Friday, February 7, 2014

Modern Day Shakespeare: Matt Groening

     Is it possible for one of the greatest comedic writers of all time to be underappreciated? A strong case could certainly be made for the legendary Matt Groening. Groening may have 12 Emmy Awards as well as a British Comedy Award to his name, but this barely scratches the surface to his genius.  Others such as Disney and Acme created animated skits beforehand, but Groening's work was still novel in length and story. Like a modern day Shakespeare, Groening created the plot for essentially every comedy sketch known to man.  Unfortunately not everyone has recognized Groening's true genius.  Geniuses, according to Dean Simonton, is a person who has phenomenal achievement and superlative intellect.  The awards and episodes confirm back up those claims.
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     Though all of Groening's work is phenomenal, The Simpsons are undoubtedly his best and most creative work.  Humor has always been a huge part in the television industry, but very few creators have been able to make as many novel works as Groening.  He managed to take an animated series, which is typically a niche television segment for children, and turned it into a universally appealing show.  The main character, Homer Simpson, plays a prototypical silly character who is so ignorant of his surroundings that it's hilarious.  All of the supporting characters have very distinct personalities and catch phrases that make them memorable.  Additionally, pop culture references are littered throughout every episode of the series, making them enjoyable for people of all interests.


     Of course, the best part about Groening's genius is his foresight on American society.  Episode 23 of Season 8: Homer's Enemy is the greatest episode of not just the Simpsons, but of all cartoon episodes ever.   This is the only episode where Homer Simpson, every viewer's lovable doofus, actually becomes somewhat of a villain.  Homer's Enemy is centered around Frank Grimes, the self-made man who never had anything handed to him, but still persevered.  The brilliance of the episode is that Groening predicted the dangers of our society's obsession with nonsense before it happened.  Initially, Grimes (a true hero) gets his five minutes of fame for obtaining a nuclear physics degree while hospitalized.  Immediately afterwards, Grimes' fame is taken away by a heroic dog and so did his job offer.  The shift from real news to nonsense news (overemphasis on celebrities or random events) did not occur until the mid 2000s.  Groening predicted this in 1997 with his amazing episode.

     The Simpsons did not create a paradigm shift in humor, but they did create this shift with the application of it.  According to Kaufman and Beghetto, Big-C creativity needs to have clear and eminent creative contributions.  Not only has Groening created a large quantity of Simpsons episodes, but he also has a ton of variety.  Most sitcoms consist of the main characters going through very similar everyday occurrences.  The semantics are altered, but the plot is generally consistent.  The Simpsons is one of the few shows that changes character development as well as circumstances.  Audiences get to see homer go to the moon, but also change as a parent, a husband, coworker, and friend throughout the episodes.  Groening's combination of animated repetition with live action sitcom development is truly an eminent accomplishment.

   Groening says he drew his inspiration from Saturday Night Live.  He wanted to express the nihilism evident in Saturday Night Live on The Simpson's while still telling a story from his heart.  The cognitive process utilized by Groening was to include realism in the cartoon without ignoring that it is a cartoon.  He wants the actions of the characters need to be improbable, not impossible.  "It's OK for Homer to fall off a cliff and survive, but he's got to be pretty banged up."  Steven Smith and Thomas Ward believe that conceptualization and visualization are the 2 most important factors within the cognitive thinking process.  Based off of Groening's work, it's safe to say that he exemplifies both factors.

     Though critics openly praise Groening's work, few competing authors replicate that praise.  There could be various reasons for this situation such as the nature of the industry.  Even though they have not openly praised Groening, it's obvious that they recognize his genius.  South Park creator, Trey Parker, made an entire episode, The Simpsons Already Did It, to exemplify how talented a creator Groening is.  Additionally, Family Guy creator, Seth MacFarlane received a ton of criticism for stealing scenes from The Simpsons for his show.  Emulation is one of the biggest praises they could give to Groening because it means that his work is so valuable, that they had to use it themselves.

     In final analysis, whether you live him or hate him, you can't deny the genius of Matt Groening.  In the era of garbage reality TV and moron celebrities, it's good to know that shows created by Groening still exist.


  1. Not only is this show hilarious, but I think it really does exemplify the work of a big C creative. The structure of the show, with its characters to which many Americans can relate or at least identify as having actually experienced in life, is unique and ahead of its time. It's interesting that South Park and Family Guy have been criticized for making a similar, but cruder version of an original idea. It is essentially the same--both shows emphasize a lot of pop culture and realistic characters. But I think that Matt Groening deserves the credit here for creating the type of content for a television show that is embarrassingly realistic and funny at the same time. I would say he provided a new base off of which many producers today base their cartoons, but not quite with the success of the Simpsons. No one has yet to top it.

  2. What's interesting to me is that the show has kept its success all these years while still maintaining its identity. Oftentimes, once a show becomes successful, you see it replaying the same types of jokes and gags over and over again. While Groening has coined the show's many catchphrases and running jokes, each new episode also maintains a sense of freshness that many shows lose after a few seasons. I would argue that Groening not only exemplifies big-C creativity in the initial creation of The Simpsons, but he also continuously practices pro-C in the writing of new episodes. Groening is constantly working in new material and exploring new comedic techniques in his scripts. While this method could be risky (why not stick with what you know your audience finds funny?) it appears that Groening knows what his audience wants and is able to cater to them, even when playing with new ideas.


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