The Simpsons has tackled countless topics during its run. Throughout it all, there has been great satire and parody and clever observations, and just plain ol’ absurdity. Sometimes all of these angles have been used on a single topic—like “America.” With the Fourth of July upon us, it seemed apt to take a look at the episodes of The Simpsons that are about America. But what does it mean for a Simpsons episode to be about “America?” Oh, the possibilities are vast. There have been episodes with political aspects, sure, but other episodes about America have also been about American institutions, or icons, or ideology. Although none of these involve an old man inhabiting a love tester machine, we still think this is a pretty good list. Here are 30 times when The Simpsons tackled America.
This first season episode is one of the first, if not the first, Simpsons episode to deal with iconography. It also may be the first of many, many angry mobs formed over the seasons. When Bart decides to cut the head off the statue of Jebediah Springfield to impress the bullies, the town is thrown into a furor. The city has its sacred cows, and it does not react well to them being desecrated. This isn’t as specifically about “America” as some later episodes, but it still deals with some classic American ideals—like angry mobs.
Now here’s an episode with a clearer view of America, and American politics in particular. When Mr. Burns is hit with a heavy fine for polluting the environment, he decides the best thing to do is run for governor so he can hold the power. Thus begins his political campaign, a campaign which is, shockingly, not exactly honest or above board. When this episode reran, it featured a new chalkboard gag referencing Dan Quayle’s inability to spell potato. That’s a joke that, perhaps, has not exactly stood the test of time, but the political and environmental elements of this episode do.
This is another episode about politics, and another one that doesn’t necessarily present a positive view of the American political process. The whole family goes to Washington D.C., where they witness political corruption, and talk to statues and have a grand old time. Any episode that takes place primarily in the capital of this country obviously has a place on such a list, especially since much of the plot involves kids writing essays about the good ol’ U S of A.
“Homer at the Bat” isn’t about politics or anything. It is about baseball, however, which is America’s pastime. The show has done a bunch of episodes with plot revolving around baseball, but this is the best. It is also a funny take on the underdog sports story, what with Homer winning the big game by being plunked in the head with a pitch.
“Whacking Day” could easily stand in for many an American tradition or pastime. The fake holiday is based in part on an actual ritual from an actual Texas town where snakes got whacked with sticks. In this episode, Richard Nixon is involved. So is Barry White. And on top of all that it turns out that Whacking Day just started as an excuse to beat up the Irish. That certainly feels like it is right out of American history.
This episode combines two very American things: The Boy Scouts of America and the act of consuming dangerous amounts of sugar. The latter leads Bart into the former, and then hilarity ensues. It isn’t really “about” the Boy Scouts, but a Boy Scouts-esque group is prominently involved, as is a Rappin’ Ronnie Reagan tape.
The notion of celebrity, and the desire to become one, is even more prominent in America these days than it was when The Simpsons brought us this great episode. “Bart Gets Famous” is a smart take on the fickle nature of fame, and in particular fads. The box-making business had largely stagnated. Bart loses his celebrity as quickly as he got it, once people inexplicably decide that they are tired of his catchphrase, and his biography (which consists largely of excerpts from the Oliver North trial).
This story involves NASA and space exploration, which has obviously been a big part of American history (and American present, for that matter). It also featured Buzz Aldrin voicing himself, which is a huge deal. (Take that, Neil DeGrasse Tyson.) However, “Deep Space Homer” takes things one step further, with Homer getting the chance to be an astronaut, he tries to coerce the average American Joe to actually get interested in outer space exploration. You know, instead of watching their crass American sitcoms. And if our country is ever overtaken by insect overlords, this episode will be all the more American.
We have another bit of political humor with this one, where Sideshow Bob runs against Joe Quimby for mayor of Springfield. There is a stand-in character for Rush Limbaugh, and great references to All the President’s Men, the story of how a couple of gentlemen took down Richard Nixon’s administration. It takes on both of the major political parties in this country, much like “Citizen Kang” did. (Since that was merely one third of a Treehouse of Horror episode, it did not make this list, but it deserves to be mentioned.)
Here we have an episode taking down—or at least taking shots at—American television. In particular, there’s a jab at Hard Copy, parodied here as Rock Bottom (it’s, admittedly, not the most subtle joke). The parody, however, is very sharp and well done, as the episode delves pretty deep into American pop culture. This includes great jokes about Mr. T and E.T.; and that candy convention felt pretty American too. Blowing up said convention with a can of soda and some pop rocks definitely feels emblematic of America.
OK, we’re back with Sideshow Bob, but it this one just had to be included. “Last Gleaming” involves an air show, provides commentary on American television, and also features an atomic bomb and the Wright Brother’s plane. It’s like a history lesson come to life. Sort of.
Class strife remains a significant part of the American experience, for better or worse (almost entirely, for worse). In this episode Marge tries to get her family into a higher stratosphere of society. Homer golfs with Mr. Burns in classic snobs vs. slobs fashion. In the end, Marge realizes that she has turned into something ugly in her attempt to climb the social ladder, heading back to the upper-lower-middle class for good.
Former Presidents have shown up on The Simpsons quite a few times, but this is the only time an ex-President moved in, and also spoke negatively about the show before showing up. The first George Bush moves into the house across the street from the Simpsons, and eventually ends up in a war with Homer and Bart. Then Gerald Ford moves in and everything is great. This episode also features the first appearance of Disco Stu, but disco really feels more like a European thing, you know?
Another episode about a long-since dead issue in America—immigration. There’s also, a bear patrol tax issue. This fine episode deals with scapegoating, and also takes a nuanced, humorous view of illegal immigrants. It also features the classic line, “You must love this country more than I love a cold beer on a hot Christmas morning.” What could be more patriotic?
“Lisa the Iconoclast” paints a different picture of American history, and deals with the fact that some of our folk heroes are less than heroic. Lisa finds out that town founder Jebediah Springfield was, in truth, a pirate who once tried to kill George Washington. Is it better for the townspeople to learn the truth? Or should she let them have their heroes and their patriotism? Also a question of import—should a little girl be assassinated to keep the truth quiet? All these questions are answered, and Johnny Cakes are eaten.
Sure, this episode is mostly about Lisa trying to be cool, and make friends and reinvent herself. However, it has to make this list because it takes place around Fourth of July, the most American of holidays (save for maybe Labor Day). Homer even buys a gigantic firework to celebrate the occasion.
This episode makes the list because the 18th amendment of the United States Constitution becomes an issue, as The Simpsons deal with that little period of time known as Prohibition. Homer decides that it’s his patriotic duty to become a bootlegger, which also really points to that ol’ American can-do spirit.
“The Cartridge Family” begins with a soccer game between Mexico and Portugal. This year’s World Cup proves things are a bit different in 2014, as the joke is largely about how the Americans in the stands are bored at the game. Then, a riot breaks out and the episode suddenly becomes about guns and gun control, and the NRA gets involved. The Second Amendment gets thrown into the mix, and someone brings up the importance of keeping the King of England out of your face. All very American things (even though it should be noted that England doesn’t really have a king).
Homer and his buddies join the Navy. As an all-American member of this nation’s armed forces, Homer ends up the captain of a submarine. Naturally, he also ends up causing an international incident.
Taxes and the IRS and Harry Truman are all central to this episode. But the real reason “The Trouble with Trillions” makes the list is due the following exchange between Homer and Mr. Burns.
Mr. Burns: If it’s a crime to love one’s country, then I’m guilty. And if it’s a crime to steal a trillion dollars from our government, and hand it over to communist Cuba, then I’m guilty of that too. And if it’s a crime to bribe a jury, then so help me, I’ll soon be guilty of that.
Homer: God bless America!
Las Vegas may be the most all-American city of then all. They even have their own New York… and their own Paris! But, more to the point, this is the only time the characters headed to America’s gambling and decadence capital, earning it a spot on this list.
Sure, baseball is America’s pastime, but these days the biggest sport is football, and the biggest sporting event, the Super Bowl. Of the two episodes with a Super Bowl theme in the plot, this one was first and better. Also, Dolly Parton, an American treasure, appears. And Vincent Price, sort of. He’s an American treasure too.
Once again, The Simpsons takes on the American political and election process, in particularly taking their shots at FOX News. The Simpson family helps Krusty the Clown become a congressman, and then they help him game the system. It’s no Frank Capra movie, but it may be a better depiction of how American politics actually works.
The American flag features prominently into the major incident of this episode. Bart accidentally desecrates the flag, and thus Springfield overreacts in response, renaming the town Liberty-ville and getting uber-patriotic. A satirical story of reeducation unfolds, but in the end, the Simpson family decide to flee their hiding place in France to return to America, the country that they dearly miss. See? It’s not so bad over here.
Drugs! Prescription drugs, that is, and the difficulty of getting them in the United States is the focus of this one. Naturally, Homer decides to start smuggling drugs over the border from Canada. So, one might wonder if this episode is more All-Canadian than All-American? Can’t it be both? Like that episode where Homer and Marge join the American curling team for the Vancouver Olympics?
Hey, remember that recall election for California’s governor? Maybe not? It may seem like a dated issue to build an episode around, but The Simpsons decided to do it anyway. The whole thing was probably a ploy just to make it on this list.
This is another episode where Homer joins the military—this time the army—but instead of being a silly romp, it is actually a pretty pointed criticism of the US military. The plot takes a rather unflattering look at an American institution, but that doesn’t make it any less appropriate for this list.
“E. Pluribus Wiggum” focuses on the excessiveness of the primary system in the American electoral process. This is a trademark of our political system, but we’ve never actually done something cool, like allowing a child like Ralph Wiggum to win a primary… yet. This episode also features many political pundits, including legendary newsmen Dan Rather and Jon Stewart as themselves.
The Simpsons has been on for so long, they eventually got around to presenting an episode where Superintendent Chalmers becomes a main character. But this episode makes the list because the life and times of Teddy Roosevelt are discussed in great detail, a true rarity for American television. Considering the fact that Roosevelt is one of the four men on Mount Rushmore, you’d think he deserved more than one animated sitcom episode and the Washington Nationals’ President races.
Finally, we arrive at the most recent episode on this list, season 23’s “Politically Inept, with Homer Simpson.” Perhaps it is not surprising the show eventually decided to make Homer a political pundit, since his brash, angry stupidity is pretty well-designed to parody such shows. The episode doesn’t say much about American politics that hasn’t been said in prior episodes, but it does feature Ted Nugent as himself, along with somebody pretending to be James Madison.
There are many instances in other episodes of The Simpsons that could have, arguably, landed them on this list. Feel free to include some suggestions! And hopefully you were able to enjoy this list in lieu of celebrating your nation’s independence by blowing up small parts of it with tiny explosive devices.
Chris Morgan is an Internet gadabout who writes on a variety of topics and in a variety of mediums. If he had to select one thing to promote, however, it would be his ’90s blog/podcast, Existential Parachute Pants can also follow him on “Twitter”https://twitter.com/ChrisXMorgan.)