Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The Simpsons Vs. Civilization: Why Springfield's First Family Is Mankind's Greatest Achievement

Illustration for article titled The Simpsons Vs. Civilization: Why Springfields First Family Is Mankinds Greatest Achievement

Humanity has made so many advances over the millennia that comparing their respective merits seems futile. Really, who could settle an argument pitting the wheel vs. the computer? (Besides weirdo philosophy majors with a lot of free time, that is.) The A.V. Club won't argue for either, because neither compares to The Simpsons. The long-running Fox show about an unstable American family—which makes the jump to the big screen July 24—isn't just the finest television show of its era. it's better than everything else, ever. And for proof, we had to look no further than the show itself.

The Simpsons Vs. Public Education

Opponent's advantage: Provides free education to every kid in America, whether they want it or not.


But The Simpsons consistently portrays the public-education system as a mind-numbing exercise in futility, with lazy teachers and administrators relying on standardized exams such as the Career Aptitude Normalizing Test (CANT) and sweet, sweet teachers' editions to mold the young minds of Springfield.

Representative quote: "That's two independent-thought alarms in one day. Willie, the children are overstimulated. Remove all the colored chalk from the classrooms." —Principal Skinner

The Simpsons Vs. Sex

Opponent's advantage: Feels good, perpetuates the species, brings couples closer together.


But The Simpsons… has insightfully satirized sex's influence on Western culture, particularly how it's repackaged to sell consumer goods and services. And hey, the 22-minute episodes last longer than most couples' intercourse.

Representative quote: "Marge, there's just too much pressure—what with my job, the kids, traffic snarls, political strife at home and abroad. But I promise you, the second all those things go away, we'll have sex." —Homer, avoiding Marge's come-ons


The Simpsons Vs. World Travel

Opponent's advantage: Experiencing other cultures firsthand helps broaden understanding of how our human similarities outweigh our differences.


But The Simpsons… proves that visits to Brazil, London, Tokyo, and anywhere else on the map can only end in destruction, embarrassment, and possible military extraction.

Representative quote: "Disparaging the boot is a bootable offense," according to the U.S. Undersecretary Of State For International Protocol (Brat And Punk Division), regarding the corporal punishment slated for Bart's after his Australia hijinks


The Simpsons Vs. Organized Religion

Opponent's advantage: Gives masses something to believe in, thus preventing total anarchy. Promotes helpful social contracts.


But The Simpsonsholds belief in higher powers up to the magnifying glass of shameful truth, proving it's used as a tonic rather than a cure. Boobish neighbor Ned Flanders, representing everything boring and ridiculous about blind faith, even recognizes the futility: "I've done everything the Bible says, even the stuff that contradicts the other stuff!"

Representative quote: "Ned, have you thought about one of the other major religions? They're all pretty much the same." —Reverend Lovejoy, exasperated by Flanders


The Simpsons Vs. Fine Art

Opponent's advantage: Supplies society with beauty, insight, and snobbery.

But The Simpsons generally considers fine art above the heads of the plebian Springfieldian public. (A sign in the local art gallery reminds, "No shirt, no shoes, no chardonnay.") The exceptions are always-erudite Lisa and former art student/Ringo Starr portraitist Marge. Homer also dabbled in "outsider art," taunting Jasper Johns and flooding Springfield's streets in a Christo-like stunt.


Representative quote: "Is it a masterpiece, or just some guy with his pants down?" —Kent Brockman, about Michelangelo's David

The Simpsons Vs. Health Care

Opponent's advantage: Keeps us alive, has access to all the best drugs.

But The Simpsons forces Springfield's sickos to choose between corruption or incompetence: either Dr. Julius Hibbert, the pamphlet-toting, "wowwy-pop"-prescribing head of an HMO (that's "Hibbert's Moneymaking Organization"), or Dr. Nick "Hi, Everybody" Riviera, a graduate of Club Med School who will perform any procedure for only $129.95.


Representative quote: "The coroner? I'm so sick of that guy! Well, see you in the operating place!" —Dr. Nick Riviera


The Simpsons Vs. Reading

Opponent's advantage: Passes along the acquired knowledge of civilization. Teaches future generations about mistakes and triumphs past so they may advance as human beings.


But The Simpsonsknows that books only work if people are reading them. Homer, representing the great unwashed American in all of us, doesn't read. Only Lisa considers it a worthwhile pursuit, and she's ridiculed for it.

Representative quote: Lisa: "List your three favorite books and how they have influenced your life." Homer: "Is TV Guide a book?"


The Simpsons Vs. Fandom

Opponent's advantage: Those who slavishly adore all things pop culture keep The Simpsons (not to mention The A.V. Club) in business.


But The Simpsons knowingly skewers the social awkwardness, flabby physiques, and condescending attitudes that are the hallmarks of pop-culture obsessives like the Comic Book Guy—an obvious stand-in both for the show's fans (particularly the relentlessly negative commenters on the show's websites and newsgroups) and for the writers themselves. Matt Groening himself has said that one of his all-time favorite lines comes from "Treehouse Of Horror VIII," when Comic Book Guy faces down an approaching nuclear missile with, "Ohhh, I've wasted my life."

Representative quotes: Bart: "They're giving you thousands of hours of entertainment for free. What could they possibly owe you? If anything, you owe them!" Comic Book Guy: "Worst. Episode. Ever."


The Simpsons Vs. Constitutional Democracy

Opponent's advantage: Lets citizens control their government, and by extension, their lives.


But The Simpsons has continually shown how citizens subvert democracy through complacency and scandal. That's personified in "Diamond Joe" Quimby, Springfield's "illiterate, tax-cheating, wife-swapping, pot-smoking spendocrat" mayor, whose constituency embraces his abject corruption.

Representative quote: "When are people going to learn? Democracy doesn't work!" —Homer, after Springfieldians vote to deport illegal immigrants


The Simpsons Vs. The Internet

Opponent's advantage: Revolutionized the way information is shared, connected the world, made it possible to live without ever leaving your house.


But The Simpsons… has repeatedly lampooned how people use the Internet's vast resources for trite, pointless pursuits. Take Homer's first attempt at a website, from season 12's "The Computer Wore Menace Shoes": an excruciating amalgam of screaming mouths, alarm clocks, bells, inchworms, flying toasters, and a dancing Jesus.

Representative quote: "Oh, a dancing Jesus! If there's a better use for the Internet, I haven't found it!" —Homer


The Simpsons Vs. Dreaming

Opponent's advantage: Provides insight into our unexpressed hopes and fears, sparks our creativity, resets the brain for the next busy day.


But The Simpsons… offers colorfully illustrated hallucinations about everything from Winsor McCay-esque slumberlands to European hamlets made entirely of chocolate. Who needs to dream, when Homer will do it for you?

Representative quote: Homer dreams up an entire product, asking Apu, "Got any of that beer that has candy floating in it? You know, Skittlebrau?" When Apu says no such product exists, Homer answers, "Well, then just give me a six-pack and a couple of bags of Skittles."


The Simpsons Vs. Everything That Has Ever Aired On TV

Opponent's advantage: Brought the world into people's homes long before the Internet. Gave us the Moon landing, 24-hour news, Cheers.


But The Simpsons… turned a standard, though animated, situation comedy into the definitive chronicle of American life in the late 20th/early 21st centuries. Future historians will have no better research material.

Representative quote: "Television—teacher, mother, secret lover!" —Homer, after a portable TV ends his homicidal rage


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