Who could forget 1989? The Berlin Wall came down. Tanks trounced Tiananmen Square. Earthquakes rattled the World Series. “Batman” hit the box office. And Bobby McFerrin won a Grammy for “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.”
1989 was also the year that Matt Groening brought his cartoon “The Simpsons” from “The Tracy Ullman Show” to Fox. Last week, Fox Broadcasting inked a deal to keep the show for at least two more seasons, making “The Simpsons” the longest-running sitcom in television history. The (at least) 16-year run of the show surpasses former-record holder “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet,” which ran for 14 seasons.
“The Simpsons” has achieved remarkable success with an unmistakable formula. The writers mix one-part slapstick, one-part sarcasm, and a pinch of the most daring social commentary on TV. The final product attracts audiences of all ages.
The show’s intellectual undertones are evident in its willingness to develop characters through stereotypes, to parallel obscure historical events and to attack politics with vigor.
In one episode, a Native American pride parade includes the often-scrutinized Cleveland Indians mascot (an unfavorable caricature of a Native American). The parade announcer explains, “the papier Mache used on the float is made entirely out of broken treaties.”
Few TV shows are willing to poke fun at the major establishments in America; no group is safe from the writers of “The Simpsons”. Episodes often ridicule organized religion, public schools, the government and the elderly. The show’s womanizing, swindling mayor was loosely molded from “beloved” President John F. Kennedy.
Because of “The Simpsons'” unique ability to provide insight into American life, I implore all people in my generation to recognize the show’s lengthy success. Observing the people of Springfield is one of the few shared cultural experiences that none of us needs to be ashamed of. Don’t forget, we are also the generation of Milli Vanilli, pogs and Alf.
Some may say that we were too young to truly enjoy “The Simpsons” in 1989. But need I remind you of the initial marketing craze with Bart dolls and T-shirts? Do “don’t have a cow, man” and “eat my shorts” ring a bell? We were the generation of kids buying up the merchandise. “The Simpsons” is ours.
Maybe I’m just ready for something to define my generation. It seems like so much popular culture is regrettable-from New Kids on the Block to Steve Urkel. I’m not a member of Generation X, and I didn’t have a chance to go to Woodstock.
“The Simpsons” has not only weathered the burn of the spotlight. It has been deemed worthy as a topic for scholarly research, essays, and critiques. Homer’s famous phrase “d’oh” is even in Webster’s dictionary. The cartoon is a cultural icon for my generation.
I realize that some people in my generation don’t like “The Simpsons” or have never watched it. Well … not every hippie was at Woodstock. But there’s still time to give “The Simpsons” a chance. The Beatles weren’t on Ed Sullivan for 16 years. But there will be at least two more years of the Simpson family and their seemingly endless parade of townsfolk.
Perhaps a TV show seems like a poor symbol for a generation. After all, TV promotes so many skewed values. But in the words of Homer Simpson, “Who can blame the TV? It gives so much and asks for so little.”