A Dysfunctional Family Man With Real Appeal
There once was a time when Homer was only a name known by those who studied Greek Classics and "d'oh" only referred to a female deer.

That era is far gone, courtesy of the longest running prime time animated series in television history. Against even the most optimistic of early predictions, lazy legend Homer J. Simpson has become such a part of our real world that his most popular exclamation "d'oh" is in the dictionary.

And late last year in a poll of US television viewers to find out which small screen character they would most like to see as their president, Homer was top choice. How could the oafish patriarch of a four-fingered yellow-skinned family be the leading candidate for one of the most powerful jobs on the planet?

Simple, after 14 years, 15 series and 335 episodes seen on Australian television, The Simpsons is that rare beast: a social phenomenon which has transcended the confines of the idiot box.

Everybody you know has been affected by the dysfunctional universe of bumbling boob Homer, long-suffering wife Marge, and their divergent children Bart, Lisa and Maggie. Even those who protest to not like the satiric sitcom will know a surprising amount about the resident of cartoonish Springfield.

Try hearing the word "Krusty" and not thinking of the cantankerous Jewish entertainer with lethan endorsements. Do donuts remind you of someone tubby, balding and yellow? Can you look at a blackboard and not think of Bart's detention lines? But why is this so? Well, to use the parlance of Homer: "it's funny because it's true".

Springfield might be a two-dimensional exaggeration of the modern age (admit it: this is a show about the Western world, not just the US), but you can't help but see yourself in The Simpsons' parody. While it has its weak spots, the show's staggering commitment to intelligent, humerous and contemporary writing combined with fully developed characters has made The Simpsons an undeniable satiric wonder.

No wonder, then, that everybody from real presidents (George Bush Sr, Bill Clinton) to rock stars and Salmon Rushdie have been lured into sending themselves up on The Simpsons. As it challenges and mocks social institutions, religious dogma, celebrity and family life, there is depth beneath a cynical surface. Which is why so many stay tuned.

"The Simpsons is something everyone can relate to," says Adam Wolf, a 20-year-old from North Haven who started websites devoted to the program when he was 12. "Kids see themselves in Bart and Lisa. Adults see themselves in Homer and Marge. And since the show has spanned a generation, those that watched the show in the early 1990s looking at Bart now see themselves in Homer."

The mastermind behind the huge "Last Exit To Springfield" site, which receives about 1500 hits per day, Wolf believes The Simpsons have outlived other real life sitcoms because it evolves without its characters ageing.

With series 16 set to premiere on Channel 10 on February 1, bringing with it the 350th installment and the massive rumour of a character coming out of the closet, The Simpsons are showing no signs of quitting. Ten was the first station in Australia to broadcast The Simpsons. Created by artist Matt Groening and first aired as short segments on US comedy series The Tracey Ullman Show in 1987, The Simpsons half hours hit Australia in 1991, one year after their unveiling stateside.

Channel 10 national programming director Peter Andrews says that the station's ongoing commitment to The Simpsons - which has included first runs, re-runs and "all-time greatest" - is due to audience demand. "It continues to uphold the quality of its writing, the memorability of all those lines, jokes and references means that it is always going to repeat well," Mr. Andrews says.

Merchandise is also amazing. Adelaide Comic Shop and Movie Maniacs stocks a world of The Simpsons merchandise - trading cards to figurines, comics to cookie jars. Serious collector Nathan Mustet sums up The Simpsons fan base. Hooked since the first episode, Parkside resident Mr. Mustet has amassed a huge collection of The Simpsons tie-ins in the past three and a half years.

But he's a remarkably un-obsessed guy, although he has seen each episode several times. Only missing a couple of figurines from early on, Mr Mustet is keeping his collectibles in original packaging. "You get some people that come here and say "I'm a Simpsons fan" and they'll say one or two things about an episode. Then I drag them in here and they can't believe it."

But no Homer suits can be seen in his wardrobe, or kit gloves for handling the merchandise. He's not preserving his wares for making a profit - he's just a collector who adores a TV show and has spent about $9000 on his treasures.

Like Mr Mustet's one-item-a-week habit, he says it's impossible to imagine life without The Simpsons, a series which has shaped our world beyond measure.

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Disclaimer: This article is from the January 29, 2005 edition of The Advertiser newspaper in Adelaide, South Australia. It has been posted here for general information purposes and no profit is being made from this article. Visit The Advertiser/Sunday Mail website here.


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