Society, on both the micro and macro levels, has never been more atomised. We are all elementary particles in the age of the internet. The end of history is now nihilistic post-modernism. Art is becoming increasingly superficial and self-referential. The chasm between the projected reality of our myriad screens and our lived experience widens continuously. Now more than ever, it seems that to speak with a modicum of truth and insight, you must have at least a tacit appreciation and acknowledgment of the absurdity of the human endeavour.
The Simpsons addressed its audience in a consciously post-modern, post-ironic manner, long before it was in vogue. Beginning the early 90s, Matt Groening's brainchild presciently captured a cultural zeitgeist that very few were able to express at the time.
There have been few works of art in the internet era as profound as The Simpsons; rarely is such a work of art able to tease out the general from the specific in such a way to make it imminently relatable to hundreds of millions of people. The Simpsons is one of the most celebrated television shows of all time, because it manages to offer something to so many different types of people. It has a grasp on the ‘universal,’ as Jeff Koons would say.
The Simpsons, in its own special way, was also a quiet revolution against the status quo, despite wholly existing in the same status quo. What better way to poke fun at the ills of a culture addicted to television than to have a show on FOX?
"What better way to poke fun at the ills of a culture addicted to television than to have a show on FOX?"
Whether acknowledged or not, The Simpsons put many viewers in touch with vulnerabilities and contradictions of American life, and it did so with a special brand of humour. Often, The Simpsons was just as poignant as it was droll. It dealt in the mundanity of modernity, but it was never boring.
It was not nearly as serious as the heart of its central subject matter. The Simpsons illustrated the futility and ecstasy of the modern condition with a glib serenity; undeniably bleak at times, yet also always luminous.
Great satire like the Simpsons necessitates clarity of purpose and target, lest it is mistaken for and contribute that which it intends to criticize; the Simpsons aimed many of the questions that define our era, namely technologization, corporatism, globalization, and individualism.
It delivered its commentary on these issues through the same style that the vast majority of pop art has since adopted; self-aware, and skilly blurring boundaries between high and low concept. Post-ironic. The questions the Simpsons raised were not unique, but its tone, composition, characters, and visual language were.
Now on its 29th season, the Simpsons no longer reliably offers cutting criticism of contemporary reality, instead opting to replace intellectual rigor with celebrity cameos. Despite its turn towards insipid television fare, the first nine seasons (or ten, depending on who you ask) remain highly lauded. The Simpsons sold out, but there was enough brilliance in its early seasons to keep die-hard fans and critics alike agape for a lifetime.
While much has been made of the intellectual merits of the early season of the Simpsons, not nearly as much attention has been directed at the brilliance of its aesthetic. Unfortunately, the look and the feel of the Simpsons changed drastically after a decade of success; network animators homogenized much of the character of the Simpsons’ visual presentation in a dry and uninteresting way.
One of the best contemporary homages to the aesthetics of the early seasons belongs to the anonymous Instagrammer, scenic_simpsons. The creator's focus is on the broader milieu of the show; he or she screen captures some of the less prominent background images and muted atmosphere that the how is built on. Like many of the show's fanatics, scenic_simpsons also directs his attention at Simpsons' early season. In the later seasons, the soft colors and attention to detail gave out to the banal, digital precision of big budget animation.
The essence of scenic_simpsons, and arguably cartoons themselves, is their abstracted representation of reality. Unlike film, with its inextricable relationship with the real, every single frame of a cartoon is artificially constructed. No aspect of visual composition in animation occurs by chance.
Every color, shade, and line within a frame is engineered with a purpose. Being a brilliant curator, scenic_simpsons draws our eyes to the images and frames we might have missed, revealing a new depth to The Simpsons, showcasing the ineffable coolness of the Simpsons with remarkable brevity.
An aspect that shines through scenic_simpson's work is the nuances in The Simpsons early artistic references. Scenic_simpsons pages reveals background allusions to everyone from Kubrick to Truffault to Scorcese, and everyone in between.
The Simpsons bore many of the hallmarks of high art, existing in a medium traditionally reserved for low art, network television.
Among the many reasons for the Simpsons longevity and enduring relevance is the integration of a rich range of artistic quotation; the visuals of the Simpsons were not dreamt up in the vapidity of a corporate writers room, they were genuinely inspired.
We might be entertaining ourselves into the abyss, but at least we know it. When we can't watch the Simpsons, scenic_simpsons is a perfect way to keep its light-hearted wit fresh in our consciousness.
Text: Aaron Gray
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