Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Simpsons and Religion

This week we will be looking at religion on TV in the context of The Simpsons, the longest running cartoon series on TV. Since it's inception The Simpsons has dealt with themes related to religion dedicating numerous episodes to issues of personal crisis of faith, science verse religion, the afterlife and organized religion. Notable character's whose faith plays an important part in their cartoon life include Rev Lovejoy-Pastor of a "American Reformed Presbylutheranism" church, Apu who is Hindu and manager of the Kwik-E-Mart, Krusty the "Jewish" clown and the terminally cheerful evangelical Ned Flanders.

The Simpsons have also been the topic of much religious debate and theological reflection. Notable is Marin Pinsky's book, The Gospel According the the Simpsons. Please read the Christian Century article from 2001, Simpsons have Soul and reflect on possibilities and challenges offered by the Simpson's narrative of religion.

In class we will be viewing the episode Bart Sells His Soul where Bart casually sells his soul to his friend Millhouse for $5 because he does not really believe the soul exist. This leads to a troubled journey and Bart's self-reflection of his own spiritual/eternal state. Come prepared to discuss the examples of religious imagery & narratives about religion that appear in this episode, as well as what this example might teach us about how popular media might view religion in larger society.

6 comments:

Jody said...

One of the intersting topics our group discussed was the positive portryal about religion on The Simpsons. The Simpons are often seen praying or going to church, and the show has been dubbed one of the most "pro-family, God preoccupied shows on television". Granted some religious groups, such as Catholics, do take offense to the portrayal of Catholocism on the show, but many Evangelical Christains take a more "live and let live" approach to The Simpsons. Indeed, many are delighted that faith is so prevalent in the show, and find inherent goodness within it. The show is not disrespectful towards religion, and in some fashion always affrims some element of the Judeo-Christain American creed, a rather exceptional characteristic of modern media. In the end, religious satire in the show has been prevalent from the shows earliest days. Also, viewpoints on the portryal of religion in the show have shifted significantly with time, from a negative view to a positive one. Look for the shows creators, all of whom come from varied religious backgrounds, to continue their style of creation.
Jody, Group 4

mysimplehomepage said...
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mysimplehomepage said...

One of the topic that our group discussed to today was the potryal of personal faith in the Simpsons episode "Bart Sells His Soul." The writers sought to affirm the positive aspects that personal faith has on one's life. This was illustrated strongly after Bart sold his soul to Milhouse. Every character that Bart happened upon, no matter their devotion to religion, pointed out the grave mistake Bart had made by selling his soul and advised him that the best course of action would be to get back. Another suttle acknowledgement to the importance of personal faith happens when Bart interacts with the pets. Usually kind to him, they are outright scared and aggressive towards the souless Bart. Later on in the show it shows Bart sleeping and both pets are curled up beside him on the bed. This shows that it is not so much the lost of his soul that is haunting him, but the loss of his personal faith. The writers seem to be saying without the faith in oneself one must look to other explainations to events that happen in their life for which they have no explaination.

David
Group 5

Mary said...

Group two discussed how the television show, The Simpson’s, are similar to actual families in America. The Simpson’s portrays religion in everyday life and questions it constantly, which in turn leaves it’s viewers to continue on the same path in their every day life. The show’s take on religion seems very natural, giving the viewer a more comfortable viewing experience, unlike other animated television shows like Family Guy or South Park. Many religious groups have taken offense to The Simpson’s though, due to the methods the producers poke fun of all religions, giving each one their own fame, and not centralizing on one specific denomination. Catholicism, though, put an end to the religions appearance on the show, claiming that its portrayal on the show makes the religion look bad. Although the show tends to poke fun of religious views, it still provides it’s viewers of accurate renderings of each religion.

NathanK8020 said...

Prism magazine, a monthly publication by Evangelicals for Social Action, calls the Simpson's series "the most pro-family, God-preoccupied, home based program on television." With nearly 70 percent of the shows containing some sort of religious content, it is clear that religion plays some sort of role in the Simpson's success as a series. Our group tossed around the idea that, religion is presented in a way, on the show, that everyone can somehow relate.

Everyone's lives are in some way effected by religion. The Simpson's is an "equal-opportunity" show that finds humor in organized religion and presents a wide variety of individuals perceptions of said religion. Anyone from any faith (or non-faith) can watch the show and be witness to the "inside joke that everyone gets."

An interesting aspect of all Simpson's episodes concerning religion is that no conclusion is made to the legitimacy of religion. Religion is presented to the viewer objectively allowing for individual critique and interpretation. In "Bart Sells His Soul" the Church's legitimacy is degraded as the pastor seems oblivious to the rock song being sung in place of a hymn, and yet, the legitimacy of religion is also affirmed when Bart prays for his soul to come back, and it falls into his hands from above.

This episode is a religious satire at its core and is meant to make people laugh. However, it are the individuals and their interpretations that legitimize the positive values it portrays, or doesn't, and makes it a very worthy case study.

Hayley Webb said...

Our group found that the two most surprising aspects of the Simpson’s portrayal of religion are how central it is to family life and its ability to make every episode into a religious, or at least moral, lesson. According to the 2001 Christian Century article about the Simpsons, it is the only secular show on television today that consistently shows a family attending church every week and faith being a part of their every day life. Most programs that run today make mere inferences toward religion and hardly ever commit a character to having a strong faith and/or regular attendance at a place of worship. Ironically the Simpsons do both of these things. Lisa is arguably the most spiritual character on the show spouting pseudo sermons frequently and even giving advice on prayer. She is not the only one though; Marge is obviously not just spiritual, but a very religious person. Bart and Homer seem to be the characters struggling most with their spirituality and this is exemplified through the many trials and tribulations they experience. The episodes Bart sells his soul and Homer the Heretic are prime examples of these journeys. This leads right into our discussion of the ‘lessons learned’ that always seems to wrap up a Simpson’s episode. The Christian Century article also mentions that no matter the crudeness represented in the show at the end there is always a moral lesson learned and positive feelings to back that up. Sometimes these moral lessons even have a very religious tone. For example, during Bart Sells His Soul, Bart has to endure a very rough journey to get his soul back and eventually learns a lesson about personal faith through the guidance of his younger sister Lisa. He learns that his soul is something that is special and something to be valued. There is no happiness in life without it and most importantly it is earned. The end of the episode shows Bart sincerely praying to God and learning from his mistakes. Putting aside its questionable humor and “moral inappropriateness” the Simpsons is showing itself to be in some respects a very positive and religious program. Although not accepted by every religious group it is slowly being appreciated by certain faiths around the world.