Better to laugh now: a ‘Simpsons’ appreciation

A note of gratitude to the writers and producers of “The Simpsons,” whose 500th episode airs tonight.

Each episode takes a minimum of six months to produce. Stacked end-to-end, that’s 250 years’ worth of work.

My affection for “The Simpsons” (which takes the form of a painstakingly detailed recollection through which my wife has suffered for the past 19 years [love you, sweetie!]) has already been chronicled at other moments in this space – as has, of course, the theological angle of the show – so for now, there isn’t a whole lot more to say.

Perhaps only this. It seems that in much of the coverage surrounding this particular milestone this week, and in the act of looking back over the past 23 seasons of the show, there’s been a lot of what seems like gloating. As in, Boy, they sure showed those knucklehead conservatives and Christian fundamentalists, didn’t they? They used to criticize the show for being anti-family, and now they’re quoting from it like it’s the Bible. Sure shut that whole Pat Robertson crowd up, didn’t it?

I don’t find this tone helpful, and I don’t find the assessment a fair one. In my view of the show over the years, “The Simpsons” has never been particularly interested in espousing a consistent religious or political viewpoint of any kind other than being funny. Even God (the only character on the show with five fingers on each hand) is there as a comic device – a sometimes darkly comic force whose very presence evokes questions about God’s absence, and which of the two would be better.

“The Simpsons” is not about striving for balanced presentation, or for all points of view to be fairly represented; it’s about taking shots at whoever’s standing there without crossing those invisible comedic lines called Too Far or Too Soon. Sure, a Rush Limbaugh type character makes an easy subject (Birch Barlow, anyone?); but so are potheads, SpongeBob, Buddha, veganism, and the people who drive around the country eating McRibs.

In short, if “The Simpsons” has taught us anything, it’s that it’s better to laugh at ourselves now, before we’re dead, than to die and leave others to laugh at how overly serious we were. The show doesn’t really care if life is meaningful, beautiful, or sensible; it doesn’t care if the conversation over it has substantially changed, and it doesn’t care how we vote or for whom. It just wants to hit us square with a good pie we didn’t see coming.

So thanks, friends, for a lot of well-thrown pies.

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