How TV brings families together
By Erin Irby
The Simpsons weekday syndication was a nightly habit more engrained in my day-to-day life than brushing my teeth. Plopping myself on our large, dark-red leather couch contained a tremendous amount of importance not only to me, but to the sanctity of my familial well-being.
As a child, I would come home from swim team, starving for sustenance. My mom would start making dinner, my dear old dad would loudly walk in, and our evening would begin. With a forced click of our decrepit remote’s power button, the Technicolored essence of The Simpsons would appear along with the orchestrated theme song that to this day makes my heart race.
The saga of The Simpsons all started with the comedic genius Matt Groening. In the late ‘80s he created an animated short for The Tracey Ullman Show based on his own idiosyncratic family. Fox then picked it up, and their spot in primetime television continues to this day.
The yellow skinned, four-fingered family consists of Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa, Maggie and their two pets, Santa’s Litter Helper and Snowball V (or II depending on what episode you’re watching). Homer plays the role of “macho-macho man” of the house and also works at the local power plant. He is forever finding himself in moral predicaments as well as on the stool of Moe’s, nursing a cool Duff. His “D’Oh!” catchphrase has even found its way into the Oxford English Dictionary.
Marge, with her towering blue hair, is the stay-at-home mom of Bart, Lisa and Maggie. Lisa is an overachieving student, vegetarian and saxophone player. Bart is a spiky haired hell-raiser defined by such phrases as “¡Ay, caramba!” and “Eat my shorts!” Maggie, the baby, has an ever-present red pacifier and could potentially be an alien. Together, the Simpsons are a family, an American icon. True, they have their father-son stranglings, lost evil twins and blue-haired moms—but who are we to judge? What other family has lasted for 441 episodes?
“It was the dumbest thing I had ever seen but it’s a family thing, and I guess it’s clean.”
-Barbara Bush, about The Simpsons
Indeed, The Simpsons has played a pivotal role in shaping contemporary media and the concept of a familial unit. According to Ithaca College TVR professor Jack Powers, watching television with one’s family actually serves as a form of bonding in many homes.
James Lull, media professor at San Jose State University, states that television “plays central roles in the methods which families and other social units employ to interact normatively.”
A weekly or nightly viewing of a particular show facilitates a shared bonding experience within a familial unit. Powers stresses that laughing, crying and emoting together as well as participating with the entertainment is key.
On the other hand, problems arise when families use television as a diversion from communication rather than a gateway to conversation. This can lead to television’s role as a passive entertainment source rather than an engaging and interactive form of media within the home.
Powers also states the main problem with television viewing emerges when parents allow their children to aimlessly watch shows in their room, alone. At that point, the bonding is not with their parents, siblings or friends, but with the television and characters in the programs they are viewing. This issue is perpetuated with TIVO and online television viewing with their prevalence in solitary entertainment.
Don’t get me wrong, I love binge watching The Office on my laptop as much as the next person. However, a heightened level of private television viewing can lead to a loss of interpersonal communication—a vital part of social interaction and familial bonding. In some cases, people form para-social relationships and feel a sense of kinship with the characters in the shows.
When I asked my parents what they thought of our Simpsons nights, they both blabbered away about how the show was “educational” and “politically and socially redeeming.” My mom said it was nice to be able to have inside jokes about daily life from the wide spectrum of kerfuffles the Simpsons family found themselves in. Both of my parents stated they enjoyed the fact we could laugh together as a family.
The Simpsons show was best at that—bridging the generational gap between two baby boomers and an only child. As a youngster, I laughed at the basic humor, but as I grew older I understood the deeper, more meaningful satire within the subtexts of Groening’s art.
“Most importantly, it was something we enjoyed together on a regular basis,” my dad said in retrospect. “It made me happy looking forward to the time spent with you.”
Erin Irby is a freshman journalism major. E-mail her at email@example.com.