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How far is the Simpsons a parody of the Waltons

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The Simpsons and The Waltons are two very different TV shows; the latter is a rural drama about a large American family struggling during the Great Depression, while the other is a city cartoon about a dysfunctional family trying to cope with modern American life.

The title sequence of The Simpsons opens with clouds in the sky parting to reveal big, yellow writing “The Simpsons”. This title is very similar to the yellow title “The Waltons” which appears in the Waltons sequence. This is a clear statement that The Simpsons parody the Waltons; surely such a conspicuous example can’t be deemed a coincidence?

The puffy clouds at the start of The Simpsons represent pollution in the modern-day world which contrasts with the clear blue skies at the beginning of the Waltons sequence. A mock angelic voice sings in the background as the image zooms through the letter “P” of the title and gives us an establishing shot of Simpsonesque Springfield. This is quite different from The Waltons sequence which opens with a guitar solo accompanying the establishing shot of a rural, picturesque area surrounded by unspoilt hills and trees.

While The Simpsons moves quickly to a view of the nuclear power plant after the title, The Waltons opening show us the surrounding countryside. This highlights the development of modern & urban culture in The Simpsons with the traditional rustic lifestyle of The Waltons.

The music of The Simpsons is fast-paced and rapid; it complements the busy and chaotic lifestyle of the family, while The Waltons differs by having slow, country music accompanying the title sequence which suggests to viewers a slow pace of life.

Following the establishing shot of The Waltons, the camera slowly pans to the left, zooms out and then dissolves into a shot of green trees overlapping a large American- country house. The camera then slowly zooms in towards the house and through a window, then dissolves to a close-up of John-Boy writing away happily on a desk. He then pauses before being distracted by the sound of a truck horn. He looks outside and smiles at seeing the truck come up the driveway, before rushing downstairs. This shows that John-Boy is anxious to see his family, and that they are important to him which is quite the opposite in The Simpsons.

This scene is very similar to a far-away shot of Springfield Elementary School after the overview of the city. Here, the image zooms in quickly through a window of the school, just as it did in The Waltons, and into a classroom where Bart is stood writing lines on a chalkboard as a punishment. Bart looks grumpy and miserable in this scene but his mood changes very quickly to one of glee after hearing the school bell ring, which is very much like John-Boy being distracted by the horn before smiling. Another likeness in that both scenes have points of view from outside the window.

In The Waltons, we assume John-Boy is writing poetry which portrays him as an intelligent individual; this is achieved by a look of thoughtfulness on John-Boy’s face and setting the shot in a well-lit bedroom which can be interpreted as using lighting to show John-Boy’s mood, one of peace and calm. These scenes show a striking contrast between John-Boy and Bart because of the two characters’ very different personalities.

As Bart leaves the classroom in a hurry, the image zooms back out and focuses on the school entrance. Then the view pans left to Bart flying gleefully out on his skateboard through the school doors and into the air. This carefully scripted piece identifies Bart as a mischievous and rebellious character, in just a few seconds.

Following this is a shot of Homer wearing a protective suit whilst working at the nuclear power plant. As soon as the end-of work whistle goes, he takes off his mask, drops the rod of uranium he is holding and leaves quickly. This scene suggests he is not careful because the rod of uranium is radioactive and potentially fatal. Homer doesn’t realise this because he is in a hurry to get home, as is Bart and the whole family as the title sequence progresses.

Following the far-away shot of the truck approaching the house, the camera moves to a close-up of John getting out from the truck, before the picture cuts to a shot of Olivia emerging from the house. John smiles at his wife, and she replies by smiling back, showing that family comes first while in The Simpsons, family does not necessarily comes first. After that, there is a shot of Grandma getting up from her seat in the porch and smiling when she sees John, then cutting to a shot of Grandpa chuckling, showing again the strong family bond.

While Olivia is a traditional housewife, Marge in The Simpsons is also a traditional housewife but who has other responsibilities as is shown by the shot at the supermarket counter with Maggie. Here, the image pans to the right and focuses on Marge reading a magazine before cutting quickly to Maggie being scanned and put into the trolley. This is followed by a look of relief on Marge’s face as she realises that Maggie hasn’t got lost.

The image then moves to Lisa being ordered out of the classroom by her teacher due to her independent saxophone playing – the scene presents Lisa as being talented and gifted. She carries on playing as she leaves the room – this creativity is comparable to John-Boy’s flair in the shot where he has a flash of inspiration whilst writing poetry.

Homer is driving recklessly while trying to get home. Then the image moves to Bart weaving through pedestrians walking on the pavement, and then to an extreme close-up of Maggie holding a steering wheel in Marge’s car. This shot makes it appear like Maggie is driving before the image zooms out to reveal the wheel to be a toy and then pans right to show Marge driving. They both look at each other before beeping their horns; this shows the love between mother and daughter which is also displayed in The Waltons in a shot where Olivia and Grandma are standing together looking at the truck.

The view then moves to John lifting up the new radio he has bought and walking up the drive, with his children joining him. The camera then cuts to Elizabeth running up the porch followed by John-Boy picking her up. There is a small family joke before the view then shows the whole family gathered round on the front steps. The scene then moves to the family painting, and then zooms out before finally fading away. This shot represents what The Waltons is all about; how America wants to see itself, as an idyllic world.

Meanwhile, in The Simpsons, the whole family arrives in a disorderly fashion; as Homer gets out of the car, Bart and Lisa pass without greeting him. This is quite different to the Waltons where everyone rushes to meet John as he arrives home showing the difference in unity between the families.

The scene then changes to Marge’s car coming up the driveway; the point of view shifts to a sight from inside Marge’s car as Homer runs through the garage door screaming. Upon entering the house, they run towards the couch to where they all wrestle to get onto the sofa. The shot then finally moves to an extreme close-up of the TV screen before turning black. The whole scene symbolises what modern life in America is all about; getting home and watching TV without showing the family togetherness that is displayed in The Waltons.

Close analysis shows us there are subtle differences and similarities between the two that makes it difficult to say The Simpsons weren’t influenced by The Waltons. I think that The Simpsons contains too many matching scenes with The Waltons to be coincidences. This leads me to conclude that The Simpsons title sequence includes scenes that mimic The Waltons’ opening, some that parody it and others which are meant to show how life in the USA has changed so much in just a short period of time.

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