That's Unpossible!
July 2, 2018 4:22 PM   Subscribe

"I watched 'The Simpsons' for the first time ever and I couldn't stand it."

Vice writer Nicole Clark has never watched The Simpsons, until her boss assigned her 11 handpicked episodes including 'Last Exit to Springfield', 'Marge vs. The Monorail", and "Homer Badman."
posted by buzzkillington (88 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
 
That’s a fair critique. Thanks for posting it.
posted by MoonOrb at 4:27 PM on July 2, 2018 [4 favorites]


Man, The Simpsons is getting a hammering at the moment (and not without reason). This is the fourth post on Mefi in as many months about how The Simpsons is terrible.
posted by liquorice at 4:29 PM on July 2, 2018 [7 favorites]


I learned recently that the Simpsons, even at its peak, wasn't as popular with adults as it was with kids. So given that, and apparently the writer doesn't like sitcoms in general, this reaction isn't surprising to me.

There is a lot of reevaluation of the show, and that's fine, and I've learned many things and thought about many things I hadn't before, but The Simpsons will always be my favorite show.
posted by girlmightlive at 4:31 PM on July 2, 2018 [6 favorites]


somehow I found the list of things she did like about the show to be even more infuriatingly perplexing
posted by prize bull octorok at 4:33 PM on July 2, 2018 [8 favorites]


The monorail song is pretty good though and so is the planet of the apes song
posted by mr_roboto at 4:41 PM on July 2, 2018 [16 favorites]


We didn't have Fox in my market back then, so I had no idea Simpsons even existed until its fourth or fifth year. Some guys in my dorm watched it religiously, but I wasn't social with these guys, so the idea of sitting in a common room and watching a cartoon with drunk college students didn't appeal to me (even as a drunk college student).

Then I visited my brother-in-law for one of the breaks. He and my sister worked 40 hour week jobs, so I had a lot of time on my hands. He had all The Simpsons up to that point. Without Commercials. On VHS. He'd recorded these himself, diligently sitting in front of the TV, pausing it when commercials came on, resuming when the show did. You could see when he mistimed one, or was late to getting them back up.

I had no idea what I was in for when I popped the first one in. I mean, I'd heard the "Eat my shorts, dude," and such, but I had no expectations other than low brow humor. I was amazed and surprised.

I never became a fan, but I watched like the first five seasons in like three continuous days, never leaving my sister's couch. I've never really watched more than an occasional episode since, and like the writer, I didn't even know it was still on.

One thing she got drastically wrong is that The Simpsons has incredible continuity. It even carries over from Groening's other work.
A lot of people enjoy shows without continuity because anyone can watch any episode, no background knowledge required. But that quality has always made a show less enjoyable for me—
This obviously isn't going to come through with a few samplings here and there, but everything interconnects. I remember one of the early episodes has all the kids on a bus, and the teacher says, "Kids, don't put your arms out the window or they might get torn off." Many episodes later, Bart asks some army surplus store owner if he'd lost his arm in the war, and he says, "No, but if a teacher ever tells you to keep your arm inside the bus window you listen to her!"

Not all things are for all people, and I kind of feel bad for people who never outgrow the comedy they liked in their teens and twenties, but thanks to those VHS tapes I'll always have a soft spot for The Simpson's.
posted by cjorgensen at 4:44 PM on July 2, 2018 [35 favorites]


All I have to say is IN YOUR FACE, SPACE COYOTE!
posted by SPrintF at 4:47 PM on July 2, 2018 [15 favorites]


We take The Simpsons for granted and forget how counterculture and fresh it was in the beginning. So many animated shows exists simply because of The Simpsons. Also, it's been on air for three decades - of course sensibilities have changed since then.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 4:47 PM on July 2, 2018 [38 favorites]


From the article:

because I absolutely hate Homer, and couldn’t stand watching the show mostly due to his character. I don’t find him funny or likable—he’s an insufferable, pathetic freeloader. I don’t understand how people can bear him. You’re either laughing at his expense, which simply makes me sad, or you’re supposed to laugh at the scenarios he manages to get into and out of due to his inanity. And most of his triumphs seem to be at the expense of people who are actually conscientious and hard working.

there's a line that I think popped up in one of the Sugenius books. "The only thing worth laughing at is the fact that nothing is funny anymore." Maybe you had to be there, 1980s into 1990s, but that pretty much nailed the zeitgeist for me. I can't blame someone for not getting it now, but I can urge them to at least try to understand how utterly liberating The Simpsons was when it first hit. Finally, we could f***ing laugh again, because screaming in unrelenting horror was proving demoralizing and exhausting.

Come to think of it, maybe the Simpsons hate/dismissal that's currently going down is precisely because we're stuck in another of those screaming-in-unrelenting-horror phases ... waiting without realizing it for a chance to genuinely laugh again. Because man did we LAUGH at the Simpsons! For the first few years anyway.
posted by philip-random at 4:53 PM on July 2, 2018 [31 favorites]


I really wonder if she has ever watched a pre-Simpsons sitcom, especially from the 80s family sitcom era, because she seems completely unaware of the benevolent archetypal TV dad that Homer exists largely to demolish. If you've never absorbed Steven and Elyse Keaton or Cliff and Claire Huxtable how can you understand Homer Simpson?
posted by Nerd of the North at 4:56 PM on July 2, 2018 [120 favorites]


Even older than the 80s. Ward Cleaver, My Three Dads, Father Knows Best....
posted by cjorgensen at 5:06 PM on July 2, 2018 [20 favorites]


somehow I found the list of things she did like about the show to be even more infuriatingly perplexing

that part is basically "I do like that the jokes are good" (which, yeah, that actually is about 98 percent of why the show is good) plus a bunch of weirdly specific stuff (also of course the celebrity cameos came to become a terrible part of the Simpsons but whatever she doesn't know that)

I really wonder if she has ever watched a pre-Simpsons sitcom, especially from the 80s family sitcom era, because she seems completely unaware of the benevolent archetypal TV dad that Homer exists largely to demolish.

It's funny because I was going to say something sort of opposite:

Not being able to get over simply disliking Homer actually seems a fair enough reason not to like the show but given that most of the Homer-type characters that followed were worse it makes me wonder - has she escaped seeing Family Guy?

Homer Badman and Homer's Enemy seem like questionable episode suggestions - the latter is pretty funny but also often considered the beginning of a trend of the show getting more nihilistic and starting to wallow in Homer being a shithead.
posted by atoxyl at 5:07 PM on July 2, 2018 [8 favorites]


My Three Dads

I think you mean "My Three Sons". God I hated that boring show, I think it was between two other shows I liked (Gilligan's Island and the Munsters maybe?) They were all re-runs at the time I watched them (late 70's.)
posted by smcameron at 5:13 PM on July 2, 2018 [12 favorites]


I liked this article. I rarely feel more alone, pop-culture-wise, than when I'm among a group of people all agreeing about how much they like The Simpsons or Futurama. This does a good job of putting words to my distaste.
posted by Frobenius Twist at 5:15 PM on July 2, 2018 [5 favorites]


All I have to say is IN YOUR FACE, SPACE COYOTE!

Look, just give me some inner peace or I'll mop the floor with you.
posted by Space Coyote at 5:27 PM on July 2, 2018 [29 favorites]


I too liked it. I've not really seen any sitcoms from before the Simpsons, but this line:

this show feels like an infinite setup for Marge to put in so much bloody work only to have her oafish husband fuck it all up.

Encapsulates pretty well the biggest constant irritation of the show for me.
posted by AnhydrousLove at 5:27 PM on July 2, 2018 [19 favorites]


It’s really OK for someone not to like something that I love. I feel like this article is almost daring us to face that fact, like it’ll reveal to us that there’s something wrong with us for liking it (“how could you people stand it?”), and then we’ll get so dang steamed that she doesn’t appreciate it like we do. It doesn’t hurt to get an outside perspective, but her read on this is fundamentally different from mine in key ways. Which makes sense, because it’s 20 years later and the world is a different place, and she’s reading different stuff into it (like, Homer didn’t tear his hair out because he was angry, it was because he was freaked out).

For the record, I absolutely hate Homer’s Enemy, precisely because it’s so mean-spirited. It took all these deeply flawed characters with heart, and flipped them into a big mean joke. I wonder if her read on the show would have been different without that episode, or if she would have liked it even less.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 5:27 PM on July 2, 2018 [10 favorites]


The author does correctly identify the best sitcom
posted by flaterik at 5:34 PM on July 2, 2018 [7 favorites]


Picking Homer Badman seems like a ringer to get someone to not like the show. I do not know if there is an episode of The Simpsons where they handle something worse than the way they handle sexual harassment and assault in that episode. It is not particularly funny, and like she says in the article the idea that anybody would react to Homer grabbing a babysitter the way people in the show do is beyond unbelievable.

(like, Homer didn’t tear his hair out because he was angry, it was because he was freaked out).

Yes. How did she watch the way Homer reacts to Marge being pregnant in And Maggie Makes Three and think that that is him getting angry? Seems like a weird take.

She was never going to like the show. The Simpsons is pretty much just an exercise in stretching the sitcom to its absurd conclusions, packing in as many jokes as possibles. She says she does not like sitcoms and the one she does like, The Good Place, I feel is more charming and witty than really funny.

I had to laugh, though, that she thought the show peaked in the 2000s and disappeared. It peaked a decade earlier and has lasted a decade longer.

All of that said, I really liked this article. I like the idea of someone seeing The Simpsons for the first time and commenting on it, even if her views do not line up with mine. I think Allie Goertz put it best.:

I BELIEVE:
-The author is not JUST doing this as hate click bate. It's a well thought out piece about HER experience.
-We don't all have to like the same things.
-The Simpsons is the best show of all time.

posted by Regal Ox Inigo at 5:36 PM on July 2, 2018 [12 favorites]


Yeah, My Three Sons was relatively banal, but male nanny cranky character actor William Demarest was good. I think it was slotted between reruns of Bewitched/Monkees/Beverly Hillbillies/Green Acres, which were all interesting.
posted by ovvl at 5:36 PM on July 2, 2018 [2 favorites]


We're revisiting the golden age of the Simpsons right now (S4-8) and it's great. Probably some of that is due to nostalgia, but it also captures that specific time period well, and its brand of humor was so influential on many subsequent shows because it was the first to do a lot things. I think part of a solid critique is contextualizing its subject, and this review falls short in that respect.

Also +1 to the Monorail and Planet of the Apes songs.
posted by k8bot at 5:37 PM on July 2, 2018 [2 favorites]


I don't think she's wrong, but I also don't agree. Part of the charm of golden age Simpsons is the context in which it existed, and I do think that divorced from that context it does look very different.
posted by nubs at 5:39 PM on July 2, 2018 [4 favorites]


Oh thank goodness. I thought I was the only one who hated Homer.
posted by greermahoney at 5:39 PM on July 2, 2018 [4 favorites]


And I find it amusing that she loves the show for its meta-humour, but greatly disliked Homers Enemy, which is perhaps the most meta of the ones on her list.
posted by nubs at 5:41 PM on July 2, 2018 [1 favorite]


There are a lot of people that are very earnest and don't have a strong sense of humor. There always have been. But it feels like they are are more a part of the mainstream now compared to 20-30 years ago, it seems like it's cyclical, and I think that is reflected in our society in various ways.

I don't think any understanding of The Simpsons is possible without understanding how cynical people were when it started.

I will also repeat that I think the show was groundbreaking when it started, but not amazing, and it's not as terrible now as many people say. I think a lot of people's are judging it based on how they felt at a certain age.

But asking someone who's purposely never seen it in all these years to watch and judge it is a pretty ridiculous proposition all around.

I BELIEVE:
-The author is not JUST doing this as hate click bate. It's a well thought out piece about HER experience.
-We don't all have to like the same things.
-The Simpsons is the best show of all time.


Yes, the people that hired her to do this are doing it as hate click bait.
That doesn't seem that hard to understand.
posted by bongo_x at 5:46 PM on July 2, 2018 [25 favorites]


Today's "The Vice" article was, without a doubt, the worst episode ever. Rest assured, I was on the internet within minutes, registering my disgust throughout the world.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 6:04 PM on July 2, 2018 [47 favorites]


I don't understand why the guy who made the list for the article writer would have selected zero episodes from the first season.
posted by mattamatic at 6:07 PM on July 2, 2018 [3 favorites]


... the only sitcom I truly love, The Good Place, is extremely serialized.
Oh, Cousin Merle, really!
posted by anarch at 6:08 PM on July 2, 2018 [3 favorites]


My Three Dads

I think you mean "My Three Sons". God I hated that boring show, I think it was between two other shows I liked (Gilligan's Island and the Munsters maybe?) They were all re-runs at the time I watched them (late 70's.)


Seems VERY unlikely there would have been a show called My Three Dads in that era...
posted by randomkeystrike at 6:20 PM on July 2, 2018 [5 favorites]


When you look at something that transformed its field, if you look at it from the perspective of what came before the things that stand out to you are the things that are new and fresh, and if you look at it from the perspective of what came after, the things that stand out to you are the things that are old and cliché.
posted by ckape at 6:25 PM on July 2, 2018 [23 favorites]


I've been listening to a lot of the "Everything's Coming Up Simpsons" podcast recently, which just had Hari Kondabalu (director of The Problem with Apu) guesting a week before former showrunner Al Jean guested this week. (Kondablu, for his part, still enthusiastically enjoys the show, though he was obviously hurt at the way they used Lisa of all characters as the mouthpiece for their incredibly shitty reaction to "Problem."

If you like The Simpsons but also like getting some perspective and criticism on it, I highly recommend it.
posted by Navelgazer at 6:31 PM on July 2, 2018 [2 favorites]


And I find it amusing that she loves the show for its meta-humour, but greatly disliked Homers Enemy, which is perhaps the most meta of the ones on her list.

Seemed to me she said the opposite, that "Homer's Enemy" was her favorite of the bunch.
posted by Navelgazer at 6:33 PM on July 2, 2018 [3 favorites]


There are a lot of people that are very earnest and don't have a strong sense of humor. There always have been. But it feels like they are are more a part of the mainstream now compared to 20-30 years ago, it seems like it's cyclical, and I think that is reflected in our society in various ways.

I don't think it's fair to say about this writer that she's "very earnest and don't have a strong sense of humor." My dad, for example, would tell you I am too "strict" and need to "lighten up" because I take a dim view of public flatulence and breast-based characters in movies, but I am constantly either laughing at something or looking for something to laugh at. "Not having a sense of humor" is an ancient accusation against women and minorities who all of a sudden can't seem to take a joke.

Nicole Clark seems to have come up in an environment where the awfulness of husbands was not taken for granted, and that means Homer's not funny to her, but just plain appalling. So she's missing out on a lot of rough chuckles that I enjoy, but she's probably gained a lot more in life. Likewise, I myself am never going to give a hearty belly-laugh over the torment of animals or the antics of blackface minstrels, the way a lot of my ancestors did, because no decent people in my generation think that kind of thing is funny. That doesn't mean I'm particularly earnest or that the current fashion is for earnestness. The best humor coming out now is, I believe, on Twitter, and it is very surreal and very dark. Sometimes I think a truly good person wouldn't laugh as hard at @dril as I have.

When you look at something that transformed its field, if you look at it from the perspective of what came before the things that stand out to you are the things that are new and fresh, and if you look at it from the perspective of what came after, the things that stand out to you are the things that are old and cliché.

When I watched Casablanca, I was strangely unmoved. I felt guilty. I think it was that I had grown up watching too many movies that learned its lessons, plus, of course, Looney Tunes.
posted by Countess Elena at 6:35 PM on July 2, 2018 [38 favorites]


ckape: Concretized as the "Sgt. Peppers Law".
posted by Chitownfats at 6:35 PM on July 2, 2018 [5 favorites]


I mean, on the one hand I think it's too bad when someone is put off by something that I really enjoy. On the other hand... it's ok.
posted by graventy at 6:35 PM on July 2, 2018 [3 favorites]


Wait, hang on, we're supposed to like Homer? Especially first-few-seasons Homer? I...am pretty sure we aren't. The show's quality has tracked pretty inversely to its attempts to make Homer likeable.

I remember the genesis of the Simpsons in Matt Groening's strips and the Tracy Ullman Show where Homer is a blatantly abusive lout. That got softened for the series but not that much at first.
posted by soren_lorensen at 6:43 PM on July 2, 2018 [24 favorites]


Didn't they decide to have Homer quit throttling Bart? When I was a kid, that seemed comical but not way out of line. I think I even had that family scene on the Simpsons shirt I owned. A friend's mom throttled me once when she was mad at us kids, though, and it didn't occur to me that she was seriously out of line until, let's see, two minutes ago. (It's not a memory I have cared to revisit.) We don't notice what's brutal if we've seen enough of it.
posted by Countess Elena at 6:57 PM on July 2, 2018 [9 favorites]


Sometimes something becomes less funny or even unfunny when there's a built up expectation of it to be funny. It's kind of the same affect when someone says, "Here's a funny joke!" and then proceeds to tell a terrible joke. And there are very few things that I can think of that are as hyped as The Simpsons being "THE FUNNIEST THING EVER".

And it also sounds like the author's co-workers found out that she's never watched the show and then assigned her to watch the show as an writing assignment. Honestly, making something into work is another way how something becomes unenjoyable to me. So, it could be that as well.
posted by FJT at 7:10 PM on July 2, 2018 [8 favorites]


I would venture to say that the answer for "why doesn't this person think this thing I like is funny??" is rarely "because they have no sense of humor of course".
posted by inconstant at 7:26 PM on July 2, 2018 [11 favorites]


Flaming Moe's...
posted by blaneyphoto at 7:32 PM on July 2, 2018


I don’t begrudge the writer her opinions or her article, both of which are...fine.

I do, however, dread the endless slew of hot takes that it will spawn. Especially those of the “I always secretly KNEW the show was bad, and now FINALLY someone had the guts to come right out and say that The Emperor Has No Clothes!” variety (as if brave iconoclasts haven’t been loudly declaiming the show’s awfulness from the very beginning.)
posted by Atom Eyes at 7:49 PM on July 2, 2018 [9 favorites]


Personally I don't agree with the criticism that a comedy show is bad if the characters are unlikeable, even the main ones, as long as the show isn't endorsing their assholery. The best comedy characters (Mr Bean, Blackadder, David Brent etc) are all unlikeable assholes. If you make a show out of nice people you could see yourself being friends with IRL you'll get crap like Friends.
posted by L.P. Hatecraft at 7:57 PM on July 2, 2018 [16 favorites]


because I absolutely hate Homer, and couldn’t stand watching the show mostly due to his character. I don’t find him funny or likable—he’s an insufferable, pathetic freeloader. I don’t understand how people can bear him. You’re either laughing at his expense, which simply makes me sad, or you’re supposed to laugh at the scenarios he manages to get into and out of due to his inanity. And most of his triumphs seem to be at the expense of people who are actually conscientious and hard working.

This is exactly how I imagine a review of The Simpsons by Frank Grimes would be written.
posted by Karaage at 8:05 PM on July 2, 2018 [36 favorites]


Born in 1952. Have never seen Bonanza, Rawhide, My Three Sons...or Friends, Thirtysomething, The Wire, Breaking Bad, Girls, Madmen...I'm just scratching the surface here.

I've seen The Simpsons many times. I like it, although I admit I haven't watched the last twenty years too much. I've been busy. Twin Peaks, though, both seasons, and PeeWee's Playhouse: YES. Thumbs up to Bojack Horseman, while we're name-checking.
posted by kozad at 8:07 PM on July 2, 2018 [2 favorites]


I certainly love The Simpsons. I also haven't watched a full episode in maybe a decade. Tried to get Gwint Jr. into it and it didn't click. We watch Bob's Burgers now and the whole family loooves it.
posted by gwint at 8:11 PM on July 2, 2018 [4 favorites]


Also, I found the idea about only getting into "serialized" shows kind of fascinating, given that that option basically didn't exist a generation ago and now it's like, a given. I do remember as a kid, watching things like Gilligan's Island and feeling this strange dread week after week where nothing would ever change. Beneath every script, a hidden Beckett play!
posted by gwint at 8:16 PM on July 2, 2018 [18 favorites]


If you make a show out of nice people you could see yourself being friends with IRL you'll get crap like Friends.


To be honest, I really enjoyed Friends — even to the point of buying the whole set on VHS when I lived overseas — but I couldn’t bear to hang out with any of those guys. They all just seemed like people that would be super irritating if you had to deal with them IRL.

(I did have sort of an early crush on Chandler, but grew out of that about the time he took up smoking.)
posted by darkstar at 8:24 PM on July 2, 2018 [3 favorites]


I think she's pretty much right. The Simpsons has held up (in a lot of ways) as really good comedy writing, but not well at all in terms of cultural sensibilities. To use a perhaps overused term, I'd call The Simpsons one of my "problematic faves".
posted by codacorolla at 8:32 PM on July 2, 2018 [3 favorites]


Also, I found the idea about only getting into "serialized" shows kind of fascinating, given that that option basically didn't exist a generation ago

Ahem, I believe a little show called Dark Shadows would beg to differ (and do so in florid, stilted language with the occasional genuinely awkward pause).
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 8:35 PM on July 2, 2018 [7 favorites]


As would Soap. And the myriad daytime operas upon which it was based.
posted by darkstar at 8:50 PM on July 2, 2018 [6 favorites]


Come to think of it, I never did see an episode of Friends. I just never got around to it. Not sure if I missed anything.
posted by Countess Elena at 8:53 PM on July 2, 2018 [3 favorites]


Yeah, agreed to both. Twin Peaks was groundbreaking as a serialized drama with a complex plot in the early 90s, but it was at its heart a pastiche, satire, and homage to soap operas.
posted by codacorolla at 8:54 PM on July 2, 2018 [5 favorites]


Soap operas? Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman.
posted by hippybear at 8:58 PM on July 2, 2018 [5 favorites]


I mean, holy shit, a 5-night-a-week pastiche sitcom? That borders on abuse!
posted by hippybear at 8:59 PM on July 2, 2018 [1 favorite]


I assumed this was going to be pitched as a bit of a hot take that it was possible for someone to dislike a 30-year old mainstream TV show. Obviously that's what the editors were hoping for, I'm glad she stuck to her sort of meh reaction. Kind of bemused that metafilter has had so much Simpsons lately since ignoring it seems the best strategy for people who've always hated it and people who bemoan it's decline. (The Hari Kondabolu stuff excepted.)

But as long as I'm here: I did think about the Homer question a bit and for me (white male) at least I recognize of my own weakest, worst impulses in him. So it's the comedy of recognition. I hope I never act but, say, a friend calls and needs an emergency ride somewhere but I just cracked opened a beer, there's a part of me that is saying I need to take into account I don't drink many beers and this is a good microbrew and it's a loss not to drink it. So comedy of recognition, but also distant enough to be non-threatening I guess. (FWIW I also identify with Lisa. I can get why her frustration could drive some people crazy but when I was watching I never felt she was the butt of the joke, and I did love all of her tiny little wins.)
posted by mark k at 8:59 PM on July 2, 2018 [4 favorites]


but getting back to the actual article from the FPP --

I think the critique is exactly correct, except it's expecting something else from the show than what it intends. You're not supposed to like Homer, you're not supposed to like Bart, you're supposed to sympathize with Marge being marginalized (pun intended?) and with Lisa for being so misunderstood.

And yes, agreeing with those upthread who say that the historical (although at the time was "present-time-ical") context of when Simpsons episodes come out plays into how well the episode works.
posted by hippybear at 9:04 PM on July 2, 2018 [11 favorites]


In hindsight, we're not supposed to like any of The Simpsons because they're supposed to be us... or, well, America, and because it's essentially Matt Groenig's cynicism commodified, like you took all the Life is Hell comics and Tracy Ullman shorts and blasted them like confetti from a shotgun.

The Simpson's are really a situation tragedy, not comedy, and it was always less introspection or reflection than gross revelry. It wouldn't have survived network TV otherwise, especially Fox.

D'oh.
posted by loquacious at 9:13 PM on July 2, 2018 [7 favorites]


All I have to say is IN YOUR FACE, SPACE COYOTE!

Okay, this momentarily confused me, because I associate the name Space Coyote with an art school student named Nina Matsumoto who coincidentally went on to draw a piece of Simpsons fan art that went viral which got her a job drawing Simpsons comics (one of which she won an Eisner Award for). I hadn't actually realized her nom de plume originated with the Simpsons.
posted by Secret Sparrow at 9:43 PM on July 2, 2018 [6 favorites]


> You're not supposed to like Homer, you're not supposed to like Bart

Errrr... the merchanidising says different.
posted by Leon at 12:22 AM on July 3, 2018 [4 favorites]


Perhaps it's more complex than "you're not supposed to like" or "you are supposed to like". Perhaps it's both.

Homer's an oaf. He's selfish and close-minded and lazy. But he also truly loves his family and can be inspired to do great things for people.

The whole family, in fact, has their negative aspects - Bart's an asshole, Marge can be just as small minded as her husband, Lisa can be arrogant. They all have their positive attributes too, though, often demonstrating true love for one another and generosity to others. There's a duality to their natures that reflects society in general (and also makes it easier to come up with many varied stories).

Overall, I'd say The Simpsons is generally nihilistic: there's continuity, but the core characters never change. They're stuck in their small world, trapped to never truly grow and develop. Their lives are a comment on society as it goes through various trials while at the same time a tableau of a dysfunctional family, frozen in place. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

To say that you don't like the show is fine, obviously, but, at least for a few seasons, it was undeniably successful at achieving its artistic aim.
posted by dazed_one at 12:47 AM on July 3, 2018 [11 favorites]


Wow. Taking TV seriously? Seriously? That's one thing that never occured to me.

It's entertainment. It's non-challenging, kick-back and relax dumbdown. Go back as far as you want - Happy Days? Mr. Ed? The Honeymooners? Howdy Doody? Francis the Talking Mule? Captain Freaking Kangaroo? Tom Terrific? Mr. Spock? - that's most of what you get and *almost* ALL of what's popular. What's there to confuse?

Wow, what a fascinating concept. Buuuuut ... nope. Beer and burp time. Nevermore.
posted by Twang at 1:28 AM on July 3, 2018 [1 favorite]


As far as taking media and entertainment seriously, the only thing I take more seriously than TV is the internet, and before the internet there's no question that TV as such ruled supreme for a long time.
The messages and values presented in music, books, radio and visual art etc are important, and often interrogated at length, but as I understand matters, TV and movies were/are some of the most significant and pervasive sources of social and cultural messaging out there.

I'm really not sure if above is meant as a joke. The idea of dismissing anything as mere entertainment is, on its face, absurd. If nothing else, what we find entertaining is already dependent upon pre-existing beliefs and understandings, implicit or otherwise.

That you can spend any amount of time, let along hours of audio-visual immersion in something without it shaping you somewhat is pretty much incomprehensible to me. Which is of course not to say that you can't consume problematic media, but one always has to be aware of what ideas you're consuming.
posted by AnhydrousLove at 2:38 AM on July 3, 2018 [15 favorites]


Overall, I'd say The Simpsons is generally nihilistic: there's continuity, but the core characters never change. They're stuck in their small world, trapped to never truly grow and develop. Their lives are a comment on society as it goes through various trials while at the same time a tableau of a dysfunctional family, frozen in place. The more things change, the more they stay the same.


I have to ask how you see that as being all that different than most tv or, say, comic books and strips which mostly tend to have that same model of minimal change in continuity? I mean that's the hook for most tv and comics isn't it?

The Simpsons was certainly more irreverent, in a general sense, than most of the media at its origin, and with the vast array of different topics and writers involved sometimes had some truly biting episodes, but for the most part I don't see it as all that different than other media, just more exaggerated in tone and situation. That people found it so funny seems to serve to perhaps add a desire to match the enjoyment to greater meaning than warranted at times, noting for example how readily the humorous oaf/suffering wife dynamic transferred to beer commercials among many other things. A lot of the things I remember from the show reinforce normative expectations through exaggeration, but didn't really subvert things all that much in the end.
posted by gusottertrout at 2:51 AM on July 3, 2018 [2 favorites]


I think it's more that The Simpsons took the stand that its characters are trapped by their own hubris. When they do flash-forwards, Lisa's usually the only one that changes, and the other family members are almost always basically doing the same thing.

Agreed that the point of Homer is that he's the patriarch that gets all the respect even though he very, very obviously doesn't deserve it, a parody of the sitcom Dad that's largely been replaced by crappy sitcom Dad who has a wife who absolutely deserves better.
posted by Merus at 3:01 AM on July 3, 2018 [5 favorites]


Yeah, it goes back a long way too. I mean Homer isn't that far removed from some of W.C.Fields characters from the early part of the last century. Bumbling, ne'er-do-wells who stumble into some unlikely success at times while often operating directly against the wants of his wife or the best interests of his family.
posted by gusottertrout at 3:57 AM on July 3, 2018 [8 favorites]


Personally I don't agree with the criticism that a comedy show is bad if the characters are unlikeable, even the main ones, as long as the show isn't endorsing their assholery.

Perfect example: It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, easily the funniest show on TV and all of the characters are absolutely horrible people who destroy everything they touch. The show definitely does not endorse the assholery in any way. Seriously the funniest show on TV (if it's ever going to come back...)
posted by LizBoBiz at 4:11 AM on July 3, 2018 [4 favorites]


(if it's ever going to come back...)

Sept. 5.
posted by girlmightlive at 4:23 AM on July 3, 2018 [1 favorite]


Obviously, The Simpsons started in the 1989, before “political correctness”—otherwise known as being tolerant and conscientious towards people—was a concern for a lot of folks.

Ahh, sweet bird of youth.
posted by chavenet at 4:59 AM on July 3, 2018 [10 favorites]


@wowprettylady: [pitching an article for vice]
i start watching the simpsons but get so mad at the fact that the main character is bald that i have a nervous breakdown and have to be sedated
posted by Space Coyote at 7:36 AM on July 3, 2018 [2 favorites]


Marge gets ignored (is this supposed to be satire?)

Yes, yes it is.

If you don't accept or understand the fundamental premise that The Simpsons is entirely crafted out of satire (some broad and dare I say cartoonish, others more subtle)--if you don't under that you're not supposed to like Homer, or reject that reading because it makes you sad--then it becomes a horrible show about people rather than a show about horrible people.

(Interestingly, I despite Always Sunny in Philadelphia for probably the same reasons. I'm not sure if the live action vs. cartoon format is the reason, or what... Maybe it's also that the Simpsons does have likable characters and one of the things it plays around with is moments of likability for the horrible characters, and moments when the likable ones become unlikable)

(also, spellcheck tells me it is spelled likable and not likeable but the former should really be reserved only for bred, n'est ce-pas?)
posted by drlith at 7:58 AM on July 3, 2018 [6 favorites]


Either is cromuelent.
posted by Segundus at 8:24 AM on July 3, 2018 [3 favorites]


Wow. Taking TV seriously? Seriously? That's one thing that never occured to me.

It's entertainment. It's non-challenging, kick-back and relax dumbdown.


Serious or not, this is an obnoxious comment to lob into the middle of conversation where people are actually doing the thing you're claiming can't be done.
posted by Ipsifendus at 8:28 AM on July 3, 2018 [10 favorites]


If you don't accept or understand the fundamental premise that The Simpsons is entirely crafted out of satire (some broad and dare I say cartoonish, others more subtle)--if you don't under that you're not supposed to like Homer, or reject that reading because it makes you sad--then it becomes a horrible show about people rather than a show about horrible people.
drlith

Exactly. Missing this renders this article devoid of any meaning or value.

Of course Homer is irritating and awful, he's supposed to be. That's not after-the-fact rationalizing, his behavior and attitude is explicitly called out as selfish and awful within the show, and his family suffers for it. But this is the point: that this kind of thoughtless oaf was once the unquestioned hero of TV shows.

Like one of the article says:
None of this even begins to touch on my disappointment at the way Lisa is continually used as a punching bag.
That's the point of her character! She's a kind, thoughtful person stuck in a stupid, cruel world that constrains her intelligence and creativity. She's not a punch bag, she's to show what the world often does to people like her.

A lot of the things I remember from the show reinforce normative expectations through exaggeration, but didn't really subvert things all that much in the end.
gusottertrout

But it does. Every institution in American life is depicted as apathetic, incompetent, evil, or some combination thereof (church, government, school, family, business). It's why the show got such a strong reaction in the early days.
posted by Sangermaine at 8:43 AM on July 3, 2018 [11 favorites]


Personally I don't agree with the criticism that a comedy show is bad if the characters are unlikeable, even the main ones, as long as the show isn't endorsing their assholery.

I think it is a fair criticism that having your main characters be unlikeable is really hard to do right without ending up with e.g. "Team Walt", or people being like, "y'know, that Rorschach guy had a lot of good ideas!". I don't think that means you can't make your main characters unlikeable, but I do think it means that "they're supposed to be unlikeable!" is not a great defense if your writers have in fact fucked up and yet again we have a large chunk of the audience liking the show/comic/whatever because they agree with the shitty behavior of the protagonists (vs. liking how it shines a satirical or ironic light on it).

Maybe summarized, the failure mode of satire often ends up being providing aid and comfort to awful members of the audience, and that's a risk you can't just wave away with "but they're not enjoying it the way I meant!"
posted by tocts at 8:55 AM on July 3, 2018 [4 favorites]


But it does. Every institution in American life is depicted as apathetic, incompetent, evil, or some combination thereof (church, government, school, family, business). It's why the show got such a strong reaction in the early days.

Sure, the "Don't blame me, I voted for Kodos" effect, which by moderately condemning everything, everything comes out the same in the end. While I certainly won't argue with anyone who felt the show or characters weren't meant to be liked and/or taken to heart, that wasn't my experience. There were too many examples of the show attempting to make emotional points by showing Homer, eventually, coming to some "deeper understanding" with Lisa, or where feints towards subversion of an institution ended up essentially reaffirming the more usual homespun values of faith, trust, and family again.

If one is mostly just comparing the show to other mass media entertainment of the era, then, sure, it was more cynical or outwardly subversive than most as the era was rife with mediocrity tied to backwards looking values, but if one compares the show to the attitudes of the audience, then that cynicism weakens to something much more normative as the strength of the show was, as I see it, more in capturing the zeitgeist of the era better than other shows were doing, not challenging that attitude or the audience all that much overall. (Though as I mentioned, some individual episodes perhaps did better in that regard given the overall variability of the show.)

I enjoyed the Simpsons well enough back when it was in its heyday, but I never really felt it matched a lot of the more radical takes offered about it, but more hardcore fans certainly did feel differently about it then and still do now evidently.
posted by gusottertrout at 9:36 AM on July 3, 2018 [1 favorite]


or where feints towards subversion of an institution ended up essentially reaffirming the more usual homespun values of faith, trust, and family again.

that fucking Jebediah Springfield episode, ugh
posted by prize bull octorok at 9:42 AM on July 3, 2018 [1 favorite]


"I read your Vice article for the first time ever and it was meh at best."
posted by Splunge at 9:45 AM on July 3, 2018 [4 favorites]


The Simpsons, like a lot of Groening's earlier work, started out as somewhat "hey, look at these assholes, life is meaningless and also funny." I blame Family Guy and South Park and also later Simpsons for ruining earlier Simpsons seasons for us. Of course Marge was supposed to be ignored by louder, dumber people, as was Lisa. Because life is fucking awful! That's what happens a lot! It's not supposed to be a recommendation.

AND YET. Looking at it now, it's also become more generally accepted wisdom that using tropes like Downtrodden Marge has the unintended effect of making them worse. That wasn't an idea that got a lot of play in 90s pop culture, at least as far as I was aware. Could you watch the Simpsons for the first time now with 90s eyes? I don't know that I could.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 10:18 AM on July 3, 2018 [4 favorites]


However, my dislike of Seinfeld is pure and utterly undetermined by culture or experiential lens.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 10:22 AM on July 3, 2018 [5 favorites]


Obviously, The Simpsons started in the 1989, before “political correctness”—otherwise known as being tolerant and conscientious towards people—was a concern for a lot of folks.

I guess that pretty much sums up the author's understanding of the subject.
posted by Liquidwolf at 12:41 PM on July 3, 2018 [4 favorites]


I was trying to remember when tolerance was invented, obviously after 1989.
posted by bongo_x at 1:03 PM on July 3, 2018 [1 favorite]


There are a lot of people that are very earnest and don't have a strong sense of humor.

This is incredibly dismissive.
posted by PMdixon at 2:36 PM on July 3, 2018


There are a lot of people that are very earnest and don't have a strong sense of humor.

This is incredibly dismissive.


It happens to be true, however. I wouldn't periodize this statement the way it was here, necessarily — I think it's always been the case — but yeah, as one of the people in question, I'll cosign. The only thing I'd change is that I'd probably be more careful about characterizing the particular type of humor the highly earnest people I've known tend to have a hard time with, which is the mocking and cynical we-offend-everyone-equally-here variety.
posted by adamgreenfield at 3:19 PM on July 3, 2018 [3 favorites]


In effect rendering it a completely different statement? That's like saying "Some people don't have a sense of ethics" is true because "Some people don't have a sense of ethics based on upholding tradition and reinforcing ingroup cohesiveness" is true.
posted by inconstant at 3:34 PM on July 3, 2018 [1 favorite]


I'm really kind of over contrarian bullshit thinkpieces, Especially from Vice.
posted by Guy Smiley at 5:05 PM on July 3, 2018 [2 favorites]


There are a lot of people that are very earnest and don't have a strong sense of humor.

This is incredibly dismissive.


It was not meant to be dismissive, or an insult. People have different personalities.

I don't think it's fair to say about this writer that she's "very earnest and don't have a strong sense of humor." My dad, for example, would tell you I am too "strict" and need to "lighten up" because I take a dim view of public flatulence and breast-based characters in movies, but I am constantly either laughing at something or looking for something to laugh at.

I don't know her, and so didn't directly criticize her about this. I also don't think fart jokes are funny, don't watch a lot of sitcoms. But I would have to infer that if someone doesn't like ANY sitcoms other than one, and has never even bothered to watch the Simpsons, whether they like it or not, that television humor doesn't play a large part in their life.

I'm really not trying to criticize her or her opinion but the assignment. This opinion is a product, it didn't come up in a discussion at the coffee shop. I think this is the equivalent of "let's get the guy in the office who doesn't like music to critique "It Takes A Nation of Millions". I can't see any possible reason except for clickbait.
posted by bongo_x at 12:43 AM on July 4, 2018 [6 favorites]


Times change. When the Simpsons first aired, young people weren't looking back fondly to the hilarity of My Favorite Martian or McHale's Navy and the once, allegedly, funny antics of Andy Capp and B.C. were starting to wear out their welcome. The Simpsons likewise may have worn out their welcome among some younger viewers now who aren't attaching feelings of reminiscence to their viewing, but are looking at the show from this moment alone.

If you start off with the assumption that the Simpsons is unquestionably funny, then, sure, any take that doesn't match is going to look "contrary" even with explanations of why it doesn't work for that person. There's no compelling reason to say that someone should like TV sitcoms to have their thoughts on The Simpsons matter. The idea that only fans of the thing or like things can assess things properly is weird and problematic. (The likening of the Simpsons to It Takes a Nation of Millions is also kinda off given the form the author's criticisms of the show took, the dismay of it celebrating a oafish white guy and dismissal of women and race.)

There certainly can be arguments made that the author's take on the show is wanting, that Homer isn't providing the audience point of view on events, or that something else might be acting to counter inform the situations as shown, but that is something different than saying the author's perspective doesn't matter because it was in an article on a site that wants traffic. That would cover most articles written on the internet or in print after all. I personally didn't find the article to be very deep in its criticism, but as a reporting of a first impression it makes enough sense to me that attempting to dismiss it out of hand seems a mistake. The Simpsons is perhaps the defining "Generation X" mass media cultural contribution; Mock everything, it doesn't matter much anyway since we're all fucked. Maybe it's good that The Simpsons isn't still as popular or funny to younger people anymore since that attitude didn't really gain us much, even as it might have fit the times.
posted by gusottertrout at 4:16 AM on July 4, 2018 [3 favorites]


ovvl: "Yeah, My Three Sons was relatively banal, but male nanny cranky character actor William Demarest was good. "

Please, everyone knows the show peaked during the William "Bub" Frawley era.
posted by Chrysostom at 8:22 PM on July 7, 2018


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