Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Donuts, saxophones, nihilism and satire

I am enjoying Chris Turner's Planet Simpson at the moment - 450 large-format pages of encomium, homage and rant.
It helps that I'm a Simpsons fan, of course. If you've never seen, or (Heaven forbid!) don't like, The Simpsons - whose remit, according to creator Matt Groening, is to "entertain and subvert" - much of it may be lost on you, but as a critique of modern society and popular culture, it's still a good read.
Sub-titled "How a cartoon masterpiece documented an era and defined a generation", the book focusses in turn on each of the main characters and what they tell us about our world, as well as dissecting the creative process and pointing out some of the clever-clever homages to old movies, some of which flash past in a moment and are all too easily missed. Some of the illustrative quotes and scene descriptions are almost as hilarious as the originals, and tiny details are blown up and deconstructed level by level.
Turner's analysis of 1990's North America is pretty sharp and inciteful, and his prose is suitably ascerbic and irreverent. He touches on family mores, punk rock and grunge, rampant consumption, media control, corporatism, environmental activism, religion and race, libertarianism, irresponsible advertising, the Internet ("Interweb") revolution and much else besides.
Who would have expected section titles like "Existential Angst and Cultural Criticism" or "Ironic Culture and the Sleek Surface of Modernity" in a book about a Fox cartoon series? Who would have expected to find an analysis of Michel Foucoult's comments on Jeremy Bentham's Panopticon theory sandwiched in between a bunch of expletives and guffaws at the cartoon violence of the "Itchy and Scratchy Show".

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