Postmodernism and The Simpsons

By Björn Erlingur Flóki Björnsson (2006)

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This essay offers a postmodernist reading of the popular television program The Simpsons, with special regard to the postmodern theories of intertexuality, hyperreality, and metanarratives. Before delving into The Simpsons, some major theoretical aspects of postmodernism in aesthetic production are outlined. Three of the most prominent theorists of postmodernism – Lyotard, Baudrillard and Jameson – are introduced, as well as their theories which will be brought into consideration in the following chapters. The objective of the essay is to apply these theories to The Simpsons and thereby reveal some of the foremost characteristics of the postmodern which are readily exhibited in the show.

The first section, on Lyotard’s theory of metanarratives, explores the manifestations of anti-authoritative tendencies in The Simpsons and the methods used to express them. The following section covers the subject of intertextuality in The Simpsons through parody, pastiche and self-reflexivity. This section concludes by identifying parallels between The Simpsons and Jameson’s theory on the loss of historical reality in the postmodern era. In the final section we examine how Baudrillard’s theory of hyperreality can be applied to The Simpsons. Particular attention is given to the role of the mass media in the construction of postmodern hyperreality, in order to illustrate the media’s influence on Springfield’s most famous citizen, Homer Simpson.

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