Monday, December 22, 2014

The Simpsons, Amirite?

Bart and Lisa Simpson have been in elementary school for 25 years. But that hasn’t stopped them from showing up on college campuses.

Universities across the country are using satirical references from “The Simpsons” to grab students’ attention and convey lessons in literature and all manner of popular culture.

“If the references are important enough to be lampooned by ‘The Simpsons,’ these works must be important cultural milestones,” says Hofstra University adjunct English professor Richard Pioreck, who has been incorporating the denizens of Springfield into his courses for about a decade.

He currently teaches a course about the Broadway theater and how “The Simpsons” have embraced various musicals and plays. Next semester, he shifts to an online literature course titled “The D’oh of Homer” that includes readings from Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven” and “The Fall of the House of Usher,” and Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” — all referenced in “Simpsons” episodes.



  1. I've taught with a lot of folks who love pop culture and sprinkle it in in large and small doses. The worst of them used pop culture as a way to eat up time and placate the addled undergrads. But I've also seen folks use it well, rigorously.

    Like anything, it can be used well or poorly. I was never a Simpson's guy, but I've mentioned the old Hawaii Five-0 many times in lectures on narrative.

    1. It helps if the pop culture artifact itself is richly entwined with earlier high and low culture, as I gather The Simpsons is (I have very little familiarity with the show, beyond recognizing the characters and some of their characteristic sayings, but I know my church has successfully based youth Sunday School curriculum on the show -- and the person who put that class together isn't going to do anything that doesn't get at serious theological issues, in however fun a way).

      Thinking back, one could presumably do the same with Bugs Bunny (and I'm sure someone has).

    2. A good pop culture reference now and then is one thing. The thing that worries me is when whole university courses need to be built around pop culture references in that "Tao of Pooh"/ "everything I needed to know I learned from The Simpsons/MTV/buffy the vampire slayer" sort of way. It's one thing for kids in Sunday school (who I assume are still around ten or so), but I'd like to think that someone forking out for a university education might be a little more - dare I say - sophisticated?

  2. I have had students tell me that because of my class, they now get the references in this and that Simpsons' episode. Not sure how that makes me feel.

  3. Whenever I need to emphasize a common-sense and strict policy, Lisa Simpson is in the slide in her pearls, pointing her finger. Example: "I will not define vocabulary or provide feedback about your answers during the test." Everybody likes and even respects Lisa, and having her be my mouthpiece keeps it lighter.

    Futurama has provided more plotlines relating to my field. Often students have told me about relevant episodes.

    And may the gods bless the Mythbusters! It is MUCH easier these days to get the Little Dears to come up with examples of hypothesis testing, falsifiability, replication, and being open to revision. Adam's infectious enthusiasm trebles when he finds out he was wrong. That's the spirit of science. I'll miss Grant, the best explainer of operationalizing a hypothesis EVER on TV. Bill Nye and Newton's Apple were great in their ways, but Grant never made cheesy puns about the equations and protocols at the heart of the tests. PBS ought to snap him up.