In his seminal work Imagined Communities, Benedict Anderson wrote of the ways nations are constructed – of the common symbols and artefacts that define peoples within national borders. Equally potent are the symbols used to define others within those borders, or to signify they are outsiders. It is the symbols used in The Simpsons to define non-American characters that will be the subject of my thesis.
I thought the term ‘non-American’ was problematic, for a whole range of reasons. And it is. But in the context of Anderson’s theory, it makes perfect sense. His work is all about nationalism and national communities, so it works well in this context.
By studying The Simpsons – a cultural product to which so many have given so much – I hope to discover something about how Americans interpret our (being non-Americans’) place in the world and, by extension, how they interpret themselves. It will not, of course, provide a comprehensive or definitive text by which all American cultural products and attitudes can be judged, but it should contribute something to the overall picture. It is not American exceptionalism that is under examination here, but the unexceptional aspects of one of the most enduring, penetrating and overtly American cultural products that exists. It is the everyday depictions of a particular subset of characters within the show, and I hope to demonstrate something of that culture, and its view of others.