Saturday, April 12, 2008

Wherefore The Simpsons?

Here's something that some people won't like to hear: dumb people don't like The Simpsons.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that you're dumb if you don't like the show. I'm not even really saying that all smart people do like it. It's just that in my experience, usually when I meet somebody who I generally think of as being dumb, chances are good that they don't like the show. What's usually funny about this is that they themselves refer to the show as being "dumb." Why should this be?

Before attempting to answer this, I should attempt to get out of the way that when I speak of the show, I'm mainly talking about the first eight or ten seasons. They're on season 205 or something like that now, so don't go watching the new episodes hoping for the greatness of which I speak. There are some decent ones here and there, but it's been sagging for a few years now. The movie was pretty good though, so that might be worth your while.

I don't think that I'm being to egotistical when I say that I'm a reasonably intelligent person. Not that doing well in school is the deciding factor, but it's safe to say that if you do well in school that you're not a total useless dumbass. I also would like to think that the very nature of my job speaks to a certain level of intelligence. I would also imagine that I have generally good grammar (with the occasional typo) on these blogs would say something as well. That said, The Simpsons is my favorite show. When I think of the people I know who also love the show, they're all educated, intelligent people as well. I haven't done any kind of scientific study of this, but usually when I meet somebody who I think is really smart, I almost always feel free to make an allusion to the show, knowing that he or she will probably pick up on it.

I realize that there are some people out there who don't really watch it who are finding this hard to believe. They think that it's all lowbrow "eat my shorts, man" humor. Basically, some of you might be figuring that it's all a bunch of sight gags and gross-out humor. Now, the show certainly does all of these things. However, what makes it brilliant is that it operates on several levels at once. Take, for instance, the following exchange between Homer and Lisa shortly after the town rallied to have an anti-bear patrol:

Homer: Well, there's not a bear in sight. The Bear Patrol is sure doing its job.
Lisa: That's specious reasoning, Dad.
Homer: Thank you, sweetie.
Lisa: Dad, what if I were to tell you that this rock keeps away tigers.
Homer: Uh-huh, and how does it work?
Lisa: It doesn't work. It's just a stupid rock.
Homer: I see.
Lisa: But you don't see any tigers around, do you?
Homer: Lisa, I'd like to buy your rock.

Why would a dumb person not find this funny? First of all, they'd have a hard time with the word "specious." More than that though, it takes a certain understanding of logic and logical fallacies to understand the flaw in Homer's thinking. Even moreso, it's easy to recognize this sort of flawed logic in everyday conversation. I mean, isn't this basically the same reasoning that a lot of Bush supporters use for continuing to support him? I'll give you a hint: yes, it's the same.

I think that dumb people feel threatened by the show. It uses a lot of big words. It makes references to history, art, and literature that an ignorant person wouldn't get. Dumb people don't like being reminded that they're dumb.

I'll tell you something else, it's a hell of a lot better than Family Guy. At the very least, it will stand the test of time much better. I have to admit, Family Guy has had me cracking up before, but the standard criticism that it gets it pretty much true: the jokes are interchangeable and have little or nothing to do with the narrative drive of the story. Family Guy is a series of gags, whereas The Simpsons actually has some genuine human pathos in it. Not only that, but the characters on The Simpsons are more well-defined than the characters on most TV shows and pretty much any romantic comedy that's coming out today.

On a more personal, subjective note, one of the things that I, and my friends, like so much about the show is that there's definitely a lot to relate to for those of us with a slightly skewed perspective on the world. For instance, there was an episode with a throwaway gag where Homer started eating a huge hero sandwich that was several feet long. He was determined to finish it, even though it was taking several days and it was too big to put the leftovers in the fridge. Even when it started to turn, and some mushrooms even started to grow off the bread, he was still determined to finish it. Eventually, upon his wife's urging (and prompting from food poisoning), he threw it in the trash, only to take it back out again. Of course, I've never done anything like this before, but I definitely have an obsessive/compulsive side to my personality. Ask my wife - once I start a project, I don't want to stop. Obviously, Homer's situation with the sandwich is over-the-top, but it tells a certain truth.

An example that two of my friends, who are slightly self-loathing, relate to is the one where Homer feels bad about himself and eats flour right out of the bag. Marge asks him why he isn't eating his sugar, like usual. Homer's response: "I don't deserve sugar." Heh...that makes me smile too. I guess I have a bit of self-loathing in me as well - at least, enough to get that.

So, if you don't like the show, it doesn't necessarily mean that you're dumb. Be careful though. You just might be.

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