In the NYTimes article covering last nite’s Simpsons, the president of the Parents Television Council is quoted as having said: “You’ve got a show watched by millions of children. Do children need to have gay marriage thrust in their faces as an issue? Why can’t we just entertain them?”
My immediate reaction was to laugh my ass off. So, in other words, we’re supposed to teach when it’s a conservative value that the Council supports but supposed to only entertain when it’s a value that the Council doesn’t share? Hmm… But seriously, when did a parent’s council ever support media that just entertains? ::laugh::
February 21, 2005
‘Simpsons’ Animates Gay Nuptials, and a Debate
By SHARON WAXMAN
LOS ANGELES, Feb. 20 – In the ongoing culture wars over whether gays should have the right to marry, an animated question reared its head on Sunday prime-time television: as goes “The Simpsons,” does the nation go, too?
In an episode titled “There’s Something About Marrying,” a longtime character on Fox’s 15-year hit – it was Marge Simpson’s sister Patty Bouvier, a closely held secret until the 8 p.m. broadcast – came out of the closet while Homer Simpson conducted dozens of same-sex weddings after small-town Springfield legalized the unions in a bid to increase tourism. As television’s longest-running situation comedy, “The Simpsons” is no stranger to hot-button social, religious and political issues, mocking wardrobe malfunctions, Hollywood liberals and born-again Christians, among other targets.
But when a show as mainstream and popular as this takes on one of the most divisive issues in American society, it is certain to attract attention. Bookmakers in the United States and England were taking bets as to which character would be revealed as homosexual, and whether there would be a kiss – a nod, perhaps, to the popular programming gimmick of having lesbian characters lock lips during sweeps periods like the current one.
But mostly, television experts, fans and advocates for gay marriage ruminated over the larger significance of the moment.
“The issue was mainstream to some degree, but now that they’ve deigned it worthy of the show it is interwoven into the fabric of popular culture,” said Ray Richmond, a television columnist for The Hollywood Reporter and co-editor of the anthology “The Simpsons: A Complete Guide to Our Favorite Family.”
He added, ” ‘The Simpsons’ bestows upon something a pop culture status it never had before, simply by virtue of being ripe for a joke.”
(BetUS.com posted odds on the kiss at 7 to 5, and laid odds on Patty as the favorite to come out of the closet.)
Not unexpectedly, culture warriors were swift to weigh in, both for and against the cartoon’s treatment of the issue.
“It’s saying to those who demonize homosexuality, or what they call the homosexual agenda, anything from ‘Lighten up’ to ‘Get out of town,’ ” said Marty Kaplan, associate dean of the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School of Communication and host of a media show on the talk radio network Air America. “It sounds as though they’re saying that what the religious right calls ‘the homosexualist agenda,’ as if it were creeping Satanism, is: these people are your neighbors in the Springfield that is America.”
Indeed, in some ways the Simpsons’ fictional hometown, Springfield, has become a surrogate for mainstream, small-town America, with Homer its bumbling working-class hero. The closest parallel may well be the endearing though intolerant Archie Bunker, who became a symbol of working-class America in the 1970’s show “All in the Family.”
L. Brent Bozell III, president of the Parents Television Council, criticized “The Simpsons” for addressing the issue of gay marriage, though he cautioned that he had not seen the episode. A parental advisory preceded the broadcast.
“At a time when the public mood is overwhelmingly against gay marriage, any show that promotes gay marriage is deliberately bucking the public mood,” he said.
“I’d rather them not do it at all,” he added. “You’ve got a show watched by millions of children. Do children need to have gay marriage thrust in their faces as an issue? Why can’t we just entertain them?”
The show’s writers could not be reached for comment, and Fox declined to comment.
Since debuting in 1989, “The Simpsons” has commonly skewered the most sensitive topics of social, religious, political and cultural debate. The culture, in turn, has returned the favor. “The Simpsons” has been featured in at least one university philosophy course, in which Homer was used as a tool to understand Aristotle, Kant and Nietzsche, and in a mathematical course to explore topics like calculus and Riemannian geometry.
The show, now in its 16th season, still garners strong ratings, while reruns of episodes from past years are broadcast continually on Fox. It has become a billion-dollar franchise for the network, spawning lucrative DVD packages, books and consumer merchandise.