“Mr. Plow, for making it possible for people to get where they’re going without resorting to public transportation or carpooling, I give you the key to the city.” – Mayor Quimby
Archive for December, 2010
We get a fair amount of traffic here from random message boards where The Simpsons comes up in conversation and someone posts a link to us. This is often in the midst of one of the usual spats about when the show fell apart or whether or not Family Guy is better. About a month ago I was reading through one of these threads (though I neglected to save the link, whoops) and someone posted an excellent quote from Bill Watterson, the guy behind “Calvin and Hobbes”.
Thanks to Google, I was able to find the quote (bold in the original):
Readers became friends with your characters, so understandably, they grieved — and are still grieving — when the strip ended. What would you like to tell them?
This isn’t as hard to understand as people try to make it. By the end of 10 years, I’d said pretty much everything I had come there to say.
It’s always better to leave the party early. If I had rolled along with the strip’s popularity and repeated myself for another five, 10 or 20 years, the people now "grieving" for "Calvin and Hobbes" would be wishing me dead and cursing newspapers for running tedious, ancient strips like mine instead of acquiring fresher, livelier talent. And I’d be agreeing with them.
I think some of the reason "Calvin and Hobbes" still finds an audience today is because I chose not to run the wheels off it.
I’ve never regretted stopping when I did.
If The Simpsons had finished up after nine or ten seasons it’s not hard to picture alternate reality Matt Groening saying the exact same thing.
“You’ve reached the party line. In a moment you’ll be connected to a hot party with some of the world’s most beautiful women. Now, let’s join the party.” – Party Line Recording
“Hello?” – Krusty the Klown
“Hello?” – Lonely Man #1
“Hello?” – Lonely Man #2
“Are there any women here?” – Apu Nahasapeemapetilon
“Hello?” – Krusty the Klown
“Are you a beautiful woman?” – Apu Nahasapeemapetilon
“Do I sound like a beautiful woman?” – Krusty the Klown
“This is not as hot a party as I had anticipated.” – Apu Nahasapeemapetilon
“I don’t deserve you as much as a guy with a fat wallet and a credit card that won’t set off that horrible beeping.” – Homer Simpson
Many horrible things befall American everyman Homer Simpson in “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire”. With the quick and relatively harmless exceptions of a snow cushioned fall off the roof and hitting his head on the doorframe of Santa’s workshop, these things aren’t physical. Nor, for that matter, are they malicious or deliberate. Ned Flanders is far too guileless to understand that his Christmas decorations are humiliating to Homer. Bart isn’t trying to break Homer’s spirit when he gets a tattoo or yanks off Homer’s fake Santa beard. Even Burns, who cancels Homer’s Christmas bonus, doesn’t do so to screw Homer, he’s just greedy about preserving “management pay raises”. The world is indifferent to Homer Simpson, and that much crueler for being so.
Over twenty-two minutes, we watch Homer stumble through one vile task after another. It begins with the enforced boredom of the school Christmas pageant. The unrelenting tedium of such events is supposed to be made worthwhile by getting to see your child perform, but Homer is denied even that solace when Bart is physically yanked off stage. Not that home provides any comfort, Homer’s openly contemptuous sisters-in-law have installed themselves in the one place he can usually find rest.
Neither the tattoo fiasco nor the cancelled bonus are Homer’s fault, he didn’t even have any warning. Nevertheless, he is consumed with guilt, and as he begins to confess his inadequacies to Marge, she responds with nothing but love, and it nearly breaks his heart. It’s a genuinely touching scene, and Homer, ever the dimwit, completely misinterprets his wife.
Instead of seeing Marge’s affection and sympathy as a way to share his burdens, he doubles his resolve and takes up the mantle of the unlikeliest Christmas hero. His sense of purpose is stronger than steel, but his efforts to provide a picture perfect holiday are as doomed as they are bumbling. Disaster follows disaster.
No sooner has he talked himself into gifts so wildly off the mark that they might be worse than nothing does his unwitting nemesis Flanders reappear to shatter his illusions. Distraught, he latches on to a new plan even though it’s been recommended by a man Homer knows to be an incompetent drunk.
Trusting in the utterly untrustworthy, Homer hitches his hopes to the ass end of Christmas commercialism and moonlights as a mall Santa. Despite his endearing sincerity and actual hard work – at a job that doesn’t even give him lunch – Homer’s labors net him a hopelessly chintzy thirteen dollars. Then, in one of the harshest ironies in Christmas television history, Homer disbelieves his drunken idiot friend the one time the besotted fool happens to be right.
Worse, it’s revealed that this second stage of the plan was in Barney’s head all along. Homer has suffered yet another inadvertent blow, including exposing his failure to his only son, by simple omission. Homer consents to press ahead only when Bart, in a scalpel sharp piece of satire, invokes the improbably miraculous history of Christmas television. Compelled by desperation and the love of the only thing that’s ever done him right, Homer keeps chasing the glorious teevee Christmas that, deep down, he knows is dissolving by the minute.
And so we come to the dog track, as atypical a setting for cinematic endings as possible, where Homer’s futile pursuit of Christmas sabotages him once again. Against the advice of the son who invoked television miracles in the first place, Homer bets it all on Jimmy Stewart and Kris Kringle in the form of a dog named Santa’s Little Helper. As everyone but him can see, Homer is wrong. The race itself doesn’t even offer the solace of suspense: the improbable Christmas underdog is instantly defeated.
Beaten but unbroken, far lower than he thought he would ever sink, Homer scours a cold and dirty parking lot for the grimy miracle of a discarded winning ticket. When he stands up from this hopeless task, you can almost see him surveying the barren wasteland of failure to which his gallant intentions have brought him. Outside of a dog track he didn’t want his son at in the first place, Homer finds himself scratching at the harsh, unsympathetic asphalt on which even the pathetic and the penniless trod with dignity.
When salvation does arrive in the form of the dog that lost his hard earned thirteen dollars, Homer doesn’t recognize his luck. This may seem like a minor point, but it is crucial to who Homer Simpson is and why we root for him. He agrees to take in Santa’s Little Helper not because his family will love him for it, but because he recognizes the kindred spirit of the serially defeated. He doesn’t see a solution to his problems in those vacant brown eyes; he acts out of pure, unthinking sympathy. For there is no hope left in Homer Simpson, he has been broken, down to the very fibers of his being and his heart of hearts.
When his family meets the dog and he inadvertently succeeds, surprise is the only thing he registers. In the truest spirit of comedy and Christmas fairy tales, he wins in spite of himself. His mistakes, piled one atop the other so high that he couldn’t see past them, brought about the happy result his deliberate actions never could. The hopeless hero, clueless to the end, he won without winning.