Reviewed by L.D.Y.
Trade, 466 pages, 2004
Reason for Reading: The Simpsons? Best. Show. Ever.
Synopsis: Simpson addicts unite: Turner looks at how a seemingly simple cartoon
has impacted so much on our society – how it stays relevent by reflecting our flaws and
triumphs back at us to mock us, make us laugh, and even to prod us into change. Everything
from characters to plots to mass merchandising gets analyzed in relation to the our modern
lifestyles and priorities.
Why you should read this book: If you’ve seen all or most of the 300+ episodes of
The Simpsons (most likely repeatedly), you probably already have an idea of just how
much ground the show covers, from religion to poet laureates to politics to the sheer idiocy
of both Homer and seemingly ever-growing segments of the population. Turner attempts to wade
through it all, and does a great job organizing copious amounts of information into readable
and thouroughly enjoyable segments – no small task in itself – that demonstrate how The
Simpsons is one of the few sources today that successfully charts our ever-changing society. While Turner is serious about proving the impressive relevancy of the
show, he rarely loses his sense of humour about it, making it fun to read about topics like
religion and environmentalism without feeling preached to or defensive. If you’re worried
that reading an in-depth book about a tv show will have a ruinous effect on future
viewings, don’t worry. It actually adds some refreshing new viewpoints and ideas into the
endless re-runs, giving Simpsons fans yet another layer to look for in a ‘mere’
Why you should avoid this book: Sometimes, Planet Simspon feels too much
like a string of episode summaries included only to quote a good zinger one of the characters whips off – riding on the backs of the great writers of the show, in other words. It’s a
drawback to being a massive fan of the show, as there’s just too much quote-worthy material
to be able to resist slipping in favourite moments even when it’s not furthering his point.
Planet Simpson is a bit much for the occasional viewer – it’s aimed at the people who
have spent time debating what state Springfield is in and who relish being able to sneak a Ralph
quote into a conversation with a friend.
On Thursday, January 21, 1993, around 8:20 P.M. (Eastern Standard Time), I was
standing on the edge of a dance floor at the campus pub called Alfie’s with a glass of cheap
draft beer in my hand. The dance floor before me was packed with people, all of them waiting
– as was I – for the next mind-blowing riff from the in-house entertainment.
There was no
band up on the stage at Alfie’s on this night, though, and no dancers gyrating sweatily out
on the dance floor, either. Instead, all the pub’s chairs and tables were jumbled into a
kind of auditorium arrangement, covering the stage and half of the dance floor and every
other inch of available space.
The other arguement implicit in Homer’s decision to return to stupidity is more
subtle but ultimately far more damning. The key detail here is this: Homer’s choice is
portrayed as perfectly rational. Obvious, even. Why, after all, would anyone choose a
lifetime of disappointment and inner turmoil when successful, contented bliss is only a
brain hemorrhage away? The America of Episode BABF22 not only encourages and rewards
stupidity, it treats it as the preferable mental state. There is no progressive, enlightened
society just around the corner in which probing intelligence will be the desired norm.
Homer is the desired norm. He is the Everyman. The hero. Agree with Lisa’s social
critiques all you want, but admit it: Homer is the one you love.
There’s certainly a case to be made for The Simpsons as Trojan horse –
or, to skip to another metaphor, as a rabid dog let loose in the house of its corporate
owners. It has, after all, gnawed relentlessly on every hand that ever fed it, seeming often
to dare its masters to cast it out or put it down. Its attacks on the Fox Network number in
the dozens: everything from digs at the overall quality of the network’s programming to
suggestions that the network’s executives are vicious criminals. The Fox-sucks gags are
often quick and easy – as when the Simpson family is shown watching parodic Fox fare like
World’s Funniest Tornadoes and When Buildings Collapse. On other occasions,
though, there have been more elaborate and audacious assaults. In Episode 3G01 (‘The
Springfield Files’), for example, Homer encounters an alien in the Springfield woods and
drags Bart along to try to document it. ‘This Friday,’ he tells his son, ‘we’re going back
to the woods, and we’re going to find that alien!’ ‘What if we don’t?’ asks Bart. His dad
responds, ‘We’ll fake it and sell it to the Fox Network.’ Bart starts to giggle. ‘They’ll
Also recommended: The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde; Running With
Scissors by Augusten Burroughs; Stupid White Men by Michael Moore.
Also by this author: Planet Simpson is Turner’s first book.
Author’s website: planetsimpson.com
Fun tidbit: Check out shift.com for an exerpt of the
magazine article that inspired Turner’s book.
Would I read more by this author? It would depend on the subject. Turner has a
good grip on describing our society, but it was my love of The Simpsons that inspired
me to seek out the book, so I’d have to have a similar appreciation for the next topic he
© Lisa Yanaky 2003-2005