Is 'The Simpsons' Incredibly Dark?

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Young Adult  |  House: Booksie Classic
A look into the world of 'The Simpsons' and whether its all sunshine and happiness in the town of Springfield.

Submitted: April 03, 2014

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Submitted: April 03, 2014

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Although this is a subject I’m sure none of you stay up late thinking about, I can’t help but dive into this nit-pick of a topic. For years I have been a fan of The Simpsons, forever re-watching, laughing and mimicking the quotable lines and unforgettable characters. However, on recent viewings I have begun to discover something else beneath the comedy. The Simpsons is actually incredibly dark! Let me explain.

The show itself works on a basis of combining surrealist situations and humour to a reality we are all familiar with. People go to work; they socialise with friends and encounter real-life problems we can all relate to e.g. death and divorce. Whether or not a zany situation is thrown into the mix, there’s no denying that the people of Springfield live in a ‘real world’. And from this, we are introduced to all the problems that live in the real world as seen through Matt Groening’s characters.

Homer lives as a borderline alcoholic who somewhat takes his life for granted. His job as a nuclear technician requires a high IQ which Homer evidently lacks, leading to numerous mishaps and explosions. Despite the obvious stupidity, Homer’s achievements in life surpass those of anyone else in the programme. He meets the president, goes into outer space and partakes in numerous career changes often succeeding against those who clearly work much harder. In one memorable episode, Homer’s antics even drive someone to death through sheer confusion as to why he is so universally adored. You can weigh his achievements against his personality though. In certain episodes Homer is seen to be selfish in his actions, often using his family for personal gain as opposed to working in conjunction with them. In one episode he uses Lisa’s skills of deduction for super-bowl gambling while in another he falsely accuses Marge of drink-driving when it was he who caused the accident. Although these issues are resolved by the end, Homer’s selfish trait never really disappears.

If we look at the relationships within the Simpson household though, we begin to see the numerous cracks appear. Lisa lives in embarrassment at the state of her family often feeling sad and under-appreciated. When situations arise, Lisa is usually the first to point out the dangers or the moral wrongness of the act which is often ignored or brushed away leaving her dis-heartened and angry. It’s a shame because she is well behaved, academically brilliant, environmentally aware and caring towards those she meets. In comparison to Bart she is a somewhat perfect child. Yet despite this, she is often mocked and bullied for her beliefs, making it seem like the family almost resent her nature.  Family Guy even parody Lisa’s character through Meg who is also disregarded but in a more exaggerated and ridiculous manner. Homer constantly forgets to appreciate Lisa’s doings and seems far more interested in Bart’s endeavours. Even Marge on occasions appears more loving and favours towards Bart. Which is odd because Bart seems like the child that is weaker. He is violent, rebellious, destructive, offensive and is constantly getting into trouble. His aspirations often imply that he merely wants to get worse as time goes on. Even the people who are there to help, regularly admit that they have given up on Bart. Principle Skinner says in one episode ‘There is no hope for you.’ And does Bart change throughout the course? On given the news that all the males in the Simpson gene are doomed to fail, Bart happily shrugs his shoulders and accepts his fate making us wonder whether this is a depressing insight into our own generation.

But what are the children without the parent’s marriage? Having already dived into Homer it is clear he is by far the perfect husband. Marge, like Lisa sometimes feels under-appreciated in her doings as well as by her family. She cooks, cleans and is evidently the stronger parent. Homer on the other hand is dependent on Marge’s good nature, without it, he would probably be in jail. He needs her to clean up after him, get him out of trouble and pull him back when he domestically abuses his son through strangling. It is clear that Marge struggles with her life. On numerous episodes it even implies that Marge tries her best to remain oblivious about her family’s problems. When asked about Homer’s nature she is seen to repeatedly remind herself that he’s a ‘completely different person’ compared to his younger self, which we all know is not true. The cooking and cleaning is also seen as a method to take her mind off the problems she tries to repress. When unable to do housework she resorts to gambling and in one episode drinking red wine throughout the day. Some could argue this is to substitute the distraction that housework offered her. When Homer isn’t drunk or abusing his child, he constantly shoots down his wife’s opinions or dreams, often labelling them as ‘stupid’ or pretending to be interested when really, he isn’t. Marge’s aspirations are often destroyed throughout the course of the series as she usually fails to succeed in the given surroundings e.g. the country club, police force and the nuclear power plant. An incident usually causes her to quit and return to the kitchen, implying that Marge doesn’t deserve a career of her own. This is a shame as like Lisa, she is a skilled and talented individual who definitely deserves more.

So the family’s dysfunctional but who’s to say that everyone in Springfield is the same? Well without getting into too much detail, lets point out some interesting facts. Barney is an alcoholic who even drinks varnish in one episode. Moe is suicidal and attempts to kill himself on several occasions. Seymour Skinner lives at home with his mother and is constantly bullied and shunned by her. Krusty is implied to be addicted to drugs as well as being an alcoholic and heavy smoker. Mr Burns is a corrupt and greedy businessman who thrives on other’s misery. Waylon Smithers lives with deep homosexual urges which he feels are inappropriate to confess to. Milhouse’s parents’ divorce when he is young and is often regarded as weaker than his peers. Ralph Wiggum is mentally retarded with such lines as ‘Me fail English? That’s Unpossible’. Nelson’s dad left him while he blocks out the sadness with violence towards others. Old Gil fails in almost everything he does. Chief Wiggum is morbidly overweight and seen to know very little about the law and police conduct. Apu’s religion is often mocked by other characters. Grandpa Simpson is left alone to die in a nursing home while his family regularly forget to include him in their endeavours. However, there is in fact one morally sound supporting character. Ned Flanders. A church going, law abiding, good father who always puts others before himself. Yet despite that, Ned is regularly bullied for all his good deeds, usually by Homer. Even the Reverend is seen to hate Ned’s warm and loving nature, disregarding his plea for help when in need. You would think a character so good would be rewarded throughout the course of the programme. And how does Matt Groening reward him? By killing his wife! The Simpsons is dark!

I don’t know why I never really picked up on it before. Sure the programme thrives on dysfunction yet it never seemed so apparent against the comedy and sharp writing. The jokes almost gloss over the seemingly depressing world that Matt Groening has created. The dysfunctional characters succeed while the good ones are shunned. I have never once considered how dark the overall portrait is. If taken away from a cartoon format and put into real life, this would be deemed ‘inappropriate for young children’. Overall though I am severely nit-picking and should probably just enjoy what I am given yet seeing the programme in this light has definitely made me admire it more. 


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