Through parody, satire, and cultural commentary, The Simpsons provide a unique perspective on the world of museums and cultural institutions.
By Bretton Weir
This being my inaugural post with The Mindful Rambler, I find it quite appropriate that I have the opportunity to write about The Simpsons! As my friends and well wishers will tell you, Simpsons references are insidious in my day-to-day vernacular. These same friends also know that museums play an equally prominent role in my identity. What happens when we combine The Simpsons with museology? Well, simply put, we get this post.
As The Simpsons winds up its 30th season, I thought it would be fun to look at how museums operate in the world of the show. Every type of museum, cultural centre, tourist trap, and historic site under the sun has made, at the very least, a handsome cameo during the show’s run.
Following are three of my favourite museum moments featured in the show and why I think they are a perfect marriage between The Simpsons and museums.
The Orb of Isis from “Lost Our Lisa” (Season 4, Episode 24)
The mythical Orb of Isis is the centrepiece object of the “Treasures of Isis” exhibit, a showcase of artifacts from the Egyptian Temple of Isis. Lisa misses seeing the exhibit but Homer convinces her to join him and sneak into the Springsonian Museum before the artifacts are packed and sent to the next tour stop. Much to Lisa’s protest, Homer betrays the unwritten rule not to cross the “velvet rope” in order to get up close with the alluring object and figure out its secret. While the scenario is a bit reaching, Lisa’s attention to museum etiquette in this stereotypical portrayal of archeological exhibitions is enough to make any museum professional appreciate the intersection of object preservation and innocent curiosity.
Springfield Elementary Field Trip to Fort Springfield from “The PTA Disbands” (Season 6, Episode 21)
Throughout the history of the show, we see a number of representations of historical military forts. In “The PTA Disbands,” the students of Springfield Elementary visit the historical site Fort Springfield, a Civil War-era living history museum. Upon arriving, Principal Skinner is shocked to learn that a for-profit company has assumed management and what was once a free museum experience is now a cash grab out of reach for the school to pay.
This is a very real scenario that museums are seeing. Balancing rising operational costs and profit-driven leadership often leads to some level of inaccessibility to an institution’s programming and exhibitions.
Lisa versus Jebediah Springfield and the Springfield Historical Society from “Lisa the Iconoclast” (Season 7, Episode 16)
Plot, character development, and quotability aside, this episode examines difficult aspects of museum work, preserving history, and interpreting stories. While one could dive deep into a discourse of this episode, alone, the episode intelligently explores the idea of the legacy, truth, and representation of local hero Jebediah Springfield. If you watch only one episode on this list, make it this one.
Whether it be a pivotal plot point or a hilarious one-off gag in an episode, museums are given their due on The Simpsons. Clever commentary on the cultural field at large, and tongue-in-cheek satire of museum practice make for an amusing and thought-provoking experience for all viewers.
What are some of your favourite museum moments featured on The Simpsons? Let us know in the comments below.