.. Land. In order that they will be able to find their car again they make a point of parking in the ‘Itchy Lot’. The camera then zooms out to reveal what must be millions of cars parked in the huge ‘Itchy Lot’. Were it not for this filmic technique the comedy would have been lost as we would have seen them park among a million other cars from the start .
These film and televisual techniques lead us on to the intertextual and self references in The Simpsons. The show often makes references to other media in a number of ways. It can parody television programmes or more commonly films by actually taking a piece of a film and turning it into a part of an episode, or by having a show shown on the Simpson’s television. To fully understand the cultural relevance of these references we must understand a little about the post-modern concept of intertextuality. Post-modernists take the view of Roland Barthes and reject the concept of a self-contained text. The text cannot be self-regulating and the power lies in the interpreting of the text. Hence the post-modern viewer and the viewer of the post-modern is the most empowered viewer. Post-modernists feel that if we cannot treat a text in isolation we risk missing much of what is being said.
Intertextual references are as important as the text itself and are an integral part of the text. Intertextual effects radiate out from a text and have an impact on all other texts . Indeed, post-modernists believe that everything in the universe is related and to understand anything one must bear in mind all its references. To illustrate this point they refer to chaos theory: A butterfly stirring the air today in Peking can transform storm systems next month in New York . The point is that to fully understand all the cultural messages of The Simpsons we must understand it’s intertextual references. The first level of intertextual reference is the way in which the programme often lifts sequences from movies and animates them into the show.
One of the most famous of these is the send-up of the Hitchcock’s classic Psycho. In the episode Itchy & Scratchy & Marge , Homer is in the garage. The same musical sound effect as that of the famous ‘shower scene’ is used as Maggie hits him over the head with a mallet. Homer grabs the tablecloth (shower curtain) as he falls. Red paint (blood) pours down the drain, there is a close-up of his eye.
At the end of the scene we see him lying the floor just as Janet Leigh lay on in the bathtub. This is a clear, obvious and effective intertextual reference. There have been plenty of less relevant ones, such as when a moose is eating Homer’s rubbish (Northern Exposure). An interesting aspect is that intertextual interpreters of The Simpsons must come under the same scrutiny as iconographic interpreters of traditional art (such as Roger Fry). They often read too much into an episode and see references that are not there. In a TV interview for BBC1 James L.
Brooks, a producer of The Simpsons said that if the movie is not a big film then the reference is probably false. Yet we see in every Internet listing for every episode of The Simpsons huge numbers of unconfirmed references. These include in the Dancin’ Homer episode a reference to nearly any other movie about baseball . Another way the show uses intertextual references is in the Simpson family’s actual viewing. Often certain types of shows are shown, generally as being poor quality programming.
These commonly include self-help programmes and info-mercials. (Homer is usually seen to fall for the dreadful item on sale and this seems to reflect the apparent view of the writers that most of the TV viewing public is both fickle and stupid.) A particularly interesting case however, is the regular cartoon show, Itchy and Scratchy. This is a bloody, violent, gruesome version of Tom and Jerry, where the two characters find new and more disgusting ways to kill each other every episode. This is a very significant reference point because it is dealing with cartoon violence. Some believe that by putting the violence in this context the animators can get away with it.
This is not the point. The point is to continually raise questions about censorship, violence and effect, and to satirise the gravity that the whole matter is dealt with. The Simpsons in itself is a violent cartoon, and so when Marge takes on cartoon violence in Itchy and Scratchy, she is actually taking on the existence of The Simpsons . This form of self-reference is not unusual in The Simpsons, and it is one of the most post-modern aspects of the show. Self-reference exists at many levels.
A subtle reference occurs when Maggie is not allowed a dummy . She tries to suck on some toys, and the toy that she is most happy sucking is a little Bart Simpson doll. Self-reference is also present in an indirect form. There is a lot of comedy at the expense of the Fox Network. Ned Flanders says: So the network slogan is true: Watch Fox and be damned forever. Other self-references are very direct. Take, for example, The Simpsons Halloween Special II .
In this episode Bart has a dream that the Simpsons are rich and famous. As they enter a posh restaurant, a customer is talking about the Simpsons (but is she talking about the Simpson family or the show as a whole?) Woman 1: If I hear one more thing about the Simpsons, I swear, I’m going to scream. Woman 2: At first they were cute and funny, but now they are just annoying. This is a view that has been expressed about The Simpsons time and again, particularly in Australia where the show did not perform nearly as well as expected in the longer term. The same episode also parodies the heavy marketing and merchandising of The Simpsons.
A boy is in a shop where he sees the very same Simpsons T-shirts as are actually available. Eighteen bucks for this? What a rip off! The episode features an album titled The Simpsons Go Calypso and Otto says that this has gone too far. In real life the third Simpsons album was due to be released this month. In another episode Chespirito (a Spanish television comic who dresses as a giant bee, generally with something attached to his backside) reiterates the words of Spike Lee. Credit the audience with a little intelligence, with the willingness to work it out, and they will reward you with their attention and their understanding.
However, from viewing the whole section we see that the writers of The Simpsons think that the TV producers don’t agree. Chespirito: I’m just not comfortable with this [giant] lobster. It’s the same tired old jokes. Let’s give the audience some credit. Writer: How about a giant mousetrap? Chespirito: I love it! It is well known that The Simpsons deals with many cultural issues important to modern society. It has dealt with issues of modern family life, women in the workplace and the ‘dumbing down’/Americanisation of foreign cultures.
When we look at all this together, the intertextuality and references to the media, the self-references, the comment on culture and so on, we can begin to see that the real comment that The Simpsons has to make is on the media. In so doing, it is also commenting on our reading and acceptance of media. The key episode to illustrate this point is Homer: Bad Man (episode 2F06). In this episode Homer is accused of sexual harassment and suffers a trial by media as all sorts of shows seem to victimise him. The sensational news programme Rock Bottom puts together a poorly edited interview to force Homer to admit his guilt. Following the interview appear in small letters the words Dramatization. May not have happened.
A media circus erupts around Homer. Round the clock helicopter surveillance of the Simpson Estate is surprisingly similar to the coverage of the O. J. Simpson case , and the photographers who take photographs of Homer in the shower is a parody of the ongoing international problem caused by paparazzi photographers’ invasion of private privacy. We go on to see the different ways the media covers the story as Homer flicks through the TV channels. There is a daytime-television talk show.
The introduction to the second show says: Today on Ben: mothers and runaway daughters reunited by their hatred of Homer Simpson. One woman is crying, saying: I don’t know Homer Simpson, I — I never met Homer Simpson or had any contact with him, but — [cries uncontrollably] — I’m sorry, I can’t go on. Presenter: That’s OK: your tears say more than real evidence ever could. Another yells: Let’s have less Homer Simpsons and more money for public schools! The points made here are rather self-explanatory. These programmes do not treat the issues with any objectivity or fairness and are simply relying on the emotional responses of hatred and outrage.
The media goes on to lure away Homer’s friends by offering them huge sums of money to tell their stories about him. Meanwhile TV news is stirring things up even further as it explains how Marge put the cat out possibly because it was harassed, we don’t know. Lisa sums up the whole situation: The media’s making a monster out of you because they don’t care about the truth! All they care about is entertainment. The next aspect of the media coverage of the event is crucial to understanding the comment on the media and audiences being made. Having shown all this sensationalised and untrue material about Homer, there is a TV phone poll. Kent Brochman reads the results: 95% of the people believe Homer Simpson is guilty.
Of course, this is just a television poll which is not legally binding, unless Proposition 304 passes. And we all pray it will. So now that the entire public has been influenced and the trial might really begin, Homer has already been judged guilty. Once again this is an important comment on the nature of the media and the way it deals with such situations, made very clearly. Of course it is also a comment on the viewers, showing how they will believe anything on TV.
The show then moves on to comment on the nature of viewers and how they view TV. As Homer flicks through late night television he is upset because all the channels are making fun of him. When he finds one that is not he laughs along and forgets that they ever did. A joke is made about Mr T and Homer says, Man, I wouldn’t like to be Mr T right now, forgetting that most people wouldn’t want to be Homer Simpson right then. This shows how fickle the audience can be.
At the end of the episode, when groundskeeper Willie’s home video has saved Homer, he sits down to watch Rock Bottom. It shows groundskeeper Willie calling him depraved. Homer: Oh, that man is sick! Marge: Groundskeeper Willie saved you, Homer. Homer: But listen to the music! He’s evil! Marge: Hasn’t this experience taught you you can’t believe everything you hear? Homer: Marge, my friend, I haven’t learned a thing. Homer: [hugs TV] Let’s never fight again.
This re-emphasises the fickleness of the audience and how it will never learn. In essence the message of the episode is self-explanatory, however this is one of the most important meanings of The Simpsons as a whole, and this episode simply says it with clarity. While The Simpsons has a broad based comedy and a successful formula, we must really appreciate it for the message it tells us. The Simpsons clearly contains a strong message to the media but an even stronger one to the viewers. It is telling the viewers that just as the writers of the show can manipulate ‘fact’ (or what is fact inside the world of The Simpsons) so can the other forms of media.
It takes a cartoon to be able to tell us this because we are willing to accept that a cartoon can manipulate fact. It takes a cartoon to show us that non-animated, respected media of actuality can also manipulate the truth and manipulate the viewers. The Simpsons warns us to be wary of all we see on TV. Bibliography Movies and Television.