Week 21 Review: The Satisfaction of Pop-Culture Exegesis, or The Unexamined Simpsons Episode is Not Worth Watching

Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire
Image via Wikipedia

It’s become a bit of a family tradition for us to watch “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire,” the first Simpsons Christmas special and the first full-length episode to air (way back in 1989). I practically know the episode by heart, but each year another little tidbit stands out to me.

The portion that’s got me thinking this year happens when Grampa, Aunt Patty, Aunt Selma, Marge, Lisa, and Maggie are all watching the Happy Little Elves Christmas special and waiting for Homer and Bart to come home. At the end of the show, Aunt Patty berates Homer in front of Lisa.

Lisa: What, Aunt Patty?

Aunt Patty: Oh, nothing, dear. I’m just trashing your father.

Lisa: Well, I wish you wouldn’t because aside from the fact that he has the same frailties as all human beings, he’s the only father I have. Therefore, he is my model of manhood, and my estimation of him will govern the prospects of my adult relationships. So I hope you will bear in mind that any knock at him is a knock at me, and I am far too young to defend myself against such onslaughts.

Aunt Patty: [pause] Mm-hmm. Go watch your cartoon show, dear.

This short passage is just so full of good stuff.

On the one hand, I’m reminded how ground-breaking the series was and how incredibly high-quality the original shows were. There was always deeper meaning behind the jokes. While the family was far from perfect, it was always clear that they loved one another and that each person was acting out of love and doing his or her best for the family, even when those efforts fell far short.

Then there’s the way this passage highlights how kids listen to everything those around them say, even when we don’t think they’re listening. And while Lisa’s monologue is a bit precocious, I’ve heard my daughter call out adults in similar ways. (An example: when my mom was visiting, we were all sitting at the table when my son started fussing. My daughter said to her brother things like, “Calm down, honey,” and other phrases meant to soothe him. My mom told my her, “He’s just fussing. He’s still a good boy.” My daughter looked at my mom and said, “I didn’t say he was bad.” Not only was she listening, but she’d caught not only what my mom had actually said but what she’d implied as well. It kind of floored me.) It’s clear to me that the writers of the show knew actual children. They would just about have to, I think, to write this kind of dialogue for Lisa.

I like that Lisa makes the assertion that she’s “far to young to defend [herself] from such onslaughts.” At first, I thought this was ironic since clearly with her vocabulary and interpretation of psychology, she has pretty strong defenses. But of course, having the intellectual capacity to reason through a situation and having emotional defenses mature enough to shield oneself against an emotional attack are two different things. Lisa’s got the intellect part all figured out, and that makes her seem wise beyond her years. But on the emotional side, she’s still quite young. I relate to Lisa.

And then the way that Aunt Patty dismisses Lisa is compelling to me. She pauses, considers what Lisa just said, and then just tells her to watch her cartoon. Does she do this because she feels embarrassed that she’s been called out by her niece? Does she not fully understand what Lisa’s just said? Or perhaps she’s just decided she’d rather not think too deeply about the implications of Lisa’s statements?

Only a child who’s comfortable with who she is and how she sees the world, and, frankly, a child who’s confident in the unconditional love with which her family surrounds her, would be able to make such a statement to her elder. Lisa doesn’t fear punishment or shame from her Aunt Patty. She speaks with her as an equal. I wonder if, as Lisa grows up (of course she won’t grow up since she’s a cartoon character, but work with me here), she’ll lose the courage to speak up like she does at age eight.

So, there. This is how I have fun. I watch a cartoon show and then analyze it. Really, this is incredibly fun for me. When I started this post, I was surly. My husband walked in and asked me what was wrong. I couldn’t really say, I just knew I was in a bad mood. I took myself upstairs to watch the scene again and get the quote right.

After about fifteen minutes, my husband came upstairs to see how I was doing (and to see if he could read one of the books he’d given me for Christmas). After a short exchange he said, “You seem happier now. What happened?”

I shrugged.

“I’m blogging about The Simpsons.”

Some conclusions I’ve reached about fun this week:

Blogging = Fun

The Simpsons = Fun

Analyzing stuff (mostly words, written or spoken) = Fun

Dressing up my blender = Fun

Searching for and preparing recipes for desserts and brandy drinks = Fun

Being awakened by my children in the middle of the night = Not so much fun

For a little taste of the episode if you’ve not seen it or if it’s been a while or if you just can’t get enough of it:

2 Replies to “Week 21 Review: The Satisfaction of Pop-Culture Exegesis, or The Unexamined Simpsons Episode is Not Worth Watching”

  1. The title got truncated on my iPhone to “The Unexamined Simpsons Episode is Not”, which I found screamingly funny.

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