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Thursday, June 29, 2006

Book Talk - Planet Simpson

Book Talk – Simpsons

The Simpsons! The history of the Simpsons show is rich and detailed. Our book talk centered around Chris Turner’s text, Planet Simpson: How A Cartoon Masterpiece Defined a Generation . Lead by myself and the astute Evan Elkins, our discussion centered around a variety of topics concerning the complex cartoon family.

We began our discussion talking about the Simpson’s as a lens into teaching more complex ideas such as postmodernism. There are many examples of self references and inter-textuality. Also, the cartoon often messes with expectations. For example, when they have a guest star on the show, there is no parade or grandstanding. In fact, when Paul McCartney appears, he asks Lisa if she would like to hear a song. She says yes, and Apu begins a horrid rendition of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Band. What was also noted, was how the celebs are always voiced by the actual person, and willingly shown as the hero they may be or shown as more of a caricature or patsy, begging to be made fun of.

The next topic shifted to the Simpson’s use of parody, satire, and irony. Turner quotes Tony Hedra stating, “Satire functions on the gap between reality and fantasy; its dynamic is to reduce pretension and presumption to the tangible and recognizable” (57). There are so many examples of these literary tools in the Simpsons. When Homer goes to the Simpsons version of Lollapalooza, we see a banner stating, “Bungee Jump for Racism.” While in the real world Bart’s phrases such as “Don’t have a cow Man!” becomes over used on millions of commercial products, the Simpson’s world pokes fun of their own catch phrase fever in Springfield.

Also discussed were the many literary references that can be found in one episode or season. Topics such as Streetcar Named Desire, Horror Movies, Poe, Apocalypse Now, Lord of the Flies and many more are referenced and toyed with in the Simpson’s. While there is literary merit in using the Simpson’s for enhancement of a lesson, many agreed that one could not sustain a course at the Middle or High School Level on the Simpsons…barring an elective.

The characters themselves lend to various stereotypes and archetypes. In fact, this is one of the pluses we believe the book to offer is a lens into the characters and their representations. From Kwik-E-Mart owner Apu to kilt sporting groundskeeper Willie, the Simpsons plays with identity and expectations of characters. The example brought up of the bowling team “The Stereotypes” keenly supported this observation. The question came up, Are they breaking down stereotypes? Or, perpetuating them? While the pictures of authority such as Chief Wiggum or Mayor Quimby have no evolution, is this enough to show their exaggeration? Are the creators good at pushing the envelope so we know it’s a social commentary? Or, are they reinforcing stereotypes? All present agreed it is a teacher’s responsibility to point these things out if the Simpsons is to be used as a teaching tool. In fact, it may possibly be all the more important to teach these type of shows, not just for literary merit, but for deconstruction and critical analysis.

Indeed many cartoons have followed in the path paved by the Simpsons: South Park, King of the Hill, Family Guy… Discussion focused on how these shows were similar, differed, and their influence on today’s youth.

Finally, a website was offered, The Simpsons Archive , as just one example of the many internet resources on this topic. The discussion was enjoyable and casual! We are off next Monday for the holiday weekend, but be sure to come out next discussion on July 10th for The Director in the Classroom by Nikos Theodosakis hhttp://www.thedirectorintheclassroom.com/.


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