|Purchase: Amazon | Chapters|
Length: 449 pages
Genre: Nonfiction, Pop Culture
Start Date: Sometime in 2004
Finished Date: Sometime in 2004-5
Where Found: Campus bookstore
Why Read: I’m a Simpsons fangirl :oD See also my review of My Life as a 10-Year Old Boy by Nancy Cartwright, voice of Bart.
Summary: A cultural history of The Simpsons with episode-referenced, character-focused critiques of cultural representation, merchandising commercialism, celebrity pop culture, technology, and philosophy of TV’s funniest show ever (you know it’s true).
I was compelled to respond to an Amazon review of this book titled “Fanboys Should Not Be Authors.” Au contraire. When it comes to pop culture, specifically cultural critiques & histories of movies, music, or TV shows, who would have more enthusiasm for these topics than a fan? Don’t let the fact that Chris Turner is obviously a long-devoted worshipper of the show, because I am too. It’s an impressive book. As for my review…that’s up to you :oD
Planet Simpson is a comprehensive history of the show starting with its precursors (claiming influences include Lenny Bruce, Second City, and SNL), its antecedents (including Ren & Stimpy, Beavis & Butthead, South Park, and Family Guy), and its roots as a bit sketch on The Tracey Ullman Show before its mammoth influence as a half-hour cartoon-sitcom that saved Fox’s Sunday night timeslot.
While the historical preamble of Chapter 1 can drag after a while, the following chapters ooze cultural relevance with a character focus: Homer as average Joe American, Bart as anarchist, Lisa as intellectual, Mr. Burns as industrial elitist, Marge as maternal naïveté, Apu as immigrant outsider, and Comic Book Guy as the ultra fan, followed by topical chapters on celebrity guests, philosophy, and ending with the show's reception & future. Topics revolve around characters and cultural reception of episodes with quoted lines and hilarious gags (every time I read one, I laughed remembering the episode) that sell The Simpsons as the pop cultural vacuum of North America.
Turner sprinkles his engaging, journalistic prose with sidenotes that further explain episodes referenced or neat tidbits that even the most ardent Simpsons fan may take as newly discovered gold. Chapters may be somewhat overlong, but as soon as one ended, I couldn’t wait to start the next as his scope widens with each one. I recommend one chapter per sitting as he writes as fervently as the Energizer Bunny.
Respect or pity his knowledge of The Simpsons that has to make a great book, cultural studies course, or party conversation (but remains otherwise useless), Turner makes good on his years of TV-watching and line-dropping to create a deep, loving but critical tome on one of the most influential TV shows in cultural history. Along with a plethora of other books on The Simpsons and [insert related topic, such as Philosophy, Religion, etc. here], Turner’s book stands out as exhausting a multitude of topics, much as his beloved Simpsons have done over a span of 20+ years.
Supplement this read with a visit to The Simpsons Archive, the most minutely detailed web site on the show. It's the most involved fanbase since the Trekkies.
Rank: (A)- A must-read for Simpsons fans; a could-read for everyone else