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The Simpsons, an American Popular Culture Phenomenon?

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'The Simpson's' an American Popular Culture phenomenon?

American popular culture has a tremendous effect on the everyday people. The fields of television film and pop music are dominated by media representations produced in the USA. The invasion of the American popular culture has been so powerful that many people get most of their information about the world through American films and television shows. "Popular culture enthusiasts are thus absorbed into a situation where American-made popular culture texts inevitably affect their worldviews" (Mikko Vaatainen, 2002), whether they want them or not. The perspectives to real-life phenomena offered by American popular culture products are bound to be one-sided. Yet, they are a central aspect in the forming of people's conceptions concerning the world. The popular television series, 'The Simpson's' can be seen as an example of an American popular culture that has radically affected not only America but the whole world.

The Simpson's began as a series of short cartoons on the Tracy Ullman show in the late eighties. In 1989 The Fox Broadcasting Company signed the cartoonist Matt Groening to make 13 half hour episodes. The show quickly became one of the network's highest rated and critically acclaimed programs. Midway through its 15th season The Simpson's remains as popular as ever, increased sales in its DVD collections, more Emmy's added to its already formidable collection and substantial TV ratings suggest that the show is going from strength to strength.

Fox used The Simpson's instant popularity to their advantage, frequently using the show as a lead in to many other programs, especially when the network hoped to hook audiences on new shows, "Say what you will about King of the Hill, Futurama etc. but it would be foolhardy to suggest their success had nothing to do with the Simpson's."(Geoff Nixon, 2004) To look at the Simpson's' specific comic strength is to notice its fast pace, tight scripting, and cerebral sense of humour. Working on a number of levels, "The Simpson's has always been equally willing to reference respected academics like Henry Kissinger as frequently as they poked fun at frivolous television efforts like Richard Dean Andersons' MacGuyver" (Geoff Nixon, 2004) Carl Matheson of the University of Manitoba recognises The Simpson's as the pioneer of "quotationalism" the practice of referencing contemporary culture, many top celebrities have featured in the Simpson's, including Tony Blair, Sir Ian Mckellen and Simon Cowell. The show's carefully assembled mix of sly pop culture references and social satire have kept things fresh and unpredictable for over ten years, without a doubt The Simpson's has been one of the most influential comedic institutions of recent popular culture and has managed to have satirized any concept, no matter how touchy; abortion, breast cancer even the lingering effects of the Vietnam War on American Culture. For this fearlessness in their writing and their expertly articulated viewpoints on contemporary life, The Simpson's can never be faulted. In 15 years The Simpson's has grown from mere cartoon to cultural icon, executive producer Al Jean admits he is constantly amazed by the shows popularity, "We don't have tapings with audiences and we don't really get feedback except from the people that work on the show, so whenever I go overseas I am astounded how many people are familiar with it." (2002) Many of the shows' fans have become obsessed with exploring its secrets. Numerous academic papers and websites have been created by educated, eager fans wanting to deconstruct and analyse their favourite show. As a result the show has been dissected and discussed exhaustively for most of its existence and has become a seemingly permanent fixture in our discourse of popular culture. The Simpson's has achieved iconic status, and the various members of the Simpson family are now easily recognised features of contemporary US pop culture; the show has become a part of mainstream American Culture.

However, as the series continues into its 15th season many have argued that it has become increasingly apparent that the show has passed its creative peak. It was in fact about four years ago when the first cancel The Simpson's opinion articles were released onto online periodicals arguing that the quality of the program was slipping. Fans argued that the show now contains "mind-numbingly improbable events passed off as reality and the characters had become broad and bland" (Ian Pugh, 2004). The TV Internet Newsgroup Alt. TV Simpson's, has many people that are against the direction that the show is now being directed toward. One of the lead protestors on the group is Ondre Lonbard who says "The Simpson's has turned into a cold, cynical, anything for a joke series with one dimensional characters" The Simpson's is a satire first and foremost, but despite any good intentions that the show may offer 'in the spirit of good fun' many of the general public see it as "subversive and ultimately harmful to their own well being" (Eric Garrison, 2001). In 1992 President George Bush stated that "The Simpson's is a bad influence on children." Some critics even think that where the show once had decency and clear cut values it is now a sloppy mess that should be taken off the air. One of the main issues that some of the public would begin to hold against the show was stereotyping. One example is shop owner Apu; he started out in concept as a simple convenience clerk. According to show writer Mike Reiss when Hank Azaria (the voice of Apu) started to voice act the script he couldn't help but give Apu an Indian accent, "we couldn't help it once Apu was given an Indian accent Apu Nahasapeemapetilan was born" (2001) In the following seasons, Apu is given to many stereotypical jokes and situations. In one such episode an indignant Apu approaches a calm Reverend Lovejoy for calling his religion 'miscellaneous' "you know Hindu isn't a small religion, there are 7 million of us" Lovejoy responds "Aw that's super". Not only does Lovejoy smile and nod at what Apu says, but also it's in a condescending way. Its here where the dividing lines between stereotyping and religion itself comes into question.

The question of family values within The Simpson's has also been under criticism recently. In the first few years Homer Simpson was the well to do dad, fast-forward a couple of years, Homer is transformed from a hard working Dad, to a spur of the moment oaf in the blink of an eye. "Gone is that Dad that works

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