Friday, October 27, 2006

Simpsonian Apologetics

This is actually the third attempt on this post, that is if you're reading it. Who knows, maybe it will actually be 5 or 6 by the time it posts. Anyway, you've probably heard of classical and presuppositional apologetics; the title of this post is not an attempt to offer a third alternative, but rather to answer the excellent question raised by Lyndsey in the comments section of the previous post. The ever present question..."What about the Simpsons?" In other words, the ensuing discussion is intended to be a defense of The Simpsons, more or less. I've actually never addressed this topic in a public forum and this seemed like an excellent opportunity to do so. After all, I am always ready to give an answer for the...well, never mind. I'll get right to the point: In order to "interpret" or appreciate The Simpsons, you have to recognize the show's genre. Are Bart and Homer terrible role models for our children? Yes. Definately. Of course. However, The Simpsons was never intended to be taken on par with Aesop's Fables or even Sesame Street. The show is straightforward, simple satire and nothing more. Virtually every episode I've ever seen (and I've seen a few, courtesy of syndication and double episodes on the WB) satires at least one (though typically more) aspect of contemporary culture. In fact, it's almost become a sort of status symbol to be mocked by the Simpsons. From political figures like Bush and Carter to pop cultural icons like The Rolling Stones and Tom Petty, numerous culture brokers have done cameos over the years, some more than once. Everyone from Steven Hawking to Steven Speilberg have been sketched into their episodes. Their primary tools for the satirical undertaking are sarcasm, irony and hyperbole (are their anyothers?). However, ignorance of the contemporary culture may cause viewers to miss these elements. In fact, I would suggest this is the primary reason there has been a reaction among fundamentalists and other social conservatives over the years. But stop and think: Homer is the quintissential portrait of a blue collar worker - wears blue jeans and a collared shirt everywhere; that is except when he's walking around in his tighty whiteys. Beer drinking, job sleeping, head of the household that's run by his wife. He is the essence of a blue collar worker - at least in a hyperbolic sense. He's a characterization and that's intentional. That's what satire's all about. And that's one of the reasons it's T.V.'s second longest running show (second to 60 Minutes I believe). One more good-diddly-ood example should suffice: you guessed it -- Ned Flanders. While the writers may not be believes (I don't know), they've certainly run into enough fundies to satire the fundamentalist christians. I've even heard good ole Ned leading his kids in songs we've sung in children's church. Is it malicious and satanic? NO! It's just satire. Get over it. Better yet, learn from it. They're exaggerating all the quirky things that different elements of society embody. I could go on with the doughnut eating Chief Wiggins, the philandering mayor of Springfield, Marge's two chain smoking single sisters, etc. So what's my point? Am I offering a full scale endorsement of The Simpsons? Of course not. I am suggesting, however, that you know and understand what you're condemning before you condemn it. And no, this logic doesn't lead to justifying porn; that's a ridiculous logical fallacy. Porn is not a liberty issue in Scripture; satire is. In fact, Jesus was willing to use some of the elements mentioned above in his own teaching. Finally, I do want to offer a few qualifications: 1) Don't be confused by the fact that The Simpsons is a cartoon -- it is not a children's show. Most kids don't have the intellectual tools and discernment to distinguish between fodder for emulation and satire. In fact, some adults don't either. 2) Even I think some episodes are in appropriate. Some of their religious satire deals with God and Jesus and crosses into what I would consider blasphemy. But it's satire right? Heck no! I shut these types of episodes off faster than you can say "Doh!" 3) Don't violate your conscience. If you think it's sin--Don't do it! That's my paraphrase of Paul in Romans 14. Life will go on just fine if you never see an episode of The Simpsons. However, know why you do what you do and don't do what you don't do. Above all, when trying to evaluate elements of culture, yes base it on Scripture. Duh. Obviously. But also make sure you understand the elements for what they are.

11 comments:

Chris Bruno said...

So you mean that I am not supposed to follow Homer's example? Doh!
Good summary. Thanks Nate

Luther's Stein said...

Mihelis,

Nice work here, though I am probably disqualified from venturing an opinion since I am only justifying my own sin -- I, as you know, enjoy the Simpsons.

What I find most amusing is the way that Christians were obsessing over the terrible example set by Bart and Homer, and that their response to these characters was exactly the intent of the writers. This is the genius of the show -- the writers get you to side with them against all of the idiots in the town so that you will be able to identify and identify with the voice of reason -- with is almost exclusively Lisa. In reality, she is the most dangerous character on the show since, as the voice of reason, she makes the quasi-humanistic bent of the show seem almost refreshing! Once again, genre confusion cripples interpretation.

kevin mcfadden said...

Good thoughts Nate.

Tim Barker said...

Nate,

Glad you finally got it posted. Except...where was my shout out as in the original edition?!?!

Seriously, I appreciate your appeal to the genre. That does seem to be a key to viewing.

smlogan said...

ah, it was only a matter of time...
i see your true colors shining thru, and its more than painfully apparent that you're not afraid to "let them show".

of course, i'm not sure that van til/bahsen/frame or the ligonier gang deserve such motley company;
but as for you and baylor - i'm quite sure it suits you just fine.

so here's to you, tim, bart, and your leading man, homer...

LMLogan said...

thanks nate - well written - still...hmm...not sure I'm sold on it! :)

Anonymous said...

Great cultural commentary and also challenge to accept and utilze whatever we can in a culture while still having our locus as Christ. I also appreciated the remark that being a cartoon does not necessitate being for juevinialls (sp). Trust me on this one. I have seen some animes that even violated my conscience, and for the 'vice-master', it takes alot to do that.

Luther's Stein said...

Thanks for the confession Russ.

smlogan said...

the self-attested 'vice-master'

NWMihelis said...

Russell,

I don't even want to know...:-)

Barker

Sorry, I got so wrapped up in pounding out the new addition, that I forgot to add the shout out. But for the record, any good source critic would want to know that the original draft had a HT to Barker's excellent treatment on genre as it pertains to preaching. There I feel better now.

Anonymous said...

Nate, you make a very good point. "The Simpsons" manages to parody our world very well without crossing over (or so far over) "the line" as the shows like South Park, which are inappropriate for anyone. The downside is the cartoon format that makes ignorant parents assume that it's acceptable television for their children.