I’m 27 years old, and for as long as I can remember, The Simpsons has been on TV. When I was a kid, everyone watched it. I’d watch the new episodes when they came on and come home from school and watch reruns. I kept seeing commercials for an epic Every Simpsons Ever marathon on FXX, running 552 episodes from August 21st through September 1st. Yesterday I turned the channel to FXX to check it out and was hit with a massive wave of nostalgia.
The Simpsons was a huge part of my childhood and I never realized it, probably because it’s always been there. I have to admit, I’ve stopped watching the show in recent years. After seeing some of the old episodes, I want to start watching it again because it brings back those feelings of childhood that cannot be created as an adult.
After taking multiple classes in theory while in school, I immediately think of Postmodernism whenever I feel the twinge of nostalgia. Maybe grad school has ruined my brain, but I started thinking about Frederic Jameson and his “Postmodernism and Consumer Society” as I was watching The Simpsons. One basic thing to understand about Postmodernism is that the lines between high and low culture are blurred and The Simpsons is a good example. The series has ran for so long that it’s had many artistically and culturally relevant people as guest stars, incorporating high culture into the show. It also blurs the line between high and low because it’s a cartoon (low) that sometimes has a profound meaning (high).
When it comes to nostalgia, the show hasn’t changed too much over its 25 (soon to be 26) seasons. The family is all still the same ages and that gives some comfort to someone like me who hasn’t watched it for a few years. Yes there have been some deaths and changes, but the core of the show hasn’t changed, no matter what kind of shenanigans they get into. Watching some of the early episodes, I’m transported back to that time in elementary school when I was carefree and then I’m reminded of the episodes that had an impact on me.
For example, all of the “Treehouse of Horror” episodes. They were the first episodes of any show that I treated like it was an event. Before the age of DVR and I was too young to figure out how to use VHS to record, if you missed an episode of “Treehouse of Horror” you’d have to wait until it played again as a rerun. If that happened, your friends at school might spoil it for you without any warning. Not only were they some of my favorite episodes (because I love horror), but they became a social part of school.
The episodes I’m most looking forward to are both parts of “Who Shot Mr. Burns?” and “Lisa the Vegetarian.” I can remember all of the buzz around “Who Shot Mr. Burns?” I remember discussing the episodes with my friends because it was silly to think that a baby could shoot someone. Plus, it lent itself to discussion because it was a mystery to be solved and everyone could make their own theories. It was interactive and engaging to my eight-year-old self.
“Lisa the Vegetarian” has a whole different meaning to me. When I was young, I simply liked the episode. Maybe it appealed to me subliminally because Paul McCartney was in it, but looking back at it from my adult perspective, I like the idea of a little girl making a decision and going against the grain.
I can relate to Lisa’s experience because at one point in my life I became a vegetarian, and it is really hard (because bacon, am I right?) especially when you live in rural Missouri and you’re surrounded by cattle that are going to be slaughtered for someone’s hamburger (it only last for a year). As a woman, I love that there’s a female empowerment and activism aspect to the show because it makes it richer and gives it deeper meaning.
Postmodernism theory is typically a critique of art following the modernist period, but as a member of a generation that has grown up with postmodern art, I’m more intrigued by the way it can break down walls between high and low art. I like the idea that art can include pop culture and be more accessible to all groups of people, especially with a TV show like The Simpsons.
Although Frederic Jameson criticized postmodern works of art, I see the value that they provide to the masses. Even though he treated nostalgia like it’s a bad thing, I can’t wait to keep watching the Every Simpsons Every marathon and like Homer at the end of “The Shinning,” I just want to “bask in television’s warm, glowing, warming glow.”
Jameson, Frederic. “Postmodernism and Consumer Society.” 1988.