The Simpsons and US Culture
December 20, 2003 3:26 PM   Subscribe

What episodes of "The Simpsons" reflect an aspect of US culture the best? Do you find that "The Simpsons" is a good reflection of US culture, or do you think its ideologically distorting?
posted by rschram to Media & Arts (13 answers total)
I haven't watched the series as it was being produced and broadcast for a long time now. I do check out the occasional episode that I download and delete.

I did notice, though, that in later years, the series seemed to get a lot less subversive, and was worryingly (at least from my perspective) larded with saccharine positivity, Christian and otherwise, seemingly as a counterbalance to the satire. I don't know if this was just me, or if it really did reflect a deliberate softening of the beautifully vicious skewering of USian cultural mores than many episodes from the first few years delivered.

Which is, from a meta-perspective, an excellent reflection of US culture, come to think of it.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:14 PM on December 20, 2003

I once watched the episode in which the Simpsons go to Australia with an Australian friend of mine, who said afterward, "This doesn't even make sense to me. I don't understand why this is funny." Then he went on to talk about how the humor was based in US prejudices toward foreign cultures that (he argued) the writers weren't aware they possessed. So I'd pick that one, even though you could also reasonably argue that the writers of the episode were actually ridiculing American prejudices as well as Australian stereotypes. (How does that bit of dialogue go in the Homerpalooza episode? "Was that sarcastic?" "I don't even know anymore.")

Second choice would be the monorail episode.
posted by Prospero at 6:41 PM on December 20, 2003

Futurama'(wa)s better! But for none of the reasons you're inquiring after here. I'm just a bitter, bitter man.
posted by WolfDaddy at 6:51 PM on December 20, 2003

of course they were ridiculing US-held australian stereotypes, and i don't think simpsons reflects real american culture at all directly, it's comedy/satire. If you go in thinking that it is heavy handed satire, maybe you could get something out of it from a non-US perspective, but even then it might be difficult, apparently.

And it is so better than futurama. *run*
posted by rhyax at 7:02 PM on December 20, 2003

Response by poster: For me, The Simpsons illustrates several major themes in US culture because its episodes put together so many elements of the culture into every character and event. Definitely the episodes in which Homer invents his own religion, Lisa goes to Washington, Lisa discovers that the town founder was a fraud, and Lisa helps Monty Burns build a recycling plant. These episodes' stories parody so many formulas of stories, movies, sitcoms all at once, it is as if they create ironic myths rather than specific parodies. To me, it's fascinating to think of the US culture as having myths.
posted by rschram at 8:05 PM on December 20, 2003

How about the myth of weapons of mass destruction? (ouch.)

I think the best episode is where Lisa gets her face carved onto the side of a mountain. I feel that her intelligence and commitment to equality and truth earns her a very special place on the side of Springfield mountain.
posted by Keyser Soze at 9:15 PM on December 20, 2003

Series 3. Mr. Lisa Goes to Washington. Period.
posted by Ufez Jones at 10:24 PM on December 20, 2003

Marge vs. the Monorail. No question about it.

Pretty much anything from seasons 2, 3, and 4 is gold. Lisa's Substitute is one of my favorite episodes. Lisa goes to Washington, as mentioned above, is a must. The Unckie Herb episode (Homer designs a car with the supersized cupholder.) Hell, just get the DVD for those seasons, you can't go wrong.
posted by PrinceValium at 11:57 PM on December 20, 2003

I used several Simpson's scenes to illustrate American culture when I was teaching English here in Japan. My favorite was "The Cartridge Family," where Homer gets a gun after soccer riots lead to citywide chaos. In my pexperience, most Japanese people find it amazing that the United States does not ban handgun ownership. That episode really helps illustrate various attitudes.
posted by planetkyoto at 6:02 AM on December 21, 2003

"Lisa, stay away from that jazzman"
posted by clavdivs at 10:11 AM on December 21, 2003

okay, so there's the episode where the kids are taken away from Homer and Marge after a series of poorly timed mishaps add up to the appearance of child neglect. The kids are placed in the care of the highly-nurturing but ultra-bizarro religious home of the Flanders clan (this is when the wife was still alive). At the end of the episode, Marge and Homer win back custody of their kids and race to "save" them from being baptized by Ned.

So you have the parents rights/childrens rights, bureaucracy vs. common sense, and religious freedom/freedom from religion dichotomies all at work there. Very American. Plus, at one point Marge utters "... Love for Sons and Daughters! That's right--a little LSD is all I need!"
posted by whatnot at 2:23 PM on December 21, 2003

marge is so heroic, my heart swells for her as - again and again - she stares directly into the face of grim, ugly reality and denies it with a gutteral "hrmmmmmmmmm." i think marge has a lot in common with my mom.
posted by quonsar at 10:51 PM on December 21, 2003 [1 favorite]

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