D’oh! The Simpsons as philosophy


It is, quite simply, one of the greatest cultural artefacts of our age. So great, in fact, that it not only reflects and plays with philosophical ideas, it actually does real philosophy, and does it well.

How can a comic cartoon do this? Precisely because it is a comic cartoon, the form best suited to illuminate our age.


There was a time, in the 1990’s, that The Simpsons was hands down the greatest show on TV, for precisely the reasons outlined in the article. It was intelligent, witty, profound, and deliciously sattirical. Watching it today though is almost painful; it’s slowly devolved from that pinnacle of greatness into this mess of slapstick, unoriginal comedy that’s barely a shadow of its former self.

There was a peice that appeared three years ago in Slate that explains it better than I can. Unfortunately, the last three years haven’t changed things for the better with the show.

At some point during its 14-year run, The Simpsons turned into one of the best sitcoms on television—and that’s not a compliment. At one time, to call The Simpsons the best show on Fox would have been a vast understatement; to say it was the best sitcom on television would have been inadequate; and to describe it as the greatest TV show in history would (and still does) minimize its importance by limiting its cultural impact to the small screen. Who knows when it happened—maybe it was when Homer visited the leprechaun jockeys in Season 11, or when he was raped by a panda in Season 12—but for several years, watching The Simpsons chase Ozzie & Harriet’s record for the longest-running sitcom has been like watching the late-career Pete Rose: There’s still greatness there, and you get to see a home run now and then, but mostly it’s a halo of reflected glory.

Usually I criticize Fox for cancelling great shows prematurely; but this is one that they needed to put to rest years ago. At this point, the brilliant episodes are far outnumbered by the mediocre ones, and it’s hard to remember the time when it really was so far above everything else on TV, and deserving of the kind of praise the BBC article is giving it.

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