Overwhelming popularity, awards and reverence pale into insignificance when a work of art reaches the point of being prescribed by the medical fraternity as a stress-buster. The creators of The Simpsons, and it is not a small family there, have received just such an accolade from scientists in Melbourne, who will soon present their study to the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists. The Simpsons, the story of a dysfunctional family, is already a case paper for students of psychology in several US universities.
The travails of the Simpson family are something most of us can empathise with. It is a stark contrast to the sanitised happy family that, at one time, was the staple of soaps. Even its over-the-top humour is appealing, if a little disconcerting. It touches in an irreverent way on the concept of the all-American family, sport and politics. The characters are father Homer Simpson, his wife Marge (as much a typical ‘global’ middle-class housewife as an American one), Bart, the 10-year-old rebel (his comments and characteristics led to ‘Bart’ merchandise being banned in many American public schools), Lisa and infant Maggie. These oddball characters are often portrayed as flawed, much like most of us are.
Apparently, the show’s therapeutic. Recall an early episode, when a ‘promo’ running across the show was gobbled up by Homer, who then said, “Ah, promos.” Researchers described various episodes as evidence to show that basic stupidity, and enjoying that stupidity is an important vehicle for ‘mental health’. So we now have the Simpsons playing doctor. A prescription for mayhem? But then, it is just what the doctor ordered.