A lot of people ask me why I am such a devoted fan of the media, and what I grew up with in order to influence this passion of mine. Well, I’d have to consider the amalgamation of shows, video games and movies I absorbed before I was ten, which is a rather lengthy essay (I’ll do it eventually, I promise!). You could look at my teenage years when I began to realize the artful capabilities of storytelling through the animes I watched, or you could even dig further to when I was barely 7 years old and played point-and-click adventure games like Quest for Glory. If you’re talking about my first exposure, however, to a program intended for adults that I fully enjoyed and understood in my own way, however, than I would not hesitate to tell you that it was The Simpsons.
Like many of my interests during my early years, I discovered The Simpsons through video games. As I’m sure plenty of you fondly remember, The Simpsons arcade game was a hoot and a half, and who knows how many of my parent’s quarters got sucked into that game (especially as I died on average about two times per level). It didn’t take long after I defeated Mr. Burns in the final level, that I decided I needed more of a Simpsons fix, and immediately decided that I should watch the show. It was probably around 1994 that I first tuned in and I remember exactly which episode it was: Cape Feare. As the title suggests, this episode was a parody of Cape Fear, and an altogether excellent introduction to the series, and perhaps chiefly because it had Sideshow Bob in it. Bart Simpson’s arch-nemesis (impeccably voiced by Kelsey Grammer) gave the show my systematic need for a story to have an evil villain, and it didn’t matter at all that it would be a long time before I ever knew what Fraiser was. Needless to say I loved the episode, and I’ve been a devotee ever since…although I hadn’t always been allowed to watch it.
At first my mom seemed to be alright with me watching The Simpsons as I was too young to understand the show’s veiled innuendo, but then my impressionable mind began repeating dialogue from the show. When I reenacted a scene that involved Bart saying, “TV sucks”, my mom immediately became on edge about the show before outright banning me from watching it. Even when she did let me watch it she would always be condescending towards it and tell me characters like Homer and Bart were bad people and not to be emulated. Strangely, she rarely brought up how Lisa is someone that parents would want their kids to be like, nor did she even pay attention to the redeemable qualities of Homer. Still, my mom continued to feel the show was damaging to me, and many of the other adults I knew(from aunts to friend’s parents) shared the same sentiments, with them calling the show “disgusting”, or “something that encourages you to laugh at things you shouldn’t be laughing at.” Dear reader, please smack your head (albeit gently) if you consider these remarks to be bullshit.
Granted, this was a few years before South Park premiered (which I also feel parent’s initially overrated in terms of vulgarity), but I am still completely boggled why parents would have problems with their kids watching The Simpsons, yet allow them to watch Seinfeld. Maybe it’s because these adults weren’t fond of cartoons, or that they didn’t want their kids feeling that it’s okay to have a dysfunctional family. It’s ironic too, as The Simpsons was certainly one of the most moral shows on television for its time, and I’m not talking about the sort of sentimental hooey that you’d find else where. I remember watching the second season’s Thanksgiving episode (Bart Vs. Thanksgiving) with my mom, which involves Bart destroying a centerpiece that Lisa created. All my dear mother could say was, “This is why I don’t want you watching The Simpsons. These are bad values.” Had she stuck around to finish the episode, however, she would of seen how Bart eventually realizes what he did was wrong and then he apologizes. Why can’t people be patient, and wait for the end of the story to get to the friggin moral!
Besides that, The Simpsons undoubtedly taught me a lot about the real world. As fans of the show will tell you pretty much every character on the show is a parody of an American stereotype, whether it be the ambiguously gay Wayland Smithers, the dumb-as-shit yokel Cletus Spuckler, or of course Comic Book Guy. It introduced me to different factions of our society, that enhanced my knowledge as I got older. The show touched on issues involving family, money, religion and politics, which I only half got when I was eight years old, but the cartoony hijinks of the show was just such a draw for me. I also didn’t get a lot of the show’s movie references when I was young, but then when I eventually saw those movies (I.E. Citizen Kane, The Shining, etc.) it made the Simpsons image all the more funny. It’s also so gifting for me to return to old episodes of the show now, where I can pick up the adult jokes that went over my head the first time around. It really is the only show I watched during my youth that I can say impresses me even more now as an adult.
Looking back at my childhood, I feel a lot of my television viewing was misspent. Sure, I watched plenty of great “kids” shows like Ren and Stimpy and Batman: The Animated Series, but so many of the other Nickelodean-esque shows I watched in my adolescence are disposable in the long run. The Simpsons, however, was clearly vital to my growth. There’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that The Simpsons was instrumental towards my social outlook, my interest in film and television, my recurring objective to consistently achieve more knowledge, and my sense of humor. Honestly, I feel it’s rather detrimental to keep a child away from the Simpsons, and most children should be allowed to watch the show around 8 or 9 years of age (adult supervision recommended perhaps). Hell, I can’t wait to rewatch the show’s first 9 seasons on DVD when I have kids!