Case study: The Simpsons episode, post-modernism


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Case study: The Simpsons episode, post-modernism

  1. 1. TV case study series: The Simpsons Season 17, episode 19, "GirlsJust Want to Have Sums". By Hannah Alley
  2. 2. About The Simpsons  an American animated sitcom created by Matt Groening for the Fox Broadcasting Company. The series is a satirical parody of a middle class American lifestyle epitomized by its dysfunctional family of the same name, which consists of Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa, and Maggie. The show is set in the fictional town of Springfield and parodies American culture, society, television, and many aspects of the human condition.
  3. 3. What about it is post modern?  Narrative-speaking, the programme follows a non-linear narrative creating confusions over time and space. This is an extremely post-modern trait, and is very typical of comedy programs, like Family Guy for example. This trait is made obvious to the audience when a character may state something like “oh don’t worry, it’ll all be alright by the next episode”, making the audience feel as if the characters are almost aware that they are in a show.
  4. 4.  Furthermore, the programme uses simulacra and stimulation through using a cartoon within the actual cartoon, called “Itchy & Scratchy”. In effect, this show that the two children of The Simpsons family watch, is a stimulation of the “real world” of Springfield – essentially a hyper reality inside a hyper reality. It is also interesting to note that “Itchy & Scratchy” uses nonconsequential violence just like the cartoon “Tom & Jerry” and almost seems an exact replicate of the cartoon, which is ironic.
  5. 5.  Another postmodern trait of The Simpsons is that the programme seems to not be localised in any other region rather than America, nor any other period of time than the post modern era. As well as this, there is no sign of progress being made within the children in school. For example, Maggie is forever sucking her dummy, and the audience never actually witness her growing, such as learning to walk or talk, etc.. Every single character’s image stays stagnant.
  6. 6.  Lastly, the programme constantly makes fun of issues in the real world which is a decline of the meta-narrative, being a frequent theme throughout. Fun is poked at religion, the government, social issues and more, with light consistently being made out of any situation.
  7. 7. About the “Girls Just Want to Have Sums” episode  Harvard principle Skinner is fired for offending feminists by suggesting differences in performance in math/science may be due to innate differences between men and women. He is then replaced by women’s educational expert, Melanie, who demands that the males and females in Harvard are separated immediately, and the audience see females treated differently from now on.
  8. 8. What about this episode is postmodern?  “What is the source of this illusion, or as I call it, the biggest lie ever told?” Principle Skinner states as he stands on stage, speaking out to all of the feminist women before him, who do not look very pleased. There is an instant display of lack of seriousness and irony in this clip, as the Principle of the school is mocking quite a serious topic (feminism). This is a very post-modern trait as it is making light of political issues that do happen in the real world.  Then, a woman in a pink blazer stands up and shouts “you’re a worse version of Hitler” as she ironically points her hand out at Skinner, almost as if she is mimicking Hitler. The irony is reinforced here – the episode is beginning to look like a parody, as the topic of Hitler is very serious and a piece of history is being mocked. Also, another crucial post modern aspect of this is that it is intertextual by referencing to Hitler.
  9. 9. Stereotypes and mocking of serious subjects  Then, Skinner states “please, believe me I understand the problems of women” as he laughs and stands to the side in a flowery, pink dress. The idea that The Simpsons are representing a stereotype of females here, to all wear floral dresses, is very post modern as again, this is a sensitive subject that especially feminists, would not like to set their eyes upon. The mocking of serious subjects returns yet again when a child shouts “ha ha, Skinner’s a tranny”. Of course, many transsexual individuals could feel deeply affected by this sort of mention as these “new” subjects are not usually spoken about, but it is apparent that the modernity of this program really does push boundaries.
  10. 10. Pastiche  When the next scene presents the new Principle, Melanie, teaching her new class of females, there is an element of pastiche conveyed. It is interesting to note that the previous scenery was very traditional and sensible in the school’s assembly hall, which suddenly switches to an “airy-fairy”, feminine classroom suddenly full of purple pufé chairs, flowers and soft-lighting. This represents the very post modern merging of looks/genres.
  11. 11. Stereotype  “How do numbers make you feel?” Principle Melanie passionately asks a student after she switches on a light that makes fraction symbols and numbers float around the room. This presents another stereotype of females to constantly think with their emotions instead of thinking rationally and practically, and being “soft” and “girly”. The fact that The Simpsons confidently represents this stereotype is very post modern.
  12. 12. What can we conclude from this?  Overall, it seems that The Simpsons has a general liberal attitude to serious matters like Feminism, which can be taken very seriously by many individuals. I felt that this whole episode made light of serious issues and was very ironic and mocking, which of course, is very post modern.