[Book Review] Planet Simpson by Chris Turner

Overview:

planet simpsonA few weeks ago I decided to quit writing for this site for the simple reason that nobody reads my reviews. After awhile, the idea of continuing to add to the vapid wasteland that is my Everyview archive just seemed exhaustive and pointless.

Well, to combat my resignation, my fearless leader (and high school sophomore) of a site administrator, bribed me with a book entitled Planet Simpson: How A Cartoon Masterpiece Defined A Generation, chronicling the social impact The Simpsons, my favorite TV show, has had on the world. It’s moments like this that define character, and what is now clear about me is this: buy me a book you find used for $5 at Big Lots, and I will essentially do whatever the fuck you ask of me, including writing a review for a five-year-old book that holds no relevance (the review, not the book) anymore. But as I already alluded to, who’s gonna read it?

Well, I guess I can now declare my brief (and unnoticed) hiatus over, as I feel compelled to share my feelings of this fascinating read. So in the words of former President Ike Eisenhower: “Let’s get biz-zay!”

Review:

Planet Simpson is a 450 page study by Canadian writer Chris Turner, which serves not only as an in-depth chronicle of the shows glorious history, but also decades worth of social trends and how the show and said trends are interconnected.  Turner uses both characters and references from the show to tackle issues such as capitalism, apathy and politics, as well as dozens of other noteworthy topics, and evaluates just how much impact a 30-minute satirical cartoon program can have by lampooning them.

This book is a must-read for any Simpsons fanatic who has ever had some lack-wit tell them “it’s just a stupid TV show.” As someone who wrote, not one, not three, but two undergraduate papers about the show (earning a B+ and A- respectively, thank you) I was more than eager to read an expanded take on Simpsonian matters. By the time I got to the last paragraph of the foreword, written by pop culture critic Douglas Coupland, which suggested the alternative title of the book should be How To Cook For Forty Humans, I was hooked. If you instantly get what that means, you will likely share my enthusiasm.

Awhile back I reviewed a Simpsons reference site called eyeonspringfield in which I scolded myself for not creating the page myself. I was fearful another scolding would be in order while reading Planet Simpson as surely I would have been able to create the material for this book myself.

That’s a negatory good buddy.

Sure, those grades I flaunted earlier were impressive, but they occurred at Indiana State, which, let’s be honest, isn’t exactly Harvard. Hell, it’s barely even Arizona State.

Turner’s in-depth analysis of all things Simpson and culture raises questions such as “where does the front line of fiction go after the convoluted metafictions of the postmodernists?” Conversely, my paper on “Much Apu About Nothing,” an episode centering on illegal immigration, contained banalities such as “what the writers are trying to say is, being mean to illegal immigrants stinks, as some of them are really nice people,” while sporting a bibliography page chock-full of lyrics to “We Are The World.” Advantage Turner.

That’s not to indicate the book is pure elitism, as it is loaded with references from the show, both in the text as well as in various footnotes. Most of the footnotes are actually kind of pointless and don’t really add much to moving the book along. Yet they were my favorite part to read, as I assume they were the authors favorite part to write. Most anyone who reads this likely loves the show to death and will love to see the randomness of the author’s favorite moments.

If I were to lobby a complaint against the books content, there were  isolated moments in which some of the more serious attempts to call attention to world matters got a bit long-winded. While it never gets completely preachy or self-important, I did notice a few instances, most notably a chapter about Marge’s role as a satire on the modern housewife and moral compass, where things seem to run on for a few pages after the point was seemingly made.

And while I’m sure it’s been pointed out to him by now, I feel the need to correct the author on an confused reference.

The episode “Homer At The Bat” involves Mr. Burns bringing in major league baseball players (from the American, National and Negro leagues) as ringers for the nuclear plants softball team, giving them a better chance to win the city championship. In the book, Turner states one of the ringers, Steve Sax, worked a menial job at the plant.

Incorrect.

It was actually Mike Scioscia who worked at the plant, before succumbing to acute radiation poisoning. Steve Sax ended the episode serving six consecutive life sentences after being convicted of “just about every unsolved crime in (Springfield).” Sorry to grill you Chris but well over 99% accuracy simply won’t do.

Closing:

Those few complaints aside, I still very much enjoyed this book. It would take up too much space (though skimming over it didn’t stop this review from being long as hell) to go into thorough details of all the ills of society Turner discusses and what The Simpsons is trying to say by lampooning them. While some of the messages are a bit long and I didn’t agreed with all his views, he still presents his case in an interesting and mostly even-handed way that is consistently engaging.

But through all the serious subject matter, what hooked me in was Turner’s shared enthusiasm for (what at least once was) the crowning achievement in the history of television. A show that easily blows modern day prime time animation garbage (*cough* Family Guy *end cough*) out of the water. A show once so flawless it will never ruin it’s legacy, no matter how hard the show’s producers try to do so.
Lastly, it proved to be vindication for me who has to explain his obsession with The Simpsons all the time. It offers reasons as to why I have spent so many hours watching it, why I study lines so as to incorporated them randomly into conversations, why I don’t have a girlfriend, etc. This book is a must read for anyone who loves this show, or simply enjoy a good cultural study.
Pros:
  • Smart
  • Thought Provoking
  • TONS of fantastic Simpsons references
  • A great tribute to a (once) great show
Cons
  • A bit long winded at times
  • The egregious Sax/Scioscia error

Final Score: 8.7/10

2 thoughts on “[Book Review] Planet Simpson by Chris Turner


  1. “Homer at the Bat” was always one of, if not my favorite episode. I loved the song at the end.

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