According to James L. Brooks (the series’ executive producer) the Simpsons are a “normal American family in all its beauty and all its horror.” However, America’s longest running sitcom, the Simpsons have taken offense to many people because their comments and jokes made on different social institutions are received as insulting.
The concept of the public sphere, as developed by Jurgen Habermas is a ‘space’ in which citizens debate about common concerns separate from the state and economy. Mckee develops this idea in Introduction: the public sphere that, outlines 5 major themes that are of concern in the public sphere in Western countries. That the media is too trivialised, commercialized, fragmented and apatetic about important public issues. That there is more interest in trivial things rather than really important serious political issues.
The Simpsons use stereotypes to make jokes about this ‘normal American family’, which includes Homer, the beer-gulping, ape-like father who presents a bad influence on society. Marge the stay at home, do-gooding wife, Bart, the adolescent delinquent, Lisa the nerd and Maggie, a baby. These characters are then easily mocked to create humour such as Homers dependence on TV and Beer in this video.
McKee also states that it is hard to find a group that finds itself accurately portrayed in the media. How Brooks sees “normal American family” may not be how everyone else sees it. Which is true, because family’s are becoming diverse and Brooks can use his idea of family to trivialise it to make cheap jokes such as the video.
The Simpsons also portray a religious stereotype of Ned Flanders, who plays the part of the goody-goody next-door neighbor. They are accused of portraying Christians as being out of touch with reality as one minister said “It makes anyone who follows God look like a fool (Kisken).”
However, to me these misrepresentations make a subtle comment on society and what they find humorous. That they actually can make me aware of how people can stereotype and put someone in a ‘box.’ So maybe the Simpsons do help to contribute to debate, but most of the time they commercialise and trivialise it to make laughs.
McKee, Alan. The Public Sphere: An Introduction, Cambridge University Press: Cambridge 2005, pp. 1-‐31.