Most of the criticism regarding television programs lies in the fact that they have little or no substance. Programs such as Beverly Hills 90210, Friends or Dawsons Creek leave an educated viewer in despair while they grow restless searching for some sort of entertainment worthy of their intelligence. Ironically enough a sigh of relief comes in the form of a cartoon, The Simpsons. This program gives us an opportunity to laugh at ourselves, which is often sorely needed. The Simpsons is an excellent television show for the educated viewer because of the satirical comedy which lets us laugh while it deals with social issues.
Being a cartoon strip is perhaps the most ingenious aspect of The Simpsons. Had the program consisted of live actors and actresses many of the issues would be too personal to address and much of the humor would be lost. Characters such as the tyrannical Mr. Burns and Barney, the drunkard, would lose much of their appeal if represented by live actors. The writers do not have to find actors or actresses to represent the characters they created. All of the characters in the Simpsons represent a stereotype of American culture. This extreme representation of stereotypes ethnic and racial serves as the foundation to the programs humor.
Not only can we laugh at the antics of the show, but at ourselves as well. The broad range of personalities represented will likely include some aspect that almost everyone can associate with. This chance to laugh at ourselves is often sorely needed and gives us a chance to reflect on certain aspects of our own life. This satirical approach to comedy requires an educated viewer because of its subtleties. Each character in the show has something to offer the audience. Perhaps the best way of putting this is by saying that the writers of The Simpsons force their characters, from the immigrants to the local fundamentalist menace to the all-American elementary school principal, to follow their respective stereotypes strictly. There is Apu Nahasapeemipetilon, the Hindu convenience store owner who is “familiar with the procedure for armed robbery;” the red-neck named Cletus, “the slack-jawed yokel;” the red-haired, kilt-wearing, wolf-wrestling elementary school janitor, Scotsman Groundskeeper Willie; Grandpa Simpson, the shrinking, senile, debilitated old man; the heavy-metal fan and bus driver Otto, with his frequent acid flashbacks; and Waylon Smithers, the doll-collecting gay man with a crush on his boss. There are also some humorous references to Jews on The Simpsons. One recurring theme is Jews in the mediathere is the news anchor, Kent Brockman, whose real name is Kenny Brocklestein, and the beloved entertainer Krusty the Clown (really Herschel Krustovsky). In fact, one show is completely centered around the Jewish faith, when Krusty searches for his estranged father, Rabbi Hyman Krustovsky.
Unlike many programs where extras are used to just fill time and space, The Simpsons creators gave every character a purpose or strong character traits. Take for example Barney, a bright college student with a promising future. Homer introduced Barney to beer which transformed Barney into a drunk instantaneously. This tragic situation seems funny, but there are many people who turned to alcohol during their younger years and ruined what could have been a happy and fulfilling life. Their transformation probably occurred over a period of time longer than the one second it took Barney, but it did happen. That is the beauty of this comedy. It deals with individual problems in a manner where we can laugh at them and learn from their ordeals at the same time. Like most satire the show uses mockery, stereotypes, and humor to point out mankinds vices.
The shows satire attacks traditional institutions such as the family and workplace as well as individuals. The most obvious examples of stereotypical behavior exist within the primary and nuclear family. The Simpsons family shares few characteristics with the ideal family in other comedy sitcoms; however that is where the true genius subsides. The family unit consists of a father, mother, three children, and a dog who live in suburban America. The father works for a nuclear power plant, the wife takes care of the house and kids, and the children except for Maggie are in grade school. They meet all the criteria of a typical suburban working class family. Even their children meet the viewers stereotypes of what they should be.
Bart could be described as mischievous and disobedient; he’s a slacker, but he’s no fool. The beauty of this character lays on his ability to represent the “Generation X”. Lisa is the perfect foil to Bart. Serving as his sibling rival figure, she is a smart young girl with little self esteem, she is musical, ethical and honest. Lisa’s character is often the only voice of reason; she is the only person with a sense of morality. But, let’s not forget that she is a child. She is just as prone to making mistakes as any other kid. Just like her daughter Lisa, Marge is a relatively good individual. She is a dedicated homemaker and a good mother with an endearing heart. The most important thing about Marge is her three feet tall blue hairdo. However, all of these hilarious parodies pale in comparison with the ultimate stereotype of The Simpsons: Homer. The bald, beer-guzzling, self-centered, irresponsible, forgetful, obese, lazy, and inhumanly stupid deadbeat dad.
The show also challenges political stereotypes. Other institutions that are challenged in the show include the police department and the mayors office. Chief Wiggum, the captain of the Springfield Police Department, has all the stereotypical characteristics associated with police. Hes fat, lazy, eats donuts, and is corrupt. The only public official that rivals him would be the womanizing Mayor “Diamond” Joe Quimby who is even more corrupt.
The evidence of satire in the Simpsons goes well beyond anything one essay can state. The Simpsons rose from a comic strip to a thirty second spot on the “Tracy Ullman Show” to the major prime time show that it is today. The creativity of the writers produced a show whose popularity extends to foreign countries. It is this comedic setting that allows the show’s producers to actually point out more serious problems in society today by addressing to moral issues and challenging stereotypes.
Critics of the show claim that it is crude and needs to be put off the air, but I consider The Simpsons to be a show charged with constructive criticism towards our society. It is a clever portrait of the American Dream.