Father Knows Best vs. Father Knows Less Than Nothing
Right here in this very post you will find the answer to all of the cultural questions you might have from the past 60 years. It’s all here, in a nutshell. Like anything else, it has been about the roles of the sexes in our society, and particularly the role of men, but also the role of women in relation to men:
Matt Groening finally reveals where “Springfield” from the Simpsons was really (theoretically at least) located.
It’s Springfield, Oregon – chosen after the name of the town where the original “Father Knows Best” show was portrayed (not in Oregon).
Of course, the Simpsons more than anything else as a cultural phenomenon were all about how “Father Knows Less Than Nothing, And He’s An Idiot.” Homer Simpson was 23 years of the incompetent, bumbling, hapless and utterly clueless father figure. No matter how stupid he seemed, there was always something more stupid waiting around the corner. No matter how incompetent he was and what a terrible father figure he was, he was basically propped up by the rest of his family – but he was never the support, except for comedy. Homer Simpson is the Schmuck whose family loves him despite that, and as the Schmuck he was the model for the Simpsons’ father figure.
Matt Groening, by the way, was a five-year student at one of the most leftist colleges on the Left coast:
Evergreen State College, in Olympia, Washington. Courtney Love (from “Hole”, last heard from as the wife of Kurt Cobain) went to school there also.
The big feature of their campus is “Red Square”
Anyone who ever watched the Simpsons with their father sitting in his chair knows how uncomfortable Homer really made American men, American Dads, and fathers. My Dad HATES Homer Simpson. It was a full-court press against their authority – and even more than that – their basic competence as human beings – for more than 2 decades. Homer Simpson was a relentless portrayal of American fathers as clueless, helpless, irresponsible, stupid, sometimes coy, inadvertently funny, hapless, haphazard, mostly dumb, irresponsible, and generally pitiful creatures. Nobody can deny it: it’s in every episode!
It was really Matt Groening’s reaction to Father Knows Best.
And one of the original actors from Father Knows Best would have applauded The Simpsons, and it’s important to read that, too, from Wikipedia:
“I wish there was some way I could tell the kids not to believe it. The dialogue, the situations, the characters they were all totally false. The show did everyone a disservice. The girls were always trained to use their feminine wiles, to pretend to be helpless to attract men. The show contributed to a lot of the problems between men and women that we see today. . . . I think we were all well motivated, but what we did was run a hoax. ‘Father Knows Best’ purported to be a reasonable facsimile of life. And the bad thing is, the model is so deceitful. It usually revolved around not wanting to tell the truth, either out of embarrassment, or not wanting to hurt someone. If I could say anything to make up for all the years I lent myself to (that), it would be, ‘You Know Best.'”
Not telling the truth is the big sin that a lot of people continue to commit regardless of what side of the political divide they’re on. The capacity to try to deceive out of embarrassment or shame is particularly strong. The 1950s were built around a very strong firewall of embarrassment and shame: the penalties were so high that everyone lied. The whole culture lied to itself. But it was a very sunny lie, and a very optimistic form of deceit, because we had just basically destroyed the worst evil in the world and frankly controlled the Universe as far as anyone knew it.
Now we’re lying to ourselves in a different direction – which doesn’t make it any better. Destroying the father figure in American life has had terrible consequences for everyone and the pendulum just keeps swinging, I think with less bearing and more violence than ever.
We sometimes refer to it as the Nanny State but Chris Christie from Jersey is quite right when he describes it as “paternalistic”. It’s the new, statist paternalism, where people sit around on a couch and wait for checks from the their father, the Government. How can it be anything but when it wants to know about everything you do, and force you to do whatever it dictates?
I think if you look back at the Popular Science archives from the 1950’s, on the balance, the world was a better place. There was certainly a lot more opportunity for people – for everyday people who wanted to make a career in their homes and with their lives without driving themselves into horrific debt. Go take a look. You really could make a living in the ’50s doing the kinds of things the advertisers in Popular Science had for you. And a Law Degree was something you could get from a mail correspondence place in Chicago. The world has changed completely for people like my father and no wonder he feels like he’s living on another planet. Nobody can make a living now, unless they’re a lawyer, a banker, a tech guru, a pornographer, a government employee or one of their benefactors.