Some American TV shows depict adolescents as violent, unruly, addicts and simply out of control. They portray the American adolescent as someone who hates school, loves sex, likes partying and wants to experiment on everything and anything that is new. They are also viewed as mischievous people who cannot recognize the consequences of their actions and who are unwilling to think before they act (A/D). In this paper, I have chosen to expound on a TV show that is very popular in America: The Simpsons. This is a TV show created by Matt Groeing, a cartoonist. According to Nielsen, The Simpson's is a show that is very popular among 12-17 year old boys. Hence its impact can influence these young Americans. Though animated, this show contains heavy content on adolescence. It also depicts their characters, problems and tribulations that the adolescents experience. I will base my arguments on Bart, the adolescent character of this show. The name Bart is an anagram from the word brat. He is the only son of Homer and Marge Simpson. He is the eldest and a brother to Maggie and Lisa Simpson. Bart is viewed as emotionally unsecured, disobedient and rebellious person who will do anything to get recognition. He is also mischievous and disrespectful to the authority.
Research findings carried out in America shows that the average time that young people spend watching television in America is 4 hours each day. With 109.6 million homes with TV, and 54% of kids having a TV in their bedroom, it has been found out that kids spend more time watching television than in doing any other activity (Huston and Wright). On average young people in America watches TV for around 25 hours per week. Television shows and the media play a role in influencing the behaviors and characters of adolescents. This is mainly due to the fact that the media is full of sexual messages, violence and drug abuse. The adolescents watching television shows or programs acted by adolescent actors are not as likely to be influenced by them compared to those shows acted by their favorite adult actors.
Bart is a student at Springfield Elementary and he is constantly punished in class due to his disobedience. His hallmark characters include the prank calls he makes to Moe the bartender and the catchphrases he commonly uses like "Eat my Shorts" and "Don't have a cow." Within the first two seasons in 1989-1991, his characters were so popular, talked about and even imitated. This captured the imagination of the audience such that Bartmania ensued. But his rebellious characters, attitude and great pride towards his parents who were underachievers made many parents and educators view him as a bad role model to their children. A study called Statistics on Children and Television (1995-1999) showed that 65% of the children who watched The Simpsons were encourage into disrespecting their parents. While this may be what some adolescents are, it does not necessarily represent an average American adolescent. It is out of this that a T-shirt reading "I'm Bart Simpson who the hell are you was banned in schools". Bart was named one of the 100 most important people of the 20th century by Time Magazine. This in essence means that many adolescents were vulnerable to be influenced by his characters. His need to be in the limelight is portrayed by his Jealous when his sister was born due to the attention that she received but he later warmed towards her when he discovered that the first word she said was "Bart". This is a character portrayed by many adolescents who feel that their younger siblings are getting too much attention than them. His rudeness is seen even in school when he is confronted by the principal and he tells him. "Eat my Shorts" (Jean et al 1997). There is no documented evidence to show that adolescents used this catchphrase in school.
Just like many adolescents, his hobbies are watching TV, playing video games, skateboarding and playing mischief. He also appears naked in the show though only his buttocks are visible and he likes skating while completely naked. No evidence to show that his adolescent fan did the same either at home or at school.
His rebellious attitude has made him a disruptive student. He is an under achiever but very proud of it. He is dumb and his sister proves that he is as dump as a hamster (season 04) .He is in constant conflict with his teacher and the Principal (season 09). He gets into many troubles, he is sometimes sadistic, selfish and shallow but on occasions he can show high integrity. He is smarter than his dad but he is always kept in check by his mum. It is because of his mischief and his Dad's uncaring and incompetent behavior that makes them have a turbulent relationship. Bart never calls Homer Dad and in return Homer calls him the boy (season 04).His mother Marge calls him a handful, is caring but she gets embarrassed by his antics.(season 03). This is very common in many adolescent homes where the Dad and the adolescent son have turbulent relationship. But the cause of this is usually not the children being influenced. If so, then we can say that even parents are prone to influence. His mother first felt she was over mothering him and hence began acting differently when Bart was caught shoplifting. He protested at her mother's over mothering but he later made it up to her when she changed her attitude. He is therefore ready to undergo humilitiation to please his mom. His mom understands him and is ready to defend her. This shows that the mothers are in constant defense of their children.
Bart as a role model
Bart is rebellious and often goes unpunished. This makes many parents view him as a bad role model for their children. He is the kind of child which the parents wish they had been but fear their children will become. He has outwitted his parents and outtalks his teachers. (Bianco 1990). Educators say that he is a threat to learning because of being an under achiever and being proud of it and his attitude and negativity towards his education.
The main question we should ask ourselves is, should everyone in television be a role model? In real life the adolescents come across many people that are not role models. So we should not expect TV to be full of them. Whatever behavior that the adolescents portray is a result of the environment they grow in and the genes of their parents. So the lesson that we learn is that if the parents do not want their children to be like Bart, they should not act like Homer Simpson. We should all therefore understand that there are other forces that come into play to influence the behavior of the child and not only watching TV. Thus adolescents do not necessarily ape the behaviors that they see on TV, but selectively incorporate just a few values that fit with their real life.
- Associated content.(15th November 2009). Adolescence as portrayed by the Media retrieved from http://www.associatedcontent.com/
- Bianco, R. (1990). "Weekend TV: Beer'N' Bart giving parents prime-time hangover". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
- Facts and TV Statistics. "It's Just Harmless Entertainment." Oh really? Retrieved February 11, 2010 from http://www.parentstv.org/ptc/facts/mediafacts.asp
- Huston & Wright, University of Kansas. "Television and Socialization of Young Children."
- Jean, AlPolcino, Dominic. (1997). "Lisa's Sax". The Simpsons. Fox. No. 03, Season 09
- South Africa: News2 (2007)"Bart Simpson goes nude". 1243_2106665,00.html. Retrieved 2010-02-11 from. http://www.news24.com/News24/Entertainment/Abroad/0,,2-1225-