The Simpsons, great for learning English!

Why The Simpsons has lost its way

Travis Holland, Charles Sturt University

Matt Groening, the creator of The Simpsons, will speak at the Sydney Opera House this weekend on the secrets of the show. Now in its 28th season, The Simpsons is one of the mostly widely lauded, and enduring series in TV history. But has it peaked creatively? Is it time to draw the adventures of Homer, Bart, Marge and the gang to a dignified close?

A significant body of fans (including this one) think The Simpsons peaked decades ago. They argue its writers regularly recycle plots – which are becoming increasingly incoherent – and the biting satire has paled. Add to this complaints about the increasingly bizarre behaviour of Homer and fawning guest star appearances and the stage is set for a revolt.

A small but vocal group of fans are actively calling for the show to be cancelled. They trace its steep decline back to the late 1990s. Any episode after that they call “Zombie Simpsons”. These fans can be found, mostly, on the website Dead Homer Society. It argues that “today [The Simpsons] is a hollow shell, over animated, under thought out, and thoroughly mediocre.” Indeed: “The sooner it ends the better off we’ll all be.”

A chief exhibit of the “Zombie Simpsons” phenomenon is the show’s 500th episode, which aired in 2012. In it, the titular family is exiled from Springfield because other townsfolk are fed up with its members’ boorish behaviour. Later, the rest of the show’s massive ensemble cast joins them, relocating the town of Springfield in the process.

This episode was highly derivative, repeating plot points from earlier seasons – including season 9 episode Trash of The Titans and 2007’s The Simpsons Movie.

Another piece of evidence offered in support of the Zombie Simpson hypothesis is the emergence of what fans have dubbed “jerkass Homer”. The author of the Dead Homer Society website, who goes by the pseudonym Charlie Sweatpants, writes that:

Jerkass Homer is invincible and totally self confident, the evil doppelganger of the Homer that had originally been on the show.

He has a point. Where Homer was always loud-mouthed, he’s become positively abusive. And while clumsy, he was still a loveable oaf. Now, instead of being simply dumb, he’s thoroughly stupid.

Adapting and responding

Still, The Simpsons endures – the latest season is averaging 4.6 million viewers in the United States – and continues to have adoring fans. The first of Groening’s talks this week rapidly sold out. The show ambles on in part due to the way it adapts and responds to events around it.

For instance, the creators release short (often online-only) clips relating to current affairs. For several US election cycles, The Simpsons has released videos of Homer attempting to vote. In 2008 it was for Barack Obama. This year it was for Hillary Clinton – although he was thwarted by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Another recent short shows Homer at the Sydney Opera House advertising Groening’s visit to Australia.

The show’s “couch gag”, which is part of the opening credits but changes for each episode, is often acclaimed by critics. During this year’s 600th episode, the gag was made available in virtual reality. You could view the VR portion through a cheap Google Cardboard device and on YouTube.

Another attempt to generate interest saw Homer answer viewer questions “live” in May this year – a first for an animated show. A pre-animated Homer sat at a desk while Dan Castellaneta (the actor who provides his voice) ad-libbed answers to pre-selected questions. Castellanata was motion captured while answering and animated automatically to merge with the existing footage.

A screenshot of The Simpsons 600th episode couch gag, which was available in virtual reality. Twentieth Century Fox/Google Spotlight Stories

Still, while The Simpsons continues to engage with current events, it does so in a more limited way than previous seasons. The weight of legacy makes it harder for the show to find new and innovative takes on old topics.

How will it end?

After 28 seasons, it is unclear if or how The Simpsons will ever end, despite the efforts of the Dead Homer Society.

Several actors who have voiced recurring (though not central) characters have died over the years. Their characters were retired, but the show went on. Phil Hartman, who voiced ambulance chasing lawyer Lionel Hutz and film-star Troy McLure, died in 1998. Marcia Wallace, the voice of Bart Simpson’s teacher Edna Krabappel, died in 2013.

Last year, a provocative tweet by Harry Shearer, the voice of Homer’s boss Mr Burns as well as the Simpsons’ neighbour Ned Flanders and Principal Skinner (among others) sparked rumours he would be leaving the show. But he remained. The Shearer scare followed rounds of wage disputes in 2008 and 2011, both of which were said to imperil the show – but didn’t.

Showrunner Al Jean (the series’ executive producer) has given several suggestions as to how The Simpsons could end. One of them has involved creating a “continuous loop” by ending the final scene of the final episode just where the first scene of the first episode began.

In the recent live segment, Homer himself claimed “The Simpsons will never end.” When asked directly, Groening tends to duck the question, or offer conflicting answers.

My favourite Simpsons episodes stem from two very early seasons. The local politics evident in Marge vs the Monorail (season 4) offered a rich and enduring view of small town life in the face of increasing corporatisation.

And the writers’ treatment of Edgar Allen Poe’s classic poem The Raven in season 2 showed care, but not reverence, while introducing a new audience to the poem. In this episode, the poem was narrated by James Earl Jones and the action of it played out by Homer and Bart.

It is this subtlety laced with satire that is missing from recent seasons, replaced instead by a brash, careless approach to the audience and their world.

Unless The Simpsons can recover these seemingly lost elements, calls for its cancellation will only grow. You can’t live on legacy forever.

Travis Holland, Lecturer of Communication and Digital Media, Charles Sturt University

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How honest are you?

Majority of people return lost wallets – here’s the psychology and which countries are the most honest

What would you do? By Andrey_Popov/Shutterstock

Nigel Holt, Aberystwyth University

Honesty is one of the traits we value most in others. We often assume it is a rather rare quality, making it important for us to find out who we can actually trust in this selfish world. But according to new research, there’s no need to be so cynical – it turns out most people in the world are honourable enough to return a lost wallet, especially if it contains a lot of cash.

The study, published in Science, looked at how often people in 40 different countries decided to return a lost wallet to the owner, after the researchers handed it in to the institution in which they said it had been found. Surprisingly, in 38 countries, the wallets with higher sums of money were returned more often than those with smaller amounts. This was the opposite of what the researchers had expected, they thought there would be a minimum dollar value at which participants would begin to keep the money.

Overall, 51% of those who were handed a wallet with smaller amounts of money reported it, compared with 72% for a larger sum. The most honest countries were Switzerland, Norway and the Netherlands whereas the least honest were Peru, Morocco and China.

So why is this and what does it tell us about the psychology of honesty? To get an idea, I ran a very informal focus group to find out what kinds of things people may ask themselves when making a decision to return a found wallet. A common view was that no one wanted to appear to act in a socially unacceptable way, and nobody wanted to appear to be a thief. And, of course, the more money in the wallet, the greater the crime.

An important aspect of the new study, however, was that the wallets were handed in to people working in the institutions in which they were said to be found. Given that people in one institution may know each other and may start suspecting each other, there was a very real chance of being found out if the wallet was not handed in. This is perhaps different from finding a wallet yourself on public transport when all you may grapple with is your own conscience.

The “found wallet” test has been used in research before but this is the first global study to use it and it involved more than 17,000 lost wallets. In 2009, a researcher carelessly “dropped” a number of wallets all over Edinburgh to see what would happen. He got 42% of the wallets back, but wasn’t not the most interesting finding. It wasn’t only the money in the wallet that influenced whether it would be returned. Where a family photo, an image of a cute puppy, a baby or an elderly couple were included, the chances of the wallet being returned significantly improved.

You may want to cut this out and put it in your wallet. tiarescott/Flickr, CC BY-SA

Impressive advantages

We value honesty and other moral traits higher than non-moral qualities, including intelligence or humour. As honesty has become one of the cornerstones of society, we start eduacting fellow citizens about it from an early age, even in nurseries. Developmentally, we make decisions early on about morality and moral behaviour, such as whether to share a toy. In 1958, psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg developed an entire theory about the stages of moral development.

But doing the “right” thing is often very hard in reality. Recent research shows there is a trade off – acting honestly can significantly inhibit your own desires. Luckily, there are important advantages. One study suggests that there are tangible health benefits from being honest. In one study, researchers compared groups of people who were instructed to be either honest or dishonest, and found that the honest group reported fewer sore throats, headaches and general feelings of sickness during the duration of the experiment.

Being honest may also make people happier. This might be unsurprising when you consider a view in evolutionary psychology that honesty is a marker that encourages trust and cooperation. So being honest gets you more collaborators and greater success, meaning it provides an evolutionary advantage. If we have evolved in this way, then it is hardly surprising that making a dishonest decision may go against our very nature.

The honest individual

Given how socially important honesty is, we often struggle to deal with being dishonest ourselves – it can fundamentally threaten our view of who we are. Indeed behavioural economist Dan Arielly has shown that we often convince ourselves that we are honest even though we may behave dishonestly, as long as those moral lapses are not huge.

The memories of such failures can also become less vivid or even distorted over time. For example, we may attribute reasons for our behaviour that aren’t entirely accurate (“I only kept the found wallet so I could give half of the money to a beggar”) but better support our views of ourselves. Essentially we are all moral hypocrites.

But which people are the most honest? We may be tempted to think it is those who are most trusted in our society. In the past, those in the UK who needed a passport application signed could choose from individuals from a number of trusted professions including bankers, priests, teachers, police officers and members of parliament. You probably smiled when you read that list – we’ve all heard of dishonest politicians, for example. Clearly, honesty is not universal in any profession, or among any one category of people.

We are all human, and as such open to the same psychological pressures and difficult choices when faced with temptation – we arrive at our own threshold of honesty, and these thresholds can change over a lifetime. There is evidence that, as we age, we get more honest as a result of becoming more norm focused – breaking the rules or seeking excitement becomes less common.

But is honesty the best policy? Probably. That said, we will all agree that a “little white lie” here and there may be the best option sometimes. For example, choosing dishonesty over hurting someone’s feelings could in many cases be compassionate and socially acceptable.

Knowing when to lie and understanding the consequences of it is the trick. Easing someone’s distress, or protecting ourselves from harm may certainly be acceptable – and we learn this too from an early age. I’ve concluded, for example, that telling a publisher that you’ve been working non-stop on an article as you rapidly approach deadline is a totally acceptable lie.

Nigel Holt, Professor of Psychology, Aberystwyth University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Some great advice

7 Ways You Can Make Your Company a Great Place to Work

By Ursula Jorch  |   Submitted On May 04, 2019

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Expert Author Ursula Jorch

Losing a great employee is costly. Your company loses time, money, and the information stored in that person’s brain about how things work well and what to do next.

It’s clear that employee retention is a priority for you as a leader and for those working with people in your company, which is probably everyone within your company.

The time to start addressing retention of great employees is now. Here are 7 ways you can keep your best staff members and create a desirable place to work:

  1. Start at onboarding. Help newly hired people know what is expected of them, including your standards of quality and customer service. Clarity of expectations makes it easier to succeed.
  1. Keep your Impact Purpose visible. Talk about your Impact Purpose and keep talking about it at every meeting. People want to be part of something bigger than themselves.
  1. Be willing to have your mind changed. It’s one thing to collect employee suggestions; it’s quite another to decide to act on them. When people feel heard and that they affecting things, they’ll be more fulfilled.
  1. Be empathetic and make sure your managers understand the importance of that too. In a LinkedIn survey, 25% of employees left their company due to personal issues, like childcare or elderly parent care challenges or other family issues. By providing a willing ear, you may be able to find a solution while retaining your employee.
  1. Be kind. Compassion goes a long way in the workplace. Treating people with respect is a hallmark of a great place to work. Being people-focused in this way will pay off for your company, and also contribute to you as a leader having a better experience at work and as a human being. Even Jeff Weiner, LinkedIn’s CEO, changed his hard-charging leadership to strongly focus on compassion. LinkedIn has grown to more than 250 million members and was acquired in 2016 for $26.2 billion.
  1. Talk to people. One of the companies I know that has a significant impact even though they’re small is Askinosie Chocolate. Their CEO, Shawn Askinosie, does a regular gemba walk. Gemba is a Japanese word that means visiting the shop floor. He makes a point of talking with everyone. Your company may be too large to do that, but you can still talk to quite a few people, and make sure that your company’s management team do the same. This personal contact helps keep people engaged because they know you really care about them.
  1. Share information. Open book management can be one method you can use to be transparent with employees. Some companies do regular weekly meetings to share financials, ongoing issues, and to discuss the future. Keeping people in the loop was #2 of the things employees indicated as most important to them. No one wants things done to them. They want to be part of it, to be informed.

Retaining good people requires less work than onboarding someone new. The Center for American Progress found that the average cost to replace an employee is 10-30% of their annual salary. Even if you’re feeling squeezed for time, making time for this will pay off.

People spend more than a third of their adult lives at work. They want that time to matter, to be fulfilling and satisfying. And more than ever, they are prepared to vote with their feet about where they choose to work.

Make employee relationships and retention one of your priorities as a leader. You won’t regret it.

Ursula Jorch is a speaker, business coach and consultant who helps entrepreneurs grow a successful business that makes a difference in the world. A 21-year successful entrepreneur herself, Ursula helps you define the difference you want to make in the world and develop strategy and marketing so you have ever-expanding impact.

Find Ursula on her podcast, Work Alchemy: The Impact Interviews where she interviews impactful entrepreneurs and leaders like Seth Godin and Marianne Williamson, and at for free resources for you and your business.

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