- By Hank Pumpkins of Love in the Time of Sausage
“I’m so hungry, I could eat at Arby’s”. That one line, delivered by Sherri—or maybe Terri—worked wonders on my young, impressionable mind, and only nearly eight years later, on a dare in college, did I finally try Arby’s. It turns out, the fries are pretty good. There’s a secret shame in admitting that The Simpsons held such political sway over my taste-buds, but in the years since, I’ve come to see I haven’t been the only one—which makes me wonder if there was a marginal dip in sales after “Das Bus” came out.
It’s probably overstated that The Simpsons has always had a cache of consumer power, both as an economic consumer power and as a commentator of consumerism. From its early days the show has been keenly aware of dual-life it led as a biting satire on American economics while also being prostituted out on everything from t-shirts to “blues” records to Butterfinger bars. For a show with such sheer size and success, unparalleled with, well, pretty much any other television show, ever, they did a fine line of playing both roles, though looking back at the last thirteen years, it seems inevitable that the show would eventually teeter, then topple on one side.
It’s not surprising which side that ended up being.
Season 9 is about as good a place as any to see the axis tilt on The Simpsons for a variety of reasons, but what concerns me are the ominous signs that point to the philosophical sea-change which, to me, signaled the point where The Simpsons lost their bite and settled down into somewhat inspired, but mostly mediocre entertainment filler.
Season 9’s plots seem to constantly revolve around battles for integrity. Homer needs to choose between buying a saxophone or an air conditioner; Lisa fights the town on the angel; Homer gets into a brawl over a sports car while Marge struggles to make a sale; Bart burns down the Christmas tree, including the sausage for little Homer; Homer and Bart become carnies and learn their wicked carnie games; Movementarians; and, to cut basically a list of all of the season’s episodes short, “The Last Temptation of Krust”, which literally revolves around Krusty realizing he is, has been, and always will operate not as a comedian, but as a shill. In a season rife with issues of integrity, and a show already feeling the strain of its own success and legacy, “The Last Temptation of Krust” feels like a breaking point where the show seemed to run completely out of steam. Krusty’s conflict was his battle with integrity, and his resolution is a quiet, somewhat disconcerting acceptance that he is a whore. Doubtful that the writers were mirroring their own show, or being prescient about the lazy, belabored comedy to come in years hence, but as The Canyonero commercial plays, and drags on and on, it’s difficult for Future Me to watch and wonder, “Oh. That explains it.”
Compare Krusty in season 9 with another episode dealing with integrity over money: “Lisa Vs. Malibu Stacy”, aired four years prior, where in the end, Malibu Stacy seemingly wins—except for the one girl who takes the Lisa Lionheart doll and cherishes it. We get the usual cynical Simpsons nod that our world is run by money, and baseless corporate greed which slakes its thirst on the naïve and unwitting, but at least there’s a sentimental twist to the end (which is pretty well earned, I’ll add).
There aren’t many times I bother to check in on The Simpsons anymore, but when Banksy’s guest couch gag went viral, I couldn’t help but be intrigued. True to Banksy form, it had a nasty anti-consumer bend, but it felt out of place as a Simpsons gag. The show had long ago lost its teeth, and instead of being a purveyor of biting satire, it felt like an outsider was just doling out a blow, and the show could care less, as long as it got the ratings boost. In the past thirteen years, The Simpsons lost a lot of credit and value it once so richly earned. When the tight walk between sharp consumer satire and consumer salesman gave way, the show gave a weary, resigned “meh”. And now, it’s just a truck with four wheel drive, smells like a steak and seats thirty-five.
Lisa Lionheart is dead; all hail Malibu Stacy.