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A Social Commentary On Contemporary Social Issues

Info: 3596 words (14 pages) Essay
Published: 21st Apr 2017 in Film Studies

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If popular, a pictured parody of controversial issues of a society is the most effective approach that target various dilemmas within a society without offending anyone belief, notion, religion, gender and lifestyle. Although satire is usually produced to be humorous, its greater purpose is often constructive social criticism, using jocularity as a weapon. “The Simpsons” series, as a very popular show worldwide, looms to be a brilliant epitomic example of paradoxical events in the American society. The main purpose of the current assay is to delineate the reflectiveness of “The Simpsons” show, representing the contemporary social issues of the American society.

Introduction

The main scope of the current essay is to show that to what extent the American series “The Simpsons” serve as a social commentary on contemporary social issues. To this end, different aspects of “The Simpsons” series will be discussed.

Needless to say that media, in any kind, has gigantic impacts on social behavior casting cultural reorientation and documenting events. It is a double-blade sword, creating true or even false conceptualizations/notions that may lead a target society into one particular direction. That is why it is considered as one of the most pivotal tools for soft-impelling of habits. As a result, many merits can be transposed to something new even though the nature of human behavior is sometimes unpredictable.

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Speaking of cultures, inherently, is a controversial issue and no one can image all aspects of such intricate matte. While movies and premier series may influence social traditions, they are also projection and/or articulation of customs showing transitional changes of people deeds. In fact, in contemporary times, media represent transition/development of cultures within societies and even organizations ranging from the oil fields of Dallas to the law firm in L.A. Law to Al Bundy’s shoe shop in Married (Rhodes 2001). Nonetheless, the question is how precise is such exemplification? And, to be specific, how insightful and reflective would be a television series (e.g., The Simpsons for American culture or EastEnders for British culture”, picturing reality of ordinary lifespans, cultures and organizations within a society?

Presumably, American animated series called “The Simpsons” produced by Matt Groening for the Fox Broadcasting Company is the best paradigm that shows ironic parody lifestyle of an ordinary middle-class American family, whose day-by-day endeavors are the main leitmotif of the series. The stars are not real, but their travesty actions appear to ironically entertainingly magnifying the existing cultural issues, taboos and dilemmas. Hence, having harnessed various published articles and books, the main objective of the current article is to investigate the mirror image of “The Simpsons” reflecting the lifestyle of an American middle-class family from social, educational, political, religious, and economical viewpoints. Since its first debut on December 17, 1989, The Simpsons series broadcasted more than 500 episodes. As a one of the most popular series, it has been announced as the longest-running American sitcom that has been awarded in various festivals, such as Primetime Emmy Awards, Annie Awards, and Peabody Award. In 2000, it has also been elected as the 20th century’s best television series by the Time magazine and also awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Simpsons family

The Simpsons are epitomized by its family including Homer the father, Marge the mother, Bart the brother, Lisa the older sister and Maggie the younger sister. The show is set in an illusory city of Springfield where, there exist various icons such as Springfield Nuclear Power Plant (SNPP), Church, School and Club, etc – in part as parodies of American society. In fact, different episodes picture various aspects of the society, in which each of the characters (i.e., Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie Simpson) aims to confer a message as a sketch comedy program. Each ironic mockery exaggerative persona embellishes one aspect of society to highlight the issue no matter what!

While the Simpsons are rather dysfunctional and many observers of the series confer somewhat detestation feelings, literally, it appears that ultimately there is much popularity of the show. Paradoxically, most families love it as deriving force for a hidden solidarity within families. Considering some archness of the show (e.g., frequent action of Homer when he struggles Bart up to the stage till Bart’s eyes protrude out of his head), it may be considered as an immoral epitome. Marge is the dedicated wife of Homer and mother of three kids. She is an orthodox archetype who represents diligent American moms, trying to keep the family united on the track. In fact, Marge’s aim is to fascinate the family toward some kind of unanimity, yet keeping the individuality of each member of the family. She is the core and soul of the Simpson family. Unlike her husband, Marge does not have enough time to socialize with others since she is too busy taking care of her family. The lumbering fool “Homer” spends plethora of time with his friends at club boozing, and often makes clumsy mistakes! Lack of intellectuality is part of his personality, keeping Homer as paradoxical husband and father who enigmatically acts weird full of provocation and conciliation without thought. Although Homer is not always fully loyal to his family because of selfishness and recklessness, still he is popular as he eventually does the right thing, at which the spirit of an American father is expressed (Rhodes 2001; Scanlan and Feinberg 2000; Todd 2002). The free spirited Bart, who is the oldest child, represents an epitomic mischievous kid provoking troubles everywhere he goes. However, similar to his father’s cases, the story brings about a redemptive moral lesson of life. Unlike Bart, Lisa, the second child, epitomizes a wise kid with future and great expectations. Lisa plays as central wisdom of the Simpson family with acts of clear consciousness of concomitant events. She is a curious grille characterizing new generation of American girls whose desire is to explore as seen for Lisa when she discovers and follows Buddhism and also become vegetarian. Despite being the youngest member of the Simpsons family, Baby Maggie sparks on the family issues by sucking her pacifier. She always show some wisdom and awareness as a baby girl (Rhodes 2001; Scanlan and Feinberg 2000; Todd 2002).

Homer

Homer works at Springfield Nuclear Power Plant, while Marge is a caring housewife who loves her hapless blundering cumbersome husband. Homer’s character is and admixture of clumsiness and provocativeness, who acts without thinking or even based upon weird thoughts. Edward de Bono has articulated six-steps of technical thinking skills as different hats (De Bono 1973), while Homer’ hat of wisdom is always the same, a yellow hat of transitional shallow benefits. Perhaps, he is the one who has the greatest influence on society culture, so that the catchword “D’oh!”, which is interjectionally used bt Homer’s, has been adopted into the English language.

Marge

Homer’s wife, Marge with distinctive blue beehive hairstyle, appears to be a well-meaning and extremely patient matron who cares and have great passion and astuteness, but it seems that she sacrifices herself for her family as a stereotypical mother.

Bart

The only son of Homer and Marge is Bart, ten years old teenage, who is the eldest child in family with rebellious attitude. Bart looms to be very good at floundering. He represents special character of disobedient boy with sarcastic bittering actions no matter what! Having such persona, he has been casted as a bad role model for children. The terminology of “I am Bart Simpson”, who the hell are you?” means Bart doesn’t not care – no rules, no regulations, no jurisdiction (Ott 2003).

Lisa

Lisa Marie Simpson, as older daughter of the family, is eight years old second child of Homer and Marge. Lisa is extremely intelligent, who breaks the boundaries to discover new entities. Lisa plays the baritone saxophone, and has been casted as a vegetarian (season 7), a Buddhist (season 13). Her advocacies for a variety of political events (e.g., Tibetan independence movement) make her as the intellect of family and the series, but as other intelligent individual she suffers from loneliness even inside the family (Simpson 1998).

Inexplicable Admixture as a Family

Avaricious and sometimes covetous Homer the father with caring Marge the mother in combination with the rancorous behaviors of Bart and wisdom of Lisa along with reticent persona of Magi provide such an admixture that needs to be carefully analyzed. Speaking of “The Simpsons” episodes, one should agree that many controversial topics (e.g., gay marriage and religion in public schools) are the subject of the series and it seems that nothing is considered as taboo (Bonne 2002).

Homer’s relationship with his Dad, Abraham Simpson (also called as “Grampa”) shows loss of traditional lifestyle. Intriguingly, Marge Simpson’s older twin sisters, hold a strong dislike for their brother-in-law, Homer. These twins work at the Springfield Department of Motor Vehicles (SDMV). In terms of personality, the two minutes elder sister Selma seems to possess a strong desire for “esprit de corps”, while Patty happens to be the feminist sister who pliably likes to be a lesbian. Marge sisters’ relationship conveys another level of Santa’s Little Helper (dog) and Snowball (cat) also bring about some hidden aspects of their lifestyles.

An Avenue for Nation Views

Inherently, the fact is that “Springfield is nowhere”, but it could be any state, representing whole nation. It is the same for all caricature stars of the show. Homer Simpson or Lisa Simpson could be anyone. This revolutionized series, despite being set in an unknown state, signposts unity of the nation and is fabulous effort to reflect American society overall in each episode. Such representation has attracted many viewers from all over the country. It should be highlighted that the taste of the TV shows may differ in different cities or cultures. While, the viewers in the New York like to follow a how like “Sex and the City”, a show like “The Simpsons” with its unidentified setting can appeal to all Americans (Gray 2007). The Simpsons series is a trajectory of not only American society but also arc of the world federation cultural transitions.

Citizenship, democracy and political apathy

The Simpsons series also exhibit different levels of citizenships. Four main types of complementary citizenships can be recognized in “The Simpsons” series (Lund 2006), as follw:

Party-based public life that can be exemplified by Homer Simpsons

Trust-based public life that can be exemplified by Marge Simpsons

Knowledge-based public life that can be exemplified by Lisa Simpsons

Right-based public life that can be exemplified by Bart Simpsons

These categorizations happen to be successive in time, nonetheless not mutually exclusive, that is to say that none of these four types have entirely subsumed the others though the impression of viewers of the series may differ. It should be evoked that other types of citizenships have been presented during different episodes. Above all is “religion-based public life that can be exemplified by Ned Flanders who is a descent well-meaning good-natured person as one of the few in Springfield town. In fact, such diverse epitomes of citizenships appear to be good representatives of American society that can be considered as symbolic model of democracy which is held in a family yet is a reflection of the whole society. The show combines various viewpoints within a family and also among members of different parties. The show targets political apathy though a self-deprecation method together with a refusal to take subjects seriously. Following are some examples of such transverse articulations:

“An election!? That’s one of those deals where they close the bars isn’t it?”, said –Barney Gumbel.

“Uh, Lisa, the whole reason we have elected officials is so we don’t have to think all the time. Just like that rainforest scare a few years back: our officials saw there was a problem and they fixed it, didn’t they?”, said Homer Simpson.

“Lisa, if you don’t like your job, you don’t strike: you just go in every day and do it really half assed. That’s the American way.”, said Homer Simpson.

“I wish we lived in a place more like the America of yesteryear that only exists in the brains of us Republicans.”, said Ned Flanders.

Presumably, one the most hilarious, yet mirthful, articulation was on Ned Flanders delineation when he was asked by his son Todd Flanders: “Daddy, what do taxes pay for?” Ned Flanders: “Oh, why, everything! Policemen, trees, sunshine! And let’s not forget the folks who just don’t feel like working, God bless ’em!”

In short, politics is a common part of The Simpsons show, which literally exhibits some boundaries of the polarized American politics, even though there exist some voiced oppositions to the show per se. For example, the former Republican President of USA, Mr. George H. W. Bush condemned the show at the Annual Convention of the National Religious Broadcasters by articulating “we need a nation closer to The Waltons than The Simpsons, an America that rejects the incivility, the tide of incivility, and the tide of intolerance” (Armstrong 2005; Turner 2004). In fact, upon a liberal slant of the show, this was joked about in the episode “The Simpsons 138th Episode Spectacular,” in which reference was made to “hundreds of radical right-wing messages inserted into every show by creator Matt Groening. It worth to remind that the “138th Episode Spectacular”, written by Jon Vitti and directed by David Silverman, was a parody of the communal preparation among live-action series to produce clip shows. This episode, as the most watched episodes of the season, has received positive reviews with a Nielsen (viewer/audience measurement system) rating of 9.5 and a Nielsen rank of 48.

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Education

Several reviews and books have been published on The Simpsons series and education (Luccasen and Thomas 2010; Gray 2005). It seems It has been stated that The Simpsons is a carrier for creating discourse in particular among young undergraduate students. While three levels of jokes happen to be presented on the show as: a) elite humor, b) nonelite humor, and c) obscure references, the breadth of scholarship on the looms to be indicative of the show’s place in popular culture (White and Holman 2011). The multiplicity of the fans proves that The Simpsons typifies the universal appeal of satire. Accordingly, its followers include political elites and ordinary people from vastly different backgrounds. For example, Tony Blair is a big fan of the show, and guest starred as himself in an episode “while a sitting head-of-state” (Woodcock 2008). Conservative constitutional scholar Harvey Mansfield has supported the show by articulating that “The Simpsons is the best thing on television”. Hence, The Simpsons series appear to be able to connect to the elites representing various issues of scholar world mainly by Lisa Simpson.

The Simpsons: Hunger Games or Against It

Whether we like it or not, Homer Simpson explains our postmodern identity crisis (Bybee and Overbeck 2001). The Simpsons show (Roberts 2010). Like the “Hunger Games”, with loss of identity we will just survive and eventually will realize the transitional reorientation/modification of the society. Having used the “militant” irony or sarcasm, The Simpsons show often professes to approve of (or at least accept as natural) the very things that are target for the attack. While the Hunger Game may happen within the societies for many reasons, the state of satires in a given show such as The Simpsons may reflect the state of civil liberties and human rights. Needless to say to fight the illiteracy in any kind that may lead society toward “Huger Games”, in which any criticism of a political/religious system is suppressed, satires will provide an open door for clarification.

The Simpsons and Religion

The Simpsons series critically show the contemporary religious issue in the American society (Bowler 1996; Satkin 2002; Lewis 2002). For example, the episode, “The Father, the Son and the Holy Guest Star”, Springfield’s only known pastor, makes a Unitarian reference when Homer Simpson asks if he needs to “wail on a few Unitarians” to become Catholic. Speaking of religious issues in the show, the most religious characters happen to be Ned Flanders and Reverend Lovejoy. In fact, Flanders appears to be the most conservative Christian with little tolerance to other believes (e.g., pagans, Jews, Hindus and homosexuals), expressing that the other believers are all epicureans and whoever pursue such notions will directly go to the Hell. On the other hand, Reverend Timothy “Tim” Lovejoy, who is the preacher of the Western Branch of American Reform Presbylutheranism church that almost everyone in Springfield attends, represents different character. The show makes ironies on almost all religions, but the Islam and Muslims seem not to be the target of the show! For example, in one of the episodes, the Hindu god Vishnu is shown as sitting in the center of the earth and controlling the world with different controlling devices, likewise it is the same for the Hindu god Ganesh, mostly by Homer when interacting with Apu.

Social Commentary on Controversial Issues

The Simpsons show seems to be also a gay-friendly animated sitcom (Padva 2008). Given the fact that a truly subversive gay representational practice must contest not only the gay subject’s experience of heterosexist persecution but also their experience of patriarchal privilege, Jackson discussed that certain gay male cultural practices that transvalue deviance as a positive mode of self-identification contain at least an implicit critique of the normative male ideal (and the dominant heterosexual sex/gender system) from which the gay male deviates (Jackson Jr 1993).

However, The Simpsons series happened to flash the gay marriage and thus spark outrage among conservative groups in America, who are against it. In a long-running show, the show embarked on some gay marriages despite the fact that Brent Bozell III, the president of the Parents Television Council, blasted that at a time when the public mood is overwhelmingly against gay marriage, any show that promotes gay marriage is deliberately bucking the public mood (Block 2007).

Controversial Storylines: an Example

In a study, in order to test the effectiveness of using an episode of The Simpsons in an introductory sociology classes, students’ attitudes (N=176) have been tested toward lesbians and gay men before and after viewing the episode titled “Homer’s Phobia.” The participating students were asked to identify stereotypes about gay men and lesbians. It was found that viewing the problems encountered by Homer Simpson’s negative approaches toward a gay character on the show augmented acceptance of homosexuals amongst freshmen students. In fact, the use of the episode of the cartoon happened to generate a greater depth of discussion about the consequences of homophobia and discrimination of lesbians and gay men (Miller and Thornton 2009).

Concluding Remarks

In the history of mankind, presumably, there has always been a conflict between engagement and disengagement on controversial issues of societies. To highlight social/political issues, yet avoiding disconceptuality and vagueness, some artists capitalize on the grotesque parody and jest with teasing. The Simpsons series is epitomic stereotype that targets controversial issues of the American society to show hurdles as satire. The spectrum of the show differs in terms of “degrees of biting” as ranging from satire proper at the hot-end, and “kidding” at the violet-end. Given that teasing is the reactionary side of the comic, The Simpsons may not be taken seriously as it limits itself to a shallow parody of caricature appearance. But, The Simpsons series exploits satire to go against untouchable issues such as gay marriage. Having subversive characteristics, the show seems to carry a deep moral dimension targeting various issues to bring about possible loos of identity in a humored buffoonery manner with little censor/exclusion. This side of the show should be highlighted by TV critiques.

 

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