Wednesday, March 01, 2006

The Simpsons

I remember back in the day when my folks didn't want me and the Sprout to watch "The Simpsons" because they believed the hype. Parents and pundits were appalled at the time because Bart Simpson didn't do what he was told, and was a proud underachiever. My parents wanted me to be an obedient little book nerd, and thought this cartoon would set a bad example.

Talking about underachievement, today this poll says that more Americans are familiar with "The Simpsons" than the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.

I think this particular poll is a little simplistic. The Simpsons were a funny, weekly cartoon with memorable characters. You watch two episodes and you know who Homer and Bart are. There's not much debate when Bart says "eat my shorts." The First Amendment, however, is usually talked about by boring high school civics teachers, legal experts and self important punditry (Hi, my name's Patrick....). Every time you hear about it, someone's trying to lecture you. I've read about the 1st Amendment for years and years, and I'm still about 100,000 pages of case law short of knowing really what it means, and every time we bring it up we have a spirit of the law vs the letter of the law debate.

But off the top of my head:

First Amendment: Prohibits establishment of religion, ensures freedom of the press, ensures freedom of peacable assembly, ensures the right to petition for grievances (?) and there are one or two more I can't name. (Feeling kind of like a dummmy, now)

Simpsons: Homer, Marge, Lisa, Maggie, Bart, Ned Flanders, Krusty, Milhous. (Feel like I should know more about them as well....)


Dante said...

I do find the poll very interesting because I did have to list the four freedoms given in the First Ammendment once as part of a Social Studies test in Junion High. Freedom of religion, speech/press, peaceful assembly, and freedom to petition the government were the only four listed. I guess maybe they split speech and press into separeate categories? If you want to break down specific freedoms, there are more than five (very much NOT off the top of my head):

1. Freedom to establish a religion
2. Freedom to exercise said religion
3. Freedom of speech
4. Freedom of the press
5. Freedom to peacably assemble
6. Freedom to petition the government for redress of grievances.

Now I can see arguments for there being 4, 5, or 6 freedoms but that doesn't change the fact that naming memebers of the Simpsons family has a much more clear cut answer.

There's also a matter of exposure. If we read the First Ammendment anywhere near as often as we watched the Simpsons, I'm sure we'd be able to handle the question. As it stands, I've probably seen Simpsons episodes involving Sideshow Bob more often than I've read the First Ammendment.

mikey said...

Constitution of the United States
Bill of Rights
Amendment I:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

There it is in plain text, a direct quote, arguably the 45 most important words in the history of our country.

Does it bother me that only one in every four Americans can name more than one of the five freedoms? Sure it does. Does it surprise me that more than half can name at least two members of the Simpson family? Nope.

Here’s why. In my high school I was required to take only one semester of Government (Civics) in order to graduate. The Simpsons, on the other hand, was on at least once a week for all four years of those years, not counting special episodes and syndication.

Does it bother me that only one in every four Americans can name more than one of the five freedoms? Sure it does. Do I blame them for not knowing more? Nope, I blame us for not making sure of it.

Interesting ironic note: growing up in my house, the entire Fox network was banned. My parents didn’t have a problem with it because its programming set a bad example or might be a negative influence. My parents banned the Fox network because they thought it was just stupid.

How did I finally get them to let me watch The Simpsons and Married With Children? I made a first amendment argument.