Out This Weekend: The Simpsons Movie

The Simpsons once made the news because of politicians decrying it as the harbinger of Western civilization's downfall.  Now, after eighteen years of running on FOX the show is making the news again, with this weekend's release of the feature-length film The Simpsons Movie

Premiering in 1989, The Simpsons has drawn its share of criticism.  A July 25 Washington Post article reprinted George H.W. Bush's 1992 comment: “we're going to strengthen the American family to make it more like the Waltons and less like the Simpsons.” 

Al Jean, one of the original writers of the series told the Post, “we never said, it's a kid's show.  It was the first cartoon where it was written for adults.”  James L. Brooks, executive producer of the series, said “It's written for an adult audience and children are invited.” 

Matt Groening, the creator of The Simpsons, alludes to the complexity of the show when asked “does a kid get it?” He responds by saying “No…but the 8-year-old is going to get it later when he's 16 years old.” 

According to the Post, and supported by anyone who has watched the series, the writers have “inserted politics and social commentary into many episodes.” 

As far as the movie goes, the August 6 TIME magazine reports that “It's rated PG-13 (for brief frontal nudity), but vulgarity was never the envelope The Simpsons pushed.  Its goal was density, comic congestion, the vacuum-packing of cool gags and grotesque-sympathetic characters into the shortest span possible.” 

The movie delivers, effectively skewering environmentalists with Lisa Simpson presenting a slide show called “An Irritating Truth” among many other bits. 

In addition to the jokes and the running social commentary, the show's writing team, reported Newsweek in April 2007, “have made sure to keep the nuclear family at the show's center.”  Groening elaborated, saying “Everybody is trying to be the most cynical, the most jaded, and [Simpsons producer] Jim [Brooks] is willing to go for that sweet stuff.” 


The Post article states “there was a time when the antics of Bart (“Eat my shorts”) were considered controversial – the 10-year-old as social outlaw.  Today's parents might beg for children as relatively restrained as Bart.”  Given that the “sweet stuff” is what is sorely lacking from today's crop of adult-themed cartoons, it's easy to see why.

Robert Thompson, a professor at Syracuse University and director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture, acknowledged the influence of The Simpsons in a July 27 article.  He wrote that the show “cleared the way for the flowering of a new genre that would soon include Beavis and Butthead, Dr. Katz: Professional Therapist, King of the Hill, Family Guy and South Park, not to mention the Adult Swim line-up on Cartoon Network.”

The Simpsons is a quality satire, heads and shoulders above its imitators. 

Colleen Raezler is a research assistant at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center.