from Couch Potato
written by Jory John
illustrated by Pete Oswald
(viewed on YouTube 10/9/23)
Popular culture is not my best thing. I’m not up on the latest slang, or hip-hop. Football? nope! Movie stars are usually not on my radar. Saturday Night Live is on too late for me. I can’t identify any Kardashian in a line-up. I don’t know the names of most current TV shows. And although I’ve heard of the Simpsons, until last weekend, I never saw a complete episode.
In 1989, the first full-length show aired on Fox. A provision in its contract with the network prevented Fox from interfering with the show’s content.
Among its many honors and awards, the Simpson family was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2000. The show has won 35 Primetime Emmy Awards presented to recognize excellence in primetime television programming, 34 Annie Awards to recognize its excellence in animation, and 2 Peabody Awards named for the American businessman and philanthropist George Peabody to honor the most powerful, enlightening, and invigorating stories in television, radio, and online media.
When it began 34 years ago, the Simpsons were a typical middle-class American family living in a typical American suburb. Homer, the, father is a safety inspector for a local nuclear plant. Stereotypical Marge is, well, stereotypical. Their three kids do what kids do everywhere. They get into and out of trouble, make very dumb and very wise comments about life, go to school, play with their friends, and get on each others’ nerves. Baby Maggie is, cute.
Six voice actors are responsible for the show’s main characters and most of the occasional cast.
Homer's exclamatory catchphrase “D’oh!” was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2001. I’ve even said it a few times myself (appropriately, too)!
A TV show that has been continuously running for 34 seasons, and the announcement of the 35th and 36th seasons on 10/1/23, ensure the show will air through the 2024–25 television season made me ask myself why.
The Simpson Family is iconic and the show has become part of American Culture. But is it still an accurate portrayal of the American middle-class?
Homer is living the American Dream. He’s the sole breadwinner supporting an intact family of five living in a nice house in the suburbs of Anytown, USA, represented by Springfield, Anystate. Even though the characters don’t age, the magic of animation and, as an audience, we can suspend our disbelief, the timeframe for the show is Now.
Bart wants to grow up just like his dad with a good job and a nice house in the suburbs and a few kids and a dog. His bubble is burst in the finale of season 33 (May, 2022). A singing janitor, played by Hugh Jackman, explained modern economics. Someone in Homer’s job today would need a college education and would sport the huge debt that an education costs. And Lisa puts in her two cents, so to speak, and tells Bart what he’d be missing. Pretty much everything Homer has.
In typical Simpson fashion, the show’s executive producer Al Jean stated in a June 3, 2022 Planet Money interview on NPR, “…I remember growing up and…thought… we're in the luckiest country in the world and things will always get better. And I don't believe the majority of the public thinks the second thing anymore.”
But even though the real reality is that the Simpsons, by 2023 standards, are no longer living a middle-class life, Al Jean says the 35th season will not acknowledge that. People want to believe in the American Dream. We don’t want our comedies to take a tragic turn.
Homer’s answer to his friend Fred Grimes’s question, “how in the world can you afford to live in a house like this, Simpson?” is typical Homer. “I don't know. Don't ask me how the economy works.”
And so, even with the many ideas Homer and the rest of his family don’t know about or don’t acknowledge aside, The Simpsons are a middle-class “us.”
This is true in our 2023 world of now:
The job market is strong.
Entrepreneurial spirit is alive.
American Dreamers are still dreaming.
And while Jory John’s Couch Potato (see quote above) admires the beautiful sunset in the real world, it is still possible to suspend our disbelief for a little while and move in next-door to Homer and Marge.
I just read Ishmael by Daniel Quinn (Bantam/Turner Books, 1992). It’s a spiritual adventure exploring an out-of-the-box interpretation of Western thought. Re-imagining the beginning of humankind and re-examining the ancient stories of both Adam and Eve and Cain and Abel, I’ll be chewing on this one for a long time. It’s a book that needs discussion. Highly recommend!
Be curious! (and live your dreams)