Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Simpsons and Garrison Keillor and the faith

There are 2 types of people in the world. Those who like 'The Simpsons' and those who like Garrison Keillor's 'Prairie Home Companion.' The 2 types are very seldom found in one person.

My wife thinks it's a coastal thing: that Simpsons lovers tend to live on either the west or east coast, and that Prairie lovers tend to be midwestern. A friend of mine says that PHC is complete Minnesota humor, and that the further one is away from Minnesota, the more difficult it is to get the jokes.

My complaint today is with those conservatives who whine about The Simpsons. The usual kind of complaints are that The Simpsons represents an irreverent kind of humor, that Bart is a juvenile delinquent and thereby a bad role model or something like that.

When I push people who express these opinions, I usually find that they have never watched the program much, if at all. The whining probably began with George H. W. Bush's comment, "America needs to be a lot more like the Waltons and a lot less like The Simpsons."

The reality is that The Simpons is a very accurate portrayal of American life. Especially on religious matters.

Americans are very religious. This is true for Christians, Jews, Muslims, whatever. We as a country take our faith seriously. The kind of disinterested skeptic who is prominent in, say, French intellectual life is noticed in America only because of his oddity.

The Simpsons reflect that religious reality. Watch a couple of episodes of the program, and note the religious flavor of the program. People pray. Sometimes it's Bart, sometimes Homer, sometimes Marge or Lisa, or often it's the neighbor Ned Flanders. But people really pray.

People go to church. They attend church, they talk about church, and even the shows' Hindu character actually attends to his religious devotions.

Consider the Ned Flanders character. There are literally millions of Americans like Flanders: a mainstream evangelical Christian who takes his faith seriously, as does his family. And Flanders is portrayed as an appealing character: a kindly man who does good to Homer, even when Homer is less than kindly to him. This is no hypocrite, no fake: he really believes in what he says, and even though he's not shown as perfect, his life generally matches his convictions.

(Not to mention that the main family in the show is an intact nuclear family, with a husband who supports the family, a stay-at-home mom with 3 children).

I'm baffled by the continued grumbling about this program. It's not perfect, it can be uneven (hey -- the show's been airing 17 years now), but I tend to think that those with complaints about the program are really those with complaints about America. Because that's what the program is about.

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