 2007

My Beef (and Yours) with "The Simpsons"

"The Simpsons" was once a great show. It started off kind of rough, with an emphasis on Bart and only a handful of truly memorable episodes in the first two seasons. However, during season three the show really started taking off, focusing more on Homer as the central figure of the family

From then on out the show enjoyed a lengthy run where almost every episode was an instant classic. Even episodes that revolved around Lisa, the most boring member of the family, brought loads of laughter ("Lisa the Vegetarian," "Summer of 4 Ft. 2," and "Lisa the Iconoclast" immediately come to mind). In my opinion, seasons 3 through 8 were the good seasons, the hilarity tapering off somewhere in season 9. Some would even argue that the show completely jumped the shark when Maude Flanders got killed off in season 11, though that season still had a couple gems left up its sleeve, including the tomacco episode (funniest part of that clip begins around 06:48).

An excellent analysis of the decline of "The Simpsons" can be found here. I would add to the article that the show got much raunchier during its decline as well, one of the reasons I stopped watching.

Which brings me to the heart of my rant.

"The Simpsons" was very controversial when it first came out, because it was a type of humor that hadn't been done before. A country that waited with bated breath for TGIF on ABC every week mistakenly defined an animated show as entertainment for children, whereas "Simpsons" is geared towards a much older audience, with its witty humor and satire. Yes, Bart is a punk kid, but parents became so worried about him being a role model for their children that they labeled him as evil. Exaggerations were made on the show's reliance on flatulent humor, when in reality the show mocks alcoholism through characters like Barney Gumble, whose disgusting nature is a caricature of reality, a commentary on the disease of wine-bibbing.

I admit that even my parents banned us from the show for its first few years. It wasn't until we boys began watching it behind their backs that we became hooked, and eventually convinced them that the show really wasn't all that bad (though my mom still holds a grudge against it, understandably).

Perhaps what really chaps my hide in this subject is the fact that over a year ago I almost dated a girl whose major hangup with me was that I watch "The Simpsons." She had never seen a single episode and frowned upon me for enjoying it because she believed, based on what her parents had told her, that it was crass and inappropriate. No matter how many times I explained to her that the seasons I enjoy are actually very clean (even the episode in which Homer almost is tempted to have an affair with a coworker is handled tastefully), admitting that later seasons had gone down the tubes as far as morality goes, she couldn't get past the labels she'd been raised with. Perhaps what hurt the most is that her trust in an ignorant opinion of a TV show overshadowed her trust in my moral judgment.

I'm not saying that everyone should watch "The Simpsons." I'm not saying that I would let my little children watch it, either, as I feel like an understanding of satire and sarcasm is needed to comprehend certain notions (e.g. Bart's actions are not to be laughed at because we want to emulate them, rather they are to be laughed at because we are to understand the need to steer clear of them). What I AM saying, though, is that those of us who are still on a soap box preaching against this show (at least in any context that involves the first ten years of its airing) need to seriously reevaluate the entertainment they criticize when content found in shows like "Friends," "Scrubs," "Sex in the City," and even certain shows on Adult Swim is flooding our TV's, TiVos, and DVD collections with humor that distastefully mocks sacred topics and exploits sex for a cheap laugh.

Finally, if there's one more argument to be had for why this show deserves a look on a moral level, "The Simpsons" at least instills a moral system in its characters. Whatever you have heard or choose to believe, the Simpson family sticks together during their crises. Sure, Bart makes a selfish choice or Homer does something incredibly dumb to spark their troubles, but in the end the family loves each other and helps each other to overcome. Most episodes end with something morally valuable having been learned by the characters. Less can be said of many other popular television shows out there.

So next time I quote "The Simpsons" and you are tempted to look down on me, please take a second and decide if the cultural hobbyhorse of Simpsons nay-saying is really worth the saddle sores.

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