Leave it to the blogosphere to blow yet another writer’s attention grabbing conversation starter of an article way out of proportion.
Matt Zoller Seitz of Salon wrote a fairly well reasoned piece entitled “Will future generations understand ‘The Simpsons’?” and many writers that he later quoted in a follow-up post made equally valid arguments that he was either correct with an asterisk or simply wrong.
Most people were particularly shocked that he chose to target such a legacy show like “The Simpsons” and an episode of the show, “Krusty Gets Kancelled,” known to be one of their finest (it made my list of 20 last week). But he picked a single joke and failed in analyzing its immense level of pop cultural depth to his young child, which prompted him to question how anyone under 25 could possibly appreciate how in-tuned with the time period the episode was.
One of Zoller Seitz’s bullet points included that it is impossible to re-live certain moments in pop culture history, like to know how big a deal it was to see Johnny Carson leaving, or how it is whenever someone mentions Charlie Sheen now.
And while some of Zoller Seitz’s critics were a bit snarky at his initial column, their arguments were just as pointed. For instance, “The Simpsons” and many other shows are not for kids like the one he was watching with, comedies should not all strive to be timeless at the risk of sacrificing comedy now, absolutely everything begins to date itself, the best pop culture gags have something else going for them, and most obscure references can be understood with Google anyway.
There are only so many TV shows dated enough to test this theory (“Seinfeld” and a lack of the Internet, smart phones and text messaging is a fantastic example though). But movies as it turns out can be just as much relics of popular culture that found their prime in their day but hold up just as well today.
Movies may not share the super timely quality of scripted TV, nor the serial programming that can enough create footnote television across episodes and seasons, but they capture moments in history just as well.
If only Zoller Sietz was writing back when the Marx Brothers were around. A number of Groucho’s one-liners are an exercise in obscurity. In “A Night at the Opera” during the famous contract scene, the dialogue between Groucho and Chico goes, “Don’t you know what duplicates are? Sure, those five kids in Canada.” Type that line into Google and you’ll get the page for the Dionne quintuplets, a group of babies once famous in 1934 but no longer. But the line of dialogue still works because the Marx Brothers deliver it with such perfect timing and charm.
There’s also Cary Grant thinking the character Bruce in “His Girl Friday” looks a lot like Ralph Bellamy, Preston Sturges parodying all of Hollywood in “Sullivan’s Travels,” Woody Allen trotting out Marshall Mcluhan from behind that stand-up in “Annie Hall,” the religious pamphlet distributors in “Airplane,” the entire ‘80s music landscape in “This is Spinal Tap” and Paul Rudd calling Seth Rogen gay for liking Coldplay in “The 40 Year Old Virgin.”
I don’t intend to harp on Zoller Seitz’s very strong points about “The Simpsons” any more than any other writer, but it’s a scary thought believing that the shows and movies we love today may fly over the heads of future generations.
With any luck, some 2011 parody video will show people 20 years from now exactly how much we hate Rebecca Black today.