As we were brainstorming ideas for covering The Simpsons Movie, we learned that two of our own-staff writer Kia Momtazi and columnist Aaryn Belfer-never really got into the show, unlike most people between the ages of 25 and 45 (Kia, who's 24, can perhaps be forgiven due to her relative youth).
So we loaded them up with DVDs of selected seasons (the early ones) and instructed them to watch a few episodes and then have a conversation about their observations-a view of a phenomenon from the outside.
Here are some highlights from the e-mails and g-chats that transpired:
Have you started watching the Simpsons video yet? On the recommendation of VERY intelligent friends whom I admire and respect, I watched Season 7-or episodes from that season, anyway. I should warn you that I have never found animation to be all that stimulating. Generally speaking, I would rather hang out at Fascist Valley on a Saturday afternoon in mid-December than watch a cartoon, if that gives you a baseline of how much I don't enjoy them. Anyway, I watched a few episodes with my mind as open as a parachute but I gotta say, I'm beginning to question my friends' choices. I'm curious to know how it's going over at Chez Momtazi.
I don't think I hate cartoons as much as you do. I've never really gotten into Adult Swim (on Cartoon Network), but I think I'd rather have my eyeballs taped open for 20 straight hours of Aqua Teen Hunger Force than tackle Fascist Valley on any day in the month of December.
Regardless, Simpsons starts today. I'll keep you posted.
And by the way, what's the deal with cartoons and weed?
You know what I'm talking about, don't you?
You're a bad, bad girl, Kia. I think Homer Simpson might like to give you 100 lashes.
And the deal with weed and cartoons? Do you mean, why is it you have to be high in order to watch them? I wasn't high when I watched The Simpsons, but I'll probably have to be if I'm going to endure any more of Bart's annoying voice.
Simpsons starts in T-minus as long as it's gonna take me to shower. I'll write you at regular intervals throughout : )
I can see those puffy cartoon clouds parting already.
Oh, I love the puffy cartoon clouds!
That, combined with the celestial opening music, makes me anticipate something fun and happy and stonerly.
So far 'Bart gets an F' isn't funny. Then again, I've never found humor in the glorification of underachievement. If I had to be a Simpson I'd definitely be Lisa.
*Favorite quote from Season 2, episode 1:
Lisa, observing Bart pray for a miracle so he won't have to take his history test the next day: 'Prayer. The last refuge of a scoundrel.'
*Wow, this IS early Simpsons. I haven't heard Bart say 'Cowabunga' in like 15 years.
Oh, thank GOD you are on the same page as me with your grading system. I figured I'd be the CityBeat Loser who can't appreciate the finer points of The Simpsons. Not that I'm calling you a loser.
And even though I don't find Bart to be particularly funny (at all), I have to say, I'm jealous that you're at home watching cartoons.
I have yet to laugh out loud... but I am slightly multitasking as I watch, so I don't know if it's quite fair.
So far I am quite enjoying identifying the guest voices. Harvey Fierstein as Homer's secretary in the episode where Homer grows hair was the best thing about the whole episode, and the whole Simpsons-do-The Raven in the Halloween episode with James Earl Jones' narration was pretty good.
Here was a good bit from an earlier part of the Halloween episode:
Haunted House: 'You will die. You will die slowly. Your intestines will writhe and boil, your eyes will burst and some horrible stuff. Possibly your brains will start coming out through your nose.'
Lisa: 'Why are you trying to scare us? Are you trying to keep us from getting close to you? Maybe even loving you?'
Haunted House: 'Leave me alone!'
Later, after Marge gives it an ultimatum and the house implodes...
Lisa: 'It chose to destroy itself rather than live with us. You can't help but feel a little rejected.'
I love Lisa. I AM Lisa.
Lisa IS the show.
Yes, I think I'll just call you Lisa.
Aww, the Thanksgiving episode from Season 2 really kinda warmed my heart. Made me realize maybe it's not so bad I was an only child. No brothers to throw my Feminist Cornucopias in the fire.
You should also watch 'The Way We Was' (Season 2, Disc 2) about how Homer and Marge met. Very sweet. I think I'm falling for them.
Okay, Kia. I'm about to start 'Bart vs. Thanksgiving.'
I'm sitting with The Simpsons: A Complete Guide to Our Favorite Family that Pam included with my discs. I did not smoke weed since I'd like to not eat all the mochi in the house and would also like to stay awake.
I am officially a nerd.
Kia: I just got home-I'm ready to rip.
Aaryn: I gotta say, I love the title 'The Way We Was.' Makes me giggle a little bit.
Kia: It's a really sweet episode. So many of them are, I'm discovering.
Aaryn: I liked the thanksgiving one.
Kia: There really are family values at the heart of it.
Aaryn: When Bart was opening the cranberry sauce, and then he started saying, 'Mom, it's broken, Mooooom it's broken, it's broken Mmooooommm.' That is so like a fuckin' kid.
Kia: And the sign outside of the retirement home: 'Thank you for not discussing the outside world.'
Aaryn: I actually just teared up.
Kia: At what?
Aaryn: When [Marge] walked into detention and there was the love connection, and I'm thinking about what their relationship is like now. Funny how life takes you so far from how you start out.
Kia: True, very true.
Aaryn: Homer: 'Once I stop this car, I'm gonna hug you and kiss you and never be able to let you go....' Awwww.
Kia: I just realized I was nine when these episodes were airing. I WAS Lisa.
Aaryn: Shit. You WERE Lisa! What year was that?
Aaryn: Shit. I was 22. Just moved to San Diego and was partying my ass off.
Kia: Good times, good times. I was doing my homework, practicing my flute, writing poems about the cat.
Aaryn: Bart is somehow loveable. Is that possible?
Kia: I think, sort of. What bothers him about you? I mean, what bothers you about him?
Aaryn: I think he just gets on my nerves. Always acting superior and whatnot.
Kia: And getting away with it. But it's like, Lisa represents one half the population and Bart the other, in some ways.
Aaryn: Not that Bart is bad... he seems to do the right thing when pressed.
Kia: Well, everyone is kind of selfish, except Marge. But that's a device, kind of. That's the humor. Because it's blatant.
Aaryn: Yeah, this is definitely a mirror held up to our culture. Sort of a fun house mirror.
Kia: How could they think of a new couch thing for every single episode? They've done over 400 episodes.
Aaryn: I know. It's amazing. It took me a couple of episodes to catch on but how innovative.
I hate Krusty's voice. Hate it. It makes my taste buds hurt.
Kia: I think my favorite ones are the sentimental family ones.
Aaryn: I'd have to agree.
Good Morning, newfound Simpsonite!
I think I had Simpson dreams... I'm not quite sure. Any revelations come to you in the night? What misconceptions about America's favorite family have changed for you over the course of this exercise? Any?
Hello my fellow freak.
Unlike you, I did not dream about the Simpsons but I've probably said the name 74 times already today. As for my earlier bias, I guess I'd just written it off as annoying because all I knew of it were the sound bites ('doh!' and 'cowabunga'). But now I see how much the creators mock the absurdity that is the American family. Or rather, the absurdity that is American culture. And I cannot believe how loveable Bart is.
Mostly, I relate to Lisa.
And you. I relate to you, Kia.
Yes, a great deal of culture mocking goes on, I agree. I like it.
I was trying to think of how come I never really got into it. I think because I was too young to understand it when it started, I just grew up thinking it was something I wasn't/ wouldn't be into. But the cool thing about cartoons is the creators can be as absurd and fantastical as they can be with basically no constraints, which opens the door for a lot more funny.
Another thing I've been surprised about is how expressive their little yellow faces can be. They seemed so crude and two dimensional at first.
I think I wasn't into it because when it started, I was in high school and I was too busy partying. Then in college, I was too busy partying. Then in my twenties, I was too busy partying. Then in the last few years, I was too busy traveling and then the Ultimate Thing Happened: I had a kid. Then I was too busy parenting-speaking of which, I have to say, The Simpsons depicts with painfully funny accuracy. In the few episodes I've seen, I can totally relate to the horror and chaos that is the life of a parent.
And yes, their faces certainly are pliable, running a whole gamut of emotions. And the way they are able to sexualize or nerdify characters so easily.
I really like the subtle inclusions. Things like the sign on the outside of the retirement home ('Bart vs. Thanksgiving'): 'Thank you for not discussing the outside world.' Hilarious. I think I may post this on my front door. And did you happen to notice Lisa's book collection in this same episode? She had On The Road by Kerouac and poetry by Poe. So good. Also, 'Bartenders do it til you vomit' in 'Flaming Moe's.' Love that.
Yeah, the subtleties are good. That's something else I learned throughout this little experiment-because the times I'd be trying to multitask or when we were g-chatting, I'd be missing a lot of stuff. There's a lot of visual humor, so it's much more rewarding when you give it your full attention.
But the writing is definitely funny. I like these quotes from the 'Dancing Homer' episode in Season 2:
Homer: 'Bart was strangely quiet. Later he explained he was confused by feelings of respect for me.'
Homer: 'What a family. My wife and kids stood by me. On the way home I realized how little that helped.'
Homer: 'I wonder why stories of degradation and humiliation make you more popular?'
Moe: 'I don't know, they just do.'
All of a sudden I'm wondering if there are any openly gay characters... I wonder how that's evolved over the course of the show.
Googled it. Marge's sister Patty is a lez. But that's it? Only one in 18 years? [Editor's note: Smithers is gay, and Carl and Lenny might also be gay.]
Mmmmm, well if that's true (the only one in 18 years), that certainly isn't representative of our culture.
There was another quote from last night that we both had liked. I think it was when Lisa said something like, any person who admires our family is sick.
It was glorious. Just glorious. All families have their fuckeduppedness and sometimes you just can't see it from the outside. You know? And again, I thought this was so beautifully captured in the Thanksgiving episode. The relationships between Marge and her sisters and her mother; between Homer and the sisters; between Bart and Lisa (so true... I have brothers); and sweetly, between Lisa and Maggie. God. I think I'm falling more and more in love with this family.
Still, I wouldn't want to have Thanksgiving dinner with them.
I would LOVE to have Thanksgiving dinner with the Simpsons. I was an only child, so Thanksgiving was usually just me, my mom, and my dad sitting around the same spots on the same table, chewing food, ho hum. No familial hubbub, no drunken uncles, no shrieking cousins, no sibling rivalry, no kiddie table, no chaos. I fantasize about marrying into a family that has all those elements.
Did you watch the episode where Homer eats the blowfish at a sushi restaurant and thinks he only has 24 hours left to live? That one was also really sweet and family-centric. He reconciles with his dad and they go fishing together and frolic in the mud, and then he runs home and 'is intamit' (Homer's spelling) with Marge. Then he kisses all his children goodnight and falls asleep-about to cross the void, he believes-listening to Larry King read the Bible on tape.
SO. What did we learn from the Simpsons? Are we sad we weren't paying attention the past 18 years? Looking forward to a lifetime of Simpsons on DVD? Going to miss our daily dose of Bart and Lisa?
Well, Lisa. Er... I mean Kia.
I think perhaps I've been missing a chunk of important Americana but I can't say I regret my past choices to skip the show. It was largely unintentional. But I'll probably hang onto the borrowed discs I have. And I learned that there's a little piece of each character in all of us and there's no place like the retirement home. Oooh, ooh and I learned that technology is really great. Television, DVDs, remote, laptop, phone, rice paper and ice cream... those are the things I couldn't live without.
And you? What is your takeaway message?
Hm. I guess the Simpsons Spree reminded me that just because the majority of society is gleefully consuming something doesn't mean I'm automatically going to hate it by default. Sometimes the majority of people do know better.
I don't know if I'll ever become a huge Simpso-phile; the peak time has probably already passed for that. But, as I don't have cable TV, I look forward to all the future syndicated episodes that will probably continue to run for the next 20 years, and learning all the crazy little back stories of the denizens of Springfield.
So I guess only one question remains:
Do you wanna be my date to see the movie?
I thought you'd never ask!!! I'll buy the popcorn and red vines.