Simpsons and parody

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Simpsons and parody

  1. 1. The Anti-Show: The Simpsons How television shapes our lives, reading The Simpsons like a text, And why members of SS388 care.
  2. 2. Television and the American Public <ul><li>Current estimates place the percentage of homes in this country with at least one television at 99%, and “most homes (nearly 70%) now have two or more TV sets, and nearly 28 percent have three or more,” according to Nielsen Media research. </li></ul><ul><li>“ Television is by now ubiquitous in virtually every cultural format and venue in the United States. It takes shape as familial hearth, as the illuminator/corruptor of children, as the paradoxical site of sedentary activism, as the locus of new, multivalent consciousness. It is a source of language, virtually a contemporary phrasebook, and certifies human experience in contexts ranging from sports stadiums to personal spaces where camcorder cassette tapes are played on personal screens. Every sign of it, from a T-shirt front to a refrigerator magnet reinforce the idea of the TV environment, one extending from the Magic Screen on “Pee-Wee’s Playhouse,” to the video apparatus (video camera, VCR, big screen monitor)…” to Disney theme parks, where you can walk through Cinderella’s castle. “Everywhere is television ratified as it is reified in contemporary culture.” (Tichi, 1991, p. 209) </li></ul>
  3. 3. Electronic Hearth: Creating an American Television Culture (1991) <ul><li>Television is an environment, a space, which is “an encompassing surrounding” which, like all environments, “cannot speak for itself and must be spoken for and about.” </li></ul><ul><li>Because we will be speaking about-and for-television, the speaker (we, as a group) become part of the environment, not merely occupants. We have the power to intervene within the television environment, as we have been shaped by this environment. </li></ul><ul><li>Fifty years have passed since the introduction of television, and the generation now reaching adulthood “have no memory of a world without such electronic definition” (Wallace, 1998). These “second generation” viewers have a different relationship with the television environment than their older counterparts, and many can scarcely remember the time before cable services and remote control devices. </li></ul><ul><li>We-members of an accepting television culture-are reared on “the media virus,” meaning that we relate highly to images and are comfortable with the perpetuation of the media virus- ie., the Oklahoma City Bombing, and the “Murphy Brown/Dan Quayle motherhood controversy, both of which are examples of the spontaneous virus generation and communication. </li></ul>
  4. 4. What is a text? <ul><li>Any instance of living language that is playing some part in a context or situation, we shall call a text… The important thing about a nature of a text is that, although when we write it down it looks as thought it is made of words and sentences, it is really made of meanings… The text is a product in the sense that it is an output, something that can be recorded and studied, having a certain construction that can be presented in systematic terms. Text is a form of exchange; and the fundamental form of a text is that of dialogue, of interaction between speakers. </li></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Halliday and Hasan, 1989, pp. 10-11 </li></ul></ul></ul></ul></ul>
  5. 5. The Anti-Show <ul><li>From its inception as an animated-short on the Tracey Ullman Show in 1988 to its current 15-year stint as the longest-running primetime animated series in television history, The Simpsons has always represented a sort of anti-show, spoofing, challenging, and collapsing the traditional codes, structures, and formulas of network television… “For many viewers raised in an image-saturated culture and attuned to the well-worn formulas of television, shows that were silent about their status as representations came to be seen as fake and simple minded, while shows that reveled in their fakery seemed somehow more real and sophisticated” (Pinsky, “Creating” 17. </li></ul>
  6. 6. The Cosby’s vs The Simpsons <ul><li>For example, the second series of The Simpsons was put on Thursday nights opposite The Cosby Show, which just a season earlier had finished in the Nielsen ratings as the number two top-rated series (McNeil 1159). The Simpson family quickly became television’s leading anti-family; utterly dysfunctional, they mocked TV’s idealistic families of earlier decades, its nostalgic throwbacks of the 1980s, and its convenient, simplistic resolution of narrative conflicts. </li></ul><ul><li>As sociologist Todd Gitlin is quoted as saying, “it was becoming harder to get an audience to believe in family fairyland.” </li></ul>
  7. 7. Self Awareness <ul><li>The Simpsons are self aware: </li></ul><ul><li>They are reflexively fake- they mention their awareness that they are images and representations for which there is no external reality. </li></ul><ul><li>Groening claims to have colored the characters bright yellow “because it made it look as if the TV needed adjusting” (Billen 50). </li></ul><ul><li>The Simpsons are hyperreal, gesturing first and foremost to itself, creating a semiotic circularity that imubes images with their own veracity and truth. </li></ul>
  8. 8. Identity and Interpretation <ul><li>Because viewers come to TV with unique experiences and interpretive strategies, they leave with different sets of meaning as well. To the extent that Bart, Homer and Lisa are all characters on the same series, there are undoubtedly points of intersection and commonality between them. </li></ul><ul><li>Since the 1990 premiere, the show has consistently attracted grade-schoolers, Gen-Exers, and adults alike (Erickson 451, Owen 64, McNeil 756). Above and beyond age, consider this: “According to Fox Television, 6 million of the show’s 15.4 million weekly viewers are women…. And The Simpsons is one of the few TV shows watched in large numbers by whites, African-Americans, and Hispanics.” </li></ul><ul><li>Why do you suppose this is? What brings-and holds-such a large audience of such a wide mix of viewers? Which other current shows do you believe might attract a similar viewing population? </li></ul>
  9. 9. Getting to know the characters <ul><li>In only the 1 ½ minute credits at the opening of each show, viewers are immediately able to learn a great deal about the family. </li></ul><ul><li>Bart is always in trouble. Each week it is for something different, and we see him at the board writing out punishment lines which sometimes reflect the broader culture (“It’s potato, not potatoe” which addressed Vice President Dan Quayle’s infamous misspelling, or “I did not see Elvis.” Other times Bart’s punishment addresses some behind-the-scenes aspect of the show, as in “I am not a 32 year old woman.” Or, the line may reflect the specific show directly, as in “The “cheers” gang is not a real gang,” or </li></ul><ul><li>Our viewers are not pathetic sexless food tubes </li></ul><ul><li>Salt water does not chase the thirsties away </li></ul><ul><li>Women aren’t from Venus and men aren’t from Mars </li></ul><ul><li>Everyone on TV is better than you </li></ul><ul><li>Our Universities are not “hotbeds” for anything </li></ul><ul><li>Bullets do not bounce off of fat guys </li></ul><ul><li>I will not bury the new kid </li></ul><ul><li>The majority of Bart’s punsihments reflect some terrible act that he has committed, such as “High explosives and school don’t mix” or else some indication that Bart has challenged the authority of the school, as in “I will not expose the ignorance of the faculty” or “this punishment is not boring and pointless.” Each week, Bart’s identity as a troublemaker is reestablished </li></ul>
  10. 10. Lisa Simpson <ul><li>Although she is not a troublemaker in the same sense that Bart is, Lisa is also shown to have her own difficulties with school. Where Bart’s problems center on his misbehaving in class, Lisa’s are rooted in the fact that she is more talented than her classmates, and perhaps the faculty. If her superiority can be contained, Lisa does well in school, but Mr. Largo kicks her out of the band room for being unable to restrain herself to the level of the other members of the band. The message for both Bart and Lisa is the same: Conform, or else be punished. </li></ul>
  11. 11. Discussion <ul><li>In many ways, sitcoms are more about the journey and not about the destination. In other words, what happens in the sitcom-making us laugh-instead of its resolution-giving us a moral-is more important. Do you think this applies to The Simpsons? </li></ul>
  12. 12. Discussion <ul><li>Is The Simpsons a parody (mocking existing form) or a satire (humor criticizing existing institutions with the hope of improvement) or both? If so, what is it parodying and/or satirizing? </li></ul><ul><li>Are these effective forms of parody/satire? </li></ul><ul><li>Who does The Simpsons appeal to? Do you think that’s the aim of its creators? </li></ul>
  13. 13. <ul><li>How does making The Simpsons a cartoon affect its ability to make us laugh and perhaps deliver a message? What would change about the television show if it had live actors? </li></ul>

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