By Trisha Pande
Spanning itself over a decent five-hundred and sixty-three episodes since it came on air in 1989, The Simpsons has managed to embed itself into every home in a very likeable and extremely appreciable manner. Matt Groening has managed to devise the concept of a family that is perhaps so dysfunctional that it is easy to laugh at the exaggeration, but the show is wonderful satire on American society at large, and sometimes ends up creating parodies on various other societies as well.
I would like to mention that although The Simpsons is not an Indian television show, it is pleasant to watch and its combination of characters, script and imagery set in the town of Springfield makes for a brilliant watch for people across different age groups, religions and cultures. The one thing that anybody watching this show needs to keep in mind is that every scene needs to be taken with a pinch of salt, and certain things might come across as offensive or stereotypical, but pondering the issue with discussion rather than instant angst would be a better option.
Every character in this television series comes peppered with a unique personality. Be it Apu, the average Indian guy living in the United States, managing a Kwik-E-Mart or the incompetent American police officer, Chief Wiggum, who has few interests in life other than guzzling coffee and donuts – each person has a specific role in the entire picture, and not one of them is spared at the hands of comedy and parody.
Taking up the specific example of Apu, the aforementioned Kwik-E-Mart fellow, he has become the centre of many coffee table conversations that revolve around Indian citizens in the US. His accent, mannerisms, catchphrase and family are all images of how American society expects Indian people around them to look like. Popular culture is broadly shaped by society and also forms the notions that prevail in society. Apu is supposed to have graduated from a place called Calcutta Technical Institute – which is popularly said to be Caltech. There is subtle humor here, as Indians take pride in creating abbreviations or warped versions of local universities to make them sound like famous foreign universities. Furthermore, it is portrayed that he has graduated first among his class of seven million students – another bold exaggeration based on India’s very real population problem.
The show targets many other areas of popular interest as well, movies and television being amongst them. The recurring appearances of Fat Tony and his mob is a take on The Godfather, and the final episode of the fourteenth season – Moe Baby Blues got mostly positive reception, and the voice of Moe – Hank Azaria – won an Emmy for this particular episode. Divert your attention also to ‘The Itchy and Scratchy Show’ that all the children in The Simpsons are addicted to; it is reminiscent of numerous ‘The Tom and Jerry Show’ that most of us devoured as young children. Albeit more graphic and about a hundred times more violent, it makes those of us watching The Simpsons relate so much more with the lives and childhood of Bart and Lisa.
These are two examples floating in a sea of many, many more. The point being that the show draws upon what is popularly consumed, to parody it and give another side to the existing debate that it is ongoing in the public domain.
The Simpsons family has received its fair share of flak, consider the 2002 episode called ‘Blame it on Lisa’, which shows the family’s journey through the country of Brazil and has been criticized on the account of showing a flawed perspective of the country on television.
President George Bush once actually commented on how it was a bad influence on children, and numerous other sources have said that its content is on a downwards spiral and it might have been of substance at some point in the past, but does not live up to those same values in today’s world.
Midway into its twenty-sixth season with its eleventh episode (which features baby Maggie with a ‘Je Suis Charlie’ placard at the end, by the way), The Simpsons seems to be here to stay, and it has definitely made an impact on not only the USA, but a number of other countries as well. The bungling father, overworked mother, non-conformative older brother, genius younger sister and the ever silent youngest child make for the world’s most popular, permanent and dysfunctional family of the twenty-first century.
So Marcos Rojo might have some explaining to do when wife Eugenia Lusardo asks why he quite is so excited in this Instagram post.
Trisha Pande is studying Sociology at Lady Shri Ram College for Women, and is eager to work on the field and conduct sociological research. She lives among stacks of books which tell tales from different eras, continents and cultures. Writing has always been an outlet for her; and hopefully it shall forever be able to perform that function. Someday, she hopes to visit the women of Afghanistan, live with them and be able to understand their everyday life.
Edited by Namrata Caleb, Senior Editor, The Indian Economist