When I was at the APCE conference in St Louis I looked over the Cokesbury books table and picked up a few things, one of which was The Gospel According to the Simpsons by Mark Pinsky. I picked up some other more serious books too but this is the one I read first. I have been watching the Simpsons on DVD for about two and a half years now (see my previous post about them) and presently I’m working my way through season 7. I find the treatment of faith to be remarkably even-handed on this show. The things about evangelical Christianity that the Simpsons mocks often deserve mockery. They go after the trappings of our faith rather than our faith itself. Do they cross the line sometimes? Yes, they do. But more often, I find myself reflecting on the critique in a way that makes me think more deeply about what the church is doing to people that we ought not do.
I found myself wondering, though, if there was a whole books worth of stuff about the spiritual side of the Simpsons. Once I got about a third of the way into this book I was pretty convinced that this book, at least, wasn’t it. Overall, my biggest problem with this book is that there’s too much reporting and not enough analysis. (The author is a writer for the Orlando Sentinel so maybe that’s what happens when a reporter writes a book.) This especially comes through in the first half of the book when Pinsky covers a number of the Simpson characters one at a time. Each chapter is mostly just a detailed review of the plots of some of the key episodes with too much detail. I found Pinsky’s discussion of Apu and Hinduism to be actually more helpful than his discussion of any of the Christian characters.
I was looking forward to the last chapter, called “conclusion,” with the hopes that I would finally get some real analysis but, alas, even that chapter was mostly a set of quotes – some even from my colleagues, Quentin Schultz and Bill Romanowski. I did find one quote, from Harry Shearer, the voice of many characters on the show, enlightening. Shearer suggests that one reason for the rich religious variety on the show is because the show is animated and the producers can have a much larger set of supporting characters than a typical situation comedy. As I thought about this I realized that the huge number of recurring characters in the Simpsons is, indeed, one of the things that makes the show special. You couldn’t have that many characters in a show with live people in the parts – no one would be willing to pay that many people to have them at their disposal. Overall, though, I ended the book with few insights that I hadn’t already thought myself from just watching the show.
A new thing
7 months ago