The Simpsons and the Sitcom-- from Springfield to Springfield

Picture a sitcom family where the father is so lazy he aspires to be 300 pounds so he can work in the home, the children regularly outwit the parents, and where the mother tells her daughter that being popular is the answer to finding happiness. You have the Simpsons, the animated family of Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa, and Maggie. This Springfield is certainly not that of the Andersons.

Certainly the Simpsons is meant to be a satire of the ideal family. The patriarch, Homer, is anything but the strong father figure of the fifties. This breadwinner has limited education, and only succeeds at his job at the nearby nuclear power plant because it requires him to do next to nothing. The Simpsons literally have 2.5 five children, (Maggie, the third does not speak) but these are hardly the content, relatively obedient children of Leave it to Beaver.

The Simpsons undoubtedly does dare to break with some ingrained sitcom traditions. Instead of covering up problems in society, it pokes fun at phenomenons like a loss of respect for religion, school, and the government. "Though the members of the Simpson family are far from the media-constructed norm represented on television shows like Leave it to Beaver, Father Knows Best, or even The Flintstones, they are perhaps closer to the actual norm (Henry, 87)."

Within the family, Marge and Homer have both had episodes where they've contemplated extra-marital affairs. Bart is a constant terror to his teachers and school Principal. Lisa exists in a world where her intelligence goes unappreciated, and even her parents ignore her sharp observations about the world around her and her alienation from it. When Bart and Lisa turn to their parents for advice, they often find that Homer and Marge have simplistic, out of touch advice. "Rather than engage in the pretentious misrepresentation of family life that one finds in the 'model family' shows (from The Donna Reed Show to the The Cosby Show), this program admits that most parents aren't perfect (Rebeck, 622)."

And yet, despite all this, there is a reaffirmation of the traditional sitcom as well. The Simpsons, as much as it lampoons the family, also contributes to the American myth of stability. The show pokes fun at sitcom conventions, like how the family stays static from show to show (Henry, 93), but there is never any doubt that the Simpsons care about each other.

Even though Homer works at a low paying job and has little education, even though Bart and Lisa are continually having social and educational problems, it all comes out right in the end whether through the support of the family, or just chance.

In this way The Simpsons is a less successful parody than Married with Children. The Bundy's resolve conflict, but they are rarely content and the family members rarely express warm feelings for each other. There is the completely a feeling completely foreign to television up until now that the Bundy's might, at least some of the time, be happier without each other.

Even Roseanne is a more realistic portrait of the family than The Simpsons. It too openly shows dissent within the family with generally optimistic outcomes. "Yet despite the family's incessant bickering- the Conners play out their lives to the sound of snarls- there's always a sense of mutual, if unspoken, affection (Waters, 61)." However, Roseanne is not animated like The Simpsons-- far from it. Roseanne has actors who are not the conventionally attractive people who dominate television. The Conner parents are average looking and overweight, which gives the show an even greater air of veracity. The Simpsons is more removed from real life because it is a cartoon. "This is facilitated by the fact that The Simpsons is a cartoon, which allows the show to also revel in the realm of the absurd, and this further sets it apart from its predecessors and its contemporaries (Henry, 95)."

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