The Simpsons is the longest American sitcom with 529 episodes under its belt. The show has its share of high praise and nasty criticism. Some say that the show has lost its appeal as a fresh cartoon sitcom that has abandoned the focus on character-driven plots and instead has monetized on pop-culture references and sold itself out for popular celebrity guest appearances. Regardless, the show is still on air so they must be doing something right.
Like many good shows, sometimes jumping ship before the show drowns to its tragic death is the smart and respectable choice; however, this is not the case for The Simpsons as it seems to just ride over the waves of criticism as it comes. Despite some discontent for the show, The Simpsons continues to produce new content and in my personal opinion, still leaves me in awe of the shows creativity. The longevity of the show deserves applause, and I feel that cartoons especially have a difficult time keeping the audiences’ interest once they grow up and move on from the show. Some cartoons for example were appropriate for its time: For example: Rugrats, Hey Arnold! Pokemon, Digimon. There is only one cartoon /animation that has been able to capture its viewer’s hearts and was kept alive after years of hiatus: Pixar films’s Toy Story 1,2 and 3. The first Toy Story is the most significant because as a child of the nineties, it was, and has become such an iconic pop cultural phenomena. I’ll skip the second because well, let’s just say it didn’t resonate with me-but the third and final Toy Story, as I’m sure many would agree left a warm and fuzzy feeling in our hearts, despite the fifteen year gap.
The Simpsons is somewhat like Toy Story. Despite its age in production, it also affects the viewers on a similar level and has done it tastefully. Debuting its first pilot in 1989, the show manages to stay alive–still as witty, humorous and endearing as I can remember watching them when I was about six years old. After all this time, I can tune into the Simpsons at any time and it never seizes to make me laugh. Their predictable behaviors, and character sketches are not tiring but rather endearing. The change in plot formation seems to be some form of media-Darwinism, adapting to current trends and observing the trends in pop culture. Artists of all sorts adapt to survive in the industry, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that they lose their roots. I’ve pinpointed some interesting elements in The Simpsons that I believe makes the show so popular and successful, and how and why after 24 years, the show attracts new audiences, while simultaneously keeping the audience’s fidelity.
Immortalizing the character’s age:
One of the best parts of the show is that the characters never grow old. Maggie is forever the infant that is ironically smarter than she is given credit for, and as much as I feel bad for her inability to voice her genius, Maggie is –well, needs to be forever the baby of the bunch. As for Lisa and Bart, we get to see the two as grown ups in various episodes and… I’m so happy they don’t age; after all, Bart’s rebellious nature works perfectly with his age, and pulling your pants down and saying “Eat my Shorts” as an adult is just not as cool. As for the self proclaimed nerd, Lisa Simpson, her future is still up in the air, and yet extremely hopeful, which makes Lisa such a great young character. To see her accomplishments in school, and failures in her social/love life makes me love her more. To say the least, all the youngins of Springfield will forever be youngins, and maybe it’s a little creepy for me to watch to immortalize their youth, but sometimes, kids just shouldn’t grow up in cartoons/animations because it keeps the characters similar.
Pop culture References-
This show mirrors the current trends and icons of pop culture of the time, as this show reflects a lot about how North Americans view ourselves and of others and places. The Simpsons is one of many outlets that allow the audience to laugh at ourselves through the means on the characters on screen. Although I can’t say which episodes have included this, the show’s use of meta-reference is also one of the show’s great qualities.
Stays on trend yet stays classic:
As mentioned previously, the show has a great sense of trends in pop culture, and knows just what to include to make the show “Simpsonian”. At the same time, the show doesn’t venture too far as to make you feel uncomfortable, especially with the characters. We like them the way they are. You can’t make Homer into a complete genius or go on WeightWatchers and have a six-pack. The only six-pack Homer should ever have is his beer. Please and thank you.
Guest stars: interesting new characters
Although I can live without ever having guest stars on the show, as some people may argue takes away from the characters themselves of the plot of the show, I don’t really mind it. I think that it’s a smart concept that keeps audiences interest in seeing how celebrities will be cartoonized and represented. Again, it also plays on the whole notion of pop culture referentiality.
Who doesn’t like political satire? The show is not afraid to address sticky situations. .As far as I know, the rhetoric of The Simpsons is represented as being nonpartisan, but the show clearly aligns its politics as left-winged liberals. Politics mentioned include: homophobia and gay marriage (in the episodes “Homer’s Phobia” and “There’s Something About Marrying”), immigration and border control (“Much Apu About Nothing,” “Midnight Rx”, “Coming to Homerica”), drug and alcohol abuse (“Brother’s Little Helper”, “Weekend at Burnsie’s”, “Homer vs. the Eighteenth Amendment”, “Duffless”, “E-I-E-I-(Annoyed Grunt)”, and “Days of Wine and D’oh’ses”), gun rights (“The Cartridge Family”), environmental issues (“The Old Man and the Lisa”, “Trash of the Titans”, “Lisa the Tree Hugger”, “The Wife Aquatic”, “The Squirt and the Whale”, in addition to being an important plot device in the feature -length film), election campaigns (“Two Cars in Every Garage and Three Eyes on Every Fish”, “Sideshow Bob Roberts”, “Mr. Spritz Goes to Washington”, “See Homer Run”, “E Pluribus Wiggum”), and corruption (“Mr. Lisa Goes to Washington”).
Ned Flanders–respectively, Homer’s character foil–is made fun of for his conservative Christian values. However, I’m not entirely convinced that that’s what The Simpsons is going for. Ned is portrayed as a lovable, kind-hearted man that doesn’t have an ounce of malintentions in him and is not represented maliciously at all despite his very pious Christian ways. Flanders harbors the sanity of Springfield. He doesn’t just represent the Church in Springfield, but he represents a sort of light in Springfield, of all citizens of Springfield. This is open for interpretation, but without Ned, Springfield wouln’t be quite right.
The Simpsons is mostly about self representation in the most accessible form. It’s meant to be a satire of dysfunctional families and American culture, at its best and worst. It says that Americans take themselves too seriously at times, but look at us Americans, creating this fictional world of The Simpsons. We’re also funny, and we are very aware of ourselves. We have a sense of humor and we can make fun of ourselves.
Catch phrases that we use in our own lives as reference to The Simpsons:
“D’oh!”, “Excellent…””Ha-ha!”. “¡Ay, caramba!”, “Don’t have a cow, man!” and “Eat my shorts!” “I didn’t do it.”
The always new and different couch gag in the opening sequence of the show has become a cultural phenomena and has left a special place in our hearts