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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

question of the day: Will future generations understand ‘The Simpsons’?

Matt Zoller Seitz asked an intriguing question at Salon recently:

Will future generations understand The Simpsons?

Regarding one episode in particular, by example, Seitz wrote:

Brockman’s moonlighting on “Hollywood Squares” acknowledged a long tradition of newscasters working as game show hosts and commercial pitchmen on the side (see Wallace, Mike). And “Springfield Squares” is a sendup of 1970s game shows in the vein of “Hollywood Squares” and “Tic Tac Dough.” The rest of the episode contained references to the 1929 film “The Great Gabbo,” Eastern European animation, Joey Bishop, “Howdy Doody,” Ed Sullivan’s censoring the lyrics of the Doors’ “Light My Fire,” the 1968 “Elvis” TV special, the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ penchant for nudity, and Bette Midler serenading Johnny Carson during his final week on “The Tonight Show.”

Do all or even most of these gags connect with a viewer under 25 who isn’t a 20th century pop culture junkie? I doubt it. Granted, some of the jokes were inside even for 1992-93 — “The Great Gabbo” and the Eastern bloc cartoon “Worker and Parasite,” for instance. But most weren’t. They referred to things that were current or that felt that way, thanks to syndication or shared childhood viewing experiences. Circa 2011 that’s no longer the case. “Krusty Gets Kancelled” is one of the greatest of all “Simpsons” episodes, but if it were a poem, it would need to have nearly as many footnotes as “The Waste Land” — and the further away from its original air date we get, the truer that’s going to be.

Seitz’s entire essay is worth reading — he delves into the similar problem other series may face if they rely too much on references to things outside themselves — but let’s get to the meat of the issue: What the heck will our greatgrandchildren make of The Simpsons?

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTD sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)



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