Institutionalized Stereotypes In The Simpsons

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The animated sitcom The Simpsons centers on a highly-dysfunctional, middle-class family living in the fictional town of Springfield. Since its premiere in 1989, The Simpsons has faced backlash for using racism, misogyny, cultural appropriation, and hyper-stereotypes to achieve its comedic goals. I am interested in seeing how this unconventional sitcom affects viewers’ perception of underrepresented individuals “ namely, female characters.

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My research question is: Does The Simpsons challenge or perpetuate institutionalized female stereotypes? I have focused my research on Marge Simpson, the matriarch of the family, in order to develop an analysis on the representation of her character on the show. I have a hypothesis that the show’s creators deliberately exaggerate her role as the housewife in order to invalidate prevalent female stereotypes and stigmas. My analysis of previous academic research conducted on this topic will be organized into four key ideas: the function of stereotypes on television, the stereotypes presented on The Simpsons, the way Marge’s character is complexified over time, and the intentions of the show’s creators.

Through researching previous analyses on the subject of stereotypes on The Simpsons, I have identified six relevant contributors. All six scholars highlight prevalent stereotypes enabled on The Simpsons and each attributes unique reasoning to this comedic convention. All six researchers utilize a Hermeneutic approach as they focus on particular parts of The Simpsons to develop a close reading of specific scenes and episodes; however, the nuances of their research differs. Daniela Virdis (2010) uses linguistic theoretical frameworks, conversation analysis, and stylistics to assess Marge’s representation as it fits into the traditional discourse of family dynamics, while John Alberti (2003) approaches The Simpsons with theoretical lenses, such as cultural studies, gender studies, and queer theory to evaluate the self-reflexive and hyperconscious nature of The Simpsons that exposes oppositional culture on the show. On the other hand, Edward Fink (2013) refers to psychoanalytic theory “ specifically relief theory “ to explain the importance of comedy in facilitating audience’s laughter to function as a kind of catharsis of hidden feelings. Similarly, Paul Cantor unpacks popular elements of comedic writing to illustrate how The Simpsons is a self-aware, postmodern show that simultaneously focuses on the traditional representation of American family while presenting a paradox with its untraditional characteristics.

Matthew Henry (2007) and Ruth Teer-Tomaselli (1994) both utilize feminist theory in their analysis of the female experience on The Simpsons as they deconstruct Marge’s fantasies of independence and freedom in the context of her role in the domestic realm. Despite the 20-year-range of these sources and the varying nuances of their research, all six analyses come to a similar conclusion involving an intentional exaggeration on the part of The Simpsons creators in constructing the show’s characters. To begin a cohesive look at these six pieces of research,

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