The Simpsons 20th Anniversary Spectacular

The Simpsons 20th Anniversary: Why Yellow Anthropomorphic Citizens of a Ubiquitous Town Have Maintained Their Appeal

Could a cartoon sitcom dominate the Nielsen Ratings for a week? A year? An entire generation? With the recognition of the 20th season of the ever-popular television show “The Simpsons,” this question has surely been answered. With its witty dialogue, unabashed examination of every human occupation, philosophical question, creed and belief, “The Simpsons” has been able to retain the structure and content of its characters while shaping the rest of society to fit its model. Due to intense competition and an insatiable demand for similar content from fans, shows that have germinated from the inescapable influence of “The Simpsons” includes current titantic series “Family Guy”, “South Park.” As veritable offspring of “The Simpsons” franchise, these shows draw and ape the same kind of playful prose and inane plots, though they are much more bold than “The Simpsons.”

Derided by most at first as an adulterated series comprised of crass language, abhorrent role models and poor art work, it is now considered by some as the apotheosis of a morally-inclined television show. The very same religious networks that decried its programming have come to embrace “The Simpsons” as an upstanding example of moral television in an era in which ugly language and sexual content continue to stretch the walls of censorship (and the spineless FCC) backwards. Fans watch and celebrate the show with such ardor that Simpson-functions have materialized across the nation, where people dress up and even imitate the characters. More specifically, the ecclesiastic Ned Flanders serves as a moral bastion for the show; a bulwark against the turpitude of other sinister characters like the outdated billionaire Montgomery Burns. Each show is structured to combat a conflict and resolve it within the twenty minutes available during a half-hour (with some “to be continues” interspersed). The moral compass of the show is directed towards reinforcing moral principles through humor.

The appeal of The Simpsons cannot be pigeon-holed to a particular element or concept, but rather an entire package. Take a look at a Simpsons poster of the town and you'll realize that the principle characters are cushioned by a vast array of characters. Races, creeds and even speices (aliens, dogs, cats, mice, monkeys, fish and recently pigs) are recognized, which has helped the show stabilize a fan base. The brilliance of the show may lie in its ability to quickly and summarily afix characteristics and occupations to each of its characters. Any Simpson fan who has watched the show for several years will be able to give detailed accounts of who Chief Wiggum, Moe, Ned Flanders, or McBane are; an incredbile feat considering these characters are considered only part of an ensemble cast. In fact, the repertoire of Simpson characters has swelled so much in the past that there are products made with their image! Several examples of this include Krusty dolls and Moe shot glasses. It comes as no surprise that even characters in the ensemble cast of the Simpsons have more visibility than starts of other television or cartoon shows.

Of course, the show would have not reached the apex of television series without its definitive, original, and comedically seductive principle cast. The patriarch of the family, Homer Simpson, revels in obscure story-telling, and his vices include Duff beer, donuts, and trouble. He is a caricacture of the middle-aged man, though it is more of a burlesque rendition.

Bart is molded as the typical skateboard wielding punk, possessing no remorse for his fiendish actions. Of course, this dehumanization is a thinly-veiled disguise of his goodness. Although Bart's callowness is clear, his cherubic quality often offsets his pranks and mischief. His affinity for his pets, especially Santa's Little Helper, demonstrates his emotional depth and capabilities.

Bart's sister Lisa is the consummate nerd. Attentive in school, her enthusiasm walks a tight-rope act between genius and nuisance among her teachers. She constantly bemoaning the lack of intellectual curiosity in her family, though she never gives up in her quest to bring astute conversation into the household whenever possible. Extremly ambitious, Lisa has been found spear-heading petitions and galvanizing the town towards myriad causes including the environment, politics and other social issues. Her frustrations are sometimes carried out on the saxaphone, (a personal favorite of this author who used to play it himself). Jazz is a fusion of sex, arrythmic rythmns, rock and easy listening. The concept of Lisa playing the guitar may absolve her of complete nerdiness and has allowed the writers of the show to portray her as an “old soul,” a profound thinker and a precocious musician.

Marge, the matriarch, is an atavism to the 1950's housewife, constantly dotting over her children (which sometimes includes Homer). She is the fulcrum of the household, as without her support the rest of the family could not get by (as demonstrated in one episode). She serves as the touchstone of morality in the family, constantly imparting kindess and humbleness.

These characters serve as a touchstone for all of us; a standard by which we may measure our own lives and personal growth against. As community participation dwindles throughout the United States, The Simpsons remind us how imperative community participation is. The Simpsons television series have evolved from comedy to groundbreaking to even thought-provoking while still maintaing its essence. Congratulations on 20 years!

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