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Entertainment / Fatwah / January 11, 2010


It’s fashionable to dismiss The Simpsons, to claim never to watch it anymore because its best days are long gone. It’s been fashionable to do this for ages. I remember when the show was about five years old and staggeringly great, I was informed by a pompous grad student, nicknamed “Astroboy” for his huge horn-rimmed glasses and abstracted air, that he didn’t watch The Simpsons anymore because its best days were long gone. “It’s lost its purity,” he said. “Homer is a little less Homer now, Lisa is a little less Lisa.”

And yet you are never less Astroboy, I thought, no matter how hard we pray.

But I didn’t say that aloud. I merely said, “Them’s fightin’ words,” and he seemed baffled and went away.

On The Simpsons 20th Anniversary Special: In 3-D! On Ice!, they had come up with a ready response to Astroboy and all his kind who clog internet sites with their fascinating observation that they don’t watch the show anymore because its best days are long gone: “I think the internet postings were a lot funnier ten years ago. I’ve kinda stopped reading the new posts.”

So fuck all y’all!


That said, the anniversary special was lame. Bogus doc-director Morgan Spurlock was the host, already a big mistake, and other than the occasional amusing comment by a former Simpsons writer or voice-actor, or a good clip from the show, there wasn’t much going on. Lots of extreme Simpsons fans were interviewed, showing off their Simpsons tattoos and houses full of Simpsons memorabilia. There was a good bit about Groundskeeper Willie’s Scottish fans, who are legion, and the feud between Aberdeenians and Glaswegians for the right to claim Willie as their hometown hero.

But mostly it was a pretty lazy retread of everything we’ve already heard about The Simpsons. How underground comic guy Matt Groening thought them up, and James Brooks got on board to plug animated Simpsons bits into holes of The Tracy Ullman Show, and the Simpsons TV series was the first cartoon in primetime since The Flintstones and its huge success propped up the wobbly new Fox Network, etc. Just try telling us something new about The Simpsons!

Okay, said John Ortved, and he came up with a new book, The Simpsons: An Uncensored, Unauthorized History, based on a Vanity Fair article he wrote a while back claiming to dish the real behind-the-scenes dirt on the show.


He’s essentially got four pieces of dirt:

• Matt Groening’s a credit hog who’s always been far more involved in Simpsons merchandizing than regular creative input into the show;

• James Brooks is a moody bastard whose mensch-like public manner fools people;

• Sam Simon was the real creative genius who put the legendary first Simpsons writing team together before he was railroaded out by Groening and Brooks;

• and Brooks has a pathologically devoted yes-man, Richard Sakai, who is supposedly the basis for the character of Waylon Smithers, Montgomery Burns’ adoring assistant.


Riveted yet? Well, okay, the Sakai-as-Smithers thing is pretty good, but the rest is only a shocker for people who believe in Santa Claus and Hollywood PR. Does it really matter to anybody if James Brooks is a phony betraying sumbitch? The guy made Terms of Endearment, for God’s sake. Obviously he’s capable of any depravity.

The book’s an okay read for truly dedicated Simpsons fans who are interested in every little detail (i.e., me), but that’s mainly because of one wise choice made by this Ortved: he simply strung together ten-thousand interview quotes from assorted people involved in the genesis of The Simpsons. He couldn’t get the cooperation of some of the main players—hence the “unauthorized” label—so he used old interview quotes from Groening, Brooks,

This keeps Ortved’s creepy little voice to a minimum, a definite plus. There’s just his idiotic preface to deal with, and his haphazard paragraphs of commentary between interview quotes. These are printed in boldface for easy avoidance.

Here’s a quote from Ortved’s preface, just to give you the measure of the man:

Humor’s import has been debated for centuries. Countless critics, from Aristotle to George Saunders, have qualified, augmented, and tried to define its role…

And yet, for all these abounding opinions, comedy remains a tricky animal to trap. “The problem of writing about comedy,” Conan O’Brien told me, “it’s like trying to hold a gas, the tighter you squeeze, the more it dissipates.” I agree with Conan, and E.B. White, who said that humor “can be dissected as a frog can, but the thing dies in the process…and the innards are discouraging to any but the pure scientific mind.”

I don’t think what follows offers a solution to the quandary, but my chosen format, the oral history, is my way around it. (xii)

This guy is so much like my least favorite students, I can’t even tell you. Reading his stuff is like grading the worst of sophomore papers, the ones with the “since the dawn of time it has always been true that” introductions. Who asked this joker to tell us about “humor’s import” when his topic is “dirt I dug up about the people who make The Simpsons”? Smug cluelessness (“I agree with Conan, and E.B. White…”) and weird pomposity (“my chosen format, the oral history…”) combine with learned-sounding words used stupidly (qualified, augmented, abounding, quandary) to make one long for Ortved’s early, violent death. The idea of such an irredeemable ass getting paid to write scurrilous stuff about the Simpsons creators! Where’s a vengeful god when you need him?

Anyhoo, it doesn’t matter. The show goes on. There was an excellent line in the latest episode that ran right before the anniversary special. In it, Krusty the Clown says, “I work like I drink—alone. Sometimes with a monkey watching.”

That, plus Gary Larson guest-starred as the “in-house cartoonist” for the new state-of-the-art nuclear power plant in Capitol City. (Larson dashes off a drawing for Homer, Carl, and Lenny, who agree that “no lion would want to see THAT on his X-ray.”)

So even though the end of the episode was a botched-up mess, and the romance between Krusty and a princessy character voiced by Ann Hathaway was moronic, we should be grateful for the lingering greatness of The Simpsons in our midst. The thing about our culture is, we are never grateful. True worth demonstrated a million times over is never good enough for us. We are waiting for the flub in the million-and-first installment that will damn the whole project in our dull piggy eyes.

And when I say “we,” I mean “you.” I’m capable of loyalty. I’m like a 19th century person that way. Or a collie. Or possibly a 19th century collie. And I say The Simpsons was born great and will die great and was great throughout. We’ll mourn it when it’s gone.


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Add your own

  • 1. Alex_C  |  January 11th, 2010 at 11:43 pm

    Uhh, yeah.

    I’m a bit ahead of most of you on here in that I’m post-TV.

    Can’t afford one, can’t afford, really, the juice it takes to run one, and if I did, I’d put the money into a sweet little build-it-yourself “spy” radio receiver-transmitter put out by the fine folks at Elecraft, those without an FCC license and decent Morse code skills need not apply. Now that’s the entertainment of the future!

    That’s right, radio.

    Now most will not be perusing the international shortwave broadcast bands, snickering at those silly “numbers” stations and listening to the Beeb. For most, modern entertainment will consist of an AM “emergency” radio and listening to the various talk personalities, which right now consist of Art Bell, Art Bell, a bit of Phil Hendrie, Art Bell, Jerry Doyle, Art Bell, some truckers’ show, Art Bell, Art Bell, the chanting of the Navajo Nation out of Window Rock, and Art Bell.

    But this is due to change. As less and less people are able to afford $100 or more a month cable bills, their bigscreen kicking ’em up into the next tier of electricity use and so another $100 in juice to run the thing, plus the new TVs die in about 3 years so once one is paid off it’s just about time for another ….. And it’s so hard to get mean ol’ Comcast or whomever to change one’s services to a cardboard box.

    Some watch TV online, but again, we’re talking, honestly, of costs of about $200 a month to keep the computer new enough, the ‘net connected, the whole shebang running.

    Sooner or later it’ll be TV or beans and beans are going to win.

    My little radio goes about 9 months on a set of batts and I listen to it a lot. I can listen while I do stuff, and I often do. In a 1930s world of mending and housework and hours in the kitchen, radio was great. It will be again.

    Dammit I loved the Simpsons. The one where Homer steals the grease? God, loved that show. I can “do” all the characters, even Willie.

    But those old radio shows, Wow. They’re hard to get a listen to these days, probably because they’re so good. I caught ’em occasionally, tuning around the dial, in Los Angeles, years ago. They were witty and funny, and the sound effects were better than any picture.

    Wait a year. Or 6 months. Or two years. Whatever it takes, and it won’t take long, you’ll be part of the post-TV generation. The kids will grow up wanting to be on the radio.

  • 2. Boo Radley  |  January 12th, 2010 at 12:26 am

    I thought the Princess vs. Crusty storyline was great.

    I have a four year old niece who spent her St. Stephen/Boxing day at Disney with Cinderella.. while dressed as Cinderella herself..

    I’ve seen the outakes of the brunch, it was cloying. Ponies, Unicorns, magicwands..

    It was perverted in more ways than one..

    All I can say is Bart was all over that bitch.

  • 3. Tam  |  January 12th, 2010 at 2:24 am

    What about some more articles here about the (far more interesting) Loony Tunes characters like Bugs and Daffy? I know you’re all fans and there’s a lot of fascinating historical cultural and poltical aspects to them, (not to mention american animation in general) that no one ever seems to touch on. Plus they’re still funny sixty years on which is a pretty awesome acheivement.

    The inspiration for Smithers reminds me vaguely of the much better story of where Daffy Duck’s voice comes from. Apparently it was inspired by Leon Schlesinger.

    ‘On the positive side, it was Schlesinger who selected the people that made Warner Bros. the cartoon studio that it was, giving the staff virtually no restrictions on material, aside from the pronouncement to put “loth of joketh in the cartoons, joketh are funny’ — which leads to his most enduring memorial. Schlesinger had a noticeable lisp, and the staffers creating Daffy Duck in the late 1930s — Jones credits Cal Howard — decided to base the duck’s voice on Leon. Expecting the worst, the animators screened the short. Schlesigner’s reaction, far from being negative, was to declare enthusiastically “Jethuth Critht thath’s a funny voithe! Where’d ya get that voithe?” Apparently it never even occurred to him that Daffy Duck’s voice was a parody of his own. ‘


  • 4. SweetLeftFoot  |  January 12th, 2010 at 2:59 am

    Its Aberdonian love.

    And for a 33 year old Western male like me, there is no situation life can throw up where a Simpsons quote is not appropriate.

  • 5. anon  |  January 12th, 2010 at 3:42 am

    Worst comments ever.

  • 6. CapnMarvel  |  January 12th, 2010 at 5:24 am

    Just finished that book, and I also had to choke back vomit on the preface and the haphazardly boldface commentary sections. Having just read a Bob Woodward book, I almost cracked in half from the contrast – belabored trivia and oddly tossed-off recollections of critically important interviews with Bill Casey followed by three-page treatises on why South Park can never, ever be considered superior to the Simpsons, even today.

    I need to dig out some Hunter S. to clean this smegma from my literary palate and start fresh.

  • 7. Col. Richard Hindrance (Mrs), VC, DSO and Bar, Buffet, Dancing 'til late  |  January 12th, 2010 at 6:16 am

    “Quandary” is a perfectly cromulent word.

  • 8. wengler  |  January 12th, 2010 at 8:25 am

    That dirt dished out seems utterly pathetic. Groening gets credited as the creator and a “creative consultant”. Everyone involved got insanely rich off this series, even the voice actors are getting half a million per 22 minute episode now.

    The comedic quality has gone down in the last eight years as the show has centered episodes around an endless parade of “special guest stars” but this is now the longest running show in the history of television. There is bound to be some letdown from when the show only had say 150 episodes under its belt.

    I personally think the show is going to try to hit 25 years and then call it a day. It will certainly be missed when it’s gone.

  • 9. Erik  |  January 12th, 2010 at 9:44 am

    I’m a bit ahead of most of you on here in that I’m post-TV. Can’t afford one, can’t afford, really, the juice it takes to run one…

    You are full of it. Get over yourself.

  • 10. Erik  |  January 12th, 2010 at 9:47 am



  • 11. Homero  |  January 12th, 2010 at 12:26 pm

    Jesus, lady, Lighten up … the Simpson’s are funny. Besides, what other character would I turn to when I needed a painting of Homer as a Nazi, imprisoning a scrawny Bart? (You can find anything on the streets of Mexico D.F.)

  • 12. Alex_C  |  January 12th, 2010 at 12:58 pm

    Erik – Wait and see …. .”me today, you tomorrow” – old Soviet saying.

  • 13. solfish  |  January 12th, 2010 at 2:06 pm

    It’s fashionable to dismiss The Exile, to claim never to read it anymore because its best days are long gone.

  • 14. Erik  |  January 12th, 2010 at 2:50 pm

    I’m pre-TV, Alex. It’s “you today, me since birth.”

  • 15. Carlos  |  January 12th, 2010 at 2:54 pm

    The whole 20th Anniversary show seemed like a boondoggle for that half-wit Spurlock to travel the globe and interview his hipster friends in NYC. It sucked. The Simpsons deserved better.

  • 16. Erik  |  January 12th, 2010 at 2:55 pm

    Just shows what kind of imbeciles reads The Exiled.

    The old eXiled was (by and large) for wanking, pubescent losers stuck in Babe-free Middle American Hell, fantasising about getting a real life, the new Exiled is journalism for grown-ups.

  • 17. Erik  |  January 12th, 2010 at 2:59 pm

    Did I forget to mention, that I loved the old eXile. I’ve got a couple of real, physical hard copy issues.

  • 18. Philip Pilkington  |  January 12th, 2010 at 3:13 pm


    Tried to read “All the President’s Men” for a class I was taking and discovered a whole new aesthetic. I like to call it the “stock-index aesthetic” because it gives you all the details, but you’re not really sure why or what you should do for them.

    I remember it vividly. I was sitting on the top-floor of a double-decker bus. Woodward/Bernstein was describing the flag one of the two reportoids was using to signal Deepthroat.

    “Reportoid (x) had a red flag on his his balcony. It was tucked into a flower pot on his balcony. It had been left in his apartment by a friend at a party. Reportoid (x) decided it would be perfect to use to signal Deepthroat. He left a note for Deepthroat. He then took the red flag out of the pot where it had been left and hung it slightly over the balcony so that it was still in the pot but could now be seen from…..”

    I noticed a window above my head on the bus. My perfect oppurtunity to rid myself of this horrific book. The window was open. It was probably opened by someone who was sitting in the chair before me. Maybe even someone who was sitting in the chair before the person that was sitting in the chair before me. I realised that I could put the book through the open window and drop it on the street. The street was below me and moving in the opposite direction because the bus was moving in…..

    It was too late. My synaptic fluids had congealed…

  • 19. zombie jesus  |  January 12th, 2010 at 3:14 pm


    “…but this is now the longest running show in the history of television.”

    No it isn’t.

  • 20. geo8rge  |  January 12th, 2010 at 3:41 pm

    I haven’t watched in years.

    Like all upstanding citizens The Simpson’s don’t criticize the government during war time because you just don’t do that. That pretty much sealed it’s fate in lameness.

  • 21. jimix  |  January 12th, 2010 at 4:54 pm

    I could have gone without seeing spurlock’s pasty ass all over the fucking screen too

  • 22. Jay  |  January 12th, 2010 at 4:54 pm

    OK, notwithstanding that I have missed like the past 200 episodes (I just wanted to use the word “notwithstanding,” that’s the only reason I posted) I can’t imagine another TV series about which I could feel let down like I could over a lame Simpsons episode. Doesn’t that alone tell you something, people?

  • 23. DBS  |  January 12th, 2010 at 6:17 pm

    Thanks, Eileen! I went to college with Ortved, and he is a creep who makes me wish for a vengeful God. I won’t read his book, just as I didn’t read his stupid columns in the McGill Daily.

  • 24. RobertD  |  January 12th, 2010 at 6:22 pm

    As predictable, boring and oft-repeated as the “The Simpsons ‘aint as good as it used to be” style comments may be – they also happen to be true.

  • 25. Jyp  |  January 12th, 2010 at 8:57 pm

    Sorry all. The Simpsons, like that hideous crap, Family Guy, is utter reactionary horseshit intended to inculate in the masses a deep sense of futility and submission to filthy little scumbags like the rich guy and the corrupt cop, etc., etc. A pastiche of slave-state roles for asslicking primates to emulate. Economic pornography for the utterly trapped.

  • 26. Jugal  |  January 12th, 2010 at 11:06 pm

    I almost lost most of the respect I had for you Eileen.

    You are the best movie critic I have ever had the pleasure to read and yet you write this piece saying that The Simpsons are still great…..

  • 27. Plamen Petkov  |  January 12th, 2010 at 11:20 pm

    re: comment 25 Jyp: best one ever! Exile can write an article around that!

  • 28. ray  |  January 13th, 2010 at 7:59 am

    Is this thread entirely composed of trolls?

  • 29. Rich  |  January 13th, 2010 at 8:24 am

    The Simpsons is as good today as it’s ever been. Perhaps it was never as good as some people remember.

  • 30. Myf  |  January 13th, 2010 at 9:06 am

    The simpsons makes me laff once in a while, but Family Guy and cleveland show have completely eclipsed it. They’ve seized the Stella-esque humor of human interaction that the simpsons refuses to touch.
    It may be true that Seth Macfarlane is Larry “Chip” Douglas from The Cable Guy, but he can make a funny cartoon.

    The Simpsons writers seem completely out of touch. iPod episodes years after the ipod is ubiquitous and boring to discuss, apple episodes so far after anyone cares, celebrity appearances that absolutely pale in comparison to the old Lerleen or Karl the assistant type guest appearances.

    It was a good show for a long time, and I’m not mad. But they should let it die. Millions of dollars per episode for what? Smooth ugliness? I wish they would invest the money in legitimate silly/goofy animation that actually takes advantage of the medium for something other than never-aging casts.

    And to the non tv owning guy, nobody gives a damn about your appliances.

  • 31. Oliver  |  January 13th, 2010 at 11:59 am

    John Dolan says he likes The Simpsons.

  • 32. учти  |  January 13th, 2010 at 1:08 pm


  • 33. Homero  |  January 13th, 2010 at 2:58 pm

    @ 32: “John Dolan says he likes The Simpsons.”

    that’s because he’s a real person. ya know? remember his gout n shit, those motorcycle boots, his shitty wannabe-girlfriend spitting on his velvety sportcoat … simple honest stuff. not some fuckin shock-value gimmick.

  • 34. Madeleine  |  January 13th, 2010 at 7:41 pm

    I’m procrastinating, as usual. I come across this great piece on The Simpsons. And, because I’m pretty sure that Pauline Kael is dead, I scroll back up to the byline to find a familiar name. Is this the same Eileen Jones who loves Mickey Rourke and gossip over large glasses of cheap wine? Loyalty, for sure!

  • 35. Allen  |  January 13th, 2010 at 10:20 pm

    Alex_C: It is entirely possible to follow a show without owning a t.v. or some kind of shitty internet subscription; most television shows can be downloaded from the internet. I suggest you try any moderately useful torrent site.

    Col. Richard: I agree — may the power of “learned-sounding words” embiggen us all.

    Says the guy who hasn’t watched the show in years? They did criticize the government in wartime, although Fox edited some of that content out … see: “This is a lot like Iraq is going to be!” line.

    Anyway, the Simpsons has not always been good. It had a brutal decline that lasted many years from about season 10 until … a few seasons ago. Mike Scully’s tenure (especially seasons 11 and 12) is particularly a dark spot for me.

    But the show is reasonably good again. It blows away the other animated shit in terms of production, and I think Al Jean learned a lot going back and doing some of the commentaries for the 90s episodes. The voice acting occasionally still seems phoned in (literally) …

  • 36. Alex_C  |  January 14th, 2010 at 12:12 am

    Eric – Now we’re talking. I will always be envious of a friend, Q-, who got his highspeed CW skills the first time around, copying the HF international press feeds as a kid. He then forgot the skills and had to relearn ’em, geez I wonder if he’s alive still? He’s halfway frugal and paranoid enough to survive now, but can he learn to like snared pigeons as much as his beloved oatmeal cookies?

    Jyp – Haha send that to Dolan, get him writing!

  • 37. Skinner's Horse  |  January 14th, 2010 at 3:57 am

    @25 – Say what you like, The Simpsons is subversive compared to most of the dreck on television. The problem isn’t the content but the medium – you could constantly broadcast Communist revolutionary propaganda for five years and still not provoke a reaction.

    Television kills action.

  • 38. Mourning Glory  |  February 22nd, 2010 at 8:59 am

    “It’s fashionable to dismiss The Simpsons, to claim never to watch it anymore because its best days are long gone. It’s been fashionable to do this for ages.”

    Maybe this is because it’s TRUE? But I think you just don’t want to admit that, so you deride anyone holding this opinion as “jumping on the bandwagon” as it were. The truth is, I wish MORE people thought it was “fashionable” to stop watching the crappy new seasons because maybe then they’d stop making them. Oh wait, I’m forgot, they’re using the excuse “They drove a dump truck full of money up to my house. I’m not made of stone!”

    Ironic, isn’t it? The Simpsons has become the money-hungry franchise it once parodied. Yes, they were merchandise whores after their first taste of success, but now they’re just milking a dead cow, to mix my metaphors.

    “I say The Simpsons was born great and will die great and was great throughout. We’ll mourn it when it’s gone.”

    Enjoy your denial, but don’t be surprised when the real mourners of this once-great series shun you for joining us because it’s become “fashionable”.

  • 39. gc  |  May 21st, 2012 at 7:41 am


    Enjoy your denial, but don’t be surprised when the real mourners of this once-great series shun you for joining us because it’s become “fashionable”.

    I mourned the Simpsons before it was cool!

  • 40. Martin clifford  |  January 9th, 2015 at 3:53 am

    In the 1970s teachers asked syudents to come up with ideas for a cartoon series which was realy a university study worldwide. One grade six boy came up with the idea of the Simpsons. Bart was based on him. Marj was based on his mother. Maggy his sister and homer his dad Patrick. The original drawing was somehow used by the creaters of the Simpsons and they lied when telling who the characters were based on. Hopefully they will come clean the boys name was Martin James Clifford. He lives in Australia he is Scottish and is now 47 and has never received any recognition or money to date. I know this caus I’m him. I got the name Bart from my name Martin:( mart:; Bart;: ) hi from the real Bart Simpson every one. This info is real. And true please send this to the creaters of the Simpsons .the truth is now out there. There is a lot more they took from me. Like the series lost. I wrote original. I wrote stories as a teenager and sent them over seas they made series and movies and never contacted me.. I also wrote district 9 also as a child I have a true story that happend to me. They made a movie. The ss. I have been watched my whole life. I remember shamal an visited me as a teen in Darwin I think he may have done a deal with my mother. When I saw his pic I remembered him. I tried contacting him with no answer. What a story it’s all true. I want these guys to come clean. I have more ideas I keep to myself these days. There is the truth people that’s the real world for ya. Thanks for taking my ideas and claiming them as yours. You must be embarresed reading this and feel guilt. Hundreds of millions of dollars. Hey I would like a share. Hey everyone make them fess up. By all from Martin . (Bart)

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