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The Simpsons

Musings

Enough is Finally Enough

November 15, 2017

For many years, I’ve been a big, big fan of the T.V. show The Simpsons. I think you could make the argument that it’s the best show that’s ever been on television. The humor has always spoken to me…there’s the physical comedy that is only possible with a cartoon, there are tons of references to literature, popular culture, you name it. It can be crass, it can be crude, but it can also be intelligent, thought-provoking, and touching. There have been literally dozens of classic episodes, and I’ve been going around quoting some of the more memorable lines for years. There have been other shows, both cartoon and live action, which have echoed some of its better qualities, but there’s never quite been anything to rival it. When I see that it’s on, it’s highly unlikely that I’m going to want to turn the channel to anything else. It’s like a balm to me. It’s been a part of my life for close to thirty years.

Because that’s how long it’s been on the air, now…twenty-eight years, if I’m not mistaken, I think upwards of 600 episodes, or maybe it’s 700. It’s survived not dozens, not hundreds, but thousands of other shows being cancelled and taken off the air, and it’s still going strong. I could certainly continue watching new episodes on Fox every Sunday, as I believe the latest season debuted a short while ago. And yet, even though this is my all-time favorite show, and you’d think I’d be thrilled to watch new episodes, as I do for all the other shows that enjoy, I just can’t do it anymore. I can no longer watch my favorite show, and there was a time when I believed that could never, ever happen.

So, what was it that led me to stop watching my favorite show? What was the straw that broke the camel’s back? The answer is simply this: I can no longer stand to watch Homer and Marge fight anymore. Now, that might seem like an absolutely absurd statement. Homer and Marge, the father and mother in the titular cartoon family around which the show revolves, are cartoon characters. They’re not real. Yes, you could say that, and it would be accurate. But have you never cared about a fictional character, whether on T.V., in a movie, in a novel or a comic book? Did you never have a crush on Jon Hamm in Mad Men? Did you never care what happened to Frodo on his quest to destroy the one ring? Did you never wish to hang out with Holmes and Watson, or swing through the jungles with Tarzan? If your answer to all of these was no, it’s okay to stop reading now. If you don’t care about fictional characters, then what I’m saying is going to sound like gibberish.

And yet, for those that are still reading, I’ll assume that you understand that characters can be important to people, regardless of the medium through which they are conveyed. Since The Simpsons has been on the air for so long, I’ve gotten really, really fond of the characters. I’ve watched them through their ups and downs, their trials and tribulations; I’ve watched them laugh and cry, and, while I might not have literally laughed and cried along with them, it would be accurate to say that what happened to them had a lasting, even a profound effect on me. And the character with whom I associate most is without a question Homer Simpson. That has been especially true as I gradually have crept closer to the age at which the character has been portrayed. Being a cartoon, of course, Homer never ages. He’s always pushing forty…and now, so am I, thought I first started watching the show at the age of nine.

I’m similar to Homer in certain ways, but different in many others. Homer is a creature of the id. He’s overweight, is constantly finding ways to stuff the most fattening and sugar-blasted food down his gullet, and he’s a compulsive drinker. There are been many episodes that deal with his gluttony, and his presumed alcoholism. I’m not a glutton, nor an alcoholic, but I recognize Homer’s base impulses. They’re my own, too. I’d love to be lazy and work and still somehow draw a paycheck, stuff myself and sugar and fattening foods with no serious repercussions, and go through life demonstrably drunk. Who wouldn’t? Homer is more animal than human in some ways, a creature obsessed with and attracted to the creature-comforts. But while all that is true, he feels, too, truly and deeply, in a way that resonates with me as a viewer. Since the show has been on the air for so long, there have been many episodes where Homer has felt unloved by a number of the other characters, including but not limited to all three of the children, and Grandpa. But never is Homer more miserable than dealing with Marge, his spouse…and that’s what has always been the trouble for me.

Since the show first came on the air, the writers (and there have been many, many writers, over the years), have pounded it into the viewers brains that Homer and Marge aren’t well suited for each other. You can go all the way back to Season One, and the episode where Homer gets drunk and ogles Maude Flanders, leading he and Marge to go on a couples retreat. Homer would rather go fishing and attempt to catch “General Sherman,” the legendary catfish of Catfish Lake. Homer catches the fish, but then releases him at Marge’s insistence rather than taking him home and frying him up for supper, thereby proving his love for Marge. All’s well that ends well…except then these two would go on to fight another five hundred times or so over the course of the next twenty-something years.

I don’t like Marge’s character. I never did. She’d depicted as a wet blanket. She’d the worrier of the family…she’d the one who would be the least fun to hang around with of the principle family members, while the most fun would undoubtedly be Homer, the party animal. It’s clear that there’s love between the two of them, but Homer, with his impulsiveness, with his alcoholism, has a hell of a time keeping things going smoothly with her. The fault is by no means entirely Marge’s, either. Who would want to be married to a guy who has changed careers on a dime dozens of times over the years, who is unable or unwilling to curb those impulses that are so much a part of him. Going back to the previously referenced episode, there’s a part where Marge is listing to Reverend Lovejoy and the rest of the couples all of Homer’s faults…he gambles, he forgets all holidays, both personal and secular, his body makes strange noises…this is not the ideal partner, but any stretch of the imagination. Yes, Homer loves Marge, and vice versa, but love is not enough.

The two of them have never actually gone through with the breakup, though, despite how poorly suited they are for each other. The show has teased it many times, with mini-breakups, but they’ve never decided to pull the trigger and make the split permanent. I guess they thought it would alienate the audience, that it would be too dramatic of a change to the show to break up the nucleus of the family. And so, the family has stayed together, and Homer and Marge have continued fighting…and fighting…and fighting.

I watched one of the most recent episodes a few weeks ago, one I’d never seen before, and it happened again. And it was just enough. My own parents didn’t make it. They split; it messed me up something awful, and it was many, many years before I felt myself to be entirely over it. With Homer and Marge, it’s almost worse, because I really care about the character of Homer Simpson, big dumb goon that he is, and I can’t stand to see him hurt anymore. I just can’t. Maybe I feel things too deeply; maybe I care too much about fictional characters. You could make that argument, and you’d have a valid point. But I’m a Cancer, and I’m a person who feels things deeply, for better or worse. That’s what leads me to most identify with Homer’s character, and if that’s ridiculous, so be it. The bottom line is that I just can’t watch these two go at each other anymore, and I won’t watch any more of my all-time favorite show because of it. Maybe, if the writers would swear that they’d never have the two of them fight anymore ever again, I’d be willing to start watching once more. But I don’t think it’s ever going to happen. Much like the writers’ unwillingness to pull the trigger on a Homer-Marge permanent divorce, or separation, these two fighting just seems to be a fact of the show. If that’s always going to be the case, I’d just as soon they pull the plug. It took them almost thirty years to lose me as a viewer, but they finally accomplished it.

Musings

The Simpsons and The Undertaker

November 6, 2016

I’m thirty-five years old, and there have been some aspects of or influences in my life that have been around for nearly as long as I can remember. They’ve been there, in some cases, going back to when I was growing up in a lower-middle class section of Cincinnati, Ohio. Now, as I’m approaching middle age, I find myself reflecting more and more on the fate of some of those things that have for so long been a part of my life, because, in all probability, they’re not going to be around for much longer. One of those things to which I’m referring is a television show…The Simpsons…and another is professional wrestler the Undertaker.

Now, at first glance, these appear to be completely disparate things, with nothing that could possibly link them, Mark Calaway, the WWE wrestler known as the Undertaker, and the beloved Matt Groening television show featuring Homer, Bart, and the other classic characters that has been a part of the American consciousness even before it officially debuted in 1990. But, if we are to pause right there for a moment, the time of the debut of Undertaker can be seen as corresponding almost exactly to The Simpsons‘ first appearance as an episodic half-hour television show. Calaway made his debut as the Undertaker character in 1990 as well, as a heel, or bad guy, feuding with Hulk Hogan in what was at that point the World Wrestling Federation. With his menacing stare, his black funereal attire, and his manager with the sing-song voice, the inimitable Paul Bearer, it wasn’t long before he made the transition to baby face (good guy), and was a huge draw for master carnival barker Vince McMahon. It so happened that I got into wrestling, and The Simpsons, right at the same time, not just because they burst onto the scene simultaneously, but because at that point my family didn’t own a television. I don’t want to imply that we were too poor to afford one, or something. My father, an English professor at nearby Xavier University, wanted his children to live “the life of the mind,” so he refused to buy us one, instead giving us books and telling us to play outside. There’s nothing wrong with that, necessarily, it’s just that anything that is taboo is desirable, and this meant that I had to go across the street to sleep over at my friend Mike’s house and get my fix of the warmly flickering idiot box. What was on the screen, more times than not, was what Mike was into…new sensation The Simpsons, and professional wrestling, specifically the WWF, which was at that point in the middle of the Federation Years, with Taker, Hulk Hogan, Ultimate Warrior, Randy Savage, and other larger-than-life personalities that I came to know and love.

My interest in professional wrestling, and The Simpsons, never completely went away, not when I moved from across the street from Mike in that same year, 1990, not when my father finally relented and let me get that TV for which I’d been pining, not even when I slogged my way through high school, went off to college in Pittsburgh, then graduated and joined the “real world,” and the work force. My time and inclination to keep up with both went through its ebbs and flows. In high school I was obsessed with the NWO and the Monday Night Wars, in what would later come to be known as the Attitude Era in the WWF. In college, I lost interest in much of anything other than drugs and trying to get laid. When I came out of the drug haze and my hormones had calmed down a little, Vince McMahon had just finalized a deal to buy WCW, and the landscape of professional wrestling had changed in earnest. The Simpsons had gone through a number of creative teams, the Undertaker had gone through a number of “turns,” having successful runs as both a face and heel, but always remained a top star in Vince’s stable, as his bearing and physical stature, not to mention his tendency to have consistently top quality matches with all sorts of different opponents, made sure to keep him relevant. As for me, I lived in a number of different cities, had a number of different jobs, eventually got married, and have come at last to the age of thirty-five, which is somewhat surrealistic to me, but hey, such is life.

What’s also surrealistic to me is the fact that the Undertaker still hasn’t retired, and The Simpsons is still going strong. Mark Calaway, the man, is now 51. He looks good for his age, and obviously keeps himself in great shape. Still, this is a guy who has been walloped in the head with steel chairs and squashed by four and five hundred pound men countless times, and in your fifties your age starts to tell on you even if you haven’t lived a particularly physical lifestyle. The Undertaker now wrestles only once or twice a year, and it’s rumored that the upcoming Wrestlemania 33, in Florida, might be his last match. But then again, the last two or three years he’s been dogged by retirement rumors, and he’s still going strong. But it all has to end sometime, and it seems clear that at his age, even though he obviously loves the business and never wants to leave it, he’s going to have to hang the boots up at some juncture.

As for The Simpsons, it recently began its 28th season, and, just as I have for so many other season debuts, I was sitting smack-dab on my couch, ready to welcome this oldest and most venerable one of my friends back into my home. I consider The Simpsons to be, without a doubt, unequivocally, the greatest and best show, ever, in the history of television. There are literally dozens of classic characters and episodes. That show made me aware of concepts that I had been ignorant of before, improved my vocabulary, and lights up a special part of my brain that no other imitation has ever quite duplicated. Since first watching The Simpsons, I’ve been introduced to and become a fan of South Park, Futurama, Family Guy, and others, but there’s nothing quite like the original. Even if the quality of some episodes has dipped, now that it’s in its freaking 28th season, I have come to the understanding that I’m never going to stop watching it, until they stop making it. It’s that simple.

I’m a fairly cynical guy, but there are certain things that are always going to be magical for me, and instill in me once again that sense of childlike wonder. The Simpsons, even once they ride off into the sunset, probably some day soon, will have reruns going probably until the end of time, which is great, because nearly any time I flip on the boob tube, if an episode is on, that’s right where I’m going to set down the remote. As far as Mark Calaway, known to not one but several generations as the Undertaker, one of the best of all time, a first ballot Hall of Famer, he’ll always be a guy that captures my imagination. I’ve seen him numerous times in person…I was there in New Orleans, watching in stunned silence as Brock Lesnar broke the streak at Wrestlemania 30…and every time I hear that gong, I know I’m going to get those shivers up my spine that only the Dead Man, unafraid to wear eye liner at his age, can deliver. These are simple pleasures for me, broadcast into my living room over the years regardless of what city, or state, I was calling home. I know that, due to the simple age of both of these institutions, I will probably have to say goodbye to them very soon. That’s unavoidable, I’m afraid; nothing lasts forever. But both of them have made an indelible impression on me, and my life is richer for them. The Undertaker’s music is always going to be my ring tone, even if I live to be a hundred, and I’m always up for arguing the cultural merits of The Simpsons with any stranger on the street. Some people have Don Giovanni and Tchaikovsky. I have cartoons and musclebound guys in tights. To each their own.

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