If you haven't heard of the Simpsons, you must have been living in deepest, darkest Peru for the last 12 years.
The yellow, American working class family are just as recognisable as the stars and stripes or the golden arches. That's down to their creator, Matt Groening. He has a philosophy that he applies to his cartoons - any good cartoon character should be recognisable in profile. Just think of Mickey Mouse.
The Simpsons started life as slightly wobbly short animations in the Tracy Ullman show. Originally, James L. Brooks, the producer of the Simpsons, had approached Matt to do an animated version of his Life in Hell comic strip. Worried that 'the TV thing' might not work out, and he'd loose his characters to a big company, Groening decided to invent new characters.
The Simpsons took their names from his own family, with Bart being Matt himself (although Bart is an anagram of Brat).
The Simpsons is my memories of my family and my friends' families, combined with all the TV sitcoms I watched growing up: Leave It to Beaver, Ozzie and Harriet. All those bland American sitcoms which I really liked, and still do.
The resemblance ends there. The Simpsons are a working class family - dad Homer works at the local nuclear power plant, mum Marge is a housewife and their son, Bart, is one pip away from delinquency. Those bland 50s sitcoms would never have featured crooked Mayors, or jokes about the President's taste in women.
The series wowed the audience when it first aired in 1990, with Bart T-shirts appearing everywhere, and many new and exciting phrases entering the language. 'Aye Carumba!' and 'Don't have a Cow, man!' became the bane of teachers everywhere.
The Simpsons funny yet biting satire was something fresh that no other TV show was brave enough to do. Never afraid to poke fun at authority, the show ruffled a few feathers. Even George Bush, then president of the USA, announced that American families should be 'more like the Waltons and less like the Simpsons' - which he didn't mean in a nice way!
The Simpsons was the first animated series on prime-time television since the sixties and, twelve years later, is shown in over sixty countries around the world. For Matt Groening, it's a blessing and a curse - 'The success of the show has gone beyond my wildest dreams and worst nightmares.' We think he took good heed of his friend illustrator Gary Panter's Rozz-Tox manifesto - If you want better media, go make it.
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