My parents forbade me from watching The Simpsons when I was younger. It was on our taboo list, along with anything on MTV. (Honestly, anything on MTV should still be on everyone’s taboo lists, due to its atrocious content, and yes, I’m looking at you, Jersey Shore.) When I got older, The Simpsons was never on my radar, for better or for worse. I preferred Nick at Nite reruns of I Love Lucy, Happy Days, and Wonder Years. I don’t doubt that I’m better for it. It was much more helpful to spend my nights with Elizabeth Montgomery and Lucille Ball than any other so-called celebrity. Upon my arrival in Spain in 2008, then, I was unaware of the show’s fame. I’d no idea just how ubiquitous American music, television, and film were. I know, how utterly naïve of me. But as I soon found out, American culture is everywhere, in the places you’d least expect. It’s not limited to pop culture or celebrities. Indeed, even words like parking are used in Spanish to indicate a parking lot. (More hilariously, footing means jogging.) I was amazed, and somewhat disappointed, when I first came upon McDonalds, Burger King, and even KFC in Europe. If we had to export something, why was it mass-produced chicken “meat” and gummy instant mashed potatoes?
The Simpsons, in contrast, are somewhat respectable. Seriously. The show’s creator, Matt Groening, has a sharp eye for satire and does a respectable job at lampooning American culture’s more dubious elements, including hyper-fundamentalism and a lack of focus on education. The series has been running for 20-plus years now, having debuted on December 17, 1989. That sort of run is no mere coincidence. Yet whenever I explain to my friends and family that, indeed, the Simpsons are the most popular American family in Spain, they stare at me slack-jawed. “But why?” they inquire, their confusion palpable. It’s just that no one I know watches the show as often as Spaniards. I don’t even know when it’s on in the states. I mean, of course there are people who watch it in the U.S. It wouldn’t have survived 20 years if that weren’t the case. But there is something about the program that has become deeply ingrained in the Spanish psyche. As with all cultural aspects, it helps to get a Spanish boyfriend (and/or girlfriend, whichever way you swing). Mario is my window into all aspects of Spanish-osity and –isms, and I thank him for it, even if sometimes he probably gets annoyed with my intermittent ranting and raving when I fail to grasp the finer aspects of the culture. I was somewhat surprised to find that his family often (but by no means always) eats dinner with the television on, something I thought the proper Spanish would never do, as food is not only eaten, but relished here. At his house, and in most Spanish households, lunch is eaten between 2:30-3:00 and doesn’t end until 3:30-4:00.During that time period, two vitally important T.V. programs are aired: The Simpsons and the news. While Americans may find it odd that the news is on at three o’clock, rest assured that it’s not. The three o’clock hour is one upon which the news stations can count. That’s when the siesta is, after all, and that’s when their viewers will be most numerous. They can’t deny their appetites and they also won’t turn off their televisions. The dollar signs begin to appear in your eyes. Thus, The Simpsons’ producers have either had inordinate luck or are just geniuses because they have assured themselves the 2:30 spot, the time just before the lunch hour when the children are sitting in the living room, their little tummies growling hungrily as they wait for mamá to bring in el primer plato, or “the first course.” Naturally, what’s on that’s appealing to them? The Simpsons, who, at the end of the day, aren’t really that offensive and can be counted upon for easy laughs. Homer is always eating and Bart is usually slacking off, something a lot of little Spaniards, at least in my experience, will have no trouble relating to.
I asked Mario for his opinion, and he said (translated from el español): “I think it’s because the humor isn’t harsh, it’s funny at times, and people love Homer. I like it because it’s a cartoon and because it shows the life of a normal American family as well as showing that they are normal, with faults as well as virtues. Homer is very impulsive and stupid at times, but he has a good heart.” Now you’re famous too, Mario. Famous on the Internets. I’ve come to my conclusion, then. If someday I decide to produce my own television show (a very unlikely possibility, but bear with me), I will try my damnedest to have it on at 2:30 PM or 9 PM, the hours right before the meals. In reality, the 2:30 hour is preferable, but I’ll take what I can get. It wouldn’t hurt for it to be animated. Hey, it worked for Matt Groening, why not for me?