The NYT carries this article on the near-death and resurrection of The Simpsons, a show 17 years on the air, about which its creator, Matt Groening, now says “I think the show has almost reached its halfway point, which means another 17 years.”
Almost that many years ago, I fought a losing rear-guard battle with my oldest son about watching The Simpsons. Not to put too fine a point on it, but here was an animated family of bizarre-looking, yellow-skinned characters, whose only recognizably human trait seemed to be a talent for mutual abuse. What self-respecting parent would allow a child to absorb such poison?
Boy, was I wrong. The oldest boy of course won, and got to watch the show, the middle son watched it from a much younger age, and the daughter, child of our old age, practically imbibed it with mother’s milk.
I’m supposed to moralize in this blog, and I guess I’ll get to it eventually – but this is the funniest show in the history of the world. Whether something that rib-crackingly hilarious can be immoral is a question I don’t want to contemplate. It’s got to be good for you.
I refuse to preach or bloviate on such a preposterous subject. Still. . . The Simpsons are the only TV show I know of (granted, I don’t watch much) where the family goes to church every Sunday. The religious character, the Simpsons’ neighbor, Ned Flanders, is gently mocked but by and large portrayed as a decent human being; an entire movement of the faithful has coalesced around his saintly, if animated, personality.
Important characters die and get divorced in The Simpsons. My kids would ask questions – and suddenly, we were talking, not about a TV show, but about life. In today’s world, children need early inoculation against the reality that will confront them: friends with too few or too many parents, sexual references and images pouring in from every corner, a refusal to even bring up the subject of death, or God, or consequences. The show became our vaccine against the ugliness of life outside the family fold: much of which gets dissipated, when you are bent over and hooting with laughter.
Being a Northern Virginian, one of my favorite Simpson moments is Lisa’s search, during a visit to Washington, for answers about a corrupt congressman. First, like Mr. Smith, she tries the Lincoln Memorial, but finds it overrun with people shouting questions at the seated president. In despair, she goes to a deserted Jefferson Memorial, and encounters a totally neurotic Jefferson.
Lisa: “President Jefferson, I have a problem…”
Jefferson: “Yes, the Lincoln Memorial was full! … No one ever comes to see me. I don’t blame them. I never did anything important. Just the Declaration of Independence, the Louisiana Purchase, the dumbwaiter… Wait! Please don’t go. I get so lonely…”
But probably the wisest words on matters of faith to come out of television, uttered by God himself after Homer tried to start a new religion and, as always, failed miserably, were: “Don’t worry, Homer. Nine out of ten religions fail in their first year.” After which follows this exchange:
Homer: What’s the meaning of life?
God: Homer, I can’t tell you that. You’ll find out when you die.
Homer: I can’t wait that long!
God: You can’t wait six months?