On March 23, 2014, the latest episode of The Simpsons aired called, The War of Art. The story began with how Lisa came to adopt Pokey, the guinea pig available in TSTO for a limited time. The adoption of Pokey was a set-up to the main plot of the episode, which focused on a painting Homer and Marge purchased from Milhouse’s parents at a garage sale.
The art was appraised for almost $100,000, which set up an ethical dilemma for Homer and Marge, i.e., whether to sell the painting and pocket the money or share the proceeds with Milhouse’s parents. After much back and forth between Marge and Homer (with Homer consistently rationalizing how it’s not good to share), Marge finally accepts the idea that they should sell the painting but never tell anyone about it (on the assumption that what people don’t know can’t hurt them).
Milhouse overhears this conversation and word of the conspiracy gets out. This leads Kirk and Luann Van Houten to confront Homer and Marge. The dispute (temporarily) ruins the friendship (though all is well by the end of the episode). In a familiar series of events, the local media broadcasts the story of Homer’s and Marge’s plan to keep Kirk and Luann from the art proceeds, and then an angry mob forms. The townspeople begin throwing rocks into The Simpsons’ living room (the rocks contain messages both for and against Homer and Marge). The painting eventually goes up for auction, but before the bidding closes a former love interest of Kirk (when he and Luann were separated) appears and claims the painting is hers. This stops the auction to determine the true owner of the art.
Luann kicks Kirk out of the house and he goes to live with The Simpsons. Kirk tells Homer that the painting really is his. He bought it during a visit to Isla Verde from a café. This leads Homer to take Bart on a trip to Isla Verde to get proof that the painting was Kirk’s to sell to Homer so that Homer can keep the proceeds from the sale of the painting. What follows is an intriguing question about the nature of art. This is a deep question for a supposedly silly cartoon.
The Simpsons is a wonderful show, because not only does it deliver on entertainment, but also it does so in a thoughtful way, often raising interesting questions for viewers to ponder. This episode asks viewers to consider what is the ethical thing to do when purchasing something of greater value than the seller realizes. This episode also poses the timeless question, What is art? Let’s analyze that question further.
What is art? Well, in addressing this question Homer first notes that art (whatever it is) is great, because: “everyone can have their own opinion about why it sucks.” Homer also says that the elements of great art are: 1) “nudity,” 2) “holograms,” and 3) a tragic depiction of Jesus. Homer also hilariously scolds Bart for looking at art, suggesting that his looking at a painting will “wear it out.” This joke reveals that art, more than any other product of labor or work, is the longest lasting medium of human enterprise. Art simply does not deteriorate because it was seen by people; art tends to last.
It turns out that the painting Homer bought was a forgery and therefore not as valuable as initially believed. This bothers Lisa and Homer; though, for different reasons. When challenged on why the forgery is not a valuable piece of art on the grounds that it still stirred valid feelings in the viewer, Lisa is stumped. The message seems to be that art is discovered by asking the question, “Did it move you?”
That is an interesting question. I might also note that Charles Schulz, creator of Peanuts, described art as something that holds sustained cultural value in subsequent generations. In other words, art cannot be a flash-in-the-pan sort of thing or a one-hit-wonder; art has to hold universal meaning across different times and across different cultures. If we put the notions of art by The Simpsons and Peanuts together, we get the idea that art is something that moves people from multiple generations. The works of Shakespeare is clearly art by this standard, as his plays were meaningful in his time and they remain meaningful today.
It also appears that The Simpsons is art by this standard, too. The show has been on the air for a quarter century. The modern philosopher, Jose Ortega y Gasset suggested that art is a mirror of a society and that a new generation is born every 15 years. Accordingly, The Simpsons have been reflecting popular culture for almost two generations now, and it shows no signs of slowing down. The Simpsons is art!
How about you? Do you consider The Simpsons to be something that moves you? Do you think The Simpsons will be relevant to future generations? How long do you think TSTO will continue? Is it possible that future generations will be playing TSTO? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section!