The Genre Parody: The Simpsons

The genre parody is certainly not a new ordeal but is definitely attached to the ideas of postmodernism, and most of us have at some point come across a genre parody in film or television. The early 2000s, for example, brought us the Scary Movie series, overflowing with parodies of the horror film genre in order to entertain and mock the codes we have all come to associate with horror. Also a notable example is This Is Spinal Tap (1984), that played off the documentary film and successfully breathed life into the mockumentary genre’s strategies that now plagues new media.

What is a genre parody though? To understand parody, we must first understand pastiche. Pastiche is a work of visual art, literature, theatre, or music that imitates the style or character of the work of one or more other artists (Wikipedia). Pastiche can be similar to paying homage to an earlier work or celebrating it. Parody employs the same strategy but instead the intention behind imitating is to mock or critique the content it is imitating, though there are exceptions that simply imitate for the sake of imitating. For this piece, however, I will focus on The Simpsons and its importance within genre parody.

In his book Watching with The Simpsons: Television, Parody, and Intertextuality, author Jonathan Gray “[examined] how audiences consume with a whole barrage of other images and structures learned from other items of media.” Gray’s analysis provides evidence that this is true by narrowing down three preexisting forms of media that the show critiques in its content—advertising, television news, and, the focus of this post, the “domesticom” genre.

The ‘domestic comedy’ is a category that was coined by Horace Newcomb but is also known as the family sitcom. The Simpsons is a perfect example of a commentary on this genre because it takes codes associated with it and reevaluates what they mean, inviting their audiences to decode a hundred different new meanings from the structure they have chosen to dismantle.

Like the sitcom, each episode of the The Simpsons is a self-contained narrative with a beginning, middle, and end—there is a catalyst that will set the action in motion or create chaos but at the end the natural order of things will be restored. In family sitcoms it seems problems within the family are always so easy to address or deal with, leaving the resolution to always be a peaceful one. Something terrible may have happened but it is never drastic enough to change the entire course of life for the characters.

But perhaps that mode of addressing the problem is not reflective of reality and this is where The Simpsons likes to question it—Bart, Homer, Lisa, Maggie, and Marge face altercations that may not always be fixable and sometimes downright ridiculous but never out of the realm of domestic life. And even when they are resolved they are not addressed in the same docile manner as the domestic comedy. They purposely challenge the structure of family and audiences can then question the authenticity of the ideologies that most family sitcoms present—like the myth of the ‘American Dream’ and the perfect family home. The relationships between the characters are not conventional ideas of sweet, loving siblings with parents that are representative of the ideal marriage between a man and a woman. Homer is this mess of a man who can’t quite seem to do much right but Marge somehow continues to say with him, Bart is a troubled youth who knows the principal’s office by heart and doesn’t have a strong suit in academics, and Lisa is presented as an often overly outspoken kid who refuses to conform. But despite their most unconventional characteristics, they still remain true to the idea that family love is unconditional, something they share above all else with the family sitcom.

The possibilities for analysis of the entire series may have no short end, in fact the list of meta references for this show keep growing but its success has certainly proven it to be worthy of its criticism/mockery of the family sitcom. So on that note and in true RHE 315 fashion, here’s a short video essay on The Simpsons.


Discussion Response

To address whether different game genres require different considerations for where their sense of agency lies between the two poles of schema and image, I’ll be taking a look at fighting games like Street Fighter and Super Smash Bros. and then comparing these to action-roleplaying games such as The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and Bioshock.

In Super Smash Bros. and Street Fighter, the gameplay is driven towards the pole of body schema. The controls for the fighters are mapped to a gamepad and the movements required to play the game rate very low on the complexity of P-actions when taken individually. A P-action will punch, kick, grab, block, jump, or perform some other similar action that involve an input of direction and the action desired. This said, a string of P-actions performed in quick succession correctly can send a grown adult home crying to their parents because your anthropomorphic fox fighting avatar unleashed a flurry of millisecond-fast destruction on to their Italian plumber fighting avatar, thus winning you a competition and roughly $10,000 prize money. These are real things that happen.

Now, the rapidity of translation of action input and action output makes these games extremely fast-paced despite the apparent simplicity of the game itself. This competitive game format combined with a high skill cap often means that the agency of the player resides within their sensory-motor capacities and whether they can respond both quickly and correctly to changing situations while in virtual combat with another player. The responses must be simultaneously consciously considered and automatic, which definitely downplays the importance of body image in these fighting games. While the player can usually reskin their character, the overall appearance and the meaning of the avatars’ actions are not of particular importance.

Above: possibly the greatest moment in video game history. Insane amount of technical skill required to a) block Chun-Li’s fearsome kicks and b) come back and win the game.


Above: if the first video was Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1 Prelude in G Major, then this is Lil Wayne’s “A Milli”: equally incredible, significantly more crass. NSFW language.

Now, in third-person and first-person narrative-based roleplaying games, much more emphasis is placed on the body image than the schema. The character on screen, whether playing as Geralt in the Witcher series or Jack in Bioshock, is an extension of your body, and the choices made within that virtual body are identifiable with those of your body. For example, in the Bioshock games, the player is presented with the dilemma of Little Sisters—genetically mutated children who harvest a substance known as ADAM (essentially, potent stem cells) from the dead bodies that are scattered around Rapture, a failed Objectivist undersea city-society (I know, right?). The player can either cure them by injecting a serum into them that cures them of their mutation, or they can kill them and harvest their ADAM reserves (because this functions as currency for superpowers and the like in-game). Now, regardless of what you choose, the game is first-person, and the player witnesses the choices made through the interface played out on screen. This presents the issue of “well, would I do this in this situation? Would I physically perform these actions?”, and it is this issue that gives many players pause the first time these games. In The Witcher, the player embodies Geralt, a monster hunter with what essentially amounts to no defined moral code. The player is often put into situations where they are presented with a set of choices, usually during dialogue, where there is no clear-cut right answer. In this sense, the player must reflect upon their body image and what they could picture themselves actually doing in such a situation.

Discussion Questions for “Postmodernism, Indie Media, and Popular Culture”

by Harrison Thomas and Alfredo Olazaba

  1. What are the defining differences between postmodernism and modernism?
  2. How does the act of “quoting,” whether referring to texts, clothing, or general style, create a “distancing irony?” Give an example of this.
  3. Postmodernism asserts that identity is performed, and the physical body is imagined to be easily transformed. Give an example of a public figure incorporating these postmodern ideals into their identity, and the processes by which they do this.
  4. What is a genre parody? How does it function? Give an example.
  5. Are musical acts such as Radiohead and The Smiths that behave subversively within the system of the music industry effective in achieving their goals? Argue why or why not.

Video Games and Virtual Space Discussion Blog

1.How can interface differences affect the sense of presence within a simulated world and the enjoyment from a video game?

When it comes to the interface of video games, gaming companies take various approaches in order to capture a presence in a simulated world. Motion gaming was popular for a few years. It was first introduced with the Nintendo Wii, and later adopted by Sony and Microsoft with their own renditions of motion gaming. Motion gaming did not last very long however, it seemed only a novelty. While it seemed immersive at first, the motion controllers and motion capturing were quite inaccurate. They also limited the amount of freedom and agency that the player had. With limited agency, many games felt extremely repetitive. There was almost no variety in the game play due to limited controls, the motion capturing was inaccurate, and overall the games were quite dull and boring. They were immersive to some degree, but being immersed does not necessarily entail fun, not with motion gaming at least.

In the current market of gaming, it seems as though companies have abandoned motion gaming. They have returned to their baseline premise of using the classic controller model. While the controller itself is not as immersive as motion gaming, it’s immersive in its own aspect as it gives the player much more control over their character/avatar. In that sense the presence in the simulated world increases as the player has more agency. Also, it has become the standard in current gaming that controllers have a vibrating function. Depending on what game is being played, the controller will vibrate based on various factors. One of the most common elements that cause a controller to vibrate is when the player is attacked or harmed. This vibration increases the presence in the simulated world as it provides a small physical simulated stimulation of what the avatar experiences in game. It provides physical immersion for the player as they are able to actually feel some stimulation depending on the actions taken by the player.

Controller gif

Furthermore, many games now have the option to be played in first person mode. The game gives the player to opportunity to experience the simulated world from the perspective of the protagonist, and in this sense the game is made to immerse the player in the simulated world. While the player is not immersed physically, they are definitely immersed visually as they put themselves in the position of the game character when they play the game in first person. First person games are created to make the player feel as if they themselves are the protagonists of the game. They’re made to give the player the immersion of having the presence within the simulated world.

Gta 5 gif 2


2.How can one experience both agency and ownership within a game world? Give at least one example.

Online gaming, especially in first person shooters like Call of Duty, is one of the ways players can experience both agency and ownership within the in game world. In the game, players have the liberty to customize their character however they want. They can change their clothing, their facial features, and even the emblem that they wear. More importantly, players can choose which type of weapons they want their character to wield. This weapon choice gives the player ownership, but furthermore it gives the player agency over his character/avatar. They choose who to attack and who to spare, but more importantly they influence the scoring of the game. The player can influence their environment by setting up various weapon traps that can drastically alter the approaches and tactics implored by opposing players. Players can gain various perks/bonus weapons which create a diverse and spontaneous match. Every game has a standard set of rules, but every player has ownership of their own character and with that ownership they also have the agency to drastically alter the outcome of the match.


Video Games and Virtual Space Discussion Questions

These questions are based off of the “Embodiment and Interface” reading.

1. How can interface differences affect the sense of presence within a simulated world and the enjoyment from a video game?

2. How can one experience both agency and ownership within a game world? Give at least one example.

3. How have virtual reality devices like the Oculus Rift expanded on the writer’s analysis of the way devices like the Nintendo Wii work? How do they differ?

4. Do different game genres require different considerations for where their sense of agency lies between the two poles of schema and image? (Ex: RPG vs Sports game)

5. How can virtual experiences extend your body image onto an outside object?

The Austin graffiti conversation: resources

Here’s a list of fun stuff I’ve come across in my own research.

spratx seal

SprATX recently completed this unusual commission. Source.

SprATX, an Austin art collective

Susan Floyd, “West Campus” (with an attached, years-long archive of Austin street art)

Morgan Ireland, “Keeping Austin Weird: Graffiti and Urban Branding

Andrew Takano‘s amazing time lapse project “Start Fresh: Never Give Up” featuring the HOPE Outdoor Gallery

An interview with Takano about his project




Sofles is an internationally-famous graffiti writer from Brisbane. He’s garnered much of his fame from his high-production digital content, such as what you see above.  Read about his 2009 conviction here.

Timelapse cinematography is a very popular genre of digital graffiti content.

In that vein, check out this strange 21st century production: a local waste management company sponsors a burn and then pays a production crew to time-lapse it.

Wikipedia glossary of graffiti (includes regional terms)

A very brief guide to graffiti styles.  Graffiti is a type of calligraphy (among other things) and as such there are thousands of variations in style, many with their own regional names/designations; try to just master the basics for this project

Another online exhibit on graffiti (commissioned by the Russian Federation for UNESCO)

P.S. The digital really impacted the graffiti scene in the late 90s.  Check out these long-running graffiti websites to see how they’ve grown.


Art Crimes

Pure Graffiti


Capitol vs. Capital and its relationship with the Capitol Complex

  1. What is the difference between capitol and capital, and how do they interact with each other in the capitol complex?

Capitol versus capital. They sound the same, and they almost look the same. Only one letter differentiate these seemingly interchangeable nouns. It is common and easy to mismatch these words. Most of the time, I use capitol and capital as I please thinking they mean virtually the same thing. While they are very similar in root word and meaning, capitol and capital are very different words.

Both capitol and capital come from the Latin word “caput” meaning “the head.” However, capitol comes from the root word “capitolina.” Capitolina dates back to ancient Rome and its founding. It is believed that Rome was founded on the hill of Capitolina. Capital evolved from the root word “capitale” meaning “wealth.” As you can see, these both have very similar roots, but they are also very different.

Capitol can be defined as the specific house of government for a nation, state or city. It is a very specific form of the word where capital can be broader and loosely defined. Capitol typically indicates one building. For instance, the Capitol of Austin would be the capitol building on Congress Avenue. It is one specific place where most of the legislation takes place.

Further, capital is very broad and loosely defined. In Vale’s excerpt, capital means the area surrounding the capitol building where legislation occurs. However, capital has various other meanings. In our example above, Capitol was the capitol building in Austin. Capital would include all of Austin, Texas. Therefore, Austin is the capital of Texas because the capitol building is in the city.

Finally, the capitol complex deals with the Capitol and the capital working together as one. Both the legislative building and the city surrounding the building can be classified as the capitol complex.

Resources for your exhibit

I’ve found some brief framing resources that I think will be helpful for your project, and I’ll be adding them to the blog and cataloguing them on Omeka.  To open up this conversation,  I want to share Style Wars (1983) with you.   This film is one of the most important and well-known documentaries on graffiti, so if you prefer to do your research in video form, check it out:

Discussion Questions for Vale’s “Capital and Capitol”

The following questions are for Vale, “Capital and Capitol: An Introduction,” excerpted from Architecture, Power, and National Identity:

  1. Typically historical buildings and monuments are the items most looked at when studying the ideas of power and representation. Are we still implementing these rhetorical architectural designs in the buildings of power in the present?
  2. Does the United States seem progressive or regressive when comparing our capital city to those of countries such as Germany, England, and Italy?
  3. Have famous buildings of power in the past tried to convey their idea of power with the use of architectural designs of beauty or intimidation?
  4. How has history and large-scale urban design intervention affected the symbolism of modern capital cities? Is there a difference between evolved capitals and designed capital cities?
  5. What is the difference between capitol and capital, and how do they interact with each other in the capitol complex?