Talk about arrested development — this kid has been 10 for 11
years! And we hope he stays there. Deplorable, adorable, Bart is
a brat for the ages
By RICHARD CORLISS for Time Magazine
stay after school, every single episode of his life, to write a
homily on the fourth-grade blackboard (e.g., "The Pledge of
Allegiance does not end with 'Hail, Satan'"). In a family of
noisy eaters, he is perhaps the loudest, at least in
decibel-to-kilogram ratio. He has a few weaknesses: exposing his
buttocks, sassing his father, making prank calls to Moe's Tavern
("Is Oliver there? Oliver Clothesoff?") and speaking like a
Cockney chimney sweep. One of the few trophies on his bedroom
shelf is labeled EVERYBODY GETS A TROPHY DAY.
Bart Simpson is an underachiever — "and proud of it," as a
million T shirts read, back when The Simpsons began its run on
Fox and he was the first fad of the '90s. Remember "Eat my
shorts"? Recall "Cowabunga" and "Ay, caramba"? His fame
skyrocketed in no time; burnout was virtually assured.
Ah, but this young Sprinfieldianite has staying power: staying
in the fourth grade, to the endless vexation of his teacher and
his principal; staying glued to the living-room tube to watch
his idol, Krusty the Clown; staying for years in the hearts and
humours of a fickle, worldwide TV audience. This young scamp —
with his paper bag-shaped head, his body's jagged, modernist
silhouette, his brat-propelled skateboard — may be "yellow
trash" to the town gentry, but to his mother and everyone else,
he's our special little guy.
It's true that a few other cartoon characters might try to claim
Bart's place of honour. This century is gaily strewn with them,
from Winsor McCay's benign Gertie the Dinosaur (cinema's first
animated icon) to Fox's other cartoon glory, King of the Hill
(whose Bobby Hill, all perfect circles and mute yearning, is the
anti-Bart). The Warner menagerie — Bugs, Daffy, Tweety, Wile E.
Coyote — energized three decades of Saturday matinees. And when
cartoons invaded TV, creatures from Bullwinkle Moose to Tex
Avery's Raid insects kept alive a hallowed comic tradition. Bart
fits in snugly here. As he once cogently boasted, "I'm this
century's Dennis the Menace."
That Bart is a cartoon character — a sheaf of drawings animated
by smart writing and the unique vocal stylings of Nancy
Cartwright — makes him both "real" and surreally supple. Cartoon
figures can do more things, endure more knocks on the noggin,
get away with more cool, naughty stuff than the rest of us who
are animated only by a telltale heart. The face-offs of Bugs and
Daffy in Chuck Jones' cartoons of the '50s involved many shotgun
blasts and rearranged duckbills, but the humour and humiliation,
the understanding of failure and resilience were instantly
translatable to kids and adults alike. The pain was fake. The
suffering, pal, was genuine.
Suffering and failure are at the core of The Simpsons, which was
created by newspaper cartoonist Matt Groening as crudely drawn
filler material for the Tracey Ullman Show in 1987, then went
weekly in 1990. A Honeymooners with kids, the series features a
man in a deadening blue-collar job (Homer, the nuclear-plant
safety inspector), his epochally exasperated wife (Marge of the
mountainous blue hair) and three conflicted kids. Bart, 10, is
clever and cunning but addled in class; Lisa, 8, is a near
genius whose intelligence deprives her of friends; year-old
Maggie expresses frazzled wisdom beyond her years with the
merest suck on her pacifier.
Springfield boasts a teeming gallery of low- and medium-lifes —
surely the densest, funniest supporting cast since the '40s
farces of Preston Sturges. The church, school and pub are places
of refuge and anxiety. But home, 742 North Evergreen Terrace, is
where the show's heart is, where everyone's despair is muted by
familial love. Homer (whom the writers hold in a sort of amazed
contempt) bumbles into some egregious fix. Marge fusses and
copes. Lisa sublimates her rancour by playing her sax. And Bart
is ... Bart.
Lisa, when not condemning Bart and all his works (she once
called him "the devil's cabana boy"), tries to explain him.
"That little hell-raiser," she recently ranted, "is the spawn of
every shrieking commercial, every brain-rotting soda pop, every
teacher who cares less about young minds than about cashing
their big, fat paychecks. No, Bart is not to blame. You can't
create a monster and then whine when he stomps on a few
buildings." Nice try, Lisa, but not quite. He's not Bartzilla.
The kid knows right from wrong; he just likes wrong better.
His rude streak is indeed stoked by cartoons. After savouring
some impossible TV torture that Itchy the mouse has wreaked on
Scratchy the cat, Bart says, "Lisa, if I ever stop loving
violence, I want you to shoot me." (Lisa: "Will do.") Maybe the
Simpson home carries its own germ of carnage. In the episode
where evil old Mr. Burns adopts Bart as his heir and whisks him
away, sweet Lisa is seen ripping off strips of wallpaper.
Confronted by Marge, Lisa explains that she is "just trying to
fill the void of random, meaningless destruction that Bart's
absence has left in our hearts."
We'll admit this: Bart has a riven soul. He needs to be loved
("Tell me I'm good!" he pleads of his friend Milhouse's mom).
But do hold the pathos. The reason for his appeal is that he's
so brilliant at being bad; his pranks have a showman's panache.
When he drives off in what is touted as Hitler's car, he
chortles, "It's Fuehrer-ific!" After impishly filling
Groundskeeper Willie's shack with creamed corn, he listens to
Willie curse, "You did it, Bart Simpson!" and murmurs, with
practiced modesty, "The man knows quality work." So do we.
One of Bart's blackboard punishments was to write, "I am not
delightfully saucy." But he is, he is — a complex weave of
grace, attitude and personality, deplorable and adorable, a very
'90s slacker who embodies a century of popular culture and is
one of the richest characters in it. One thinks of Chekhov,
Celine, Lenny Bruce, little boy lost. Anyway, we love the kid
and his endlessly terrific show; so here he is on the TIME 100.
Congratulations, Bart. For once, you've overachieved.
JACANA HOME PAGE
CLASSIC VIDEO CLIPS
JACANA ASTRONOMY SITE
JACANA PHOTO LIBRARY |
OLD MAUN PHOTO GALLERY |
MAUN PHONE DIRECTORY
FREE FONTS |
PIC OF THE DAY
GENERAL LIBRARY |
MAP LIBRARY |
HOUSE PLANS LIBRARY
MAUN E-MAIL, WEBSITE & SKYPE LIST
BOTSWANA GPS CO-ORDINATES
MAUN SAFARI WEB LINKS |
FREE SOFTWARE |
JACANA WEATHER PAGE
JACANA CROSSWORD LIBRARY |
JACANA CARTOON PAGE |
This web page was last updated on:
16 December, 2008