I’m currently just beginning a different book on the Simpsons (which I’ll post about in due course). So far I’ve read the first chapter or so, but it has already made me think back to the first book (and I mean real book here) I read on the show.
Nearly two years ago, I picked up Planet Simpson by Chris Turner and ate it up like it was ice-cream. Now I bought it simply because it was about the Simpsons and because it looked like it was of a slightly higher intelligence than the usual lot. However, I was in for a bit of a surprise.
Of course I was already familiar with how the Simpsons came about and I assume you are too, but if not, click here. What I found in this book was a much more substantial essay on how the Simpsons defined and were defined by, everyday life and the cultural changes occuring in the US at the start of the early 90s.
First off, it’s clear the Turner is a huge fan of the show. The book is full of quotes and cross-references that any fan worth their salt will immediately recognise. Secondly, what makes the book stand out, at least structurally, is that each character in the family has their own chapter, within which various other topics are mentioned and discussed. Turner does a very thorough job of detailing the complexities of each character and prodding me into seeing them in a slightly different light. For the record, Lisa is my favourite of the whole bunch.
Turner does an excellent job of analysing the connections between the Simpsons and the real world on which it is based. Pop-cultural references in the show itself, the characters themselves as a reflection of contemporary civilisation, the life of a worker in the radioactive ooze of an American corporation and the ability to see the lighter side of it all in the end are what attracted fans to the show. Turner looks into all of them all and then some.
The book is not a light read (440 pages and no pictures). While it is certainly interesting, don’t expect to read a pile of fluff. Turner knows how to write (unlike yours truly) and the ample peppering of quotes and references helps break things up and induces plenty of reruns inside your own head.
The nice thing about Planet Simpson is that it doesn’t try to prove a point. There’s no hidden agenda and I finished the book feeling that although my thoughts on the Simpsons hadn’t changed, I had a little more respect for the team behind it that put it all together and how they are (were?) the smartest people on television, and are likely to be for decades to come.
If you are looking for a deeper understanding of The Simpsons as it pertains to modern life, this book is definitely for you.