The Psychology of the Simpsons
Edited By Alan Brown, PhD, & Chris
Publisher: Benbella Books USA, 240 Pages
(ISBN No: 978-1932100709)
Ever since The Simpsons started airing on television in December 17, 1989,
it has continued its duration for over eighteen seasons and is still running today. The movie is currently in the top 10 box-office
list, while on IMDB.com, it appears on the list of top 250 movies. It has the eminent
reputation of being one of the most enduring animated serials ever made, and the longest-running American sitcom. Despite
all of this, however, The Simpsons remains a work of art.
Psychology, on the other
hand, is defined by the Webster Dictionary as the scientific study of the mind
and behaviour. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, physiology is said to
be a huge influence on the science of psychology, a science which is also said to be related to the biological and social
Two mutually exclusive halves; The Simpsons from the world of art on one
side, while on the other, psychology from the world of science. A cursory judgment of The Psychology of the Simpsons may lead the average reader to doubt its validity as a serious piece of study.
How do you apply psychology, a science of living things to characters in a fictional world?
This is where the objective of the book lies, and in my opinion, its greatest accomplishment.
Any self-declared fan of the cartoons will know of the impact they have cast over popular language and television. So universal
is Homer Simpsons’s “D’oh!”, for example, that it is now listed in the Oxford Dictionary. This book is more ambitious in that it strives
to explore the underlying psyche and the human condition as portrayed in the cartoon.
Rather than being a book written straight through by one researcher, The Psychology of the Simpsons is a collection of seventeen essays by as many different authors. Therein lies
a few of its obvious strengths.
The fact that there are so many different writers means that there is quite a vast spectrum
of issues discussed in the book, in as many different styles. This ranges from the psychology of families and self-identity,
right up to a more complex discourse of the issues between sanity and what constitutes “normal behavior”.
However, being a book on psychology, there is a possibility that its reader may only want
to read essays that are of concern to them. The book’s diversity of topics means that there is something of interest
for everyone. All the essays in the book take up little more than ten pages, and I for one, found every essay to be easy and
fun to read.
Each essay was written by reputable people, most of them Ph.D holders, and many of the
essays include a list of references. All are clear fans of the cartoons, being well-versed enough to use cartoon episodes
to argue their points. This not only lends the book a creditability that may be missing from many other pop psychology books,
but also a certain touch of tender affection.
This book demonstrates that The Simpsons has
more in common with us than we realize. In one chapter about family psychology, the Simpson family is clearly shown to deal
with family hierarchy, roles, and rules, as well as communication and conflict resolution. Based on a few factors such as
family cohesion, as well as how they deal with conflict, the writer of the essay comes to a surprising conclusion that the
Simpsons are actually a healthy family. For example, despite constant problems, the family always sticks together in the end.
Another interesting chapter shows the characters in The
Simpsons to be clearly delineated, through the rating of thirteen big fans of the cartoon, and based on the Big Five personality
traits of extroversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism, and openness.
The book was written from an American
perspective. The effects of globalization, though, have caused much of the world to be influenced by America to a certain extent. Due to this, we can identify with many of the issues
discussed in this book. In truth, people everywhere are the same. All of us wish for an ideal family and take great efforts
in some way or other in our dealing with relationships. Some of us deal with issues of alcoholism and anger management. The
identification with the issues raised in this book - as well as the very nature of human beings – help this book to
have a universal appeal, much like the cartoons themselves.
This in turn brings the
theme of the book home to us. We laugh at the antics of the Simpsons. We marvel at the ridiculous situations these characters
always manage to land themselves in. All of this explains the popularity of the cartoons. Yet, the real reason for their colossal
appeal may lie deep in our subconscious. Without realizing it, we may relate, or at the very least sympathize with these characters.
Perhaps the cartoons are a great reflection that has more to say about human psychology and the human state in general than
we ever thought before. This book will help the viewer to have a better appreciation
of the movie.