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The Simpsons, the Only Real People on T.V.: Rolling Stone's 1990 Cover Story

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Bartspeak, the Issues:

On education: "You want me to tell you about the damned school system? Wanna hear something good for your story? Are you tired of homespun crapola? Wanna get to it? They hate children!"

On music censorship: "Of course albums should be labeled, man. Why waste your money on music that won't disgust your parents?"

On what he reads: "Lisa's diary. I make notes in the margins. Mostly I read book reports of kids who've been in my grade before. Also, I once read the Boy Scout handbook. But basically, I don't think anybody should willingly join an organization where there's a big guy with a whistle telling you what to do. Where the plus is that you learn to make knots!"

On women: "I don't like girls. They don't like me. Anybody who says different is gonna find something hot and smelly on their doorstep in the near future."

Bart catches. Homer pitches. They toss the old apple around. They unpeel the old onion. They fire the old aspirin tablet. It happens every evening, in the back yard, like classic Americana. A man and his progeny at play: "There's nothing sweeter," says Homer, winding up, "than being in your yard at the end of a long summer day, throwing the ball around to your son, and really burning one in there and seeing him shake his mitt a little after you've stung the hell out of his hand! Oops! Dig it out of the dirt, boy! Heh-heh-heh!"

Later, Homer expands on father-son philosophy:

"I guess I wish that no matter how old he gets, he always listens to me and does what I say. Even if I've got stuff coming out of my face and I'm bent over double and everything hurts — I just say one thing, and he jumps to it! But parents don't get that wish. Your children forget. All those years you spent playing with 'em...My big wish is that he never gets into any serious trouble with the law. Ultimately, I guess I wish what all parents do — that he doesn't grow up. And who knows? Maybe I've got a shot."

For his part, Bart says, "I like that I get to call him Homer and he hardly ever strangles me for it. He's courageous. Fear is not in his vocabulary. Come to think of it, neither is success. For that matter, neither is vocabulary."

Consider Homer Simpson, a man of Thirty-five who looks fifty, a man at whom evolution has laughed, a man with three hairs. Perhaps he eats too much too loudly. Perhaps he is too prone to proneness, a sloth of fabled proportions. Homer understands his place on the sofa. For instance, I ask him about his baldness. "There's a saying," he says. " 'A good toupee looks like a good toupee.' And I can't afford one. Plus, for the kids' birthdays, I always write Happy Birthday on my head. You can't do that if you've got hair."

Homer bonds easily. He confides well. He has private thoughts and remembers many of them. A sampling:

"Here's what women don't understand: We, as men, need to be alone together for long periods of time. For instance, we left the bar two hours ago, and I don't know about you, but I just want to sit on some dirty bar stool next to some other slob. You know what I'm saying....

"Down at the plant, I'm doing a job. And when I die, somebody else will be doing this job. And when he dies, somebody else will do it. I dunno. Makes you feel great to be a part of something like that....

"Marge was very mad at me once. I'll never forget this. She went crazy. Sometimes you say things in fights you regret later, so you have to be careful. Some things never go away. And this is something I'll never forget: She called me a peckerhead. I still think of it. That's how much it stung. I wonder: Was it just anger, or is this what she thinks every time she looks at me?"

From Bart's rules: "There's no substitute for the social interaction you get hurling a spitball at your unsuspecting neighbor or popping a milk carton off the dress of a well-deserving girl."

An experiment in consumerism at its most crass: Say the Simpsons are given twenty-five dollars each. Say they are loosed upon Springfield Mall, whose concourses bulge with acquisitive possibility: the Jerky Hut, the Ear Piercery, the International House of Answering Machines and so on. Here is what happens:

Marge takes a facial at Betty's Beehive. "All that squeezing!" she says later, pleased and relaxed. "And I didn't have to do a thing. I dozed off with music playing, and when I woke up, there was a glow." ("That's because you realized you'd blown twenty-five bucks!" a rueful Homer says.)

For Maggie, Marge descends on Sweet 'n' Tinkly, a music-box emporium, selecting one that plays the love theme from An Officer and a Gentleman. 'It's my favorite song," says Marge, a tad moonily.

Lisa heads to Ye Olde CD Shoppe, where she purchases cassettes by grizzled bluesmen (Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Cow Cow Davenport).

Bart goes to the Carousel o' Violent Toys. He gets a BB gun. Homer: "Bart! You can put somebody's eye out with that thing!"

Bart: "I hope so, for twenty-five dollars!"

Homer buys doughnuts. Seventeen dozen doughnuts. "It's so silly," says Marge, "to pay all that money for something that's just gone, with no lasting benefit!"

"You're forgetting belching, " says Homer. "Mmmmmm, deeeelicious!"

Later, the authorities will discover that the window of the bus on which this reporter departed from Springfield, U.S.A., was shattered by a small pellet, shot from a low-caliber weapon, possibly an air rifle.

From Bart's rules: "Commit the following sentences to memory; you'll be surprised at how often they will come in handy: I didn't do it. Nobody saw me do it! They can't prove anything!"

Homer on the phone, two weeks hence: "I've never had anybody to talk to like this. Was it just professional, or are we friends? Do you play cards?"

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