Eine Facharbeit von Eike Rapelius <Cream.firstname.lastname@example.org>
Abgabetermin: 1. Februar 2001
1. In modern comedy series often controversial and explosive topics are being discussed. The American animated series The Simpsons is no exception. The sarcasm and irony of the series is obviously. It deals in a humorous way with actually serious topics like violence or gun possession. The Simpsons are the most succussful animated series of all times, considering the number of produced episodes. Their success goes so far, that already dozens of Hollywood and music stars wanted to be a part in the life of the yellow and four-fingered family. Politicians like Bill Clinton and Al Gore, music stars like teen sensation Britney Spears or oldies like the Beatles, Hollywood stars like Mel Gibson or Kim Basinger and economical magnates like Bill Gates have already starred in the series.
So let us take a ride from the beginning and the producers of The Simpsons, over the most important characters and their secret dreams and awful acts, to the messages that stand behind the sarcasm, irony and the whole story of an episode and behind the lyrics of the soundtracks.
2.1. Behind the success of The Simpsons there stands mainly one man: Matt Groening. He changed television forever when he brought animation back to prime time. Beside The Simpsons, Groening is also creator and executive producer of the successful animated series Futurama. His very first creation was the Life in Hell comic strip from 1977 which currently appears in more than 250 newspapers worldwide. In 1993 he formed the Bongo Comic Group which is responsible of several The Simpsons comic releases.
Originally The Simpsons began 1987 as a series of short films for The Tracy Ullman Show. These shorts were so successful, that Groening decided to start an own series of The Simpsons. The first episode of the series premiered on December 17, 1989. It was broadcast by the American television channel FOX at prime time in the 8pm slot. Regular broadcasts began on Sundays beginning January 14, 1990. The Simpsons Seasons Two, Three, Four and Five were broadcast Thursdays at 8pm before they returned to Sundays, 8pm with Season Six.
Matt Groening created the Simpson family in about 15 minutes while he waited in James L. Brooks' office, he claimed in an interview. Furthermore Groening, creator and executive producer of The Simpsons, manages to fulfil the production demand of the weekly television series, he does his regular meetings with the Bongo Comics production team and he oversees all aspects of the licensing and merchandising of The Simpsons. As a native of Portland, Oregon, Groening today lives in Los Angeles, California.
2.2. Beside Matt Groening, James L. Brooks is an executive producer of The Simpsons from the beginning. Brooks is a three-time Academy Award-winner and 12-time Emmy Award-winner. He began his television career as a writer who later produced television hits like The Mary Tyler Moore Show and The Tracy Ullman Show. In 1990 he directed and produced his first play, Brooklyn Laundry. Besides Brooks executive produced movies like Jerry Maguire or As Good As It Gets, which was his latest project.
2.3. Emmy Award-winner Mike Scully joined The Simpsons as a writer in April 1993. Since then he has written several episodes like for example the famous "Two Dozen and One Greyhounds". In 1997 he became executive producer for Seasons Nine and Ten. In 1982 Scully moved from West Springfield, Massachusetts to Los Angeles, California, where he performed as a stand-up comedian in local clubs. In 1986 he stopped performing to start as a television writer.
In the meantime The Simpsons lead us to Season Thirteen, with no end in sight. There is even a rumor, that a The Simpsons movie will go into production soon for movie theatres.
3.1. Homer Jay Simpson is probably the most important main character in The Simpsons. He is 36 years old and weighs 240 pounds. He manages to play the roles of husband of his wife Marge, father of his three children Bart, Lisa and Maggie, and Safety Inspector of the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant. He married his high school sweetheart Marge Bouvier when they noticed that Marge was pregnant with their first and only son Bart. When the Simpson family got their second child Lisa, they moved to Evergreen Terrace, one of the nicest middle-class sections in Springfield. Finally the third child Maggie, who is still a baby, was born. And every time Marge and Homer received the doctor's message that a new baby is on its way, Homer lost some of his hair. Homer, who discovered a meal between breakfast and brunch, makes it all look easy. He does not care about the important things in life. He preferred for example to quarrel with a dog about a ham when he had the chance to get a place at College. Or he favored to chase squirrels instead of attending additional seminars at Springfield University. If there is a problem which he cannot struggle successfully he hides in the next corner and waits until the problem is solved by itself. Homer is fond of Duff Beer and donuts. At Homer's working place in Sector 7G of Springfield's Nuclear Power Plant, owned by C. Montgomery Burns, he can eat his precious donuts if he happens to not be asleep. One of Homer's biggest problems is his weight because of his dining manners. He just cannot stop himself to eat all these fat things like hamburgers or hot dogs. Therefor he looks quite weightily, but he does not care at all. He even had the idea to eat so much, that he was graded as a disabled man just to have the possibility to work at home. Usually Homer spends his spare time at Moe's Tavern to booze with his friends Barny, Lenny and Carl and to talk with Moe the bartender. At home Homer is watching television, eating potato chips and drinking Duff Beer the whole time. He is always sitting on his place on the couch directly in front of the television set. He watches series equivalent to his smartness like the Spanish 'Bumble Bee Man', mud catching or home order television. Homer is absolutely chaotic and irresponsible. If there is no other adult person that can stop him, he acts childish and The Simpsons' house looks like a trash dump after he has been left alone for just a few minutes. Homer is somebody you would not call a clever person, because he acts before he thinks. So the result of what Homer does is mostly something strange and funny, which he finally often comments with his own created expression "D'oh!". Even though Homer has many characteristics of a modern anti hero, his kids and his wife love him. In spite of Homer's limited cleverness he achieved things other ordinary persons can just dream of. For example he had such a great success with his band 'The Be Sharps', that he won a Grammy Award, which he unfortunately does not consider as a real award at all. Homer was also the first common man in space, sent into cosmos by a NASA attempt to increase audience ratings.
3.2. Marjorie "Marge" Simpson, whose maiden name was Marge Bouvier is Homer's wife and the good spirit in the Simpson family. She is a 34 year old housewife. Like Homer, Marge went to College too, but contrary to her husband she graduated. Yet the birth of her first child changed her occupationally plans. One of her most noticeable characteristics are her croaking voice and her blue hair, which is about 18 inches tall. All in all Marge is in a satisfied manner with her life, even if Homer and her three children Bart, Lisa and Maggie sometimes go too far. Once they made Marge go so crazy, that she confusedly blocked a highway in Springfield. The reason was, that she could not manage the housework of the chaotic family and did not get enough fondness of her husband and children. Unlike Homer, Marge is very neat. Homer often loses his keys or his pants, but Marge always knows where they can be found. Besides she is one of the only persons in Springfield with a common sense. If there is a problem in town, mostly an assembly of the citizens in the city hall of Springfield takes place. Most suggestions from other people contain violence and homicide. In these cases, Marge is the only resident who tries to make the mob calm down and she advises them to use their minds to do nothing wrong. She is very faithful and sees most aspects more realistic than others. Accordingly she often has to stop Homer and Bart and their strange plans they want to practise. Marge is also very trustful, so the regular church attendance is evidently to her, although Homer and Bart are complaining about it every time. Without Marge, Homer would be left stranded. He needs her assistance like he is one of her children. Of course this is not the way Homer sees the situation. He knows that Marge does not have many friends outside the family and even believes that he is her only friend at all. In one episode Marge says: "Cheer up, Homey. You don't need friends to be happy. I haven't had a friend in years." Homer responds: "But you've got me. What have I got?" This quote shows that Homer thinks that he is very important for Marge, but that Marge is on the other side not very significantly for himself. She is just his wife, not a real friend. Marge has strong relationships with her sisters Patty and Selma. She was very obsequiously as a little girl, sometimes her sisters treated her like a slave. Beside this Marge even had some more traumatically moments in her childhood, for example when she found out, that her father was a male stewardess and not a pilot, like he always told her. Aside her sometimes boring duties at home, Marge already had some varietal time. For example she has been tempted to stray from Homer by another charming man, or nearly stepped into a life of crime with her one time neighbor, Ruth Powers. Marge has also flirted with a number of careers like police officer, independent pretzel seller or anti-violence activist.
3.3. Bartholomew Jo-Jo Simpson is 10 years old and the oldest child in his family. He visits the Springfield Elementary School and sticks out with his bad grades, his provoking behaviour and his tricks. Bart is barefaced and meddlesomely and he cannot get along with authorities like his teacher Edna Krabappel or the school's principal Seymour Skinner. He thinks that he is stupid, but actually his insufficient grades are a result of laziness and a lack of interest. In fact, Bart is totally misunderstood. He is not just the underachiever and troublemaker like the others designate him. No, Bart has a lot of unnoticed decent qualities. He looks out for his sister Lisa. His friends are outcasts and misfits like Milhouse Van Houten and Ralph Wiggum. Bart is even a quite clever boy and shows action when there is something he is really interested in. For example, he and his sister brought Springfield's cruelest criminal, Sideshow Bob into jail several times. The reason was, that Sideshow Bob tried again and again to kill or to deceive Bart's idol and comdey star, Krusty the Clown. But Bart and Lisa have always been smarter than Bob or the police. That is the reason why Sideshow Bob is Bart's sworn enemy and why Bart is always in danger when Bob is not in jail. Actually Bart has many similarities with his father. As well as Homer, he likes to watch television for a long time and without demand. His favorites are the Krusty Comedy Show and The Itchy & Scratchy Show. His passion for television already had a precious price: It made him lose his short-term memory, like he confided in his family: "Thanks to television, I can't remember what happened eight minutes ago. No, really, I can't! It's a serious problem." Beside television he often plays with his friends and he likes sweets like Squishees. His further hobbies are skateboarding and reading comics like Radioactive Man. Furthermore he achieved to starr in his own short-lived comedy series with Krusty the Clown and he spotted and named a deadly comet that nearly destroyed Springfield.
Bart could not have done any of those things without the help of his dog and best friend, Santa's Little Helper. Loved by his owner, Bart Simpson, he enjoys life in a way that most dogs can only dream about: The Simpsons let him eat from the table and do not care if he scratches the furniture. Besides, Santa's Little Helper loves long walks together with Bart and burying things in The Simpsons' backyard.
3.4. Lisa Simpson cannot wait for college. She is only 8 years old, but definitely the most intelligent person of the Simpson family. Lisa already reads at a fourteenth grade level and has written a number of high quality essays, one of which won a contest and brought the family to Washington, D.C. Lisa is different than her contemporaries. She is very literately and clever and spends much of her spare time in the library. Lisa loves learning and could not live without school. She does not have many friends due to her way of life. Accordingly she is alone very often. Lisa designates herself as "the saddest kid in grade number two". In these moments she likes to play her saxophone. Homer bought Lisa the saxophone to promote her talents. She plays very good and expresses her loneliness, problems and wishes with her blues music. Lisa is as dutiful as her mother and, for her age, very autonomous. Sometimes Lisa suffers from her intelligence. Then she feels herself isolated from the others, like no one notices her. Thereby it plays a role, that Lisa is a so called "sandwich kid". A kid with an older and a younger brother or sister. So it happens sometimes, that Homer and Marge just talk about Bart and Maggie, when Lisa asks her parents to tell her an old story about her past. Lisa is a supporter of emancipation. As a former fan of the Malibu Stacy puppets, which got an anti-female touch in the circle of years, Lisa tried unsuccessfully to create her own talking doll, Lisa Lionheart. Unfortunately nobody wanted to buy it. Lisa often criticises society. She fights against the destruction of the environment and is a vegetarian. Her secret dreams are to become the first female President of the United States and to get a pony.
3.5. Margaret "Maggie" Simpson is one year old. She never speaks a word and she could not live without her pacifier. Maggie has done a lot in her one year of life. She has learned to spell her own name, she has wandered the town of Springfield all by herself, and she has shot Springfield's richest man C. Montgomery Burns because he attempted to steal her lollipop. Maggie's most noticeable characteristic is the noise when she is sucking her pacifier. And she does it all the time!
3.6. Not many people know, that Homer's father Abraham Simpson is a honorably veteran of the Second World War. Nobody knows much about "Grampa" Simpson, because nobody listens to him. People even leave the room when he starts to speak. Grampa lives in Springfield's Retirement Castle and is happy about any person who visits him. Then "Abe" starts again with one of his non-sense and no-ending stories like this one: "My story begins in nineteen-dickety-two. We had to say 'dickety' cause the Kaiser had stolen our word 'twenty'. I chased that rascal to get it back, but gave up after dickety-six miles." In similar stories Grampa told his not interested listeners that he is the inventor of the toilet, or the man who made cats and dogs hate each other. Abraham Simpson is a grumbler, so the family avoids to spend much time with him. Sometimes it happens that Grampa falls asleep from one second to another, even while he is talking.
3.7. Ned Flanders is The Simpsons' sickeningly cheerful next-door neighbour. His wife, Maude, and his two sons, Rod and Todd are the perfect Christian family. Ned is hated by Homer out of jealousy, because everyday the Flanders family seems to be much happier than his own family. Even Reverend Lovejoy has an antipathy against Ned, because of Ned's nonstop requests for guidance. The Flanders try to follow the Christian doctrines even stricter than Reverend Lovejoy does. Ned is known to distort every-day words by adding "diddily" or some various forms of it to the end or middle of the word. But overall, everything is pretty "okilly dokilly" with Ned Flanders.
3.8. Although Charles Montgomery Burns is Springfield's oldest man, he is one of the most evil citizens. As owner of the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant he is very mighty, and for example, has been able to control local elections. Mr. Burns' unscrupulousness brought him wealth. However he is corporally incapable and accordingly needs the help of his personal assistant, Wayland Smithers. Mr. Burns may possess unlimited power in Springfield, but he is so weak that he can barely lift a baseball bat. But Mr. Burns does not need violence to do his work. He only needs words: "Release the hounds!"4. In this matter some of the controversial and explosive topics, with which The Simpsons deal with, will be exemplarily presented. At this point it is interesting in which way the series presents a certain topic and how it debates it. Obviously The Simpsons criticize in many cases the values and the whole system of the American society.
4.1. One of these controversial topics I already mentioned, is violence on TV. Inside the world of The Simpsons, there exists an animated series called The Itchy & Scratchy Show. This series fools the Tom & Jerry cartoons. In The Itchy & Scratchy Show, which is presented frequently in The Simpsons, a mouse called Itchy constantly tries to violate a cat called Scratchy. The mouse has no reason for its behaviour, it is just pure sadism. While watching Tom & Jerry, the viewer gets the impression, that there is a "merry war" between the mouse and the cat. But between Itchy and Scratchy there literally is a real war. In the Tom & Jerry cartoon even the most radical violent actions do not have any worse consequences than a little dent or a bruise. On the contrary in The Itchy & Scratchy Show, the violent actions definitely have consequences: blood, ripped out arms and legs and intestines are showed.
The kids from Springfield admire The Itchy & Scratchy Show. They are excited by the violence in the cartoon and laugh a lot about it. Thereby Itchy, the mouse is their idol. Very noticeable is, that not only the cheeky Bart loves the cartoon, also his intelligent and pacifistic sister Lisa adores it. The reason why Bart and Lisa love The Itchy & Scratchy Show probably is, that they both discharge aggressions by watching it. Lisa, for example, inhibits aggressions in her daily social life, as she is a big learner with only a few friends. Accordingly the Itchy & Scratchy cartoon is something like a vent for their problems.
In The Simpsons episode 7F09, "Itchy & Scratchy & Marge", Marge Simpson complains about the violence in The Itchy & Scratchy Show. With a protest she achieves, that the producers of the series try to change the style of the cartoon. Then the executive producer, Mr. Meyers calls Marge and asks her to find a nonviolent solution for the plot of a new Itchy & Scratchy episode.
Meyers: Itchy just stole Scratchy's ice cream cone, and...
Animator: Oh, make it a pie. Pies are easier to draw.
Meyers: [to animator] Okay, a pie!
[to Marge] Anyway, Scratchy is understandable upset.
Marge: Uh huh.
Meyers: So we figured he could just, you know, grab Itchy and toss him into a bucket of acid.
Marge: Couldn't Itchy share his pie with Scratchy? Then they would both have pie!
Meyers: It's different, I'll give you that...
This quote points out the fear, that a violent way will be chosen more often, if violence gets a frequent experience as a solution of a problem. Mr. Meyers definitely knows, that he wants to avoid any violence in the script, but the violent action with a bucket of acid is sadly the only idea that comes to his mind.
When the kids see this new created nonviolent episode of The Itchy & Scratchy Show, they dislike it. Without violence they do not discharge any further aggressions. Besides, the cartoon is not exciting anymore, because the fascination and the tabu to watch someone getting killed has gone. All in all you recognize the extensive editing on the topic violence on TV in this episode. You could say that the treatment of the topic is too superficial, but for an episode that only lasts 20 minutes it is remarkable.
4.2. In episode 2F06 which is called "Homer Bad Man", the controversial topic which is dealt with is the distorted presentment of actual facts by the media and its consequences. First, the content of this episode of The Simpsons is needed: Homer steals a gummi Venus de Milo at a candy convention. In the evening he drives the babysitter of the kids home. When she exits the car, Homer sees that she was sitting on the gummi Venus. The Venus still sticks on her backside, so Homer lasciviously grabs it. But the emancipated babysitter misinterpretes it as sexual harassment. Homer tries to justify his act with an interview on television. But they cut his interview, that it seems as if Homer confessed his fault. Now a public disassembly against Homer is getting started by the media.
The presentment and interpretation of events by the media is showed very one sided and biased in this Simpsons episode. Homer is invited for an interview in the series "Rock Bottom". But he does not get the chance to depict the situation from his point of view. From the beginning the producers of the series have tried to present Homer as a guilty person. The interview is made by Godfrey Jones, the talk master.
Homer: Ehh, someone had to take the babysitter home. Then I noticed she was sitting on the gummi Venus, so I grabbed it off her. Oh, just thinking about that sweet, sweet candy...[moans lustfully] I just wish I had another one right now. But the most important thing is...
Jones: That was really great Mr. Simpson. We got everything we need.
Homer and the rest of his family watch the report that night on "Rock Bottom".
Homer: Hee hee! Here comes the bouncing ball of justice!
Jones: Tonight on "Rock Bottom", we go undercover at a sex farm for sex hookers.
Farmer: I keep telling you, I just grow sorghum here.
Man: Uh huh. And where are the hookers?
Farmer: [points] 'round back. [realizes] Whoops.
Jones: But first: [photo of Ashley and her parents at graduation] She was a university honor student who devoted her life to kids, [slow motion of Homer reaching for his car keys] until the night a grossly-overweight pervert named Homer Simpson gave her a crash course in depravity. "Babysitter and the Beast"
Homer: Somebody had to take the babysitter home. Then I noticed she was sitting on [splice] her sweet [splice] can. [splice] -- so I grab her -- [splice] sweet can. [splice] Oh, just thinking about [splice] her [splice] can [splice] I just wish I had her -- [splice] sweet [splice] sweet [splice] s-s-sweet [splice] can.
Jones: So, Mr. Simpson: you admit you grabbed her can. What do you have to say in your defense?
Homer: [looking lustful in a clearly-paused VCR shot]
Jones: Mr. Simpson, your silence will only incriminate you further. [paused shot of Homer grows larger] No, Mr. Simpson, don't take your anger out on me. Get back! Get back! Mist -- Mr. Simpson -- nooo!
Man: Dramatization -- may not have happened
This indicates that the media try everything to present the babysitter as the helpless victim and Homer as the rude libertine. The interview has been cut and falsified. There is no word Homer did not say, but the words have been totally split from the context and put together in a new meaning.
As well the slow motion of Homer is typical. He is shown up as a snaky and unsympathic person.
Quotes from other talk shows about Homer Simpson showed in the episode:
Woman: I don't know Homer Simpson, I -- I never met Homer Simpson or had any contact with him, but -- [cries uncontrollably] -- I'm sorry, I can't go on.
Talk master: That's OK: your tears say more than real evidence ever could.
Woman: I just have one thing to say: let's have less Homer Simpson and more money for public schools. [smattering of applause]
The one sided media coverage, uttering of speculations and assumption of statements aim to discredit Homer in front of the viewers. Also the set up of connections between Homer and the nearly collapsing woman, who actually has nothing to do with him, or the terming of Homer Simpson and a political problem like the lack of money for public schools in one sentence projects a bad picture on him.
In the following excerpt the media again try to manipulate the opinions of their viewers. The excerpt is the last scene of the episode. Groundskeeper Willy proved that Homer is not guilty. He filmed the scene when Homer and the babysitter were sitting in the car. It showed that Homer was really just grabbing the gummi Venus.
The Simpsons are watching "Rock Bottom" on television.
Jones: In our mad pursuit of the scoop, we members of the press sometimes make mistakes. "Rock Bottom" would like to make the following corrections. [a list scrolls by very, very quickly]
Bart: Wow! V8 juice isn't one-eighth gasoline.
Homer: And Ted Koppel is a robot!
Lisa: There's you, Dad!
Jones: Tomorrow, on "Rock Bottom": [slow motion of Willy walking into Godfrey's office] He's a foreigner who takes perverted videos of you when you least expect it. He's "Rowdy Roddy Peeper"...
Homer: Oh, that man is sick!
Marge: Groundskeeper Willy saved you, Homer!
Homer: But listen to the music! He's evil!
Marge: Hasn't this experience taught you you can't believe everything you hear?
Homer: Marge, my friend, I haven't learned a thing. [family walks off, disgruntled]
Homer: [hugs TV] Let's never fight again.
Homers predication is characteristically. Although he personally knows groundskeeper Willy, he judges him by the constructed reality of the media. The presentment of Willy in slow motion and the adding of music try to show a wrong picture of Willy. Homer gets fooled by this, because he immediately and without any doubts assumes that the pictures he sees are authentic. Like Marge says, Homer has not learned anything of his experience. Most television reports have such a good and perfect quality, that they seem to be more realistic than reality itself.
This episode of The Simpsons tries to warn people of the media which can probably make someone lose his or her ability to judge facts by him- or herself.
5. I just pointed out that The Simpsons' television reports like "Rock Bottom" use music to influence the viewers in their opinion. But also the series of The Simpsons itself uses music to influence its viewers. The music lets them have a greater enjoyment of the series. It is brilliant and even so successful, that for example the song "We Put The Spring In Springfield" from episode 4F06, called "Bart After Dark" won an Emmy award for The Simpsons. Its lyrics deal with the morality of a bordel in Springfield. First the behaviour of Springfield's citizens is very prudish when they hear of the "maison derriere". But the song convinces them that the bordel actually is harmless and during the song it even comes up, that most citizens already have visited, want to visit or work in the bordel.
Already two soundtracks of original music and dialogues from the television series have been released. They are called "Songs In The Key Of Springfield" (1997) and "Go Simpsonic With The Simpsons" (1999). In the second soundtrack, like composer Alf Clausen says in its booklet, "once again, the songs' lyrics cut a wide swath across America's cultural landscape"1. Here Clausen also points out songs like "You're Checkin' In" or "Canyonero". The lyrics of these songs deal with topics like the sweet life of famous Hollywood stars who are taking drugs and are accused of mayhem. But it happens that they will not be punished, just because they are stars: "I should put you away where you can't kill or maim us, but this is L.A. and you're rich and famous!"2 Another topic of one of these songs are big American sport-utility vehicles. In the song "Canyonero" one of these vehicles is described in an exaggerated way ("Can you name the truck with four wheel drive, smells like a steak and seats thirty-five" or "12 yards long, two lanes wide"3), which reminds the viewer or listener that actually nearly no person really needs these husky trucks. They are just another example of American pride.
6. The Simpsons is one of those rare entertainment experiences that is enjoyed by people of all ages. With a first superficial look you could think that The Simpsons are a regular cartoon series for children. After a second and a closer look you realize that the concept was actually made for sophisticated adults. A lot of political and social background knowledge is required for the irony and sarcasm that come up in the series. Nevertheless also small children who do not recognize the irony, can see the cheerfulness of The Simpsons. This is the reason for the great success of The Simpsons, which cannot be compared to any other animated series.
1: Original The Simpsons music soundtrack "Go Simpsonic With The Simpsons" from 1999; the booklet, page 3
2: Original The Simpsons music soundtrack "Go Simpsonic With The Simpsons" from 1999; Track 17 "The City Of New York Vs. Homer Simpson (Medley) a) No Regards b) You're Checkin In"
3: Original The Simpsons music soundtrack "Go Simpsonic With The Simpsons" from 1999; Track 21 "Canyonero"