Sigur Rós and Björk were on The Simpsons last night because, hey, Iceland is the place to be, right? We’ve written in the past about memorable guest stars and movie references on the show, but it’s also interesting to look at its interactions with… the real world, for want of a better term. So here’s a brief selection of life imitating art, and vice versa.
Hey, so apparently there are these kids in a place called Williamsburg who wear American Apparel shorts and drink ironic PBR! As our own Judy Berman wrote at the time, this was basically everything that’s wrong with The Simpsons these days.
The Simpsons is basically Mad magazine these days — something that used to make funny and relevant pop culture references/parodies now just doing so for no good reason at all. Things used to appear in the series for a reason — now they appear just because. Interestingly enough, pop culture itself has pushed back against this — there’s a great discussion here of why references in and on themselves aren’t especially funny, and another one on Salon about the fact that they tend to tie a show to a certain age and audience.
George Bush Sr.
Still, it wasn’t always thus. The show once wielded such cultural influence that a succession of conservatives decided that it was in need of a stern finger waved in its direction. The most prominent voice of disapproval came from the President himself — George Bush Sr. bleated in 1992, “[Republicans] are going to keep on trying to strengthen the American family, to make American families a lot more like the Waltons and a lot less like the Simpsons.” The show’s writers rubbed their hands with glee, and returned fire with the above scene, included in the intro to a rerun of the third season’s “Stark Raving Dad.” (There was also 1996 episode “Two Bad Neighbors,” which featured a plot centered around the idea of the Bushes moving to Springfield, and many jokes at the by then former President’s expense.)
The show’s eighth season found them addressing homophobia in society, courtesy of a pleasantly subtle script and a guest appearance from John Waters. “Homer’s Phobia” is The Simpsons at its best — funny, biting, and socially relevant. It also caused a predictable stink, with Fox at first refusing to run the episode, although happily the reception from the usual cacophony of conservative naysayers was rather muted.
And finally, in a rather depressing example of life imitating art, the derogatory epithet directed at the French for refusing to join the “Coalition of the Willing” in the Iraq War started life as a satirical phrase from… yes, The Simpsons.