Matt Groening took up drawing to escape from his troubles in 1977. At the time, Groening was working for the L.A. Reader, a free weekly newspaper. He began working on “Life in Hell”, a humorous comic strip consisting of people with rabbit ears. The L.A. Reader picked up a copy of his comic strip and liked what they saw. “Life in Hell” gradually became a common comic strip in many free weeklies and college newspapers across the country. It even developed a cult status. “Life in Hell” drew the attention of James L. Brooks, producer of works such as “Taxi”, “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”, and “Terms of Endearment”. Brooks originally wanted Groening to make an animated pilot of “Life in Hell”. Groening chose not to do so in fear of loosing royalties from papers that printed the strip. Groening presented Brooks with an overweight, balding father, a mother with a blue beehive hairdo, and three obnoxious spiky haired children. Groening intended for them to represent the typical American family “who love each other and drive each other crazy”. Groening named the characters after his own family. His parents were named Homer and Margaret and he had two younger sisters named Lisa and Maggie. Bart was an anagram for “brat”. Groening chose the last name “Simpson” to sound like the typical American family name. Brooks decided to put the 30 or 60 second animations on between skits on “The Tracy Ullman Show” on the unsuccessful Fox network. Cast members Dan Castellaneta and Julie Kavner did the voices of Homer and Marge. Yeardley Smith (later to star in Herman’s Head) did the voice of Lisa. Nancy Cartwright did the voice of Bart. Cartwright previously supplied the voices for many cartoons, including Galaxy High, Fantastic Max, Richie Rich, Snorks, Pound Puppies, My Little Pony, and Glo-Friends. Tracy Ullman later added Cartwright to her cast. Brooks, Groening, and Sam Simon, Tracy Ullman’s producer, wanted to turn the Simpson family into their own show.
The Fox network was looking for material to appeal to younger viewers. The only show they had that drew a young audience was “Married With Children”. To Foxs’ pleasure, “The Simpsons” saved the network from near failure. On December 17, 1989, “The Simpsons” got their break”. The Christmas special, “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire” aired. In the episode, Bart got a tattoo, much to Marge’s dislike. She quickly spent all of the family’s Christmas money to remove Bart’s tattoo with a laser. At the same time, Homer, still on his morning coffee break at 4:00 in the afternoon, learns that he will not receive a Christmas bonus. When he learns that Marge is relying on the money for Christmas, he decides that he will do the Christmas shopping for the year. He quickly buys Marge panty hose, Bart some paper, Lisa some crayons, and Maggie a dog toy. When he realizes that he is not doing very well, he gets a second job as a mall Santa for the extra money. On the way home from work, he steals a Christmas tree. The next day at the mall, Bart sits on his Dad’s lap and pulls down his beard. Homer responds by choking Bart and making him help make Christmas better. On Christmas Eve, Homer receives his check, $13.70 for over 40 hours work. Homer takes Bart to the dog track as a final chance for Christmas money. They discovered a gem in the third race, Santa’s Little Helper. How could this dog loose on Christmas Eve? The odds were 99 to one; they were going to be rich. Homer put all of his money on Santa’s Little Helper, and to his horror, he never even finished. As Homer and Bart were scouring the parking lot for winning tickets into the night, they saw the track manager throw out a dog. It was not just any dog; it was Santa’s Little Helper. When Bart and Homer came home to their worried family, they had a good Christmas after all. Now they had a dog. “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire” was not the typical Christmas story. It dealt with body art, sleeping in the work place, sibling rivalry, stealing a Christmas tree, a misbehaved son, and gambling. Although it was unorthodox, it was very successful. The Fox network decided to air it again on Christmas Eve.
In a little over a month, “The Simpsons” made it’s debut as a weekly show, “Bart the Genius” was the first regular episode. In the middle of a feared assessment test, Bart switches his test with the completed one of Nelson Prince, class nerd. Bart and his parents are called into Principal Seymour Skinner’s office where they are told that Bart has a 216 IQ. (Homer thought is was 912.) Skinner requests that Bart attends The Enriched Learning Center for Children. Suddenly, Homer takes a liking to his son. They joke together, play ball together, and embarrass Marge at an opera together. (“Toreador, oh don’t spit on the floor. Use the cuspidor. That’s what it’s for.” Bart sings along with the opera Carmen.) Soon at Bart’s old school, Springfield Elementary School, Bart’s graffiti is roped off and tagged, “The Principal. By Bart Simpson. IQ 216.” They do this because everyone thinks since Bart is a genius his work in graffiti should be an inspiration to the other children. Bart’s friend no longer like him, they refer to him as Poindexter. The kids at his new school trick him into giving up his lunch. In frank, Bart is miserable. Then, after turning himself green in an uneducated science experiment, Bart reveals to his new principal that he cheated on the test. That night, as Homer is helping Bart clean himself off, Bart tells Homer the same. Homer instantly transforms into a murderous rampage again. The episode ends with Bart locking himself in his room and Homer trying to knock down the door so he can tear Bart into pieces.
Soon, “The Simpsons” merchandise was all over America. Every kid wanted an “Underachiever and Proud of It, Man” or an “I’m Bart Simpson, Who the Hell Are You?” shirt. Hats could be seen everywhere that had Bart dressed like a devil saying, “Go For It, Dude!” or with Homer, his arms open, lunging forward saying “Why You Little.” The most popular shirt was a family picture with Homer choking Bart. During the first week of school in 1990, two thirds of the sixth graders in America wore Simpson’s paraphernalia. As the popularity of “The Simpsons” grew, so did parents’ fears. To their horror, Bart Simpson became a role model. “Aye Carumba!” was a popular expression among kids. Almost anything a child did wrong was attributed to “last Sunday’s Simpsons.” Bad ideas continued to be broadcast into kids’ minds.
In the third episode, a baby-sitter robbed the Simpson household of most of its belongings. In the fourth episode, Homer caused a nuclear accident, got fired, and attempted suicide. Bart stole the head off of the statue of Jebidiah Springfield, Springfield’s founder in the sixth episode. In the eighth episode, Bart took a picture of Homer with an exotic dancer and distributed them to the entire town. Marge had an affair in the ninth episode. Homer stole cable, and almost everything else imaginable in the fifteenth episode. This is clearly not the kind of behavior we want our children to learn.
The Simpsons is often viewed as one of the biggest threats to Christianity. The Simpson family goes to church on a regular basis, but Bart and Homer loath it. Since Bart is the main character that children watch this makes kids think that it’s “cool” not to go to church. A typical sunday school conversation is as follows: Child: “Will my dog, Fluffy go to heaven?” Sunday School Teacher: “No” Other Child: “How about my cat?” Teacher: “No, Heaven is only for people.” Bart: “What if my leg gets gangrene and has to be amputated? Will it be waiting for me in heaven? Teacher: “Yes” Bart: “What about a robot with a human brain?” Teacher: “I don’t know! Is a little blind faith too much to ask for?” The pastor, Reverend Lovejoy is a hypocrite. In “22 Short Films About Springfield” he leads his dog to the Flanders’ yard to go to the bathroom. He praises the dog until Ned Flanders comes outside. He then acts angry and threatens the dog with hell. When Ned leaves, he praises the dog again. In one episode, Homer quits going to church and falls in love with life. He claims to have his own religion so he doesn’t have to go to work on holidays, such as the Feast of Maximum Occupancy.
The Simpsons is not just an enemy of Christianity, though. In one episode, where Krusty the Clown is reunited with his father, a rabbi, almost the entire episode is spent making fun of Judaism. Lisa asks Bart, “Do you know what a rabbi’s most valued possession is?” Bart replied, “I dunno, those stupid little hats.” Hinduism is constantly joked with by using East Indian, Kwik-E-Mart clerk, Apu Mahasapeemapitalon. Apu is once asked is he is Hindu. He replied, “By the thousand arms of Bishna, I swear it is a lie.” Homer Simpson definitely has the worst influence on children. Once, Homer overheard Ralph Wiggum say the he would do anything for Lisa. In the next scene, Ralph is coating the Simpson’s roof in tar. Ralph calls out, “Mr. Simpson, the tar fumes are making me dizzy.” Homer, relaxing in a hammock replies, nonchalantly, “Yeah, they’ll do that.” Homer fits the genera of the parent who pressures his kid to do well in sports. In one episode, after Bart scored a winning goal, Homer congratulated him, “Okay Bart, you won the hockey game. Now, just as I promised, here’s your turtle, alive and unhurt.”
An optimistic outlook on this would definitely be that “The Simpsons” does affect children, but not necessarily in a bad way. Children never hurt themselves mimicking “The Three Stooges”, nor do they with “The Simpsons”. Almost every episode ends with a family that loves each other. Some episodes have answered the question of them affecting children on their own. Once, Marge began to protest Itchy and Scratchy cartoons. Itchy is a psychopathic mouse whose only purpose is to kill and torture Scratchy, a cat. Nearing the end of the episode, Marge realizes that Itchy and Scratchy is not hurting anyone. They take a satirical view to the situation when a group of mothers try to stop Michelangelo’s David from visiting the Springfield Museum of Art by means that it is pornographic. Unlike many sitcoms, “The Simpsons” is more like everyday life. Homer works in a power plant. In many other sitcoms, the father works a popular job, such as an accountant, or with a television studio. The Simpson family is not a wealthy family living in a $300,000 house. Many children can relate to this. In some cases, The Simpsons is educational. Karen Brecze credits Homer Simpson with saving her 8-year-old son, Alex’s life. Bence, of Auburn, Washington, says the boy was choking on an orange when his 10-year-old brother, Chris, used the Heimlich maneuver, which he learned from “Homer at the Bat”, where Homer is choking on a doughnut. Unlike Alex, Homer doesn’t receive help and coughs up the doughnut as his co-workers look at the Heimlich maneuver poster.
“The Simpsons” affects kids in some kind of way, just as anything around them will. Perhaps people fear “The Simpsons” because they can see a little of the Simpsons in themselves. We all have inner child’s trying to get out that behave just like Bart. We all do “pull a Homer” sometimes. The show doesn’t make us do it. It just happens. If this world did not have “The Simpsons” children would behave in the same manner, they just might not laugh quite as much.