May 17, 2004

A painful admission

You know what? Maybe "The Simpsons" really is just getting worse every year.

I've been a staunch defender of the Simpsons franchise; my arguments tend to be along the lines of: oh, maybe it's not quite the same show it was in its heyday, but it's still damn funny, and it has such a rich tapestry of supporting characters that there's always some new and interesting character interaction to be had.

But...there's still this feeling that instead of deconstructing the history of cartoons (and pop culture in general) and commenting subtly on the real world, the show is now concerned mainly with deconstructing itself and using real world issues as touchstones for one-liners.

Perhaps its inevitable that the former is going to happen in a show with such a long history, especially in a show as dense as "The Simpsons". But what's the excuse for the recent episode that featured a subplot about an activist who believed that childless people shouldn't have to shoulder so much of the tax burden of people with children (by paying for public school upkeep and such). The show made her so over-the-top in her opinions -- such an obviously misguided villain -- that the issue itself was rendered practically null as a source of comedy.

I mean, it's a complex issue. Obviously everyone benefits from having children educated, so they're less likely to become miscreants and more likely to become productive members of society, but does that everyone should contribute an equal amount of money to the cause? I feel pretty sure that the Simpsons of 7 years ago, in addition to tweaking the activist for being selfish (albeit not right away, by making the activists proposals start out reasonable and become more and more ridiculous, instead of kicking in immediately with the absurdities), would have made Marge or some other parent the butt of some jokes, having them called out for assuming that they're just entitled to have other people paying for part of their kids' upkeep.

MARGE: But it benefits everyone to contribute to the schools! You don't want children to grow up to be delinquents, do you?

BART: Ix-nay on the elinquent-day, mom.

Or whatever. The point is, the episodes just aren't very deep nowadays. This is probably due to the fact that Simpsons episodes are almost never about a single thing anymore. (Although, to be fair, when they do stick to one thing -- like the Evita episode -- they usually work very well.) The one-dimensional activist character couldn't really have been any more complex because she wasn't introduced early enough.

It's true I haven't felt this pessimistic about the Simpsons for the whole season, so perhaps I've just happened to watch all the weakest episodes of the year in a row. But I think anyone would be pessimistic after seeing an episode (not the same as the one I've been harping on) which makes a running gag out of a kiss between Homer and Milhouse. [Shudder]

Posted by Francis at 02:28 AM

re: the childfree folks. (

they sound like a pretty good target to me. too bad matt, et al, weren't able to zero in on 'em to your liking. they give me the willies...

Posted by: gotcha at May 17, 2004 11:36 AM

Well, but of course the childfree people are the most militant example of that sort of thinking, and it was rather unbelievable that every childless person in Springfield would immediately agree with the crazy activist. And they're so far from the mainstream that I doubt most people are even aware of them, making them both a poor parody target (because they're not well-known and not especially representative of any widespread movement) and an easy one (because they're extreme).

A good example of childfree craziness is this livejournal thread, in which the psycho moderator of a childfree Yahoo group banned author Poppy Z. Brite from the list for asking a perfectly reasonable question about their philosophy. Adding to the ridiculousness of this is the fact that the Yahoo group was named after Poppy Z. Brite and featured frequent discussion of her work.

Posted by: Francis at May 17, 2004 01:12 PM

It saddens me ...yes, SADDENS ME... that Simpsons fans feel compelled to defend the show. I, for one, have been a Simpsons fan since the very beginning and I feel no shame in saying that The Simpsons I once knew and loved is OVER. Today's Simpsons is a nightmare. You summed up the problem perfectly: "the show is now concerned mainly with deconstructing itself and using real world issues as touchstones for one-liners." How true. It has become a series of weak in-jokes and wisecracks that you would just as likely hear on King of Queens. If the original writers were all dead, they'd be spinning in their graves!

Posted by: Fred at May 17, 2004 08:49 PM