The Simpsons, the longest-running American sitcom on television, is making some changes that are sure to upset loyal viewers.
Times are changing, and so are many of our beloved and cherished television traditions. As we live at a time when all things must come with a content warning, it’s wild to think that we used to enjoy shows that promoted violent behaviors in the form of comedy. Jackie Gleason’s signature line, “One of these days Alice, POW, right to the moon!” is a great example.
‘The Simpsons’ Made a Living on Violence
Homer, Bart, Maggie, Lisa, and Marge have been delighting fans since 1989 with a stable of 755 episodes. The animated family, the predecessor to shows such as South Park and Family Guy, paved the way for adult-oriented animated entertainment.
Situated in Springfield, although no one knows which Springfield, the Simpsons’ daily life and hilarious antics have been a fan-favorite for decades. Easily recognizable via their yellow skin and wonky animation, the incredibly successful cartoon family has become a foundational part of American pop culture.
Bart Simpson (Nancy Cartwright) has always been the show’s focal point. The defiant, sometimes foul-mouthed son of Marge and Homer also seems to find himself in trouble, whether it be at school with Principal Skinner (Martin Sheen and Harry Shearer), murderous carnival workers like Sideshow Bob (Kelsey Grammar), or with stereotypical police officers like Chief Wiggum (Hank Azaria).
Bart’s defiant behavior and witty comebacks like, “Eat my shorts,” “¡Ay, Caramba!,” and “Don’t have a cow, man,” often find him at odds with his nuclear power plant working father, Homer. Homer (Dan Castellaneta), being the trying father that he is, is often at odds with Bart, and when it comes to discipline, Homer doesn’t hold back.
Homer often chokes Bart in the cartoon due to his frustration with his son’s constant disrespect and ability to find trouble wherever he goes.
Itchy & Scratchy
Although the violent humor within The Simpsons remains tame compared to its competitors like South Park, they often still poke fun at the violence in cartoons that many of us grew up watching, in turn laughing at themselves.
Itchy & Scratchy, a small segment on The Krusty the Clown Show, features a Tom & Jerry-like relationship between a mouse and a cat. Although violence often ensues between the two, similar to what you’d expect from a Saturday morning cartoon, Itchy & Scratchy tend to take it overboard, often melting each other’s faces or killing each other.
Disney Buys ‘The Simpsons’
Half-hour episodes of The Simpsons, created by Matt Groening and director by James L. Brooks, began airing in 1989 by the Fox Broadcasting Company.
The show’s first episode, a Christmas special entitled “The Simpsons Roasting On an Open Fire,” was a hit for screenwriters and producers such as Al Jean and Matt Selman. The rest was history, as with each episode, our favorite Springfield family crew introduced us to new characters such as Ned Flanders (Harry Shearer), Moe Szyslak (Hank Azaria), and Mr. Burns (Harry Shearer).
The Simpsons would grow into a massive franchise, prompting the sale of merchandise, eventually making television history with its 636th episode. Despite its early days as a segment on the Tracey Ullman Show, The Simpsons has become the longest-running American sitcom on television, promptly releasing full-length feature films such as The Simpsons Movie (2007).
Bart Simpson, Homer, and the rest of the family had made it to the big time. Their success would be a massive selling point as 20th Century Fox (now 21st Century) shopped itself around, eventually landing on Disney to purchase the broadcasting company in 2019 for $71 billion.
The deal was an unprecedented step for Disney, giving them the distributed rights to The Simpsons, Family Guy, and many other adult-animated series that acted as competition for the Matt Groening creation. Disney would place The Simpsons up for streaming on its own service, Disney+, while episodes of the popular TV show still aired on the Fox Network, now under Disney’s leadership.
Progression Catches Up With The Simpsons
The Simpsons is full of lovable characters, dynamics, and relationships. Lisa Simpson and Marge Simpson share a unique mother-and-daughter bond, while Homer and Ned share a cliché annoyance with one another as neighbors.
However, despite attempted murders, popular horror episodes to the likes of Stephen King, and nuclear radiation, the most tumultuous relationship depicted within the TV show is between Homer and Bart.
Bart is a cocky, sometimes rude 10-year-old who skateboards and like to play practical jokes. Often, his attitude and mischievous behavior are at his father’s expense. Homer, depicted as a heavy drinker, often takes the frustration of his son’s antics out on Bart physically, most commonly by choking him.
Although the physical abuse depicted within the cartoon is handled from a comedic sense and is one of the most well-known, long-running gags in the animated series, it seems that fans of the show will no longer see Homer choke Bart while screaming, “Why you little-!”
According to Fox 35, in the latest season of The Simpsons, Homer states that he’s changed while meeting a new neighbor with his wife, Marge.
Upon being commended for his firm grip after shaking hands, Homer mentions to Marge that years of choking “the boy” has paid off, quickly adding the caveat, “Just kidding, I don’t do that anymore. Times have changed.”
Fans Show Support for the Change
In an era where many take issue with abrupt changes to conform to new standards and progressive ideas, sadly, you’d be shocked to hear that the change comes with little uproar from The Simpsons fan base. In fact, Fox 35 put together a string of tweets from X, formerly Twitter, which show appreciation for the cultural shift by the stories series.
I just found out that, after over 30 years, The Simpsons has finally retired their long-running gag of Homer strangling Bart.
Took them long enough lmao pic.twitter.com/JuHyNu1eiK
— Simon A. (Baby Lamb Creations) (@BabyLamb5) November 2, 2023
Homer strangling Bart had always been a sticking point in my love of The Simpsons. I knew it was an old school cartoon gag and not an affirmation of child abuse, but I'm glad they got rid of it. Good on you, @HomerJSimpson, good on you. https://t.co/Hux9ObKUAR
— settofaze (@settofaze) November 4, 2023
This isn’t the first time The Simpsons has had to make a tweak to their sometimes offensive content. In recent years, adaptations have been made to convenience store owner Apu Nahasapeemapetilon (Hank Azaria). In his original portrayal, Apu, an Indian-American character, had been harshly depicted as a stereotypical gas station owner, eventually leading to a cry for change from south-Indian voices like Hari Kondabolu in 2017.
No End in Sight for ‘The Simpsons’
Unlike competitors like South Park, which have openly made fun of The Simpsons, Matt Groening’s creation shows no sign of slowing down. Homer, Marge, Lisa, and Bart have been extended for renewal through 2025 when they should pass an astonishing 800 episodes.
As the 33rd season of the longest-running animated comedy on television brought in an average of 1.95 million viewers, fanship for The Simpsons doesn’t seem to be slowing down at all, meaning the show could remain the longest-running television sitcom for a very long time.