Tuesday, October 28, 2008

A TV Set Within A TV Set (part one)

A couple months ago, a co-worker brought up an interesting point. We were talking about The Simpsons, as we frequently do, and he mentioned that if The Simpsons has an overarching theme over its 20 seasons, it is the influence of television on our culture. I was fascinated by this idea, so I kept thinking about it, and kept this theme in the back of my mind while watching the show ever since.

References to other TV shows on The Simpsons are both obvious and many. But a more subtle feature of the show is that they can easily show, through the medium of animation, what is being watched on their TV set. Watching TV on TV is to the 90's as reading screenshots of blogs on CNN is to today. It's bizarre at first, like using 2 mirrors to see the back of your head, but you get used to it after a while. Especially when you've watched The Simpsons for as long as I have.

Maybe it's my on-the-fence birthyear, that fine line between Gen-X and Millennials, that helps me relate to the show so much, even after critics say the show is losing its touch in its old age (more on that later). I was 9 years old when I started watching The Simpsons. Like every kid my age, I tried to live vicariously through Bart Simpson, who seemed to be the star of the show (at the time), although I was definitely more Milhouse-esque in real life.

During my teenage years, I never really related to any one character in the show, as adolescent characters are noticeably few, save the awkwardly-acned fast food worker or spraypaint-loving hooligans. During these very years, however, the show took a decided turn, focusing less on the juvenile antics of Bart and more on the jovial idiocy of Homer. It's like someone out there was preparing me for an adult life as an analog boy in a digital world.

As an adult, I am a disciple of Homer's humor, his schemes, and his accidental, if not genius, commentary on American culture. At the center of all this, and more importantly, getting back to my original point, is the role that the television played in this animated baby-boomer's life; not so much what he watched on the TV, but the TV set itself. As Marshall McLuhan said, "The Medium is the Message", and if this is the case, Homer could be McLuhan's poster oaf.

For Homer, Home is where the TV is ("Now let's go back to that... building...thingy...where our beds and TV...is [episode 1F04]). No matter what surreal 5 second trip the family takes while seating themselves on the couch, the intro to every episode is stabilized by the familiar glow of the credits on the family TV set.

(continued next week...)

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