The law plays a surprisingly dominant role on The Simpsons. Sometimes, circumstances can be as simple as Marge Simpson being told to hold a ticker-tape parade to hide a litter law violation. Other times, the show wades into more complex legal and social issues, such as the legalization of same-sex marriage in Springfield, the town where The Simpsons is set. At the core, however, the Simpson family seems to exist in a democratic, law-abiding society.
Steven Keslowitz, Executive Editor of the Cardozo Law Review, claimed that public perceptions of law-related concepts are shaped by their portrayal on programs like The Simpsons. However, it is important to remember that The Simpsons is a satire of contemporary society. Therefore, to understand how The Simpsons approaches issues and shapes perceptions requires an understanding of satire.
Satire, at its core, is meant to expose folly. Because The Simpsons is animated, it can make use of extreme exaggerations to expose this folly.
For example, when Homer Simpson eats 100 slices of processed American cheese, the viewer can temporarily suspend belief and accept that Homer has actually eaten all of this cheese - no matter how unlikely it would be in the real world. Satirically, the absurdity of Homer eating 100 slices of cheese can be read as a statement about the gluttony of contemporary society.
Often, The Simpsons’ satirical approach to law is similar. For example, Police Chief Wiggum is sometimes portrayed as naive or lazy, and lawyer Lionel Hutz is sometimes portrayed as dishonest or incompetent. Neither of these portrayals represents reality. Instead, they are meant to be satirical exaggerations, much like Homer eating 100 slices of cheese.
Therefore, when watching The Simpsons, remember that while the program’s satire may be holding a mirror to society, much like a house of mirrors at a carnival, the reflection is a distorted version of reality. Details are exaggerated in order to bring about humour, expose folly, and make people think critically about the world in which they live.