Requirements for the Degree of Bachelor of Art
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With reference to Bart Simpson and Sideshow Bob,hasThe Simpsonsbeen simply a comical reflectionof the culture wars in America, or has it made aserious contribution?Submitted to the University of Hertfordshire in partial fulfilment of the requirementsfor the Degree of Bachelor of Art (Honours) Film and Television Production.
AbstractThis extended essay examines whetherThe Simpsonshas made a seriouscontribution to the deep-rooted and far-reaching culture wars in America; battlesbetween orthodox and progressive views and the country’s struggle with socialchanges that began in the 1960s. By delving into the history of Fox,TheSimpsonsand the television landscape in America, this essay considers theexternal influences and limitations onThe Simpsons’ contribution. To understandhowThe Simpsonscould be seen as more than simply a comical reflection of theAmerican culture wars, this account assesses the differing political and ideologicalviewpoints of the creators ofThe Simpsons, Fox and Rupert Murdoch – left-wingversus right-wing – whilst investigating the ongoing battle between highbrowelitism and lowbrow mass culture, and how this is represented inThe Simpsons’characters Bart Simpson and Sideshow Bob. With added insight into pop andalternative culture, this dissertation utilises available literature, journal andnewspaper articles, relevant episodes from the show and other salient sources, toevaluate the extent of its contribution to the culture wars and discovers thatTheSimpsons’ core purpose extends far beyond simple comedy.
With reference to Bart Simpson and Sideshow Bob, hasThe Simpsonsbeensimply a comical reflection of the culture wars in America, or has it made aserious contribution?Debates in America over politics, class, intellectualism, highbrow and lowbrowculture are included in the umbrella term ‘culture wars’. This account will discussthe role ofThe Simpsons(1989 – present, Fox, USA) in theculture wars: doesThe Simpsonsmake a serious contribution to the debate and, indeed, threatencore traditional American values, or is it merely a comical reflection? This will bediscussed with particular reference to how these questions are representedthrough the show’s characters Bart Simpson and Sideshow Bob. This essay willexplain the culture wars in America to provide a context for the discussion. AsThe Simpsonsairs on the network channel Fox, it is important to have anunderstanding of the history of Fox and its sphere of influence, the televisionlandscape in America, and the commercial television limitations and externalinfluences onThe Simpsons. As the two sides in the culture wars are orthodoxversus progressive, an integral part of the discussion is a consideration of thediffering political and ideological viewpoints of Fox, Rupert Murdoch and thecreators ofThe Simpsons, and how the media is manipulated for the purposes ofeach of these powers. This leads to investigating the battle of highbrowRepublicanism against lowbrow mass culture, which of these appears to bewinning the battle and how, primarily, the character Sideshow Bob fits into this.This account also takes into consideration the character Bart Simpson and hispop icon status, and the extent to which he andThe Simpsonsrepresent theprogressive side of the culture wars debate. Finally, this essay will look at aphilosophical perspective onThe Simpsons, and the fact that the show is a multi-billion dollar merchandising machine, before drawing a conclusion.Turner (2005) referred to "The Golden Age" (p.39) ofThe Simpsons, specificallydesignated Seasons 4 to 8 - “more than 44 hours of near-perfect satire” (p.40).This essay will focus on seasons from The Golden Age, particularly episodes thatfeature both Bart Simpson and Sideshow Bob: Season 5, Episode 2 ‘Cape Feare’(1993), Season 6, Episode 5 ‘Sideshow Bob Roberts’ (1994), Season 7, Episode1
9 ‘Sideshow Bob’s Last Gleaming’(1995), and Season 8, Episode 16 ‘BrotherFrom Another Series’(1997).To answer the question posed, it is essential to consider the cultural and politicalbackground of America, about which there have been continuous debates “over avariety of social and political issues” (Henry, 2012, p.1). These debates, named“culture wars” by Hunter (1991), analysed contending orthodox and progressiveideas, providing a description of the Regan-Bush era – the society thatTheSimpsonswas born into.The Simpsonscanbe seen to embody progressivepolitics “from a leftist political position” (Henry, 2012, p.7) through itsuse ofcomedy, parody and satire to incorporate culture war issues, and provides withinitself an analysis of television and society. Hartman (2013) believes that the rootsof the culture wars lay in the 1960s, being the face of America’s struggle withsocial changes, as the norms that presided over American life began to give wayto new ideas of what it meant to be an American. Hot-button social topics, such asgun ownership, abortion, and religion (Gosse, 2003), became part of the largesocial struggle as conservative America began to acknowledge fundamentalchanges in American life, creating deep-rooted anger and insecurity.Thompson (2010) believes the culture wars take place amongst “politicalpartisans and cultural elites” (p.2), and that those involved are not concerned withwhatpeople think, but seek to framehowthey think. Fiorina (2008) suggests thatelites direct the culture war debates and control media entities that conveyinformation to the masses using television. This involves the populace in culturewars, whether they like it or not. This is very important, asThe Simpsonsairs onFox, part of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, which uses media outlets andwealth to promote Murdoch’s “staunchly conservative” political instincts andpolicies that benefit his company (Cassidy, 2006, p.70). Therefore, television andthe media are important to bothThe Simpsonsand Fox, as it could be seen astheir platform for contributing to the culture wars and involving their audiences. Itis vital to understand the history of Fox in the network system and howTheSimpsonscame to air to try to understand whetherThe Simpsonscan trulycontribute to the culture wars.2