Magazine article The Spectator

Planet Simpson: How a Cartoon Masterpiece Documented an Era and Defined a Generation

Magazine article The Spectator

Planet Simpson: How a Cartoon Masterpiece Documented an Era and Defined a Generation

Article excerpt

About as funny as all hell PLANET SIMPSON: HOW A CARTOON MASTERPIECE DOCUMENTED AN ERA AND DEFINED A GENERATION by Chris Turner Ebury Press, £12.99, pp. 471, ISBN 0091897564 * £11.99 (plus £2.25 p&p) 0870 800 4848

Chris Turner propounds three related theories about the Simpsons: first, that cartoon is an unusual medium for satire; second, and consequently, the show gets away with a lot that mainstream drama couldn't get away with, and has in its time been unusually radical for prime time television; third, that it has raised the bar for what cartoon is capable of, and spawned a decade of American animation so good that, once we all get over our whimsical fascination with cats chasing mice and mice talking to dogs, we will recognise this as its golden age. On all three counts, any serious observer of the show would agree with him. And yet his argumentative arc is at best so breathily over-enthusiastic, and at worst so self-aggrandising and contradictory, that he makes you like the programme less and less, the more he praises it. This is rather an extraordinary feat, actually - it makes you stand back and wonder how on earth he managed it.

He starts by telling you how funny all the jokes are. This might come in the form of a memory ('All at once, the pub shook with a single great roaring laugh. It was like a force of nature, this laugh, spontaneous and open-mouthed and enormous') or it might come as a homely assertion ('Well, the way The Simpsons goes about subverting is just about as funny as all hell'). It's like reading a critique of King Lear that tells you repeatedly how moving it is ('At this point, folks, my buddies and I all burst into tears!' 'That bit, you know, with the crazy talk? About the cheese? That's just about as sad as anything I ever heard!') This is patronising. It assumes we agree with him already, and yet at the same time assumes that we need to be told to. There seems to be a more general confusion, furthermore, about Turner's constituency - the book is too dense for the casual Simpsons viewer, yet too basic for the diehard fan ('So let's meet this Lisa Simpson. She's the slightly geeky academic star of Springfield Elementary School, destined to become its only graduate ever to read at an adult level . …

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