Simpsons, the family values role model
I have a confession to make. I watch The Simpsons, oh, about three or four times a week.
It’s not hard, I promise you. It’s on Sky One at least twice a night every night, and you can also pick it up on other channels, including RTE.
If you really had a mind to, you could probably watch The Simpsons a thousand times a year without breaking sweat.
Watching it a couple of hundred times a year makes me a mild addict, I suppose, but I used to watch it even more.
However, the effect of any given Simpsons’ episode probably starts to wear off after around the fiftieth viewing.
I have a further confession to make. I let my young children watch it.
This surprises some of my friends and acquaintances. Some of them don’t let their kids watch it at all because they think it’s unsavoury, risqué and anti-family.
Actually, I think the ads most kids watch are much more unsavoury and sometimes more risqué than practically any of the programmes they watch. Ads are a sort of catechism class for a consumer society.
They indoctrinate us into wanting things we don’t really need, and into believing that we are what we buy. But enough of that. Why do I like The Simpsons, and more to the point, why do I let my kids watch it?
Surely as a Catholic commentator I should hate it? After all, isn’t the Simpson clan the most dysfunctional family on TV, and doesn’t it make religion the butt of many of its jokes?
The trouble began when George Bush Snr famously told Americans that they should be less like the Simpsons and more like the Waltons. For many conservatives that put The Simpsons firmly on the wrong side of the culture war.
It put it on the side of the radicals and against the side of motherhood and apple-pie. But it was always clear that George Bush Snr didn’t watch The Simpsons because if he did he wouldn’t and couldn’t have condemned it.
The Waltons is fine if you want to bathe in nostalgia and pine for a world of simple values when money was scarce and the family, rather than the State, is what gave you cradle to grave support. But The Waltons, while pleasant enough in a surgery kind of way, was never realistic.
The Simpsons is much more true to life, despite being a cartoon. Therefore, and contrary to its critics, it is more effectively pro-family than The Waltons could ever be, as I’ ll try to explain.
The reason The Waltons can’t be taken seriously is because few families are really like the Waltons. They set far too high a bar for most of us.
But The Simpsons don’t set a high standard. Bart is a brat, even if a likeable brat. He fights all the time with his brainy sister Lisa. Homer is a hard drinking, lazy, rude, irresponsible slob and he often fights with Marge, his wife.
But to simply leave it there and condemn the family as dysfunctional is to miss the point entirely.
Despite all their fights, the Simpsons always, always stick together. Marge is the very embodiment of motherhood and apple-pie. She is the nicest mum and the nicest wife anyone could have. Lisa is so clever she basically raises herself, but she looks up to Marge.
However, it’s Bart and Homer, supposedly proofpositive that The Simpsons is anti-family, who really show that it is really the most profamily programme on TV. Imagine Bart, even more so imagine Homer, without a family.
Their family is the only thing that keeps both Bart and Homer semi-civilised. Without Marge, Homer would be a lazy, boorish, irresponsible slop, full-stop.
With Marge he is a loveable slop because at the end of the day he always listens to her when she reminds him of his responsibilities to her and to his kids. The Simpsons, therefore, is the best advertisement there is for the civilising effects of family life and marriage, especially on men.
What about the charge that it is anti-Christian? Certainly it’s true that the last couple of seasons have been much harder on Christians, especially the Evangelical variety, than previous seasons.Homer’s born-again neighbour, Ned Flanders, was once merely zealous, but now he’s a fanatic.
It’s also true that some of the shows in recent seasons have been much more sexualised than before, meaning I now find myself vetting some episodes before letting the kids watch them.
But the Simpsons are the only family on a mainstream series that are shown praying and going to church regularly. And if it sends up religion, it sends up just about everyone and everything else too.
The Simpsons is an equal opportunity satirist. If you want proof of that, just check out the new movie. Yes, it does send up religion — gently — but it also sends up environmentalism.
So conservatives should go easy on The Simpsons. It isn’t perfect, but it chimes much better with their values than they think.And in case you’re wondering, I’ve already seen the Simpsons’ movie twice, once to review it, and once with the kids. So there.