Critics have misread "The Simpsons." It is pro-family, pro-small town life and loves to mock liberal pietiesby Paul Cantor / June 20, 2000 / Leave a comment
When Senator Charles Schumer visited a New York school last year, he received a civics lesson from an unexpected source. Speaking about school violence, Schumer praised the Brady Bill for its role in preventing gun crime. But a student named Kevin Davis challenged the bill’s effectiveness by citing an example familiar to his classmates but not to the senator: “It reminds me of a Simpsons episode. Homer wants to get a gun but he has been in jail twice and in a mental institution. They label him as ‘potentially dangerous.’ So Homer asks what that means and the gun dealer says: ‘It just means you need an extra week before you can get the gun.'”
The Simpsons is now ten years old, and recently passed The Flintstones to become the longest-running cartoon in American television history. The show has also travelled well; it not only attracts large audiences in Britain and the rest of the English-speaking world, but it has also been dubbed into more than 20 languages. It may seem like pure entertainment, but it evidently helps to shape the way many Americans think. Over the years, the show has taken on many big issues: environmentalism, immigration, gay rights, women in the military, and so on; it also offers some of the most sophisticated satire ever to appear on television.
The Simpsons satirises right and left. The local politician who appears most often, Mayor Quimby, speaks with a Kennedy accent and acts like a Democratic machine politician. But the most sinister political force in the series, the cabal which seems to run the town of Springfield (where the family lives), is portrayed as Republican. On balance, The Simpsons, like most of Hollywood’s output, is anti-Republican. Nevertheless, one of the best political lines came at the Democrats’ expense. When Grandpa Abe Simpson receives money meant for his grandchildren, Bart asks him: “Didn’t you wonder why you were getting cheques for absolutely nothing?” Abe replies: “I figured ‘cos the Democrats were in power again.”
The Simpsons takes up issues we all recognise. Its cartoon characters are more human, more rounded, than the actors in many situation comedies. Above all, the show has created a believable community: Springfield, USA. The Simpsons shows the family as part of this larger community. In fact it offers one of the most important images of the nuclear family in US culture.
With the names taken…