The Simpsons has been attracting viewers across the world for 28 seasons making it the longest running TV show in the North America. Why is the story of Simpsons’ family life and problems still popular? It may be because of the issues and concepts it touches upon, among which there are marital problems, racial discrimination, stereotypes about foreigners, gay rights, gun control, government and police corruption, freedom of speech, violence on TV, alcoholism, etc. Thus, this paper will analyze politics, religion, and feminism as depicted in The Simpsons and investigate how the cartoon approaches these issues. It will also draw attention to the messages the TV show promotes and disapproves of. Additionally, the paper will investigate what The Simpsons says about the American culture overall.
The Simpsons became a cultural phenomenon because of its satire on the American society and values. The show’s main characters are the members of a typical American family from the 1960s. Parents and children in The Simpsons have typical problems and deal with the widespread issues. Homer is depicted as an ignorant father who is lazy and has alcohol problems while Marge is pictured as a perfect housewife and mother who holds family together as some sort of glue. Their older son Bart is a typical rebellious teenager, who sometimes is a popular kid and in the other times – an object of bullying. Lisa, the older daughter, is depicted as an independent, hard-studying, and feministic young lady and at the same time an ardent vegetarian who fights for animal rights and freedom of speech. In her turn, Maggie is a very symbolic character. Even though she does not speak much, never grows up, and is basically a “half-human”, her presence is important as a proof of typical American demographics of those times – every family having 2.5 children.
In fact, The Simpsons is viewed as an embodiment of the American Dream. The cartoon mockingly shows that Homer reached it by merely dreaming since in all the episodes of the TV show it is emphasized that he is lazy and does not work much. He only eats doughnuts, sleeps, and drinks beer. Such a portrayal defies the American Dream whose main premise states that hard work will pay off. Nevertheless, two main constituents of the American Dream are shown in The Simpsons. The first one is the bootstrap mentality which presupposes that it is possible to start from nothing and rise to the top. Homer serves as a failed illustration of this since he had two unsuccessful entrepreneurial experiences with snow plowing and starting a website. The second constituent of the American Dream, depicted in The Simpsons is property owning. The family has a 2-storey house with a yard and a garden in the neighborhood of identical houses. In general, The Simpsons is shown as a perfect proof that American Dream exists. What is not known is that inside they have many problems and issues to resolve.
The Simpsons sends a lot of underlying messages in which the TV show either disapproves of certain idea or promotes it. Among the concepts ardently supported in the cartoon is meritocracy – a system in which the talented and able individuals get promoted in the society and achieve what they aim for. Other ideas are gay marriage, gender equality, and freedom of speech. The Simpsons disapprove of many concepts and do it using sarcastic tone and mockery. Alcoholism and extreme laziness are ridiculed with the help of Homer’s character, who constantly drinks beer and promotes the idea of idling during the work hours. In one of the conversations with Lisa he states that if people do not like their job, they should not strike, but instead they must go to work every day and do as little job duties as possible. With the help of Homer, the show also denounces reckless gun behavior. In addition, The Simpsons disapproves of police and government corruption, stereotypical beliefs about South being the only slave-owning territory as well as religious fanaticism and homophobia.
It should be mentioned that The Simpsons depicts political issues in an extremely satirical way. Both Democratic and Republican parties exist in Springfield, the hometown of The Simpsons. However, the cartoon mocks them equally. It depicts the former party’s members as disorganized minority who supports women, gay people, immigrants, and vegetarians. The latter one primarily consists of rich people, who are merciless, pro-gun capitalists, symbolically meeting in the vampire castle. It still remains unclear whether the TV show supports either of the main American parties since there are many contradictory scenes and moments in the cartoon. For instance, the mayor of Springfield, Quimby, is notoriously known as a corrupt person, guilty of various misdemeanors and petty crimes. This points out the cartoon’s support of the Republican policies since this party is against liberal tendencies. On the other hand, Lisa Simpson ardently supports feminism, gay rights, and immigrants, which shows the Democratic direction of The Simpsons.
The mockery of politics is also manifested through description of presidential and congress elections as well as introduction of the existing political figures prototypes. During presidential elections Ralph Wiggum, a mentally ill son of a police chief, is backed by the majority. During elections to the Congress, Krusty the Clown runs for the office as a Republican. In this way, The Simpsons showed the blindness of the electorate and their tendency to be easily manipulated. Gearge W. Bush was infamously portrayed as a bad neighbor who spanked Bart and became an enemy for Homer. In this way, The Simpsons took revenge against the former US president for criticizing the show publicly.
Religion is another hot issue portrayed in The Simpsons in a very ambiguous and two-edged way. On the one hand, Springfield inhabitants attend church and pray every Sunday. On the other hand, the overall tone with which Christianity is portrayed seems rather skeptical. It is not known which religion The Simpsons belongs to. In one of the episodes Marge clearly states that they are not Christians, and it has to be admitted that Christianity is ridiculed the most in the cartoon. While Lisa may definitely be identified as a Buddhist, and the grandfather Abe is an average Jewish old man, telling stories about good old days, all the other family members are not so clearly religious. Krusty the Clown, one of the antiheroes of the TV show, who is hated by everyone, is curiously portrayed as a Jewish by faith. Mockery of religion clearly manifests itself by depiction of the evangelical neighbor Ned Flanders. This irritating bible thumper annoys everyone by his perfection, and in one of the episodes he infamously wanted to ban evolution teaching.
If to speak about feminism, Lisa Simpson is viewed as an embodiment of a feminist in The Simpsons. While her mother, Marge, is an example of a woman who decided to conform and became a housewife and mother of the family, her daughter chose to be different. In one of the episodes, when her mother advises her to be less sarcastic because it may cause problems with finding a husband, the young lady replies that she would rather have no husband. It has to be admitted that Lisa does not say that being a housewife is bad – her mother after all succeeded in this and raise great kids – she just wants to have a choice. Realizing that female inferiority and glass ceiling still exist, Lisa wants to correct these injustices. She is running for president, dresses as a boy to attend equally complicated Math class with boys, and gets disappointed with Malibu Stacey doll when she states that shopping should be learnt by girls at school. Lisa dyes her hair to prove that blondes are not more stupid than brunettes and argues that confident and powerful women should not be objects of witch hunt as in the medieval times.
To conclude, The Simpsons touch upon various issues among which there are corruption, gay rights, gun control, freedom of speech, racial discrimination, marital problems, alcoholism, sexual harassment, and surveillance. However, three concepts: religion, politics, and feminism, are the most burning in the cartoon. The Simpsons also showed how American culture is depicted, and sent some underlying messages to the audience.