Over on his blog, Brian Niemeier comments on a video talking about the rise and fall of The Simpsons. This to me is the crux:
…The Simpsons was a reaction against a long-gone age that would have eventually exhausted its fuel supply, anyway.
Matt Groening & co. set out to deconstruct the conservative establishment’s vision of post-Reagan America. Along the way they became the establishment, which is always fatal to subversive projects.
The lesson for writers: undermining traditional culture can be good for a quick buck and fleeting fame.
This stands (somewhat) in contrast to the video which Brian describes, in which (at the end) Super Eyepatch Wolf says:
And that’s what The Simpsons is: one of the purest and most raw expressions of social and political unrest… and despite what it’s become and how it’s all ended, I can’t help be so glad that we got those early seasons. It was a show that shaped a generation and transformed entertainment as we know it.
I think that of the two, Brian is far more correct. And I think that Super Eyepatch Wolf is actually rather dangerously wrong. Satire is a nice vacation from the main work of fiction, but it should never be the main work of fiction. I shudder to think what a generation shaped by satire would be like, though in a sense we’re living it out. It’s the spiritual equivalent of people who grew up eating nothing but frosted donuts: lazy, flabby, and useless, they’re terribly warped versions of what a human being should be.
Actually, rather ironically, The Simpsons later years is described as “Zombie Simpsons,” but this seems largely to be what became of people who grew up on The Simpsons. Unable think or feel anything sincerely, they know nothing but a desire to destroy those who can think. Perhaps it shouldn’t be such a surprise that zombie shows are extremely popular these days; it’s a metaphor for what a generation who grew up on tearing down ideals became. I was recently in a discussion about the live action Beauty and the Beast where someone mentioned that the live action movie would probably have had to be darker for it to be something that a modern writer could write and have it work. I asked, something like this (paraphrased from memory, embellished a bit):
Gaston introduces Belle to heroin and she gets hooked. She falls in love with The Beast who tries to help her kick her addiction but she can’t and eventually goes back to Gaston, who pimps her out to pay for her heroin. She’s eventually killed by a customer and the Beast, learning about this, kills Gaston in a murderous rage, then commits suicide before the police arrive. The last part is witnessed by a pretty young girl who just arrived in the city looking to become an actress, and she asks a man nearby who turns out to be the brother of Gaston what happened, and he charmingly comforts her from the scene and invites her out to coffee. As the movie closes, we get the sense that the story will be played out again, no one having learned anything.
Here was Russell’s response:
In a sense he’s right; that’s part of why I like cheerful, adventurous fiction: I’m very familiar with dark. But the thing is, dark is really easy. It’s practically no work at all. Just start telling a story and keep making it go wrong. You could almost train a monkey to do it. Everyplace there is order, break it. Everywhere there is hope, crush it. The only thing approximating creativity in going dark is figuring out how to prolong things before you kill everyone except for the people who most deserve it. Given that most dark works seem to contain plot holes anyway, this is the epitome of easy; it only pretends to be hard because there’s a constant sense of violation of decency that requires a certain amount of willpower (or sheer degeneracy) to continually violate.
This is the problem with growing up on satire; it’s too easy. It trains people to not do the hard work of having a good time.