Monday, June 15, 2009

The Simpsons

Today's lesson plan is satire. Friday I did a lesson on parody using Onion articles and some scenes from Hot Fuzz, and I referenced Craig Mazin quite a bit as I explained why Superhero Movie is a shitty parody. There's one kid who said she liked the movie, but she needs to understand that no, she doesn't. She never did and she needs to know why.

So for today I had to find a true satire. I tried Family Guy, but that show's just too disjointed. It relies on people to get a lot of jokes they're not going to get, and many episodes are so loaded with silliness that it's hard to get the point of it all. But I still need an example that's short and easy.

I've been meaning to use The Simpsons in class for a while now. A lot of kids are familiar with their "Raven" and often kids will bring up their Hamlet or their Odyssey or their Lord of the Flies. After all, whatever it is, Simpsons did it.

Right now box sets are $12 so Saturday I hopped over to Best Buy and picked up season 4 because season 4 is undoubtedly better than all the rest. Kamp Krusty, Mr. Plow, Monorail, Whacking Day, that Valentine's Day one where Ralph gets that valentine that says "I choo choo choose you!" I looked at all the seasons. This one had far more episodes that made me giddy to think about than all the others.

It was a pretty tough weekend because I had to work on my lesson plan. The Beefcake and I stayed planted right in front of the TV trying to determine which episode provides the best example of satire. I went with "Homer's Triple Bypass" because it has no allusions or silly asides. It's a straight story that satirizes America's eating habits and health care system.

In watching all these episodes it was sort of mindblowing to think of how much The Simpsons has seeped into our culture. At Trader Joe's yesterday the cashier asked me what I was up to this weekend, because they do that over there, and I told him I was watching season 4 of The Simpsons. He asked which episodes and we discussed them a little. It's a common language. When I say "Mr. Plow" you know what I'm talking about. If you haven't seen a single episode of The Simpsons that's like not being aware of cell phones.

People my age love that show. My students love that show. Debate whether or not it's jumped the shark all you like, but how many TV shows appeal to two generations of people at the same time? Maybe even three, because I'm pretty sure my stepdad watches it.

Can you imagine what it's like to be Matt Groening? To have created this little baby cartoon as a palate cleanser for some funny lady's sketch show, a cartoon that has now lasted decades and is known by every American with a television? People say "D'oh!" on a regular basis now. They invented words over there.

It's just amazing. I guess the reason it's been so successful despite the fact that it's funny, IS that it's a satire of the American family. We can all relate to the show because these are our parents and those kids are us. And then one day we become the parents and those are our kids. And maybe one day we become grandpa. We're all there, exaggerated and yellow, but doing extreme versions of all the things we regularly do.

I have a small bladder. That episode where Grandpa's kidney burst open as they past bathroom after bathroom and the giant toilet on the side of the road, I can relate to that. My mom refused to stop for bathroom breaks when we were kids, which I think is part of the reason I go to the bathroom so often people think I'm a cokehead. The Simpsons writers just pay attention to the things we do. It makes good TV.


  1. I think the Simpsons have gone really downhill in the past 8 years. I prefer to watch DVDs fom 1990 to 1999. Everything after that, suck for the most part.

    it's funny you wrote this post about satire, because for the past few days, I've been silently debating what's the difference between "satire" and "black comedy."

    Satire has something to do with political or social issues... right? Whereas black comedy is just... a way of looking at fucked up situations in a funny, dark way?

  2. Satire generally uses parody to send a message. The official educationy definition I use is "A literary work that ridicules its subject through the use of techniques such as exaggeration, reversal, ingonruity, and/or parody in order to make a comment or criticism about it."

  3. Joe Unidos9:01 AM

    Tracy Ullman is hardly "careerless."

  4. Oops. You are correct. I forgot she had that TV show because I never watch it. Corrected.

  5. would you classify "Heathers" as a black comedy or satire? A lot of politically correct people were upset that "Heathers" made fun of suicide in a "haha, this is funny" kind of way, but I didn't see it like that. I thought it was pretty dark and had a humorous take on social pressure and the glitz/glamour that comes with suicide (let's face it, the media glorifies young people dying).

    that being said, I'm not really sure if "Heathers" is a satire or black comedy. oh well.

  6. I'm tempted to say satire but honestly it's been a very very long tine since I saw that movie so someone other than me should probably field that.

    Black comedies often are satires.

  7. If I were teaching Ap or Honors, I'd do two months of satire and parody. Unfortunately, I teach genpop- so it's mostly 'this is a verb, ya maniacs.'
    I envy you!

  8. I don't have AP or honors. These are regular kids, but they did pretty well with the satire. I bet if you try it your kids will at least get the idea.


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