“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..
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?