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Planet Simpson: How a Cartoon Masterpiece Documented an Era and Defined a Generation [Paperback]

Chris Turner
3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Oct. 12 2004
A smart, accessible and funny cultural analysis of The Simpsons, its inside stories and the world it reflects.

From Bart Simpson to Monty Burns, the Internet boom to the slow drowning of Tuvalu, Planet Simpson explores how one of the most popular shows in television history has changed the way we look at our bewildering times. Award-winning journalist Chris Turner delves into the most esoteric of Simpsons fansites and on-line subcultures, the show’s inside jokes, its sharpest parodies and its ongoing love-hate relationship with celebrity to reveal a rarity of literary accomplishment and pop-cultural import — something never before achieved by a cartoon.

Complementing its satirical brilliance, The Simpsons boasts a beloved cast of characters, examined here in playful and scrupulous detail: Homer, selfish, tyrannical and not too bright, but always contentedly beholden to his family; Bart, pre-teen nihilist and punk icon; Lisa, junior feminist crusader; and Marge, archetypical middle-American mother, perpetually dragging her family kicking and screaming to higher moral ground. And while the voice actors behind the regular cast have eschewed celebrity, Turner considers why a stunning host of guests — Hollywood icons and has-beens, politicians, professional athletes, poets and pop stars — have submitted themselves to the parodic whims of the Simpsons’ writers.

Intelligent and rambunctious, absorbing and comic, Planet Simpson mines this modern cultural institution for its imaginative, hilarious, but always dead-on, reflections on our world.


Excerpt from Planet Simpson

Three Fun Facts About “D’oh!”
1. The Oxford English Dictionary defines “d’oh” as “Expressing frustration at the realization that things have turned out badly or not as planned, or that one has just said or done something foolish.”

2. The origins of “D’oh!” A Tracey Ullman–era Simpsons script called for Homer to respond to an unfortunate turn of events thus: “[annoyed grunt].” Dan Castellaneta, the voice-actor who plays Homer, improvised the exclamation, “D’oh!” It stuck.

3. The godfather of “D’oh!” Dan Castellaneta freely admits that he lifted Homer’s famous yelp from James Finlayson, a Scottish actor who played a bald, cross-eyed villain in a number of Laurel & Hardy films in the 1930s. Finlayson’s annoyed grunt was a more drawn-out groan — Doooohhh! Castellaneta sped it up to create Homer’s trademark.

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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

Although this unauthorized book "was not prepared, licensed, approved, or endorsed by any entity involved in creating or producing" The Simpsons, Canadian journalist Turner embarks on an encyclopedic exposition of the show's episodes, catchphrases, characters, cultural impact, social commentary, themes and influences. In 1987, 33-year-old cartoonist Matt Groening devised the dysfunctional family during a 15-minute wait before pitching the concept to producer James L. Brooks. Short segments on Fox's Tracey Ullman Show escalated into the full series in 1989–1990, with accolades and awards piling up during the following 15 years. Turner flavors his straightforward Simpsons study with footnotes and facts on everything from Ayn Rand and Columbine to Y2K and Yeats. Unraveling and analyzing plot threads, he views the series as "more anti-authoritarian by far than almost anything else that's ever aired in prime time," and he praises it as a "cultural institution" comparable to the Beatles. Turner's fannish enthusiasm and tsunami of trivia will appeal mainly to devotees, though cultural historians may value it for its vision of Springfield as a satirical mirror reflecting the trials and tribulations of contemporary life.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

On the verge of becoming the all-time longest-running situation comedy, The Simpsons has had unprecedented effect on American popular culture, as Turner convincingly argues. He traces the show's history, from cultural touchstone to beloved institution, and offers lengthy profiles of the characters, elucidated with tidbits from 15 years' worth of episodes. Especially fascinating is his depiction of the online community devoted to The Simpsons, which pores over each episode for arcane references and whose efforts have been subtly acknowledged in metatextual gags on the show. While Turner overstates the case for The Simpsons' cultural importance, even claiming that, since it appeals to all ages, it is in some respects more important than rock and roll, his observations are thoughtful and perceptive, and he conveys them in a breezy, sometimes smart-alecky tone totally appropriate to the subject. Long-winded but never dull, dense but never academic, Planet Simpson may be too much for casual viewers. For the show's sizable hardcore audience, however, especially the most serious-minded viewers, it's a feast. Gordon Flagg
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Planet simpson an excellent book May 14 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I haven't finished it yet but it meets my expectations More of my friends at our church want to read my copy
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Get a PHD in the Simpsons Feb. 15 2005
Format:Paperback
Back when I was in grade school I could never understand why the teacher insisted that we hunt for 'hidden meaning' in stories. I thought I was a 'thicky' because I just enjoyed the story as written. The I grew up a bit and realized that the "Looney Tunes" cartoons were written at two levels - one for kids one for adults (a lecture by Chuck Jones helped me realize the extent of this hidden humour). Now that I'm in my mid-forties I see hidden meaning in everything - mainly because I've made enough revolutions around the sun to get enough life experience and exposure to books, TV and travel to even recognize satire. This book is not a fawning ode to the show, but a very well written look at the show in the context of pop culture, politics, television history and a large number of other areas of our culture. I've always loved the show from its beginnings on the Tracy Ullman Show, and I remember my dad insisting that my half brothers could not watch the show because it was a 'bad influence' (yet they could watch Ren & Stimpy - go figure). I bought some merchandise from the show, but more than that, I have enjoyed many a conversation with peers about the 'stuff' jammed into the show much as Seinfeld fans used to dissect each episode in the 90's. After reading this book I have a deeper appreciation for the more subtle material presented by the show over the years, and while I thought that I had spotted most of the cultural references, I realize now that there was a lot of stuff that was slipping under (or over) my radar. This is not a book for someone looking for an episode guide. This book is like a thesis that someone would write to get their PHD in media studies. It's well organized, very well written and entertaining for anyone who laughed at all the stuff that the censors missed. Read more ›
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars I was intrigued... Dec 8 2004
Format:Paperback
... I mean, a journalist from Calgary writes a book about the Simpsons? What lost Turner that fifth star was his lack of disclosure: This book doesn't belong on the shelf beside the episode guides, quiz books, or comics. It would be more comfortable in the culture section tucked between Naomi Klein's No Logo and Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation. I just wish I knew that before I dove into this engrossing book. What better way to reach this generation, after all, than to wrap a narrative of liberal politics (honestly represented by the Simpsons itself, by the way) in everyone's favorite cartoon family. I would have still bought it and read it (that's my disclosure) but this isn't a book about cartoons: it's a book about the last fifteen years of Gen X, Y, AND Z.
True, Turner spends a handful of pages at the beginning of the book setting the stage, as it were. We are treated to favorite moments from the show, relatable anecdotes, and some unofficial history behind its conception. But then Turner begins his broad and sweeping path through the cast: we are treated to archetypal descriptions of each character -- not as end in itself, but rather as a jumping point for some wild (and often speculative) tangental explorations of culture and politics in our modern age. We laugh at the antics of Homer, then grimace at how the bumbling cartoon documents the decline of modern society.
It's interesting. And if you are looking to explore the Simpsons at a level that is much deeper than average (though very relatable and written very friendly) this is your book. Recognize that. You'll either love it or hate it -- but I think that may depend on your political viewpoint AND your tolerance for literature of society's vocal left.
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