The popular, long-running TV program “The Simpsons” (they are the dysfunctional family of many now on TV, with bumbling parents and a disrespectful, smart-aleck son) continued its satirical look at the institution of the family with an episode that aired, ironically enough, on Mother’s Day. This past Sunday, “The Simpsons” also managed to satirize another Genesis-based doctrine: creation.1 Yes, this is an animated comedy, and thus one has to be careful not to take such a program too seriously. But because “The Simpsons” appears on prime time and features clever, award-winning writing that attracts a large adult and teen audience, it merits some comment here.
On Sunday’s episode, the Simpsons and their neighbor Ned Flanders, an overly pious “evangelical” who was more sympathetically depicted in the early seasons of the program, visit the town’s Museum of Natural History and come across a new exhibition on evolution. Among the exhibits is one devoted to “indisputable” evidence for evolution and another entitled “The myth of creation” (which is presented in a mocking way typical of how the program has been recently portraying religion; in fact, “What a fool believes” sung by the Doobie Brothers was playing in the background as the creation exhibit was on the screen).2 A concerned Ned talks to his pastor, who believes that creating a controversy over the exhibit could attract attention to the church and fill some empty pews. The church convinces the town’s leaders to stamp out Darwin and promote biblical creation in its stead. Evolution is outlawed in the town’s public schools, as an ominous drum beats in the background, reminiscent of the type of drumbeat heard in the pro-evolution 1960 film Inherit the Wind (very loosely based on the 1925 Scopes “monkey trial”).
The Simpsons’ young daughter, Lisa, however, stands up for evolution as a “fact,” saying that the late Pope Paul II and conservative columnist George Will supported it. After she holds a few evolution classes in secret, Lisa is arrested. She secures the services of a lawyer with the last name Brady (the voice of famous actor Larry Hagman), which happens to be the same name as the anti-evolution lawyer in Inherit the Wind.3 (For AiG’s review of that movie and how accurate it is historically, go to Inherit the Wind: An Historical Analysis.)
In the courtroom, a stereotype is fueled: that there are no Christians who are real scientists. Although one expert witness for the prosecution claims to be a scientist and declares there are still missing links, his degree is shown to be from some Christian-based diploma mill.
While on the stand to argue against Lisa, anti-evolutionist Ned Flanders loses his cool when Lisa’s father (Homer) creates such a stir in the courtroom that Ned calls him a gorilla. It prompts the judge to wonder whether Homer might be a missing link himself. The case is dismissed when Ned admits the possibility that Homer could be related to an ape.
In an attempt to be serious, the cartoon has a moralizing (usually politically liberal) Lisa present the tired argument that religion should not be taught in schools and that scientists should not teach in churches. Ned, the evangelical, concurs, saying that a few more young people like Lisa should “evolve.” The program ends.
Even though a 30-minute cartoon is not to be taken too seriously (and it will hardly change any minds about the origins question), it does show that the popular culture is acknowledging the creation/evolution debate to be a major part of today’s culture wars. When “only one in four Americans can name more than one of the five freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment . ... [b]ut more than half can name at least two members of the [Simpsons’] cartoon family,”4 then this popular TV show can be considered a useful sociological barometer of what the culture is considering during a particular period of time. That observation is also why AiG has a special section in its new Answers magazine that covers evolution and its effect on society … and the serious consequences.
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