James Joyce: “Spring forth, burly protector, and save me!”

I read this article recently: When James Joyce Got Into a Bar Fight, He’d Yell, “Deal With Him, Hemingway!”

joyce-vs-hemingway

Which immediately reminded me of the 6th season Simpsons episode “Lemon of Troy,” where Martin Prince bites off more than he can chew while confronting punks in Shelbyville.  He says, “Nobody manhandles the bosom chum of Nelson Muntz. Spring forth, burly protector, and save me!”  Which he does, reluctantly.

bosomchum

That might be a good comparison to use in future classes: Ernest Hemingway = Nelson Muntz while Martin Prince = James Joyce.  Pretty much sums it up.

About these ads

“Stop Grabbing the Electric Cupcake”

A valuable life lesson

A valuable life lesson

An analogy I came up with last week to help enlighten my students, far too many of whom have tried to slide by, giving the minimal amount of effort they could and still pass the class, and who (shockingly!) failed my class for the last grading period:

There’s a classic episode of The Simpsons where Lisa is doing a science experiment at home.  She puts a food pellet in a hamster cage, but attaches it to a little wire that’s hooked up to a battery.  The hamster nibbles at the pellet, gets a bit of a shock, and quickly gets as far away from it as he can.

Lisa notes in her journal that the hamster has learned a lesson.

Then she puts a cupcake in the kitchen, and likewise puts an electrified wire in the back.  Bart comes by and grabs for the cupcake.  It zaps him but, unlike the hamster, Bart does not learn his lesson.  He keeps grabbing the cupcake, and keeps getting zapped.  He’s immediately addicted to a pointless cycle of self-destruction.

Here’s the application:

Bart is like too many students who, seeing how delicious that cupcake is, keep letting their hunger for it overcome their common sense.

The cupcake is the elusive goal of getting by in a class without having to work very hard.

The wire and battery represent the inevitable failure that follows this course of action.

After all, as Einstein said, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result.  How many kids must be thinking, “THIS time my plan to goof off and somehow be just good enough will surely work like a charm!”

Now, when I see students slacking off, or otherwise doing things that will hurt their chances for success, I tell them, “Stop grabbing the electric cupcake.”  They’re already sick of it.

If only I could get them to strive for the huge chocolate cake of well-earned achievement!

Classic Simpsons Essays

I’ve been enjoying Nathan Rabin’s loving analyses of classic Simpsons episodes over at the AV Club.  Right now he’s in the middle of season 5, and his musings are making me realize that that one might be the best season overall.  Just wall to wall perfection.  Looking forward to more of these.

From yesterday’s brilliant summary of “Bart Gets An Elephant:”

Later, Bill and Marty, the premiere chatter-monkeys of KBBL, face down their greatest threat in the form of DJ 3000, a computer that plays CDs and boasts three different kinds of inane chatter and consequently represents a grave challenge to their jobs after the gabby twosome end up in hot water with management when Bart shocks everyone by taking the crazy gag gift offered in a radio contest (a free elephant) rather than ten thousand dollars.

Continue reading

Pro Community

Everyone knows I love The Simpsons.  Usually, when talking about it, I tend to focus on the quality of its satiric social commentary.  However, there’s another area where it excels which draws me in, too.

The Simpsons invented and perfected the art of both subverting sitcom conventions while generally operating within and even celebrating those conventions.  It’s a genius balancing act of ironic innovation and standard storytelling, and they were the best.

Until now.  Certainly the reigning champ of satire for at least a decade has been South Park, and now the geek contingent has a new paragon of worshipful TV meta-analysis.  It’s Community.

I’ve watched on and off for all three seasons, but it was only in the second half of this last season that I started watching faithfully.

If you haven’t seen the two paintball-themed, spaghetti Western parody episodes that closed season two (“A Fistful of Paintballs,” “For a Few Paintballs More”), you’re missing some of the funniest TV ever made.

But they just got snubbed in the Emmy nominations for the third year in a row.

Here’s  a great bit from the credits of the second episode they aired.

The Simpsons and the Nevada GOP Caucus

In a classic fifth season episode of The Simpsons, we see brief glimpses of conventions held by the two major political parties.  The Republican convention is a scene of unmitigated evil.  The Democratic convention is shown as a bunch of goofy losers who can’t do anything right.

If those stereotypes held true, then Nevada’s Republican caucus last weekend must have been organized by Democrats.  Actually, that’s the best explanation I can think of: our caucus was so disorganized, so poorly advertised, and so confusing because our political opponents sabotaged it somehow!

But sadly, no, it was our own fault.  The Republican party has a long history of incompetence in Southern Nevada, but this event may be the pinnacle of that shoddy record.  Continue reading

Ten Best Simpsons Episodes

Wired celebrates the new, 23rd season of The Simpsons with a list of top ten episodes.  They have some good ones (notice that most of their choices come from the first several seasons), but this is hardly the best of the best.  My choices:

10. “Bart the Daredevil,” season 2, writtern by Kogen and Wolodarsky

Great quote: “Bones heal, chicks dig scars.” 

Why I love it: What may still be the single funniest joke in the history of television:

9. “Bart’s Friend Falls in Love,” season 3, written by Kogen and Wolodarsky

Great quote: “Bet the eight ball didn’t see that one coming.”

Why I love it: The brilliant Raiders of the Lost Ark opening sequence, perhaps the entire series’ best parody.

Continue reading

Frank Grimes’s Speech From The Simpsons

Perhaps my favorite episode of The Simpsons is the season eight juggernaut of dark humor, “Homer’s Enemy.”  Here, the unreasonably lucky Homer, who somehow happens to succeed in life despite being a lazy moron, meets the new guy at work, Frank Grimes, a realistic person who scrapes by in life by working hard and being responsible.  Needless to say, Homer soon gets on Frank’s nerves. 

The whole point of the episode is to juxtapose the cartoony Homer with a normal, average person.  By the end, Homer and the world that allows him to exist drive Grimes crazy.  A great B-story here reinforces the point about society’s lowered standards, with Bart walking by an auction and getting the deed to an old factory for a dollar, so that his “years of hard work finally pay off.” 

The best part is in the middle, where Homer tries to make friends with Frank by having him over for dinner.  Despite all of his mature dignity thus far, this is where Frank starts breaking down and ranting.  His speech is below; any time I’ve watched this episode with others, I pause it here and say, “This is how the world makes me feel.  Every.  Single.  Day.” 

I’ve had to work hard every day of my life, and what do I have to show for it?  This briefcase and this haircut.  And what do you have to show for your lifetime of sloth and ignorance?  Everything!  A dream house, two cars, a beautiful wife, a son who owns a factory, fancy clothes, and lobsters for dinner!  And do you deserve any of it?  No! 

I’m saying, you’re what’s wrong with America, Simpson.  You coast through life, you do as little as possible, and you leech off decent, hard working people like me.  If you lived in any other country in the world, you’d have starved to death long ago.  You’re a fraud, a total fraud.  [to the rest of the family] Nice meeting you. 

Live Simpsons Openings

In case you never saw or don’t remember the excellent British “live action” Simpsons opening from 2006…it’s been banned from YouTube and is hard to find now.  It can be found here, though.

Here it is, still managing to slip through on YouTube, with a side-by-side comparison with the original:

Here’s another one, stripped down for Estonia:

And this one may be my favorite, by a high school class:

The Twilight Zone: The Shelter

This is the only episode of The Twilight Zone I can think of where there wasn’t anything even remotely supernatural.  No aliens, no psychics, no monsters; just scared, powerless people in a panic and feeding off of each other’s fear.  As we all know, that’s the scariest thing of all. 

Astute nerds will recognize this plot from its parody in The Simpsons’ epsiode “Bart’s Comet.”

 

Remembering Elizabeth Taylor as Maggie Simpson

As the world continues to mourn the loss of the glamorous Elizabeth Taylor, let’s not forget the famed actress’s greatest screen achievement: no, not the budget-busting Cleopatra, or her Oscar-winning turn in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?  Rather, her ultimate triumph came on December 3, 1992, when she provided the voice as baby Maggie Simpson finally said her first word. 

This was actually pretty big.  Not only was this a fairly early entry in the trend of major Hollywood stars doing TV cameos (though Taylor had done these before), it was the first time I can think of when a major star did a purposely minimalist bit–one word, at the very end of the show.  What a good sport.  The next best disparity between fame and lowliest guest starring role would be George Clooney as the bark of a gay dog on South Park

Below is the best copy I can find of the clip. 

Serendipitous Relevance and American Lit

I like to show how the books we study in school have left a lasting legacy to contemporary society.  If nothing else, when students complain how boring and outdated the books are, I can either try to elicit some open mindedness by showing them that P. Diddy consciously imitates The Great Gatsby, or I can at least argue that their recalcitrance is in opposition to the popular culture with which they’re enthralled. 

This year has been an especially good one for that.  I started the year off with The Scarlet Letter, just as a teen comedy loosely based on it, Easy A, hit theaters.  When we read Moby Dick, I was able to show them the recent Blackberry ad about the novel (many students told me that the ad made much more sense afterwards!).  We finished Huckleberry Finn last month and now, as we review the semester, there’s a national controversy brewing about a new, censored version of the text. 

Near the end of this year, when I try to wrestle some Faulkner into my students, I’ll be able to tell them that Hollywood hunk James Franco is directing a new film of Faulkner’s novel, As I Lay Dying

Now if only I could find a more recent reference for Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea than a second season episode of The Simpsons

Relative Savings

Ever thrifty, but especially so during these recent recession years, my wife and I have paid attention to a variety of TV shows, classes, and web sites offering advice for reducing utility and grocery bills.  You’ve seen them–they promise to give you secret tips to cut yours bills in half, or some such thing.

However, we quickly became fairly jaded on any such concept after finding, time and again, that the amazing savings, the rock bottom level of spending that these clever tips and skills could offer, this budget boon due to paring away frivolity to a bare bones lifestyle and/or one devoted to cutting corners…still resulted in expenses that exceeded what we were already spending. 

Honestly, some of the items we ran across made claims such as, “With our revolutionary approach to budgeting and bills, we can cut your grocery costs all the way down to a mere, skeletal $1000 a month!”  I don’t think I’m revealing anything terribly personal by confessing that the Huston family spends significantly less than that on our monthly groceries as it is.  The big, scary question here, of course, is, if there’s a market for telling people how to get their grocery bills down to $1000 a month, how much are they spending now

But what this implies about our society’s idea of thrift, and what constitutes cutting back in our eyes, is far scarier still.  I’m reminded of the old Simpsons episode where Homer abuses his company’s medical insurance so he can get some hair restoring tonic.  When his boss, Mr. Burns, finds out about how Homer had bilked him, Burns cries out in frustration, “Blast his hide to Hades!  And I was going to buy that ivory back scratcher!” 

Alas, the recession: fewer ivory back scratchers for America.

I’ll Make This Simple: Homer = Democrats

I was amused when I saw a letter in Thursday’s Las Vegas Review-Journal comparing the Republican victories in the election to the episode of The Simpsons where Homer becomes sanitation manager.  My response was printed in today’s paper, reproduced below.  As I put it on Facebook, you think you can use The Simpsons to back up your liberal agenda?  Not on my watch, bub.

Letter writer Randall Buie argued against his own opinion on Thursday. He referenced the episode of “The Simpsons” where Homer becomes sanitation engineer and ruins the city.

Mr. Buie failed to mention how Homer won, or how he ruined the city. He won by capitalizing on people’s laziness, promising to provide every creature comfort he could think of. His campaign slogan was, “Can’t someone else do it?”

After the election, he wasted his department’s annual budget in weeks.

So Homer pandered to demands for entitlements and then bankrupted his administration. Mr. Buie, exactly which party did you think Homer represented again?

D’oh, indeed.

(Don’t) Be Yourself

In an episode of The Simpsons, Lisa tries to warn Homer about becoming obsessed with revenge on an animal, citing Moby Dick as an illustration of such a foolish course of action.  “Oh, Lisa,” Homer breezily corrects her.  “The point of Moby Dick was ‘be yourself.'” 

The joke is based on Homer’s character–a lazy, entitled idiot who swallows whole everything Hollywood feeds him (remember his movie-addled mindset in “Homer Goes to College?”) and, therefore, thinks the world revolves around him.  Homer thinks the point of everything is “be yourself.”

Many a Simpsons episode has poked fun at our tendency to accept ourselves as we are, conveniently declaring that our natural state is good enough.  For example:

  • “Bart’s Inner Child”–After being suckered by a self-help guru, Springfield puts on a feel-good festival which nobody prepared properly because they felt their automatic impulses should be validated, i.e. nobody wanted to work and nobody should judge them for it.  The festival is a chaotic disaster.
  • “Simpsoncalifragilisticexpiala(Annoyed Grunt)cious”–After suffering a nervous breakdown from stress, Marge hires a Mary Poppins-like servant to help the family.  Despite her magical powers and inspirational attitude, the Simpsons persist in dysfunction, until the nanny gives up and tells them just to do what’s natural, suggesting (for instance), sweeping garbage around the house under the rug, because, “It’s the American way!”
  • “Homer’s Enemy”–After a life of suffering, sacrifice, and hard work, the new guy at the power plant can’t believe how successful Homer is despite his total incompetence, which nobody else seems to care about.  At the episode’s end, he goes insane and dies; at his funeral, Homer is childish and oblivious, and everybody laughs with him.  My favorite episode. 

These jokes work for the simple, obvious reason that our culture is awash in the message that we’re entitled to high self esteem, that the American Dream now encompasses self-realization and total, universal acceptance.  Continue reading