Sunday, January 06, 2008

You don't know what it's like...

"The Simpsons" debuted right around the time I was 5 or 6. I think I started really getting into it when I was around 8 and watched it fairly religiously through the greatest run in network history until I set off for college around season 14. By this point it was well past it's Golden Era and was entering the depths of its current period of comfortable mediocrity and infrequent genius. I'm well aware that fans of the show still debate when the show was in its prime or whether it has rebounded as of late, or whether it's still just as good now. For me personally the show lost a step when I stopped regretting missing an episode, but if it's on I'll still watch it.

One of the great lasting legacies of the show that still effects me to this day were the brilliantly placed layers of esoteric references that you finally understood and appreciated years down the line. Before the Simpsons I didn't know who Rory Calhoun was; or could recite selected parts of Gilbert and Sullivan's "H.M.S. Pinafore"; and to this day can't imagine "A Streetcar Named Desire" as anything but a musical. When you're little you don't think these as sly references by a bunch of smart-ass Harvard writers, you just think its something that they made up. That is until you see the Twilight Zone and realize about half the early Tree House of Horror episodes were straight parodies, or you see "Vertigo" and it's the same tower Principal Skinner climbs up in that one episode, or you realize Mr. Burns is essentially Charles Foster Kane whenever the plot called for it.

One of my favorite such scenes was from the classic 5th Season episode "Secrets of a Successful Marriage." I don't need to go too deep into the plot since I'm sure most people have seen and remember this episode. It's the one where Homer tries to teach an adult education class about marriage to prove he isn't slow but tells private stuff about his married life and Marge kicks him out. Correction Marge, two perfectly good jackets? A marriage is a lot like an orange? Give your new mother a kiss? Etc. etc?

The scene begins when Marge confronts Homer about not sharing anymore details about their personal lives with his class. Homer begins to give a rationed response in hopes of getting some understanding and compassion from Marge. When Marge gives an alternate option, Homer's response to that is merely an unexpected, insane, now classic rant. There it is in all it's glory; a brief 20 second absurdist departure from the rest of the story; a departure from which Homer is quickly brought back via Marge. On the surface this is a completely useless throwaway scene that probably shouldn't have even been included, however for me it's actually completely necessary and is definately one of the highlights of the episode. There's something about that exchange that goes to the complex stupidity that is Homer, which is really the main focal point of the episode.

But really, how many people (especially of my generation) knew exactly where all those quotes came from when they first saw it? How long did it take to finally get all the movies?

Let's see I was around ten and I think I only got the Few Good Men quote since the early to mid 90s were the hey days of "You can't handle the truth" quoting (only to be followed by the mid to late 90s hey days of "Show me the money"). About 6 years later in high school, our sophomore year US history teacher for our study on World War II showed us the famous opening clip to Patten. During my senior year I worked at my local Blockbuster video store and one day decided to use one of my weekly free rentals on a interesting looking Al Pachino movie. Finally during my sophomore year at NYU, I lived in the Lafayette dorms in Chinatown so I figured I'd see what the movie was all about. All in all it would be a good ten years later before I was able to finally look back on that scene and understand all the movies noted to fully appreciate it. It was just as funny as when I knew hardly anything at all. That's why "The Simpsons" is so great.


  1. weird thing is that now i can't tell which things the simpsons reference because they're culturally significant and which things are culturally significant because the simpsons referenced them. it's like one of those snake things. very deep.

  2. True. It's nice to see you're still using your NYU critical education.