Prime-Time Animation Essay, Research Paper
Prime-time Animation: A mockery of pop culture
The Simpsons, which debuted in 1987 on The Tracey Ullman Show, was created by Matt Groening. Groening brought to the drawing board a warped satire on pop culture, which produced ripples in prime-time animation forever. Prime-time animation now contains spoofs on not only Western culture, but humanity as well. Due to these satirical, stereotypical views on Western and pop culture, and their irreverence, (prime-time) animated sitcoms have become unsuitable for children. This was all because of the work of one man and his sketches of a typical nuclear family. The Simpsons and Matt Groening lead a revolution: Prime-time animation now presents a mockery of pop culture.
The Simpsons was a watershed cartoon and will be remembered for its warped sense of humour and satirical views. “The show will definitely have a permanent home in the pantheon of American culture (Martin, C5).” It quickly became the most influential cartoon in prime-time animation. “(It) is no longer the novelty it was when The Simpsons expanded from itty-bits of cartoon fun on The Tracey Ullman Show into a sizzling Fox series phenomenon in the early months of 1990 (Duffy, ).” The Simpsons paved the way for the great influx of prime-time animated satires of today, including Futurama (another Groening creation), King of the Hill, and Family Guy because of the unique personality of the show and its characters.
Family Guy is a prime-time animation that derived its satirical outlook on pop culture from its spiritual grandfather, The Simpsons. “Family guy, about the middle-class Griffins, takes on everything from Star Trek to Scooby Doo, Tiananmen Square to the Third Reich (Zerbisias, F8).” These are examples of important media events that have become part of our society. Thus, these references provide the audience with situations that they can understand and relate to. Prime-time animation today thrives on such significant media events and pop culture as a source of humour.
Matt Groening took these real elements of pop culture and portrayed them in an unrealistic way on The Simpsons which caught the attention of both generation X-ers and ecoboomers alike. An example of this is The Itchy and Scratchy Show. This is a cartoon that the Simpson children, Bart and Lisa, watch religiously which is a satire on Tom & Jerry. In each episode, Itchy the Mouse and Scratchy the Cat attempt to kill each other with the mouse always coming out on top. Not only is the mouse always victorious, but is so in ultra-violent, ultra-bloody fashion. This show within a show is often a spoof within a spoof, like when it cleverly parodies Wiley Coyote and the Roadrunner or features guest celebrity directors like Quintin Tarrentino or Oliver Stone. The irreverence of this show within a show is made possible by the fact that it is a cartoon. Hence, it is more acceptable in this form, and that applies to the rest of The Simpsons as well.
Futurama is another of Groening’s animations. Like The Simpsons, it too “has all the sly Groening hallmarks for subversive, amusing, sharply written pop culture fun. Besides those Planet Kevorkian curbside suicide booths, loopy life in New New York in the year 3000 includes the Church of Robotology, JFK Jr. Airport and a chain of silicon convenience stores called the Implant Hut (Duffy, ).” Futurama, however, takes place well into the future. This is owing to Matt Groening’s aspirations to create a farce of science fiction in a distinctively warped animated series (Groening, ).
The Simpsons, and the genre of prime-time animations it started, contain many stereotypes on Western and pop culture. Family Guy falls into this genre. “There’s dad Peter, a fat quality control inspector in a toy factory where his, um, flamboyant boss lets him get away with sleeping on the job because he’s got the hots for him. Mom Lois is much like Marge Simpson, the good-hearted and reasonable woman who puts up with a lot (Zerbisias, F8).” There are all the usual family roles portrayed. For example, Homer (The Simpsons), Hank (King of the Hill), and Peter (Family Guy) are all the typical, lazy, fat, American working men trying to provide for their families (breadwinners). Marge, Peggy, and Lois are the loving mothers who put up dysfunctional family members, respectively. Bart, Bobby, and Chris are representative of the classic slacking, under-achieving, trouble-makers who are necessary in any family sitcom. Lisa, Lou Anne (cousin), and Meg all compose the annoying sister roles of the family. Families in prime-time animation are stereotyped in the exact same way.
Stereotypes are not limited to family roles. The Simpsons consists of an enormous amount of stereotypical characters. From police Chief Wiggum (who is drawn with the nose of a pig) to Lionel Hutts, attourney at law (crooked, ambulance-chasing lawyer) to the evil business tycoon Mr. Burns to the criminal Snake (who, for some reason, speaks with an Australian accent). King of the Hill has many in the form of Hank’s redneck friends to his Chinese neighbour Mr. Wong. Prime-time animation is crowded with stereotypical characters.
Prime-time animation has its own views on pop culture. Issues like religion, homosexuality, and other media subject matter are always being addressed. In The Simpsons, religion is a laughing matter, from Rev. Lovejoy’s boring sermons to Superbowl spots depicting the Catholic Church and “how we’re changing things (The Simpsons)” to Air India’s airport ads showing a cow being served a cocktail by a stewardess with a slogan declaring “We treat you like cattle (The Simpsons).” In the Family Guy, Peter’s boss is a homosexual who flirts with Peter in a typical fashion. These are all stereotypical views on pop culture that come through in prime-time animations.
It is because of these satirical views and overall warped sense of humour that prime-time animation is not intended for children. A child simply cannot understand, say fifty five percent of the people who were surveyed (Kresta, Prime-time Animation). It is because of the irreverence of content like The Itchy and Scratchy Show, where a classic movie like 2001: A Space Odyssey is spoofed, with the cat and mouse reenacting the service-pod mishap, where Itchy’s pod rips off the top of the other’s and Scratchy’s head implodes. On Family Guy, Peter was involved in a deadly chase with a chicken that spoofed all major chase scenes from big-budget Hollywood movies. These movies are too old for young children to have seen and thus, miss the entire point. They may think that Itchy got Scratchy and that it was funny that Peter fought a giant chicken, but they find it funny for different reasons. On Futurama, Bender is a cigar-smoking, alcoholic robot with an attitude who steals everything from wallets to his friends’ jewelry. This entertainment may seem suitable for an adolescent or adult, but it does not promote positive values for our children to grow up on. With King of the Hill airing at seven thirty p.m., followed directly by The Simpsons at eight and Futurama at eight thirty, Family Guy is the only prime-time animation which airs outside of family viewing time. All of the above shows, however, should air after nine (after family viewing) because of the ideologies and values which they promote.
The Simpsons changed everything in prime-time animation in 1990, when it premiered as its own show. This show is comprised of satirical views and common stereotypes on pop culture. Due to the irreverence of The Simpsons and the genre of cartoons it spawned, prime-time animation is no longer meant for children and should be played not within family viewing time. Matt Groening’s The Simpsons transformed prime-time animation of the nineties into mature, animated sitcoms meant for adults only.
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