Michael Clark
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‘You’re what’s wrong with America, Simpson’
Style, appreciation and the temporally prolonged problem of The Simpsons
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This meta-critical chapter explores three interconnected problems that might have precluded any widespread discussion within television aesthetics of the critically and commercially successful programme The Simpsons (Fox, 1989–). The first concerns the concepts of ‘style’ and ‘substance’, which are construed vaguely in the field, despite constituting the fundamentals of aesthetic appreciation. After clarifying these terms and their centrality to aesthetic criticism, this chapter offers an appreciation of the Season 8 episode ‘Homer’s Enemy’, focusing on a moment that brazenly reckons with The Simpsons’ longevity, its evolving style and substance, and its role as a mass product that is complicit in the culture it critiques. In so impressively foregrounding history, this moment poses a further critical problem: that The Simpsons is a long-running, mutable and highly disunified object of appreciation, for which ‘Homer’s Enemy’ cannot appropriately speak. It is argued that the achievements of ‘Homer’s Enemy’ are particular to one historical moment of The Simpsons’ vast history, which encompasses inconsistent stylistic features of inconsistent substance. Rather prohibiting the appreciation of ‘Homer’s Enemy’, however, this chapter argues that The Simpsons’ unwieldiness problematises a methodology that assumes television programmes ought to be structurally unified works in its insistence that they can be accurately represented by one moment. Turning to Ted Nannicelli’s concept of ‘temporal prolongation’ (2016), which clarifies that programmes are structurally complex works that are constituted by individuated episodes and seasons, this chapter concludes by arguing that these parts can be appreciated as discrete televisual achievements without reference to whole programmes.

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Substance / style

Moments in television


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