The Simpsons" is 10 years old. Parents Homer and Marge, and children Bart, Lisa, and Maggie have endured and are still popular. Always rascally, the cartoon family gleefully satirizes American pop culture, politics, and personality types. No institution is safe from a little lively Simpson parody, no form of selfishness or greed, either private or corporate, is beyond its reach.
And never are the producers more merciless than with television itself. The opening credits find the family rushing home from the day's activities to leap on the couch together to watch TV - the only television family to gather before the tube on a regular basis.
And what do they watch? "The Itchy and Scratchy Show," which satirizes violent cartoons as entertainment. Crusty the Clown is as discreditable a host as any children's show ever employed. Advertising is frequently nonsensical or just plain dull-witted. And the news programs are always sensational and misleading.
In one of the Halloween specials, siblings Lisa and Bart get trapped in an "Itchy and Scratchy" cartoon, terrorized by the gross cat-and-mouse team la "The Twilight Zone."
Once when Homer was mistakenly accused of sexual harassment, he ended up on a ghastly tabloid TV show - where everything he said was distorted, taken out of context, or rearranged to make him look guilty.
And even though his own family knew he was innocent, they began to believe the "news" report - just because everything on TV "must" be true. Television had more of a hand in bringing them up than Dad Homer, youngster Lisa said.
The show can be cheerfully cutting when it comes to bad American habits, without despising those who evidence them. Homer is no role model, as creator Matt Groening has frequently pointed out. Neither, for that matter, is Bart.
"The Simpsons" is observational satire - everything is exaggerated. But there is a core of truth behind its irreverent attacks on corrupt politicians, celebrity worship, the inadequacies of the educational system, environmental pollution, and a host of other social ills. It can be dark and edgy sometimes - a little too grim and self-important for its own good.
But it has lasted 10 seasons because the Simpsons love each other. And that's the appeal it holds for me - at the end of the season, however tough they've been on the problems in society, there's a kindly spirit about the show.
Bart and Lisa stick up for each other in the face of a hostile world. No matter how often they err with their offspring, Homer and Marge eventually see what they have to do differently in order to be better parents. Bart and Homer both make mistakes, but the consequences are always immediate and their remorse is thorough.
And one of the most significant lessons Bart and Homer teach is that when we all watch too much TV we learn bad behavior, we are misled by the medium, and we are distracted from more significant activities. No other show on television does the same with so much wit.
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