Not Growing Up With The Simpsons

Well, I am not one to multitask. I can only manage one thing at a time, which, if desirous to veil my ineptitude, I would turn into a virtue by declaring myself to be merely anxious to give everything my all. In fact, undivided attention is not easily achieved when keeping on track means struggling not to drown in the crosscurrents of concurrency. I find it hard to read in public places, cannot tie my laces without keeping my eyes on them, and have trouble talking on the phone while being in a state of motion. I may very well be incapable of growing what is commonly referred to as “up.” Going about life with such deliberation, it would take me too long to take all the requisite steps.

It also explains the latest gap in my online journal, as unnoticed as it or its bridging might have gone. Simply put, either I live or I write, the experience being well in advance of its expression. The past few days were spent experiencing: sipping tea (or Margaritas) with visiting novelist Lynda Waterhouse and spouse, taking Montague to the beach on an afternoon almost passing for summer, and attending the opening of Hervé and the Wolf: Saints and Their Beasts, an exciting series of new paintings by our friend Clive Hicks-Jenkins. To avoid becoming rather too refined in my tastes—cultural elitism being as outmoded as modernism, the movement that gave it birth by issuing a privately printed death warrant to the popular—I agreed to take in last weekend’s international box office chart-topper, The Simpsons Movie.

Now, I haven’t watched The Simpsons with any regularity since they got their own show after graduating from the Tracy Ullman Show back in the late 1980s, when Bart and his mischief were still the focal point of this dysfunctional family portrait. Turning the pages of old diaries and photo albums, I did not come across any reference to the show and the impression it made on me (pictured above, in still earlier days, gleefully ignorant of the cultural indoctrination then deemed suitable for children).

Revisiting Springfield after taking scarcely a peek at it in fifteen years, I had little difficulty catching up. The Simpsons do not seem to change. Theirs is a constancy impossible in non-animated TV fare (its inanimate sameness notwithstanding), but common for radio characters of the pre-TV age, whose “Perennial Adolescence” caused one contemporary listener to warn that

only a miracle can save America from debacle. Such people [as those of radio’s Aldrich Family] are unequipped to create or manage an effective nation, as unable to do that as they are to run their individual lives and face the challenges of home and neighborhood [. . .]. 

They will help to explain why it was that, back in the middle nineteen-hundreds, the most powerful nation on earth was also the most fumbling and ineffective. They will make compassionate the understanding that Americans of our time had lived so long in adolescent terms that when they were called upon for leadership in a world of crisis which demanded mature and wise decisions, they proved incompetent to make those decisions.

The Simpsons differ from the juvenile characters of old radio comedies, which largely avoided socio-political commentary. Marge, Homer, and their perennially prepubescent offspring are outwardly ageless; yet their daily lives reflect the concerns of our times. Without losing their vigor or changing their looks, a sameness at once satisfying and comforting to us mortals, The Simpsons continue to be relevant because they exploit what is most talked of so as to remain talked about. As survival artists who escape time itself, they are permitted to get away with much, especially when it comes to expressing what we dare not face because it requires us to change.

Perhaps, this feature-length episode is rather too literally topical in that it tries hard not to get under our skin. Too careful not to offend too many too much, The Simpsons Movie takes no side in the current international debate from which it culls its material as from so many recycle bins. It sanitizes the fears about which we cannot quite come clean. The “Irritating Truth” is that we are more apt to laugh at than question ourselves, to accept our failures rather than to change our ways.

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