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Analyzing Depictions of Family Life Essay

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Updated: Feb 1st, 2019

One of the reasons why, when exposed to the contemporary media-products, people are able to gain a number of qualitative insights into the surrounding socio-cultural reality, is that there is a strongly defined societal sounding to many of these products.

In its turn, this is being largely accomplished by the mean of the media-products in question helping viewers to recognize the discursive subtleties of how the members of a particular family interact. In this paper, I will explore the validity of the above-suggestion at length, in regards to the famous animated sitcom The Simpsons, which can be well defined as an epitome of what accounts for the actual characteristics of a family living in America.

The themes and motifs, explored in this animated sitcom, largely reflect the fact that the family of Simpsons unmistakably fits the description of a ‘traditional’ one. That is, the characters of Homer and Marge, which formed the family’s nucleus initially, do adhere to the discursive conventions of a ‘traditional family’, in which husbands play the role of hunter-gatherers, while women are being assigned with the duty to raise children and to take care of the household.

In its turn, such a state of affairs appears to have been predetermined by the fact that both spouses are unmistakably heterosexual, which in turn implies that they are emotionally comfortable with their family-functions having been ‘hierchized’ to an extent.

As Heath noted, “The interaction of gender and heterosexuality is important to position men and women hierarchically as part of a social order that rewards heterosexual (and mostly white, middle-class) men as husbands” (2010: 199).

This also explains why, throughout the course of the sitcom’s episodes, Homer is being portrayed as an individual who strives hard to legitimize his authority of the ‘head of the household’ in the eyes of his wife and children (Bart, Lisa and Maggie). Partially, this also explains why; even though Homer and Marge are shown as individuals who tend to argue with each other a continuous basis, they nevertheless do not give it any serious thought filing for a divorce.

The reason for this is quite apparent – the very fact that there is a strongly defined ‘gender differentiation’ between Homer and Marge (in respect to how they address life-challenges), causes both spouses to remain emotionally dependent on each other, which in turn lessens the acuteness of the divorce-related anxieties, on their part.

This, of course, can be seen as an implicit indication that it is specifically when both married spouses remain emotionally comfortable with their socially prescribed roles within the family, which ensure this family’s longevity, more than anything else does.

Psychologically speaking, in order to attain happiness, after having entered into the marital relationship, husbands may never cease positioning themselves as masculine men, and wives may never cease positioning themselves as feminine women. In plain words, the element of a strongly defined ‘gender differentiation’ between husbands and wives is the key to ensuring the long lastingness of their marital relationship.

The validity of this suggestion can also be attested, in regards to the sitcom’s tendency to expose the fallaciousness of the assumption that the family is a biological rather than a purely social construct, which only superficially relates to the concept of religion. For example in the episode ‘Homer the Heretic’, Homer refuses to be dragged to the Church by Marge, contrary to her insistence that attending Church on Sundays is a ‘must do’ for the members of just about any socially prominent family.

Obviously enough, this episode promotes the idea that the awareness of how they are supposed to act socially, while pursuing the marital relationship, on the part of both spouses, is not what ensures the family’s integrity. The apparent key to such integrity is the both spouses’ sexual interest in each other, which naturally weakens, as they grow older.

This explains the discursive significance of the sitcom’s episode ‘Natural Born Kissers’, in which Homer and Marge realize that namely the affiliated settings that imply ‘danger’ (such as a someone else’s barn) which cause them to experience the sensation of a sexual arousal. After having realized this, Homer and Marge began to intentionally seek ‘danger’ of being discovered in the mist of lovemaking by others, as a powerful sexual stimulant.

Even though that the most immediate motivation for them to act in such a manner was Homer and Marge’s love of sex, there was more to it – namely, the both spouses’ subconscious realization that by having sex they are able strengthen the integrity of their marriage. As Whyte pointed out, “Parents and other moral guardians find it increasingly difficult to argue against the premise that… sexual enjoyment and compatibility are central to marital happiness” (2010: 132).

This, of course, once again validates the suggestion that the notion of family is best discussed in terms of a socially constructed framework for the representatives of both opposite sexes to address their biologically predetermined function of baby-making. Outside of this function, the concept of marriage does not make much of a discursive sense, which is exactly why the practice of allowing lesbians and homosexuals to marry and to adopt children cannot be referred to as anything, but socially counterproductive.

When exposed to The Simpsons, viewers also grow increasingly aware of the fact that monogamy is natural. This is because, as it is being shown in this sitcom, another important reason why Homer and Marge preferred to pursue with their marital relationship, despite tending to argue with each other over even the most insignificant subject matters, is that being the part of the same family, was allowing them to experience the sensation of an emotional security.

In this respect, it would prove rather impossible to disagree with Gerstel and Sarkisian, who refer to the concept of family in terms of a ‘societal shell’, which protects what is on the inside from the hardships of life, “Marriage, or at least a good marriage with little conflict, protects against everything from cavities to murder and suicide” (2010: 205).

As time went on, the earlier mentioned sensation, on the part of Homer and Marge, was becoming increasingly acute, which in turn can be discussed as the direct consequence of them having decided to stick together, while remaining well within the boundaries of a monogamous marriage.

The watching of the animated sitcom in question also reveals the qualitative specifics of the parent-children relationships within the family of Simpsons, which appear to be reflective of this type of relationships within just about every American heterosexual family. For example, one of the Homer’s major concerns, as the head of the household, can be well identified his preoccupation with trying to maintain the executive authority over Bart, Lisa and Maggi.

Unfortunately, he rarely succeeds in ensuring his authority, without resorting to a physical force. After all, it is specifically by grabbing Bart around his neck and choking him that Homer is able to instill some sense in his son. Even though that this tendency, on the part of Homer, can hardly be considered admirable, it nevertheless appears rather effective – after having been ‘chocked’ by his dad, Bart quickly learns his place and begins to act in the more or less socially-appropriate manner.

Because, as it was implied earlier, the themes and motifs, contained in The Simpsons, do correlate with the realities of a family living in America, we can well assume that it indeed accounts for a commonplace practice, among male-parents, to periodically subject their children to violence.

After all, by doing it, they are able to achieve both: to ‘correct’ these children’s behavior and to prepare them to the actual realities of living in the male-dominated society – thus, helping the younger ones to become perceptually adequate. It is needless to mention, of course, that the sitcom’s subtle glorification of the parental violence stands in a striking opposition to the discourse of political correctness (Rainwater and Smeeting 2003).

This, however, is exactly what contributes to the sitcom’s ongoing popularity with the audiences – the sitcom’s themes and motifs do confirm the viewers’ deep-seated conviction that it is namely ‘nature’, which defines the essence of how family-members relate to each other, and not the ‘government’.

What else appears particularly notable about The Simpsons, is that it promotes another ‘politically incorrect’ idea that, in order to ensure the proper upbringing of children in the family: a) the concerned process must be overseen by both: mother and farther, b) the parents in question must act in the manner, consistent with what happened to be the behavioral particulars of their gender-affiliation.

After all, the sitcom’s episodes feature a number of scenes, in which Homer appears somewhat incapable of finding a ‘psychological key’ to his daughter Lisa, while succeeding marvelously with Bart, in this respect. Essentially the same can be said about the character of Marge – she is much more psychologically attuned with Lisa, as compared to what it is being the case with her psychological attunement with Bart.

This, of course, promotes the idea that the gender-related specifics of one’s positioning in life are not socially but rather genetically predetermined. What it means is that, while growing up in the single-parent families, children will inevitably face the risk of becoming emotionally insecure to an extent – because of having been deprived of the opportunity to learn how their gender-related psychological leanings can be realized socially (Mason 2010).

I believe that the earlier deployed line of argumentation, in regards to what can be considered the discursive significance of the family-related themes and motifs, contained in The Simpsons, are fully consistent with the paper’s initial thesis. Apparently, the sitcom’s earlier mentioned popularity is the direct consequence of the fact that it does reveal the hidden motivations behind the main characters’ positioning, as the members of a typical American family.

Therefore, it is not only that, while exposed to The Simpsons, people are being entertained but also enlightened, in respect to what causes the concerned characters to position themselves within the family setting, in the manner they do. What it means is that there is indeed a good rationale in referring to the discussed sitcom, as such that represents a great educational value.


Gerstel, Naomi and Natalia Sarkisian. 2010. “Marriage: The Good, the Bad, and the Greedy.” Pp. 204-212 in Shifting the Center: Understanding Contemporary Families. 4th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Heath, Mellany. 2010. “State of our Unions: Marriage Promotion ans the Contested Power of Heterosexuality.” Pp. 187-204 in Shifting the Center: Understanding Contemporary Families. 4th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Mason, Mary A. 2010. “The Modern American Stepfamily: Problems and Possibilities.” Pp. 540-556 in Shifting the Center: Understanding Contemporary Families. 4th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Rainwater, Lee and Timothy Smeeding. 2010. “Is There Hope for America’s Low-Income Children.” Pp. 732-741 in Shifting the Center: Understanding Contemporary Families. 4th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Whyte, Martin K. 2010. “Choosing Mates – The American Way.” Pp. 125-134 in Shifting the Center: Understanding Contemporary Families. 4th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill.

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