September 12, 2014 by NowhereButPop
I’ve given you one word to work with, and I’m sure from that one word already you can guess that this article will be about The Simpsons.
Originally I was going to call it “What the Simpsons Mean to Me”, but “D’oh” gets to the true point I’m trying to make-To figure out just how truly transcendent the show once was. All the proof you need lies in that one word though. Homer Simpson created a sound that became so popular, it’s became an actual word in the English language. That kind of social clout and relevance is not only spectacular for a show to have, but it’s also unprecedented. That’s how big, how important The Simpsons was to society and pop culture.
But, it’s only now that The Simpsons marathon on FXX is over that I realize how much the show has had an effect on me, my being, and my childhood development. I don’t remember how or when I came across the show, I just remember always knowing what it was. The best way to describe it is in the same way that I’ve always known that my older sister is my older sister. All I remember is knowing her as my sister, not the realization that she existed in that capacity. With The Simpsons, it’s been a part of my life for so long now, that I don’t remember neither how it got there, nor do I remember what it was like to not know about the show.
The very first episode that I remember really well is one I’ve only seen twice, once as a kid when I was really young, and once again last week as a 23 year old. “Homer and Apu” wasn’t the first episode I ever saw, nor was it the first one that I thought was funny, it’s the first one that I remember laughing hysterically at. And I can tell you why. Even though I had no idea who James Woods was at the time, I still though the randomness of hiring an actor to work at the Kwik-e-Mart was hysterical, especially this foul mouthed and short tempered star. It was after seeing “Homer and Apu” that I started making James Woods jokes, jokes that featured no punchline and usually involved putting this manically aggressive actor in nonsensical situations.
“Homer at the Bat”, another episode I’ve seen too few times is another one that stayed with me as a kid. Just like James Woods’ guest appearance, even though I didn’t know who the guest stars were I was amused by their interactions. When I look back on it, it’s because the show really captured the essence of the guest stars so perfectly. James Woods, Albert Brooks, Michael Jackson, and Meryl Streep had some of the best appearances because the writers made jokes that were reflective of the stars personality. So even if a five year old didn’t know who was guest starring, they could still be included in the jokes. The best example is Mr. Burns’ interaction with Don Mattingly in “Homer at the Bat”. After making repeated demands that Mattingly shave off his nonexistent sideburns, Mattingly shaved a third of his head from ear to ear in a horseshoe pattern to satisfy Mr. Burns. When it still didn’t meet Mr. Burns, he had Mattingly thrown off the team.
Being the oblivious five year old I was, I didn’t know who Don Mattingly was when I first saw the episode a few years after its original airing, but the gag of Mr. Burns not knowing what sideburns were was hysterical. It even made me question if I really knew what sideburns were. Maybe it was because I was five, or because the jokes were stellar, but it was these intricate gags and jokes that made me think of The Simpsons as high-brow humor, which for a time I really think it was. But it was high-brow in the same sense that South Park is high-brow, in convincing people that its crudeness and crass exterior are actually indicative of the show as a whole, that it’s blatant low-brow with no deeper value. Unlike a show like Family Guy, The Simpsons and South Park have a soul to them, a creative spark that goes beyond simple and contrived jokes. Look at how James Woods and Adam West were used on The Simpsons, and then compare their appearances on Family Guy; they’re completely different and indicative of the show as a larger whole. The early humor of the show, especially under the tenure of Al Jean, and Bill Oakley is deep and in some cases so meta that they have two or three layers of jokes laid in the punchline. Season five’s “Cape Feare” is the perfect example of this more nuanced sense of comedy that the show perfected during its golden age.
Having missed “Bartmania” due to being either in utero, or an unintelligible punching bag for my older sister, I was still old enough to witness the last remnants of this fad. By the time I was six I was so enamored with the idea of this sarcastic wise-ass character that I tried to adapt it for myself. I thought it would be really entertaining to become that character that I started to emulate it myself. I wasn’t a troublemaker or a slacker, in fact one of the points that I wanted to make was to prove that I could be like a Bart Simpson but get good grades. What’s scary is that I don’t know if I’m naturally a smartass, or if that role, influenced solely by Bart Simpson, has become so embedded into my personality that’s it’s become the Tom Hagen of my psyche.
Besides helping me relive parts of my childhood, and convincing me to go out and buy the first ten seasons of the show on DVD, The Simpsons marathon also made me witness just how far the show has fallen. It really made the dip in quality after season nine more dramatic and jarring, because you realize it wasn’t an instantaneous drop in quality, it was something that became more and more apparent as the latter seasons went by. The last 350 episodes don’t hold a candle to the first 200, not necessarily because they’re so bad, but because the episodes of the first third of the series were just so good. It’s sorta sad in a way to see something that was once so great, become something mediocre, and a shell of itself.
So the question is “What do I owe The Simpsons?”. Well, to be honest, probably more than even I realize. It was the first thing that I can really remember immersing myself in; it was the first time that I felt like something was mine. The very foundation of my sense of humor is cemented in the early Conan O’ Brien, John Swartzwelder episodes, marked by absurd but engaging situations, and witty dialogue. It was the first time in my short life that I was able to see something and then try to mold myself from that model in emulation of it. I think everyone of us has that at some point in our childhood, and I think it’s a pretty big psychological development. It represents cognizance, analysis, and repetition, but also a degree of self-awareness since you have to be aware that you’re trying to change your behavior, or yourself in order to emulate, or replicate some external stimuli. For me, that stimuli was The Simpsons, and for this I owe the Simpson family, and Matt Groening a Duff.
 Yes, I was that pretentious even in elementary school.