On classic era The Simpsons and the longevity of generation defining culture

old-simpsons

I’m sitting here, watching classic episodes of The Simpsons at work (don’t ask why, but it’s my job, this isn’t procrastination) and a thought came to me. People won’t remember these episodes in twenty years time. The next generation won’t have the attention span to watch them because of the archaic animation. When they look back at The Simpsons to see what it’s like, they’ll likely go straight for the latest episodes, the best looking, but the ones which are a shallow immitation of it’s glory days. Because The Simpsons has now been going so long, and been so milked, that it isn’t certain that future generations will be able to look back to understand why it had the cultural impact it did. Seasons 1 – 6 (and arguably up to 9, but I’m going to call 1 – 6 the classic period), between 1989 and 1995 is the reason for The Simpsons having such longevity. It’s where all the good plots, jokes and character moments can be found. But people won’t necessarily know this in the future, unless they’ve been guided, they’ll just cherry pick any episode-and a lot of people will choose the episodes with the CGI’d animation-and thus will miss any actual reason why The Simpsons was as influencial as it was. And if they do go to the old episodes, they’ll find them difficult due to the animation, just as I find difficult watching a cartoon from the 1930s.

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Not everyone will of course. Some future people will be able to look past the animation of the early episodes and find the classic material within. I’m currently watching episode 24 from season 6, the one where Bart and his friends go on a mission to retrieve their towns stolen Lemon Tree, a symbol of Springfields origins, from neighbouring Shelbyville. It’s hilarious for so many reasons and inspired this whole post. Any maybe the animations not too terrible, and that future people will be able to look past that. But I worry that instead the 20 years of crap episodes will over shadow the few years of classics.

They could always remaster/re-animate the first six seasons, and I almost think they should, if only to keep this classic stuff alive for future generations. I’m starting to think like George Lucas here but maybe he was onto something. If he hadn’t remastered Star Wars (and made the prologue trilogy), would it still have the same cultural impact to this current younger generation? Those guys are still playing with Star Wars lego, it was one of the most popular christmas toys this past season. Surely Lucas’ recent efforts, tampering with his classic series, as awful as they may have been, are probably a large reason for Star Wars staying relevant. So maybe we need to remaster more classic shows, in order to keep them relevent for future generations. Or perhaps just The Simpsons because those first six seasons are absolute gold.

But then again, on the other side of the coin (because I’m a libra and have to survey all sides of the argument) we don’t really want to defile classic animation and make it all CGI and shit, do we? The old animation adds to a good portion of the charm of the classic seasons. If they were to spend all that money on upgrading early Simpsons, they’d need to make a lot of profit in return. I’m sure they would, selling it off to networks worldwide and creating a new line of merchandise to go with it. That’s what capitalism does. I hate to go too far in this direction as well, but at the end of the day, all this entertainment, it’s just distraction for the masses to make profit for few. So should I really be spending my time mourning a forgetting TV show. Probably not.

With all this I’m ignoring the fact that the show isn’t yet forgotten at all. I’m sitting here preparing this episode, and dozens more, so that they can be re-aired on New Zealand television (ok, so I did tell you what I do at my job). Once again, classic Simpsons will take it’s place just as early evening entertainment for the masses, just as it did twenty five years ago. This could carry on for some time. But at some point the mainstream re-runs will end, the jokes will be forgotten, the show will become a relic of a past genenation, just like early shows with some amount of cultural impact such as Happy Days or I Love Lucy. These shows were hugely popular, resonate with a few generations, but not mine. Or at least I haven’t bothered to check them out, I’m not hugely interested, because they look not very aesthetically pleasing. Why waste my time on old jokes? This is the same indifference that I’m expecting future people to have to the culturally important things of my youth, such as The Simpsons.

The original reason I started this post was to discuss whether milking every last drop of potential revenue from a successful cultural item such as The Simpsons diminishes it’s relevancy in time due to the excessive amount of poor quality content overshadowing what made it successful in the first place. This, I suppose, is a predominantly American problem, with any show successful on US television getting renewed for a crazy amount of seasons until the writing is sloppy, key actors have left and the fan base has stopped caring. The Simpsons (and it seems other cartoon series such as Family Guy or South Park) can I suppose go on for a greater amount of time than non-animated television series, so long as the voice actors, or suitable replacements, are around to voice the characters. Writers can be replaced, show runners can change, but the studios can keep on turning out material and thus revenue. Long running non-animated shows, that eventually have to change actors, perhaps run out of steam quicker. I’m sure there’s plenty of arguments against that last point, but my main point is, wouldn’t it be more beneficial if studios didn’t constantly feel the need to milk their product, but make have a good few runs until the inspiration has left, before said show has jumped the shark, and then wrap the whole thing up and package it (and perhaps remaster it) to be consumed for future generations?

To summarize this ramble – classic era The Simpsons rocks. But we only needed about ten years of it.

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