Now on its 27th season, the Simpsons, though well beyond its golden era, continues to pump out new episodes. I have never lived in a world without the Simpsons on the air, but the world has changed significantly since the show’s 1989 premiere. Now, in 2016 we’re viewing a Sitcom family conceptualized during a very different time, preserved through passable ratings—sort of TV’s equivalent of a living fossil.
By today’s standards, the Simpson family is strikingly traditional, an ironic twist given that the show was controversial and edgy to early 90s sensibilities. For starters, the family consists of a stay at home mom (Marge) and working dad (Homer), still married, with three kids (Bart, Lisa and Maggie). The family attends church regularly and Marge can often be spotted knitting.
All of these elements become even more of an anomaly when you take into account Homer and Marge’s original ages. At the show’s inception, Homer was 36 and Marge was 34. Upon realizing this, it struck me just how odd the sitcom’s depiction of young adult life is, both in comparison to modern depictions of lovable 20 and 30-something losers (think “New Girl” or anything with Seth Rogen) and in comparison to reality.
For one thing, Homer’s apparent financial stability doesn’t necessarily reflect today’s world. Sure, the show alludes to some financial struggles, including in the series premiere “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire” in which Homer loses his Christmas bonus and is unable to afford gifts for the family, but overall Homer is thriving when you consider his background. According to Season 4, he never even graduated high school, yet he supports a wife and three kids on his Nuclear Safety Inspector salary, and is able to afford a two-story house in what appears to be a middle class neighborhood. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, individuals without a high school degree make $24,492 a year on average and 8% are unemployed, making Homer’s employment situation unlikely.
Homer cleanly fits the “dopey dad” TV trope—a seemingly incompetent and immature husband that nonetheless manages to provide for his family. Compare this to representations of similarly-aged adults in more recently-conceived sitcoms. Andy Dwyer from Parks and Recreation resembles Homer in his intelligence level, but his station in life is drastically different. In fact, he is initially far less successful than Homer in his career even though he attended college, and he does not have a family. At the beginning of the series he is unemployed, mostly pursuing his band Mouse Rat, before becoming a shoe shiner. He eventually falls into a successful career as a TV entertainer for children, but not until after his character has evolved substantially.
Maybe this is why Homer’s age has been gradually rising as the seasons marched on before (somewhat) stabilizing at 40 in season 18. Maybe the Homer Simpson image just doesn’t resonate with our idea of a 30-something in 2016, especially compared to Nick Miller from New Girl and Jake Peralta from Brooklyn Nine-Nine, which also air on Fox. All three of these characters are presented as man-boys, but Homer is just not the same breed of cool, unattached man-boy.
The shift in representation of young adults on television from traditional moms and dads to hip, quirky adults lacking permanent ties and hoping to find themselves is not entirely unwarranted. According to a 2012 study, a record number of adults aged 25 and older have never been married. It is also true that young adults are getting settled later in life, partially due to the fact that college attendance is on the rise, thus delaying careers and weddings. Without a spouse or kids, 30-Somethings are free to sip IPAs with their flannel-clad friends on rooftop bars while Homer is stuck drinking Duff at Moe’s Tavern.
Maybe certain canon elements of any show that has continued for more than two decades are going to become increasingly alien. But no matter how much the world changes in the next couple decades, I hope the Simpsons remain a part of it.Tweet This