Monday, October 6, 2014

Embarrassing Bans: The Simpsons

Anytime someone tries to push any type of boundary, there’s always someone there to take offense and try to push back. As has been shown time and time again, however, the overreacting prudes are always proven to be the fools they always were. The Simpsons wasn’t the first piece of pop culture that was banned or criticized by reactionaries, but it is one of the more recent examples of something that was criticized by people who never watched an episode, yet eventually became something we take for granted as an American institution.

Flash back to 1989- Jack Nicholson dazzled theater goers with his interpretation of the classic American literary figure The Joker, Milli Vanilli conquered NBC’s Sister Kate before conquering the hearts of America and crude animated filler material was stretched out to fill 30 minutes of dead air on the last place television network. Yes, The Simpsons were about to take the world by storm… However, if various religious and authority types had their way, the conquering of America by this new, subversive cartoon would not have actually happened.

Of course, most of these types decided the show was no good based solely on what they imagined the show to be like. Had they actually watched it, they would have seen a family that attends church every Sunday and truly loves one another. Bart’s underachieving (despite what was on the T-Shirts) was never shown in a positive light. Out of touch politicians like then-president George Herbert Walker Bush made blanket statements that probably impressed the “get off my lawn” retired types, but really just exposed them as the out of touch fossils they were. Schools banned Bart Simpson shirts and merchandise in knee jerk reactions which no doubt made them more popular; misguided parents prohibited their kids from watching the show and there were “boycotts” threatened against stores that carried the merchandise. It all seems ridiculous now, but this was Serious Business[TM] at the time and resulted in various editorials being written and much clicking of tongues. What was to be done about this Homer Simpson? As it turned out, nothing. Once people started watching the show, they realized that it wasn’t anything like the detractors’ imaginations. It was a hilarious, sometimes heartwarming look at modern life. It just happened to be in cartoon form.

Eventually successive waves of Simpsons merchandise and promotions proved that the general public had accepted and embraced this flawed but loving family. So the show became an institution and the reactionaries went on to find new things to be offended about. I’d like to think they really are embarrassed by their ignorant complaints, but those types rarely ever feel shame. This quote from Bart to Helen Lovejoy seems oddly appropriate:

“No offense lady, but what you don’t know could fill a warehouse.”

What a cromulent observation.