Cinema and Media Studies The Simpsons
by
Matthew A. Henry
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 June 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0176

Introduction

Few television programs have had both the popularity and longevity of The Simpsons. The Simpsons premiered on FOX Television on 17 December 1989, and it has been captivating viewers ever since, earning both high praise and fierce criticism along the way. The Simpsons has now set records as the longest-running prime-time animated show (surpassing The Flintstones, which ran for six seasons), the longest-running prime-time situation comedy (surpassing The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, which ran for fourteen seasons), and the longest-running scripted television series in prime time (surpassing Gunsmoke, which was on for twenty years). Such longevity is assuredly a testament to the commercial success of a show once dismissed as a mere “cartoon,” but it is also a reminder of how incredibly popular The Simpsons has been and continues to be with audiences, both in the United States and around the world. The Simpsons is currently aired in more than seventy countries and is seen by an estimated seventy million people worldwide. The Simpsons resurrected prime-time animation and kicked off a boom in satirical television programming, both animated (e.g., South Park, King of the Hill, Family Guy) and live-action (e.g., The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report). The Simpsons has also generated its own successful feature film—The Simpsons Movie (2007)—and it has become a monumental merchandising entity, worth an estimated five billion dollars. Quite simply, The Simpsons is one of the most recognizable and celebrated icons of American popular culture and a true cultural phenomenon. Scholarly interest in The Simpsons began early, partly because the show seemed to be the very embodiment of “postmodernism,” which dominated the discourse in academic circles in the 1990s, and partly because show’s ironic humor, elaborate visual parodies, and sophisticated satirical attacks on just about every aspect of contemporary American culture begged both commentary and analysis. Because The Simpsons addresses such a diverse array of topics, it lends itself exceedingly well to interdisciplinary inquiry, and important critical analyses have emerged from a wide variety of disciplines, including (but not limited to) media studies, cultural studies, women’s studies, queer studies, philosophy, psychology, sociology, economics, education, religion, and political science. This bibliography aims to present an overview of some of the most important scholarship on the cultural phenomenon that is The Simpsons.

Guides and Overviews

The materials listed here are primarily aimed at general readers and fans of The Simpsons, but they are useful resources for scholars as well. The Simpsons Archive is the most comprehensive collection of Simpsons materials available and free to all online; it is also regularly updated, so it is an especially good starting place for research. Groening 2010 is also comprehensive, but it is clearly geared more toward fans; its sheer size also makes it rather cumbersome and thus less practical for researchers. Ortved 2009, which relies on primary and secondary interviews with numerous writers and producers, offers a wealth of information on the origins and development of The Simpsons. Turner 2004 also provides a significant amount of background information, along with insightful discussions of major and minor characters and astute analyses of key themes, all situated within historical and cultural contexts. Waltonen and Du Vernay 2010, which contains an annotated bibliography of sources, both academic and mainstream, is useful as a scholarly resource and as a pedagogical tool (for more on this aspect, see the citation under Teaching with The Simpsons).

  • Groening, Matt. Simpsons World: The Ultimate Episode Guide. New York: Harper Collins, 2010.

    E-mail Citation »

    The 1,200-page Simpsons World incorporates, corrects, and expands upon the four previously published episode guides. Contains comprehensive synopses of all episodes of The Simpsons in seasons 1–20, an Itchy & Scratchy filmography, listings of all the chalkboard gags, couch gags, celebrity guests, and musical numbers, and other miscellaneous trivia.

  • Ortved, John. The Simpsons: An Uncensored, Unauthorized History. New York: Faber, 2009.

    E-mail Citation »

    Primarily uses interviews (conducted by the author and by others) with the producers, writers, and animators of The Simpsons to tell the story of the show’s creation and success, especially its “golden age” in the 1990s, and to illustrate how the show has changed the television landscape.

  • The Simpsons Archive.

    E-mail Citation »

    A large and comprehensive online resource on The Simpsons. Maintained and operated by fans of the series and continually updated. Contains a detailed guide to all episodes, numerous character files, interviews with writers, book excerpts, fan scripts, and a host of magazine and newspaper articles dating back to 1985.

  • Turner, Chris. Planet Simpson: How a Cartoon Masterpiece Defined a Generation. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo, 2004.

    E-mail Citation »

    A comprehensive and detailed overview of the history and development of The Simpsons, with illuminating discussions of the major characters, many minor characters, central and recurring themes, production and writing processes, and the show’s reception and popularity throughout the world. A wealth of information. Intended for a general audience.

  • Waltonen, Karma, and Denise Du Vernay. The Simpsons in the Classroom: Embiggening the Learning Experience with the Wisdom of Springfield. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2010.

    E-mail Citation »

    Although primarily concerned with the uses of The Simpsons in the classroom, the text is also an excellent and comprehensive resource for scholars as it contains an extensive annotated bibliography of sources, both academic and mainstream, and an episode guide complete through season 20.

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