The Simpsons

The American animation The Simpsons is now in its 10th season as a show
in its own right. It was created by Matt Groening as shorts for the
Tracy Ullman Show and was bought by the Fox Network, which began
screening it as half-hour shows in 1989. Initially its success was
restricted to the 9-16 year old age group, and for animation there is
nothing remarkable about this. Its success grew quickly and it is now
popular in many countries with many different audiences. "In the 1990s
we are seeing dramatic transformations in media industries and media
cultures. In geographical terms, these transformations may be seen in
the shift from national to global media." The Simpsons can be seen as
both a remarkable piece of global culture and as a hugely successful
piece of global television. (One need only look on an Internet search
engine to discover that there are literally millions of Simpsons
fan-sites around the world.). The Simpsons themselves are a simple
family in a small town in Middle America called Springfield. They are:
Homer (loyal but stupid father), Marge (dissatisfied, trapped
housewife/mother), Bart (rebellious son), Lisa (unappreciated genius
daughter), and Maggie (silent baby). The show also revolves around a
number of other of the townsfolk, such as Mr Burns (Homer\'s miserly
boss), Smithers (Burns\'s loving assistant), Apu (Indian shop owner),
Principal Skinner and Moe (owner of the local bar). There are a number
of reasons why we cannot simply view The Simpsons as a cartoon like any
other. The rules and conventions that it follows are far more those of
television or cinema than those of animation. The humour within The
Simpsons exists on many different levels ranging from the obvious to the
subtle, from the literary to the movie reference, and beyond. But most
importantly we must consider the show\'s ability to make significant
social comment, on general issues of culture and society, but more
specifically on television, film and media, and on audience viewing and
acceptance of these media. Traditionally, cartoons have been action
driven and animation. Aside from the use of cameras to create the visual
illusion of depth (Walt Disney famously explained the \'complicated\'
technique used to allow Mickey Mouse to walk along a street without
distorting depth or perspective), cartoons had a language of their own,
unique and separate from that of cinema or television. They were simple
and without layered meanings. They had their own conventions that were
regularly used and easily understood by children. These included falling
anvils, cannon balls, dynamite and gunpowder. Generally most situations
in traditional cartoons are very simple and similar. They are based on a
basic relationship between the chaser and chased. For examples look no
further than children\'s television and you will see Tom chase Jerry,
Wylie Coyote chase Roadrunner and Yosemite Sam chase Bugs Bunny. So what
makes The Simpsons different from these more traditional cartoon forms?
Both the characters in The Simpsons their roles and situations are far
more complex than in traditional animation. Indeed, what are seen as
sub-characters are often the bases of stories, as executive producer
Bill Oakley explains: "Over eight years we\'ve developed a town full of
characters…Moe, Mr Burns or Principal Skinner can all provide the
engines for stories." Producers of The Simpsons say they concentrate
more on scripts than on animation, making the show more humour and
script based than action based. But despite The Simpsons being seen by
many as a sitcom, Oakley likes to keep the show fresh, and generally
avoids sitcom writers: "We want people who are not ruined by the
standard sitcom form." One of the most important factors in explaining
The Simpsons\'s cross-generational and broad demographic appeal is the
sophistication of its writing. It is constructed to exist at many
different levels. In terms of its humour, creator Groening says: "There
are the obvious jokes, the visual sight gags, the subtle literary
allusions and at the most subtle, what we call the freeze frame gags."
While I agree with Groening, I would categorise the humour slightly
differently. The first level is \'blatant comedy\'. This includes "obvious
jokes". The appeal to children that originally heralded The Simpsons is
based on blatant comedy and the antics of Bart, such as his famous