The TV That Made Me: The Simpsons

by thethreepennyguignol

When it comes to the shows that made me, I’ve really been beating around the bush so far. Sure, True Blood introduced me to sex and sexuality and helped me define my career into my adult life, and Neon Genesis Evangelion basically saved my life when I was first dealing with mental illness, but what’s that, truly, in comparison to The Simpsons?

The Simpsons was the first show I ever remember loving. It was on during the 6pm slot on terrestrial television when I was growing up, and, come rain or shine or having to sprint home from the bus back from an after-school club I had cheerily signed up for a dozen of at the start of term, I would be there to see it. With only one episode a night, I would drink deep from the cup of Matt Groening and come back jonesing for me every time.

And, of course, as a kid, there’s plenty of things to recommend about The Simpsons. It’s fucking funny as shit, in a way that I don’t think any other show has risen to the heights of with such consistency since (yes, even Frasier), the characters, particularly in the early seasons, are sympathetic and recognizable as caricatures from your own life. Springfield, for me and so many other people who grew up in the golden age of The Simpsons, was a second home, a comfortably suburban American slice-of-life that felt somehow utterly comparable to my middle-of-nowhere upbringing in the Scottish Highlands. I watched it with such rabidity when I was young, collecting all the VHS tapes and lining them in careful pride-of-place next to the TV, because it was funny, familiar, and felt like home.

But as I’ve gotten older, and continued to harbor a love for the show that has extended to purchasing with real money a Junji Ito-style work of Simpsons fan art for my living room wall, it’s become easier for me to trace The Simpsons back as the start of an enduring love of pop culture that has really defined most of my life. And not just The Simpsons as the first piece of pop culture that really connected with me, but because it was the first show I had really seen that reveled in its own place within pop culture.

The Simpsons is a show that has always been frantically literate in the media landscape that surrounds it. From loving parodies of Hitchcock and The Fugitive to roasts of the animation genre that it itself was a part of, from Homer’s mournful “Lobo!” lamentations to Sideshow Bob’s rendition of HMS Pinafore, the show is couched in a deep love for and understanding of every kind of media. For me, it opened the door on to so many things that I might otherwise have felt inaccessible to me – I came to the works of John Waters thanks to his brilliant one-episode cameo in the show, and those Halloween specials landed me seeking out The Shining and A Nightmare on Elm Street just so I could understand the show better. I can’t remember how many times I’ve sat there, watching a movie or a TV show, and spotted a scene that made me go “oh, shit, that’s where The Simpsons got it from!”, and it instantly warms me to whatever I’m engaging with.

And beyond that, it was this show that really introduced me to feminism. Yeah, okay, maybe that sounds a little out-there, but when I was watching the show as a bookish, goofy-haired, precocious little nightmare of a girl, I found myself instantly drawn to Lisa. And when I saw her instantly drawn to feminism (in my all-time favorite episode Lisa versus Malibu Stacy, especially), I found myself looking at this notion that I had assumed was for people of a generation that wasn’t mine, at problems I had assumed were long-past thanks to the efforts of my amazing family to raise me in a way that didn’t limit me because of my gender. I came to realize that there was call to be angry and to fight and to make people not like you if it meant doing the right thing. My feminism didn’t end with The Simpsons, but it did start there, with Lisa and her moral crusades and the show’s earnest belief that she should be able to pursue them, and that’s far from nothing.

For me, The Simpsons was the start of a lot. It was the start of following long-term characters, the start of wrapping my head around genre as a trope, the start of understanding meta-commentary, the start of actually noticing that things weren’t all fabulous in the world and that it was alright to be angry about that. But more than anything, it was where this all started – this earnest, passionate love for TV and all the things it can teach me and offer me, all the things it has to say, whether they’re couched in hysterical jokes or not. That started with The Simpsons, and for that, it’s one of the shows that made me.

That’s it for the third part of The TV That Made Me series and you can find the last part here.Please tune in if you enjoyed this and want to read the rest! And, of course, let me know in the comments below or over on Twitter what media made you. Books, TV, movies – what changed your life, and why?

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(header image courtesy of El Mundo)