Influence of Seinfeld and The Simpsons on the Society
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The decision to opt for sitcoms rather than any other programs for the task was based on several parameters. Firstly, such choice of the material is explained by the fact that both – The Simpsons and Seinfeld – achieved a great level of popularity and left significant traces in the life of American society. Secondly, both sitcoms began to be aired at relatively the same time. Seinfeld was originally aired on July, 1989 while The Simpsons was first aired only half a year later. Furthermore, the number of episodes in sitcoms is very big, which can help in better understanding of the influence on the society. Finally, at those times television was the main source of information. While access to Internet was very limited, television played the predominant role in influencing mass consciousness and, therefore, social and moral values, stereotypes etc.
Seinfeld is a popular American television sitcom broadcast from 1989 to 1998. It consisted of nine seasons with 172 episodes and is now in syndication. It was created by Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld. Unlike many other sitcoms of that time, Seinfeld concentrates more on characters rather than plot development. In other words, the main emphasis is put on what characters are doing. From this perspective, critics often describe the sitcom as a typical example of “a show about nothing”.
Seinfeld also broke the typical convention about the isolation of character’s world from that of actors and audience. Not only are these worlds connected but they are similar in the show. What made Seinfeld so popular is the fact that in every character people can find part of themselves. Different social and personal issues and everyday problems that characters challenge are highlighted with humor. The characters themselves do not improve or evolve throughout the plot; they never learn from their mistakes. This notion is expressed by the phrase “no hugging, no learning”. Another discrepancy between Seinfeld and other sitcoms of that time is that Seinfeld is devoid of any pathos; viewers do not perceive episodes with sympathy but with fun.
The plot is evolved around four main characters: Jerry Seinfeld, his best friend George Costanza, former girlfriend Elaine Benes and neighbor Cosmo Kramer. They are typical representatives of middle class who have little interest in moral and social values.
Despite the fact that The Simpsons has very much resemblance with Seinfeld in terms of genre, the central idea and means to express it differ. The Simpsons is a satirical parody of a middle class American family lifestyle. The sitcom is a parody of the American culture, society and its values. The show has aired 523 episodes since its debut in 1989. What makes The Simpsons more effective in using the standard setup of a situational comedy is its animated nature, which makes the scope bigger than that of the traditional sitcom.
The whole sitcom is replete with satire, pun and jokes. Proper names that are used in the sitcom are often based on pun. One example of it is the name of imagined town where the set takes place. Springfieldis associated with beautiful nature since the word consists of spring + field. However, in the sitcom the city is often shown as very polluted and causing potential health hazards to its citizens. The name of the main hero – Homer – is certainly connected with Greek’s Homer, who was the example of wisdom, strength and good. In this context, Homer Simpson is perceived as a flip side. His carelessness, uncertainty and dullness only amplify this fact.
There are three major themes put under criticism in The Simpsons: politics, religion and education. Although liberal ideals can often be seen in the show, the sitcom criticizes political system. In The Simpsons politics is often closely tied with business. As a result middle-class workers are often taken advantage of. All “government” characters in the show are often portrayed as corrupt, incompetent and indifferent to the problems of average citizens. Generally, the theme of religion is not put under criticism but rather moral values of characters. The role of religion is certainly diminished considering the fact that religion is mostly highlighted only when characters are in need. Therefore, characters perceive religion only as a “life preserver”. Finally, through children’s time at school the show aims to illustrate pressing or misunderstandings in the sphere of education.
The main characters in the sitcom are Homer Simpson (the father), Marge Simpson (the mother) and three children: Bart, Lisa and Maggie. Similar to Seinfeld, Simpsons do not evolve throughout the show. Their characters remain the same both physically and psychologically.
One of the most vivid effects that sitcoms had on the society was the influence on the language and business. Phrases “yada, yada, yada”, “no soup for you”, “not that there’s anything wrong about that”, “re-gift” that originally came from Seinfeld are today commonly used. Moreover, the show gave commercial products momentum. One example of that can be the rebirth of the PEZ candy after the episode “The Pez” was broadcast. In The Simpsons phrases such as “D’oh” “cheese-eating surrender monkeys”, “Kids, you tried your best and you failed miserably. The lesson is never try” became so popular that they were included in The Oxford Dictionary of Modern Quotations. In addition, a massive production of T-Shirts with characters from The Simpsons was launched with a huge success (Hurd, 1998).
What made both sitcoms so popular is the ability of creators to make character’s personalities and their problems similar to those that average people face in everyday life. Furthermore, the tendency to ridicule those problems in the sitcoms attracted even more viewers because they could see their own problems and laugh at them. Both sitcoms give people the opportunity to see their drawbacks from the side and overcome them. Since satire and humor are probably one of the best ways of teaching how to avoid mistakes, this approach forced people to reconsider their attitude towards life values. By drawing concept of antihero to sitcoms and laughing at him, creators achieved their aim of making people realize and eliminate their problems. The concept of antihero was aimed at evoking the feeling of disgust towards common social drawbacks by showing them as a part of main characters’ life. As a result, more people do not wish to be like Homer or have such relationships as Jerry and Elaine.
While putting personal drawbacks under public scrutiny, sitcoms bear much resemblance to the idea of unity, understanding and forgiveness. Although Homer makes mistakes, drinks and overeats, he shows enormous bravery by saving the town in the end. The idea of family as a social institution is expressed throughout the sitcoms. This idea is put in the foreground and overshadows all the drawbacks. In Seinfeld creators try not to impose their attitude towards social issues. They present episodes without any evaluation. For example, in the episode “The Subway” lesbian wedding is highlighted. Although it was very controversial in those times, the episode does not criticize this idea, nor does it approve the idea (Gray, 2006).
To sum up, the influence of The Simpsons and Seinfeld on the society is positive. Both sitcoms evoke the feeling of disgust with cultural and social drawbacks which are revealed by means of humor and satire. On the other hand, the emphasis on values such as family and friendship is made.
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