Home > Critical Thinking, Current Affairs, Dystopia, Economy, Musings, Reason, Secular Religions, Skepticism, Technology, Thoughts on Economics > “The Simpsons” as a Documentary of Increasing Social Cynicism

“The Simpsons” as a Documentary of Increasing Social Cynicism

As the longest running American sitcom “The Simpsons” has its collection of fans and detractors. While there are those who believe that it is ‘not as fresh as it used to be’ there is little doubt that the show still has more than enough viewers and relevancy to remain afloat. But what makes this show relevant and engaging- after almost 23 years and 500 episodes?

Make a guess..
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It, more than any other show on network TV, explores the deep and increasing social cynicism prevalent in developed countries.

Network TV shows were, and still largely are, designed around validating and celebrating the status quo. In such shows- government agencies are always peopled by smart and competent people (Law and Orders, CSIs, X-Files), families always have textbook-style dysfunctions (every single sitcom), unusually attractive professionals (ER, Alley McBeal, Boston Legal to House) or are full of witty 20-30 somethings with lovable dysfunctions living in coastal cities (Seinfeld, Friends to Big Bang Theory). Occasionally you have semi-realistic but overtly sanctimonious crap such as ‘my so-called life’ to ‘the wire’.

The Simpsons differed, and still does so, from every other mainstream sitcom in three fundamental ways.

1. It lacks people who can be easily pigeonholed. While Homer is the official buffoon, he has far more redeeming characteristics than your average TV dad. Lisa for all her goody two-shoes act is often shown as an elitist, mean and competitive bitch. You almost feel sorry for characters such as Smithers, Moe and Skinner. Even somebody like Mr. Burns has his moments of redemption. The show is therefore far closer to reality in that its characters are not too rigidly typecast.

2. It mercilessly exposes the dark sides of every occupation and institution it examines. It is equally cynical about so-called ‘respectable’ occupations such as teachers, scientists, doctors, pastors to the more questionable ones such as lawyers and CEOs. In a similar vein, it is very critical of institution ranging from schools, universities, churches, police to corporations and elected government officials.

3. The characters in that show feel human and worthy of empathy. When is the last time you felt a connection to the outrageous and over the top characters and antics see in shows such as South Park, Robot Chicken, Family Guy etc? I cannot resist pointing out the irony that the most show with the most ‘human’ characters on network TV today is the one with live human characters.

In my opinion, it is the mixture of these three attributes that has given “The Simpsons” its longevity and popularity. It is probably the most accurate documentation of what living in the USA has been like for the last 25 odd years.

What do you think? Comments?

  1. Michel
    February 22, 2012 at 5:14 pm

    The waning novelty is akin to Saturday Night Live. It’s still on because… well, it’s Saturday Night Live. King of the Hill was pretty good, though very regional. The prevalence of comedy (sarcasm, satire, etc.) shows says a lot about overt honesty in this society.

  2. February 22, 2012 at 11:29 pm

    when is the last time you felt empathy to Family Guy….

    I dunno, diablo, thought you’d have a mancrush on Quagmire….

    yup the Simpsons, also the Batman cartoon, that was great and Ren and Stimpy-remember that?

    Surprised the inmalafide white power nutsacks haven’t compared you to Apoo yet…

  3. Spike Gomes
    February 23, 2012 at 12:07 am

    stoner:

    That would require a sense of humor, a modicum of wit and awareness of culture outside of shitty Scandinavian heavy metal and their half-read copy of “European Culture for Dummies”.

  4. RX-78 Alex
    February 23, 2012 at 7:58 am

    Actually watched a few new episodes recently to check on it’s status.

    While it surprisingly has a few occasionally funny moments, overall it is currently suffering from trying too hard to be funny (i.e. most episodes have sequences consisting of multiple rapid-fire jokes within the span of a minute that come off as desperate and pathetic) and having such a blatantly Liberal and misandrist agenda as to be impossible to stomach for long. You can play an anti-drinking game off of “take a shot every time you see a positive male role model” and not even get buzzed during the course of an entire episode.)

    The show jumped the shark roughly around the early 2000’s (when there where episodes clearly trying to keep up with Family Guy’s brand of comedy), and has been coasting on it’s legacy rather than quality ever since.

  5. Dreamer
    February 23, 2012 at 8:25 am

    I think what you said is true. To the first ever shrinking proportion of episodes that was last around the 10th season. The seasons since have given up continuity, 3-dimensional characters, sympathetizable character development, and well this picture..

    http://digg.com/newsbar/topnews/The_Simpsons_Then_and_Now_PIC

    As said above, it been coasting on its original legacy ever since.

  6. Ghost
    February 23, 2012 at 9:36 am

    A couple years ago I started buying the DVD sets. If you ever want to see something interesting, get the first two or three seasons (whether DVD or streaming) and just go on an old Simpsons binge. It’s amazing to see it again twenty or so years later and see how great it really was. The show should’ve been put out of its misery about 10 years ago.

  7. Ted
    February 23, 2012 at 3:10 pm

    Say you discovered a fantastic restaurant in 1990, where the meals and service put all their competitors to shame. You decided from that first meal to dine there at least 20 times a year. Say you keep up that routine for 20+ years. During that time, the chef has changed a couple of times, and obviously, some nights there will be better than others.

    That is what The Simpsons has managed to achieve. It helped launch a fourth broadcast network, as opposed to being relegated to cable niche like Cartoon Network. I admit I’m biased, and I mostly watch it on Hulu because I do not have time on Sunday evenings. But even episodes which did not seem that good initially, such as Ralph Wiggum running for president, get better as time goes by.

    South Park may be edgier, but the characters are not real. They are clearly the voices of Parker & Stone. When you consider the number of distinct characters on The Simpsons, from the family themselves to minor bits such Hans Moleman, it makes the half-hearted efforts of live actor shows look even more timid and undaring.

  8. February 23, 2012 at 4:34 pm

    You say The Simpsons are iconoclasts… I agree. The Simpsons are the documentary of social cynicism because they’re like porn: you watch soft porn, you get tired of it then you start watching hardcore; then …ad aeternum.

    But there’s a problem, the simpsons are still the cinicysm of the status quo: They can bash everything, kill gods and icons but they are not going to change anything… You can watch all the porn you want and you can enjoy the inocuous fap, but you’ll never stop being a wanker.

  9. February 24, 2012 at 11:55 am

    “The Simpsons are unfunny!”

    There’s an intereesting explanation for that.

    Simpsons started during the era of broadcast television; one of it’s main features, compared to other sitcoms, was how it made fun of pop culture. At the most, other sitcoms would reference celebrities, Simpsons had teeth in its ridicule.

    Then in the early Aughts, we hit the internet age. Television expanded to 50+ channels for the regular household (compare to the 12 that most of us had back in the eighties). All of a sudden that common culture that they used to ridicule… evaporated.

    Now, we have fragmented into different interest groups. Occasionally something will make it big enough for us all to recognize – Twilight, the new Batman – but more often than not, if it doesn’t interest you then you’er not aware of it. For me, that’s Spiderman; I found the movies utterly dull, and only watched the first one. Or Snookie – I only learned what a Snookie was last month, because Jersey Shore irritates me to much to even find out what it is.

    Without this common, broadcast TV culture, Simpsons lacked the material to do their broad-based comedy, and have to grasp at cultural straws.

    The writing and humour is still there – it just doesn’t have the mass audience to rely on.

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