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on May 18, 2004
I bought this book expecting a light hearted read. Being an avid fan of the Simpsons, I was keen to study the characters from a tongue in cheek, philosophical perspective...
However, what you actually get with this book is a series of philosophical essays that reference the Simpsons' characters occasionally in order to relate the subject matter to the average reader, and to stop their mind from wandering.
In summary, if you want to learn a little about philosophy without weighing in at the deep end, then this is the book for you. If you are picking up this book because you are a fan of the series or want to learn more about the Simpsons, dig a little deeper.
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on May 4, 2004
"The Simpsons and Philosophy" is a collection of essays written by different authors that vary in quality and style. The thrust is the introduction of aspects of philosophy through an analysis of the characters and stories in "The Simpsons." In this regard the book is mostly interesting and informative. A big chunk of it (Part II and much of Part IV) wasn't philosophy at all, but rather "literary" criticism that I didn't much care for -- the worst essay in the collection being the Marxist hissy-fit. Moreover, despite disclaimers throughout the text, there was an assumption of intent on the part of the script writers that, by listening to the voice-overs on the DVDs, one finds isn't really there.
For all the above, I would have rated this book 3 stars. However, the essay "The Function of Fiction" was outstanding and worth the price of the book alone. This essay spent a lot of time away from the Simpsons in particular, but ultimately gave the best argument why the show is so great.
For readers looking for a light read about their favorite show, this book isn't the place to go. But for people who love the Simpsons on all its levels, this book has its place.
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on January 14, 2004
Any true Simpsons fan will recognize that as tribute to Ralph Wiggum's "Me fail english? That's unpossible!" line. Reading The D'oh of Homer, you will recognize the subtle humor that has become a trademark of the series. The book is split into essays covering a goodly range of topics, each of which reference specific Simpsons episodes and characters to make their arguments.
Largely unpretentious and entertaining as philosophy can probably get is the deal here. An inadvertant plus to this book is that the reader can see philosophic models thousands of years old implented into modern day situations via the Simpsons episodes they know so well. Philosophies of government, religion, and humanity are displayed here, along with subjects that don't get much play elsewhere, such as American anti-intelletualism and the parody. If you are a regular watcher of the Simpsons, chances are you already have the subject material committed to heart; this book reveals the school of thought behind the more profound concepts of the show.
All in all, this book is definitely worth a look. Check it out.
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on April 30, 2003
Yes, it takes a great mind to dream of such things as the categorical imperative, the examined life, the superman (not Clark Kent), and the virtuous mean. But it takes a different kind of genius to take those great ideas and find them in contemporary entertainment. Now, don't pick this book up expecting the next big thing in philosophy, but instead pick it up to see how real the pre-existing ideas are as we see them incorporated in our favorite characters. The Simpsons has always been meaningful, which is a rare, though certainly not unseen, quality in today's culture. But the great thing is that this book touches on many aspects of that meaning that we might not have noticed. Although some essays are a bit dry, most of them really hit the spot. Homer and Marge are examined for Aristotelian virtue; Bart is revealed to be the antithesis of the Nietzschean ideal in an essay that at first tries to prove the opposite; and the population of Springfield is looked at from a Kantian and from a Marxist point of view, among others. If you're a Simpsons fan, this book will heighten your enjoyment. If you're one of those people who don't "get" philosophy and want to know more, this book is an ideal introduction. Enjoy!
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on January 14, 2003
I am a huge fan of the Simpsons, and had high hopes for this book. Unfortunately, it falls far short of my expectations. Slogging through the essays soon became a painful experience.
As an 11th grade AP English student, if I turned in essays of the caliber of the essays contained within this book, there is no way that I would pass the class. The writing of The Simpsons and Philosophy is extremely amateurish, with mistakes that every decent high school writer could avoid with ease.
In just one essay, by Deborah Knight, called Popular Parody: The Simpsons Meets the Crime Film, the author begins a paragraph with "You will remember how this episode goes." She then continues spends an entire 3 paragraphs summarizing the episode! Of course I remember how this episode goes, and I'm willing to bet that anyone that would spend [money] on a book about The Simpsons and philosophy has seen every episode. Simpsons fans are an obsessive bunch, and the authors, while no doubt intelligent, are obviously not true fans and do not understand the show. The summarization itself would not have been a huge problem, but there was not a single witty or clever idea interwoven into the bland retelling. From the same essay, the author writes "I probably don't have to spell out that this cereal exploits the name given to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassic.." You probably don't have to, but you did it anyway. ..Why? The essay contains amateurish mistakes such as starting sentences with "I think.." Obviously the author "thinks" this way or it wouldn't be an argument in her essay.. While seemingly simple mistakes, they begin adding up fast and detracting from the overall feel of the book. The essay by Mrs. Knight is just an example that I read soon before writing this review. All of the essays in the book contain similar mistakes.
Another problem I had with the book was its lack of substance. Often, an essay would consist of little more than vague references to episodes or a general summarization, and then the author would drift off into a lengthy philosophical tangent. This wouldn't be a problem, except that very rarely does the book actually TIE IN the Simpsons TO philosophy. It discusses the two separately without making any astounding or insightful connections.
Because I think relating philosophy and The Simpsons is a great idea, I have to give it 2 stars. However, I feel that in general the essays are poorly written, and have a "high-school" feel to them. Not a positive characteristic for a published book. As much as I want this book to be good, I can not in good conscience recommend it to anyone. I find it offensive that the authors are cashing in on The Simpson name. But hey, they got my money...
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on December 17, 2002
The book was great! It was great from the aspect of a MAJOR Simpsons fan, and a philosophy major. I would say it was perfect, well, with the exception of a few essays that will remain nameless, hence the four-star rating. I recommend it to any Simpsons fan and/or anyone with an interest in philosophy. Overall, it was an engaging and enjoyable read. But on a slightly different note...
I was always suspicious that the writers of the show were incredibly intelligent in virtue of the obscure references sprinkled through each episode. I was constantly defending the intellectual quality of the show to both myself and others, and the essay on allusions by Irwin and Lombardo at last allayed my concerns. To be honest, that essay alone was worth the price of the book. (As an aside, the funniest esoteric reference of the show is from Mr. Burns about Prussia and Siam - How funny is that?). I mean, how many people in the U.S. actually know about Prussia and Siam? (I mean really?) Anywho, I was just happy to know that someone else had discovered the genuis hidden deep within the show. So, again, I highly recommend this book and the quote by David Mirkin, a (former?) writer for the show, succinctly sums up the situation when he says " We're writing [The Simpsons] for adults and intelligent adults at that"(p.81). Truthfully, I think the same could be said of this book, and for that it is definitely a winner. Kudos, Mr. Irwin!
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on November 16, 2002
The cover of the book prominently features the following quotation from Publisher's Weekly: "Each essay provides a hilarious but incisive springboard to some aspect of philosophy." The first part of this statement is false. None of the essays are funny, let alone hilarious. Many of the essays are, however, in addition to being a "springboard to some aspect of philosophy," interesting, relevant, and thought provoking. I especially enjoyed the essays "Homer and Aristotle" by Raja Halwani, "Lisa and American Anti-intellectualism" by Aeon J. Skoble, "Thus Spake Bart: On Nietzsche and the Virtues of Being Bad" by Mark T. Conard, "Springfield Hypocrisy" by Jason Holt, and also "Enjoying the So-called 'Iced Cream': Mr. Burns, Satan, and Happiness" by Daniel Barwick. The 15th essay, "The Function of Fiction" The Heuristic Value of Homer" by Jennifer L. McMahon was interesting and well-written, but really has nothing to do with The Simpsons specifically. This essay should have been the first essay in the book, to set the tone for the rest of the book and also to show why the analytical essays included in the book are worth writing and reading.
This is the 2nd book I read in the Philosophy and Popular Culture series, after the recently released The Matrix and Philosophy. Compared to the essays collected in that book, the essays here are much less profound and much less relevant to the stated subject. A few of the essays in The Matrix and Philosophy really have nothing to do with The Matrix, and probably 4-8 of the 18 essays in The Simpsons and Philosophy would be just as good without any Simpsons references, which suggests that they're really not about The Simpsons at all. I wish that essays more specific to The Simpsons, similar to the first two essays included in the book (the ones mentioned earlier by Halwani and Skoble), would have flushed out the rest of the book, instead of essays not specifically about The Simpsons. McMahon's essay mentioned above and the final essay in the book, "What Bart Calls Thinking" by Kelly Dean Jolly are interesting essays, the former moreso, but are not really specifically relevant to The Simpsons any more than they are to other television programs (not even necessarily cartoons). Also, while The Matrix is a single work that surely everyone who wrote an essay in The Matrix and Philosophy watched, it seems unlikely that those writing essays in this collection have viewed all, most, and probably not even many of the over 200 episodes of The Simpsons. Indeed, the essays "Popular Parody: The Simpsons Meets the Crime Film" by Deborah Knight and "Hey-diddily-ho, Neighboreenos: Ned Flanders and Neighborly Love" by David Vessey each focused on only one episode of The Simpsons. This might have been okay if the episodes were representative of Simpsons episodes, but the general plot and theme of these two episodes are at least quite uncommon in The Simpsons and probably unique. Vessey could have, and should have in my opinion, wrote a more general essay on Flanders' character. Instead, his essay focuses on the silly idea of whether one needs to try to baptize others to save their eternal lives. The essay, I think, was probably about as good as could be being based on this lame idea, and I can only imagine how much better it would have been if it would have been based on bigger, more generalizable aspects of The Simpsons, such as a more complete study into the character of Ned Flanders.
The 4th essay, "Marge's Moral Motivation" by Gerald J. Erion and Joseph A. Zeccardi is particularly egregious in that the authors make blanket generalizations about the show based on events that occur only once or rarely, suggesting that while they are not regular viewers of the show, they are trying to pass themselves off as such. For instance, they write of Marge, "As the wife of an occasionally unemployed, incarcerated, and dimensionally-confused husband, Marge has relatively little to work with financially" (Page 49). These 3 ideas either occur rarely (unemployed or incarcerated) or only once (dimensional-confusion).
I gave this book 3 stars because while I really enjoyed some of the essays, such as the ones I listed above by Halwani, Skoble, and Conard, some of the other essays were mediocre or worse, were only relevant to The Simpsons in the most general of ways. If you've already read much philosophy the ideas in this book, both those tying The Simpsons to major philosophical ideas and those not really about The Simpsons, then this book probably won't give you many additional insights into either The Simpsons or philosophy. Also, some of the analysis presented in the essays really isn't grounded in higher-level philosophy but rather just common-sense observations and connections that could probably be made by just about any intelligent viewer of The Simpsons.
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on September 23, 2002
I have been a Simpsons fan from the get-go. I watched the very first episode, the Christmas Special, in the lounge of my freshman dorm, and I have been an enthusiast ever since. The D'oh of Homer, edited by Irwin et al., is an organic product of the attraction the show has to the brainy among us.
The Simpsons and Philosophy: The D'oh of Homer is compilation of Simpsonian essays written by working philosophers (as far as I can tell, "working philosopher" is an oxymoron) on various subjects. The text is divided among four sections: The Characters, Themes, Ethics and The Simpsons and Philosophers. I would propose a secondary classification scheme as well: (1) those essays that use familiar Simpsons personalities and situations as examples within a discussion of philosophical ideas and (2) those that try to extrapolate philosophical meaning from the show itself.
The chapters that I found most enjoyable where those of the former type, the ones that (re)introduced various ethical philosophies or values of critical commentary using the Simpsons to support their positions. Those essays about Nietzsche, American anti-intellectualism, allusion (a topic especially relevant to the Simpsons), and television's sexual politics were among my favorites.
There were some real stinkers, too. A few of the authors of these collected essays seemed to think that a TV show should present a consistent philosophy, which the Simpsons clearly does not.
Overall, I would recommend The Simpsons and Philosophy. For people who have never even thought about philosophy, this book would, in many respects, be a worthwhile introduction. However, as de Tocqueville predicted, some in our democracy will not appreciate such high browed pursuits, even when directed to a cartoon.
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on September 13, 2002
If you are a fanatic of all things Springfield, then nothing I say will dissuade you from reading this book. For the Simpsons viewer or trivia buff, the stance of the Simpsons is secondary to philosophy in this book. If you want to try to understand some philosophical ideas with examples from the Simpsons, then this book is for you.
By and large, the writers of this book are fans of the show. Although they quote a bit, their quotes are not always correct, and this may detract from enjoyment. For instance, the argument that Marge is an example of the virtuous person was made. It mentions several instances to support this, but the writer of that essay does not address the episodes that show her gambling addiction. Without knowing if the episode came out before or after the essay, I don't know if this is a simple error or not.
Some of the material is quite dense, and the relation to the Simpsons is not direct. The last essay explaining Heidegger and postulating that Bart may be considered a "Heideggerian" has some very complex ideas.
This is not always bad. The essay talking of signifiers and the signified (Roland Barthes) actually made the ideas a little easier to understand. I remember going the S/Z many years ago. Giving me an example from a Simpsons episode was very helpful.
From the subtitle, I thought there would be more Eastern philosophy, but alas, there was not a whole lot of mention. The philosophers covered are primarily Western.
I don't think that I would recommend this to Simpsons fans because they already know that the show is funny and needs to be seen repeatedly to get all the gags. I would recommend this to beginning philosophy students. Have fun!
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on September 11, 2002
This book is an enjoyable read for Simpsons fans; it's a kick to see academics pontificate on the inner meanings of the characters we've all come to know and love. But after the initial thrill of reading a serious discussion of all things Simpsonian wears off, you begin to realize that the insights and conclusions the writers draw are not all that profound.

Do we need a philosopher to point out that Mr. Burns isn't happy despite his wealth? Or that Homer is a loving husband despite his shortcomings? The writers seem to think we do. Uh, guys, I think most people figured that stuff out without PhD's in philosophy.

Worse, the quality of the essays varies radically. The last one -- the worst of the bunch -- reads like a mediocre undergraduate term paper ("First, I will show that... Second, I will show that..."). Another essay, on Marxism in Springfield, finds fault with the show for not espousing socialist values more explicitly.

These lapses aside, the book functions well as a few hours' diversion, and will allow you to recall many classic Simpsons moments. But it won't provide any deep insights into life -- or even into the show.
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