I Didn't Do It: How The Simpsons Affects Kids
The Simpsons is one of Americas most popular television shows. It ranks
as the number one television program for viewers under eighteen years of age.
However, the ideals that The Simpsons conveys are not always wholesome,
sometimes not even in good taste. It is inevitable that The Simpsons is
Matt Groening took up drawing to escape from his troubles in 1977. At
the time, Groening was working for the L.A. Reader, a free weekly newspaper. He
began working on Life in Hell, a humorous comic strip consisting of people with
rabbit ears. The L.A. Reader picked up a copy of his comic strip and liked what
they saw. Life in Hell gradually became a common comic strip in many free
weeklies and college newspapers across the country. It even developed a cult
status. (Varhola, 1)
Life in Hell drew the attention of James L. Brooks, producer of works
such as Taxi, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and Terms of Endearment. Brooks
originally wanted Groening to make an animated pilot of Life in Hell. Groening
chose not to do so in fear of loosing royalties from papers that printed the
strip. Groening presented Brooks with an overweight, balding father, a mother
with a blue beehive hairdo, and three obnoxious spiky haired children. Groening
intended for them to represent the typical American family "who love each other
and drive each other crazy". Groening named the characters after his own family.
His parents were named Homer and Margaret and he had two younger sisters named
Lisa and Maggie. Bart was an anagram for "brat". Groening chose the last name
"Simpson" to sound like the typical American family name. (Varhola, 2)
Brooks decided to put the 30 or 60 second animations on between skits on
The Tracy Ullman Show on the unsuccessful Fox network. Cast members Dan
Castellaneta and Julie Kavner did the voices of Homer and Marge. Yeardley Smith
(later to star in Herman's Head) did the voice of Lisa. Nancy Cartwright did
the voice of Bart. Cartwright previously supplied the voices for many cartoons,
including Galaxy High, Fantastic Max, Richie Rich, Snorks, Pound Puppies, My
Little Pony, and Glo-Friends. Tracy Ullman later added Cartwright to her cast.
(Dale and Trich, 11)
Brooks, Groening, and Sam Simon, Tracy Ullman's producer, wanted to turn
the Simpson family into their own show. The Fox network was looking for
material to appeal to younger viewers. The only show they had that drew a young
audience was Married With Children. To Fox's pleasure, The Simpsons saved the
network from near failure. (Varhola, 3)
On December 17, 1989, The Simpsons got their break. The Christmas
special, "Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire" aired. (Dale and Trich, 19)
In the episode, Bart got a tattoo, much to Marge's dislike. She
quickly spent all of the family's Christmas money to remove Bart's tattoo with a
laser. At the same time, Homer, still on his morning coffee break at 4:00 in
the afternoon, learns that he will not receive a Christmas bonus. When he
learns that Marge is relying on the money for Christmas, he decides that he will
do the Christmas shopping for the year. He quickly buys Marge panty hose, Bart
paper, Lisa crayons, and Maggie a dog toy. When he realizes that he is not
doing very well, he gets a second job as a mall Santa for the extra money. On
the way home from work, he steals a Christmas tree. The next day at the mall,
Bart sits on his Dad's lap and pulls down his beard. Homer responds by choking
Bart and making him help make Christmas better. On Christmas Eve, Homer
receives his check, $13.70 for over 40 hours work. Homer takes Bart to the dog
track as a final chance for Christmas money. They discovered a gem in the third
race, Santa's Little Helper. How could this dog loose on Christmas Eve? The
odds were 99 to 1, they were going to be rich. Homer put all of his money on
Santa's Little Helper, and to his horror, he never even finished. As Homer and
Bart were scouring the parking lot for winning tickets into the night, they saw
the track manager throw out a dog. It was not just any dog, it was Santa's
Little Helper. When Bart and Homer came home to their worried family, they had
a good Christmas after all. Now they had a dog. (Pond)
"Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire" was not the typical Christmas story.
It dealt with body art, sleeping in the work place, sibling rivalry, stealing a
Christmas tree, a misbehaved son, and gambling. Although it was unorthodox, it
was very successful. The Fox network decided to air it again on Christmas Eve.
(Dale and Trich, 19)
In a little over a month, The Simpsons made it's debut as a weekly show,
"Bart the Genius" was the first regular episode. In the middle of a feared
assessment test, Bart switches his test with the completed one of Nelson Prince,
Class Nerd. Bart and his parents are called into Principal Seymour Skinner's
office where they are told that Bart has a 216 IQ. (Homer thought is was 912.)
Skinner requests that Bart attends The Enriched Learning Center for Children.
Suddenly, Homer takes a liking to his son. They joke together, play ball
together, embarrass Marge at an opera together. ("Toreador, oh don't spit on
the floor. Use the cuspidor. That's what it's for." Bart sings along with the
opera Carmen.) Soon at Bart's old school, Springfield Elementary School, Bart's
graffiti is roped off and tagged, "The Principal. By Bart Simpson. IQ 216."
Bart's friend no longer like him, they refer to him as Poindexter. The kids at
his new school trick him into giving up his lunch. In frank, Bart is miserable.
Then, after turning himself green in an uneducated science experiment, Bart
reveals to his new principal that he cheated on the test. That night, as Homer
is helping Bart clean himself off, Bart tells Homer the same. Homer instantly
transforms into a murderous rampage again. The episode ends with Bart locking
himself in his room and Homer trying to knock down the door so he can tear Bart
into pieces. (Vitti)
Soon, Simpsons merchandise was all over America. Every kid wanted an
"Underachiever and Proud of It, Man" or an "I'm Bart Simpson, Who the Hell Are
You?" shirt. Hats could be seen everywhere that had Bart dressed like a devil
saying "Go For It, Dude!" or with Homer, his arms open, lunging forward saying
"Why You Little." The most popular shirt was a family picture with Homer
choking Bart. During the first week of school in 1990, two thirds of the sixth
graders in America wore Simpsons paraphernalia. (Dale and Trich, 43)
As the popularity of The Simpsons grew, so did parents' fears. To their
horror, Bart Simpson became a role model. "Aye Carumba!" was a popular
expression among kids. Almost anything a child did wrong was attributed to
"last Sunday's Simpsons." (Dale and Trich, 45)
Bad ideas continued to be broadcast into kids' minds. In the third
episode, a baby-sitter robbed the Simpson household of most of it's belongings.
In the fourth episode, Homer caused a nuclear accident, got fired, and attempted
suicide. Bart stole the head off of the statue of Jebidiah Springfield,
Springfield's founder in the sixth episode. In the eighth episode, Bart took a
picture of Homer with an exotic dancer and distributed them to the entire town.
Marge had an affair in the ninth episode. Homer stole cable, and almost
everything else imaginable in the fifteenth episode. (Groening, 37)
The Simpsons is often viewed as one of the biggest threats to
Christianity. The Simpson family goes to church on a regular basis, but Bart and
Homer loath it. A typical Sunday School conversation is as follows: Child:
"Will my dog, Fluffy go to heaven?"
Sunday School Teacher: "No"
Other Child: "How about my cat?"
Teacher: "No, Heaven is only for people."
Bart: "What if my leg gets gangrene and has to be amputated? Will it be
waiting for me in heaven?
Bart: "What about a robot with a human brain?"
Teacher: "I don't know! Is a little blind faith too much to ask for?"
The pastor, Reverend Lovejoy is a hypocrite. In "22 Short Films About
Springfield" he leads his dog to the Flanders' yard to go to the bathroom. He
praises the dog until Ned Flanders comes outside. He then acts angry and
threatens the dog with hell. When Ned leaves, he praises the dog again.
(Swartzwelder) In one episode, Homer quits going to church and falls in love
with life. He claims to have his own religion so he doesn't have to go to work
on holidays, such as the Feast of Maximum Occupancy. In a conversation with
Lisa: Lisa: "Dad, I don't understand, why have you dedicated yourself to
living a life of blasphemy?"
Homer: "Don't worry Lisa, if I'm wrong, I'll repent on my death bed."
The Simpsons is not just an enemy of Christianity, though. In one
episode, where Krusty the Clown is reunited with his father, a rabbi, almost the
entire episode is spent making fun of Judaism. Lisa asks Bart, "Do you know
what a rabbi's most valued possession is?" Bart replied, "I dunno, those stupid
little hats." Hinduism is constantly joked with by using East Indian, Kwik-E-
Mart clerk, Apu Mahasapeemapitalon. Apu is once asked is he is Hindu. He
replied, "By the thousand arms of Bishna, I swear it is a lie." Once Homer was
in the Kwik-E-Mart: Homer: "Hey Apu. No offensive, but when they were handing
out religions, you must have been on the can."
Apu: "Mr. Simpson, please take your jerky and get out and come again!" (Meyer)
The average child can acquire a plethora of foul words from one episode.
In "Flaming Moe's", Bart is "jinxed", meaning he can't talk until somebody says
Homer: "What is it boy?"
Homer: "Us anything the matter, my son? Talk to me young man."
Bart: [Takes a pencil and writes 'Say my name.]
Homer: "Say your name? Why should I do that, my lad?"
Bart: "Because I'm jinxed damnit!"
Homer: [Punches Bart in the arm.]
Bart: "Ow! What was that for!"
Homer: You spoke while you were jinxed, so I get to punch you in the arm!
Sorry, it's the law!" (Cohen)
Homer Simpson definitely has the worst influence on children. Once,
Homer overheard Ralph Wiggum say the he would do anything for Lisa. In the next
scene, Ralph is coating the Simpson's roof in tar. Ralph calls out, "Mr.
Simpson, the tar fumes are making me dizzy." Homer, relaxing in a hammock
replies, nonchalantly, "Yeah, they'll do that." Homer fits the genera of the
parent who pressures his kid to do well in sports. In one episode, after Bart
scored a winning goal, Homer congratulated him, "Okay Bart, you won the hockey
game. Now, just as I promised, here's your turtle, alive and unhurt." Homer
got angry at Marge once for spending lots of money to vaccinate Maggie against
diseases she doesn't have. His advice on how to get out of jury duty is "to
tell them that you're prejudiced against all races." His self proclaimed, best
advice is, "Sometimes the only way you can feel good about yourself is to make
other people look stupid." (Groening, 26)
Personally, I believe that The Simpsons affects children, but not
necessarily in a bad way. Children never hurt themselves mimicking The Three
Stooges, nor do they with The Simpsons. Almost every episode ends with a family
that loves each other.
Some episodes have answered the question of them affecting children on
their own. Once, Marge began to protest Itchy and Scratchy cartoons. Itchy is
a psychopathic mouse who's only purpose is to kill and torture Scratchy, a cat.
Nearing the end of the episode, Marge realizes that Itchy and Scratchy is not
hurting anyone. They take a satirical view to the situation when a group of
mothers try to stop Michaelangelo's David from visiting the Springfield Museum
of Art by means that it is pornographic. (Koger and Wolodarsky)
Unlike many sitcoms, The Simpsons is more like everyday life. Homer
works in a power plant. In many other sitcoms, the father works a popular job,
such as an accountant, or with a television studio. The Simpson family is not a
wealthy family living in a $300,000 house. Many children can relate to this.
In some cases, The Simpsons is educational. Karen Brecze credits Homer
Simpson with saving her 8-year-old son, Alex's life. Bence, of Auburn,
Washington, says the boy was choking on an orange when his 10-year-old brother,
Chris, used the Heimlich maneuver, which he learned from "Homer at the Bat",
where Homer is choking on a doughnut. Unlike Alex, Homer doesn't receive help
and coughs up the doughnut as his co-workers look at the Heimlich maneuver
poster. (Dyer, D3)
The Simpsons affects kids, just as anything around them will. Perhaps
people fear The Simpsons because they can see a little of The Simpsons in
themselves. We all have inner child's trying to get out that behave just like
Bart. We all do "pull a Homer" sometimes. It just happens. The show doesn't
make us do it. It just happens. If this world did not have The Simpsons
children would behave in the same manner, they just might laugh quite as much.
"22 Short Films About Springfield." The Simpsons. By: John Swartzwelder, Dir:
Jim Reardon, Prof: James L. Brooks. Fox. WHNS, Greenville. 12 May, 1996.
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James L. Brooks. Fox. WHNS, Greenville. 14 Jan, 1990
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International, Ltd., 1991.
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Smart, Prod: James L. Brooks. Fox. WHNS, Greenville. 21 Nov, 1991
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Prod: James L. Brooks. Fox. WHNS, Greenville. 20 Feb, 1992
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James L. Brooks. Fox. WHNS, Greenville. 8 Oct., 1992
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Wesley Archer, Prod: James L. Brooks. Fox. WHNS, Greenville. 21 Jan, 1990
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Dir: Rich Moore, Prod: James L. Brooks. Fox. WHNS, Greenville. 7 Feb, 1991
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Reardon, Prod: James L. Brooks. Fox. WHNS, Greenville. 20 Dec, 1990
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Dir: Jefferson Lynch with Brad Bird, Prod. James L. Brooks. Fox. WHNS,
Greenville. 24 Oct., 1991
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