You know what I’ve been thinking about lately? The Simpsons, familiarity, and our fear of change.
Back in college, my friends and I developed many rituals. Most of them involved imbibing alcohol. Songs we would listen to before going out to imbibe alcohol. Games we would play while imbibing alcohol. Places we would eat after imbibing alcohol. There were probably more but I killed too many brain cells to remember them all.
I do, however, have very fond and lucid memories of our longest lasting ritual, which involved a large number of us gathering weekly to watch The Simpsons. Many in our group were aspiring writers and to us there was no better show on television. The Simpsons was brilliantly funny, smartly written and it lampooned American norms, values, and institutions. It was the type of cutting edge entertainment us fresh-faced youngsters hoped to someday create.
But when I recently stumbled upon a Yahoo article celebrating The Simpsons 20th anniversary, all I could think was: “Holy crap, that show’s been on a long time. Who’s still watching that thing?”
I checked out about ten years ago and haven’t really looked back. After all there’s only so many times one can watch Bart’s devilish mischief wreak havoc on Springfield as Lisa righteously fights to power, Homer drinks copious amounts of Duff beer, and Marge quietly groans disapproval.
However, I shouldn’t really be surprised The Simpsons has lasted this long. After all, if Simpson fans had to watch a new show, they’d have to learn new character names, figure out these characters’ personalities and quirks and even potentially adapt to a different storytelling rhythm. All this newness might be too much to grasp. And why put forth that kind of effort when it’s just easier to reflexively laugh whenever Homer says, “D’oh!”
And it’s not just The Simpsons. Glaciers have migrated significantly in the time Law & Order has been on television and E.R. was only put to rest after Hollywood realized every working actor had already been on the show at least once.
And it’s not just TV. Americans simply love stuff we’re already familiar with. That’s why we have things like chain restaurants, sequels, and Baldwin brothers. Our thirst for familiarity drives us in almost everything we do. It’s why we elect politicians with familiar last names, why our cars still run on gasoline and why we settle for subpar health care. We’re always more inclined to settle for the devil we know as opposed to the devil we don’t, even if that new and improved devil might not be a devil at all.
We collectively fear the unknown. And because of this, we don’t culturally evolve nearly as quickly as we should. We’re basically stunted by our own intellectual laziness. It’s no wonder we’ve chosen to keep an animated sitcom about a dysfunctional family on the air for twenty years yet refuse to let gay couples get married.
But as much as I lament The Simpsons continued primetime presence, I guess I should just be happy it hasn’t been replaced by a reality show. After all, something tells me the geniuses over at FOX probably have a show in development that involves D-level celebrities learning how to dance while trying to find love on a desert island.
God help us if that show lasts twenty years.