The Cultural Impact of The Simpsons
Posted 01/31/2020 01:48PM

The Cultural Impact of The Simpsons

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Now on its 31st season, The Simpsons has become the longest running animated sitcom in history. Originally starting in 1989, The Simpsons boasts a track record of 676 episodes and one movie. The cultural impact of this show in my eyes is inarguable.

Due to its longevity, The Simpsons has been both benefited and been harmed by the passage of time. In one respect, the show has managed to truly develop its characters into realistic (although satirical) depictions of American life. On the other hand, the show has declined in popularity over its decades-long run — there was an average of 4 million viewers in Season 27 as compared to 10 million in Season 17. The Simpsons simply just isn't as good as it once was. The main cast members even agreed to a pay cut to $300,000 per-episode from $400,000 in 2011, due to the show's declining ratings. Regardless, The Simpsons has had a direct influence on the American experience whether that be in pop-culture, Americana, or television. It's inarguable that The Simpsons has had its say, so to speak.

Some of the show's cultural impact is less tangible. The show's catchphrases and one-liners create a shared cultural knowledge among fans. And its success as a prime-time animated show led directly to the creation of others of its kind, like "Family Guy," "American Dad," and "Futurama," and less directly to an explosion of witty animated shows aimed at adults. Take a moment to imagine a pop culture landscape without The Simpsons and you'll understand its impact. The show convinced America (and the world) that animation could be for adults and still be commercially lucrative at primetime. This opened the door for the likes of Beavis & Butt-head, South Park and countless imitators - and also set the tone for a new kind of self-aware, hyper-referential form of comedy that has influenced everything from The Office to The Daily Show and The Colbert Report.

As Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane puts it, "The Simpsons created an audience for primetime animation that had not been there for many, many years... As far as I'm concerned, they basically re-invented the wheel. They created what is in many ways - you could classify it as - a wholly new medium."

Powered by a razor-sharp, witty writing team, including future Late Night host Conan O'Brien, The Simpsons often turned its spotlight on the absurdities and shortcomings of the sitcom format, skilfully breaking the bounds of those same limitations in the process. But The Simpsons influence stretches beyond the confines of TV. The show's commercial success, and the multibillion-dollar merchandise empire that grew up around it, had a huge effect on the popularity of then-fledgling Fox network, whose trajectory would surely have been quite different without the presence of everyone's favourite dysfunctional family. The show has spawned a hugely successful movie, a double-platinum album, a theme park ride, as well as countless video games, books, comics, fan sites and academic papers, walking the line between mainstream and subversive; kid-friendly and adult humour, and high and low culture all the while. The show has also won 31 Primetime Emmy Awards, earned The Simpsons a star on Hollywood Boulevard (as well as one for its creator, Matt Groening) and was named best television series of the 20th century by Time magazine in 1999. Time also named Bart Simpson one of the century's 100 most influential people, while Homer's catchphrase, "D'oh!" has made it into the Oxford English Dictionary.

Although The Simpsons is loved by many, it is evident that the show has seen its better days. As Matt Groening, the creator of The Simpsons once said: "The problem with doing a sitcom which has lasted more than 300 episodes is you're trying not to repeat yourself, you're trying to surprise the audience, and you're trying to keep everybody who works on the show surprised. As a result, the show has gone off in some very peculiar directions." Despite the continuing decline of The Simpsons there seems to be no end in sight as Fox has already renewed The Simpsons for an unprecedented 31st and 32nd seasons. The renewal takes the hit animated series to yet another record 713 episodes. Despite all of this, The Simpsons will always be remembered as a hallmark of American culture.

About WiNK

WiNK (“Wooster Ink”) is Wooster School’s online student news publication. WiNK serves as the student voice of our community, and provides readers with a weekly overview of what's happening in our students' lives, and it gives students a chance to share their interests and voices. The majority of the content is developed in our Upper School Journalism classes, but we also accept contributions from other students and faculty members.

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Brooke Thaler

Publications Teacher

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