Professor's book to draw lessons from 'Simpsons'

Tim DelaneyDr. Tim Delaney uses the world’s most popular animated dysfunctional family to illustrate lessons on sociology, philosophy, psychology and pop culture in his new book “Simpsonology: There’s a Little Bit of Springfield in All of Us.”

Readers, even if they aren’t fans of the show, should find the book “entertaining and informative,” said Delaney, a member of Oswego’s sociology faculty.

“From an academic standpoint, readers are going to learn about a lot of serious issues,” Delaney said. “They will learn about feminism in the gender chapter, the sociological construction of race and ethnicity, and the value of strong family ties. They’ll even learn about things like the actual origins of April Fool’s Day.”

Delaney said he has “been a fan since day one” when the family, created by cartoonist Matt Groening, debuted in animated shorts during “The Tracey Ullman Show” on Fox in 1987. He’s not alone, as the series, now the longest-running sitcom in its 20th year, is a pop culture and merchandising phenomenon, airs in more than 70 countries and spawned a blockbuster 2007 movie.

“For most traditional college students there has always been a Bart Simpson,” Delaney said of the show’s longevity.

“The Simpsons” offers many creative possibilities because its eponymous family has some complexity but consists of archetypal characters—bumbling dad Homer, efficient mom Marge, bratty son Bart, brainy daughter Lisa and silent baby Maggie.
Throw in Springfield’s cast of other strange characters, as well as celebrity guest voices, and writers have many different ways to explore (and often skewer) popular culture, politics and society.

The Prometheus Books publication’s chapters focus on such topics as American culture, community, love and marriage, gender roles, religion, politics, education and physical and mental health. Delaney draws from the show’s first 400 episodes, providing examples designed to introduce concepts in understandable and often humorous ways.

While critics have found some of the show’s humor crude, Delaney describes the program’s writers as “equal opportunity offenders” that will poke fun at Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals, religion and atheists—and just about everyone else. Because it’s a cartoon, “The Simpsons” can explore taboos and present situations live-action shows couldn’t, he added.

“I think part of the reason the show has stood the test of time is that it’s just funny,” Delaney said, and “The Simpsons” has 23 Emmy awards to back that claim. “There are these classic one-liners that stand the test of time. There is a lot of clever writing, some of which goes over people’s heads.”

And ultimately, the plot tends to affirm the importance of family. “The Simpsons” is a throwback sitcom with “a breadwinning father, a stay-at-home mother, and dependent children living at home, which is an ever-smaller percentage of American households,” Delaney said. “To many viewers, the Simpsons may be dysfunctional, but they are the model family under the old ideal family construct.”

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CONTACT: Dr. Tim Delaney, 312-3410

(Posted: Apr 02, 2008)

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