The Simpsons Taught Me Everything I Know

I loathe most of the TV shows of today. Honestly I do.

Mainly because a lot of it is reality TV drivel. You can go to HBO for good pulpy fun like True Blood and Entourage or even their new series Boardwalk Empire. At the very least it’s not banal drivel or TV shows like American Idol and America’s Got Talent. There are other channels that boast a couple of good shows for sure. But for the most part TV has become a wasteland of mediocrity.

The sitcom has died a pretty terrible death.

NBC’s lucky to have a network anymore.

MTV and VH1 have become consumed by their own reality programming and hardly play music videos anymore. It’s a wonder artists bother making them with no place to put them but youtube and the secondary and tertiary channels that MTV and VH1 have.

Then you have the channels that pander to “women” like Oxygen and Lifetime. But really I look my nose down on the women who watch that crap. Most of it is just the same stuff that they show on the other channels just girlified to a borderline offensive level. The movies are so crappily acted and predictable and the reality shows do nothing for uplifting women either. That channel is something to keep women brainwashed into being complacent with silly things by putting on silly things and telling them it is tailor made for them.

But I digress, for now.

The rest of TV is some 24 hour news loop of sports or politics. There are a few cool channels that show old movies maybe but, in all honesty if it weren’t for The Daily Show, South Park and The Colbert Report (and my not so secret addiction to radical ridiculousness of Fox News) I’d probably up and get rid of cable and lead a happy, healthy normal life watching the stuff I want to for free on the internet.

All of that leads up to why I pity anyone who didn’t watch The Simpsons in its first 9 years: you missed one hell of a show.

There are plenty of people who can talk about how amazing the Simpsons was. I say was because the pale imitation that is on today is like a bad version of the idiotic Family Guy, which is pretty sad to see. But the first 9 were a dream come true and I shudder to think how I would have turned out if I hadn’t been exposed to such fine programming.

O I’d have been fine I’m sure but not as fine. Yes, I’m very very serious.

For you see, The Simpsons taught me everything I know.

My parents, teachers, religious leaders, friends, 20/20 and random life happenings deserve some credit I suppose, and I’ll give them their due.

Fine I’m lying, but The Simpsons Taught Me Some Of The Things I Know simply was not catchy enough a title. Read it aloud. Yea, you see my point.

I grew up during the Simpsons initial run where it was considered quite taboo to watch it. My parents actually forbade it. Now I was always a rebel. My curiosity is hardly unmatched. I was a careful kid but I wasn’t fearful nor was I foolish. I knew a cartoon could never harm me but thanks to George H.W. Bush complaining about how the Simpsons attacked American family values my parents actually believed it wasn’t a good show without ever watching it.

This was my first realization that you check something out before you dismiss it.

I snuck and watched the Simpsons daily as often as I could.

Let me tell you I didn’t get 90% of the jokes. It wasn’t like when I stayed up some nights watching Nick at Nite re runs of I Love Lucy and Green Acres. That was easy to understand and laugh at. This, well there were some surface laughs but I knew even at the age of 7 there was a lot going over my head and that made me want to know more.

But I could never ask my parents because then they’d know I was watching The Simpsons. They thought it taught children to tell their elders to “Eat My Shorts” or “Don’t Have A Cow, Man!”. They didn’t know it was teaching me about U.S. History, classic film, the silly taboos of society etc. They didn’t realize that there was something good among the risque for that era.

They didn’t realize what I slowly learned through sneaking and watching it: That satire is one of the languages of the truly intelligent. And I was a beginning student unwittingly becoming fluent at least in hearing it and passable in speaking it I suppose.

One of the episodes that always stuck with me as a kid, was Homer The Heretic in Season 3.

In this episode Homer decides to quit going to church and eventually his house catches on fire and he is saved by people of varying religious faiths. This causes him to return to church where he sits front row, snoring at the end.

I thought to myself after finishing this episode how exactly could the Simpsons really be bad? The Simpsons just dared to ask the questions MANY religious people must ask themselves at some point. Is there only one way to serve God? The episode never directly answers it because really people of different kinds of faiths helped save Homer not promoting one religion as superior than the other and in the end Homer went back to church because he learned there was some value in having faith in God because people who had faith in God saved him.  And you learned all of this while laughing at some of the antics Homer goes through in creating his own religion including calling in to work with made up religious holidays. It opened my eyes to so many different aspects of religion and the best part was it was easy to relate too.

Back then of course I was so enveloped in the beginning stages of Christianity it really couldn’t sink in the way it did when I was an adult and could really ask those questions myself. But I know that it gave me my first glimpse at the ideas of how complex religious belief can be and some of that exposure did help create an open mind in me through later years as my family dealt with a schism between my older brothers who became Muslim.

Another episode I remember quite vividly having an impact on me was The Tree House of Horror VII segment Citizen Kang. I was always interested in politics. It has been a part of my life but I don’t think any show ever tackled how the American Two Party system is so flawed so perfectly and in such a short amount of time! Before Citizen Kang I would have never though to question the greatness of our system because I was so partisan. I was a hard core baby Democrat raised in a Flint UAW family. I was indoctrinated into certain beliefs. The first time I saw the episode I was kind of mad that Bill Clinton died with Bob Dole (heck I was a kid). I thought killing Bob Dole was the only thing fair. But I was amazed at how accurate the show was in depicting how campaign ads worked. Even as a kid I found them somewhat of the pandering nature and felt like a lot of it was very pretty lies.

But this part:

To me sums up how our politicians think. Now it wasn’t until I got older that I truly enjoyed the brilliance of this episode but even back then I could sense it even though my mind wasn’t sharp enough to take it all in.

Much Apu About Nothing in Season 7 was also a great example of how political scapegoating can change the topic completely. It’s amazing how the episode starts off about bears roaming around the city, then Bear Tax which leads to it being blamed on illegal immigrants so that Mayor Quimby can get them off his back. How timely is that message in almost all cases? How often do politicians change the subject on us when they want to create rage to distract us from the truth?

And let me not even begin to expound on the excellence that is Last Exit To Springfield.

You know what the greatest lesson The Simpsons taught me was?

“I am Lisa Simpson.”

All Lisa episodes have spoken to me in a profound way. Because I have felt alienated before because of my intelligence and I’m not technically a genius last I checked. I’d say I am above average intelligence though.

And I was a know it all as a kid, I played the alto saxophone as well as the piano and I read a large array of books. I especially loved American History, particularly presidents. I had a Presidential placemat that I ate breakfast on. My favorite was the 16th President, Abraham Lincoln so I specialized studying him. This was all at about the age of 8. I was in Book Bowl, Quiz Bowl, an honor roll student, teacher’s pet and I spent my leisure time writing short stories and poems.

So yes, I was, and still am, a nerd.

And it is a frustrating thing. Because it is not something you necessarily choose. Many times I wished to turn it off. I wanted desperately to be like other girls in my teen years and I would try so hard but it wasn’t what I was compelled to do. It wasn’t who I was.

I had a teacher in middle school who also loved the Simpsons, Ms. Green. She was the only person I would talk to about the show and I remember she remarked that I reminded her of Lisa in a lot of ways. I kind of wrinkled my nose at such a comparison. I didn’t really LIKE Lisa even though I understood her.

Lisa ruined the moment by spoiling people’s delusions.

Lisa always got her hopes up and then had them brutally crushed by the world that didn’t understand her.

Lisa fell in love with the wrong boys or had crushes on teachers because they were the only people who could talk to and understand her sometimes.

Lisa was neurotic about learning and competitive about her intellect almost to a petty level.

And damn Lisa could be preachy as hell when she wanted.

And then I realized one day, probably in college when I was sitting around day dreaming about my professor and thinking that this experience had not yielded the intellectual contemporaries I had expected that I was Lisa Simpson in a lot of ways.

If the Simpsons taught me anything it was that smart people, however well meaning, can be annoying and condescending as hell and if you want friends you have got to learn to balance those attributes. And it isn’t easy.

Sometimes it is hard being in a world that treats you alien or around people who are unapologetically ignorant. Sometimes it sucks to care a whole lot about things that other people will never give a damn about. And sometimes it just sucks thinking so much when everyone else seems to be having fun not thinking very much at all. I was lucky that my siblings all turned out to be some type of nerd as well. I feel so at home with them unlike Lisa who can’t discuss much with Bart or Maggie.

But what it taught me is that at the end of the day, you can still relate and have friends and even do blatantly stupid things. You’re still a person, your knowledge doesn’t change that. And believe me, when you’re smarter than average you do get a big ego about it. And it needs deflating sometimes. If the Lisa Simpson character did anything is it glorified intelligence while also reminding us that intelligence is subject to flaw too. Respect.

And that the love of family overcomes the differences any day.

As I look back at the show that once was, I pity a generation who is growing up without it in its prime. There is so much embedded in that show as far as fun facts on American History, pop culture etc. It is a gold mine of Americana, so well written and holds up so well many, many years later. To see the pale ghost of it continuing to lumber on ahead not even approaching the greatness of its self past is disappointing.

When I think that I learned to spell and the definition of the word obsequious from the Simpsons, or saw the insecurities of being a woman trying to fit in perfectly and sensitively handled in Scenes From The Class Struggle In Springfield, or that I have learned the most sure fire way to prevent yourself from making bad choices (chanting: think unsexy thoughts, think unsexy thoughts, think unsexy thoughts) all from one amazing little show and so so much more, I feel sad for a generation who is learning next to nothing by Keeping Up With The Kardashians, and Jersey Shore etc or even watching the current incarnation of The Simpsons.

Just Give The Great Unwashed A Pair of Oversized Breasts And A Happy Ending And They’ll Oink For More Every Time!”- Mr. Burns

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