Classic Simpsons Reviews: “Bart the Genius”

1.2 Bart the Genius

Fearful of failing an intelligence test, Bart switches exams with Martin Prince, leading to Bart being labelled a genius.

First chalkboard gag! “I will not waste chalk.” Lovely little morsel of satire, neatly tucked in rather than belaboured for several minutes (hi, post-golden era Simpsons).

I love how smart early Simpsons is. The family is taking in a game of Scrabble, and Lisa plays “id” (the un-coordinated, instinctual part of our psyche), which, of course, no one else accepts as an actual word. The drive motivating Bart to steal Martin’s test results a couple scenes later is pure id.

I don’t love violent Homer, though, which is how the scene ends. Children living in fear of violence from a parent is some real shit, and the series’ lack of analysis of that behaviour is, in my view, its biggest flaw. I’m not call-the-censors offended by Homer choking Bart, it just never once got a laugh out of me. I’m just gonna throw that down here and then focus on other aspects of the series.

Family game nights. *shudder*

Ugh, the sympathy I have for Bart. I have cognitive impairments, but did very well in school nonetheless. I was lucky. Bart talking to himself aloud during the intelligence test is, for him, an adaptive response to his brain’s limitations, and, rather than be accommodated, he is shushed and forced to organize information non-verbally, which he clearly can’t do very well. You can see why he underachieves, and why he would act out by defacing school property with unflattering images of authority figures.

When I was a kid, I was a Martin Prince, and I made fun of the Bart Simpsons. Granted, the Bart Simpsons were horrible to me first, but our positions could very easily have been reversed.

My elementary school principal was wiener city, too.

Sent to a school for gifted kids, Bart is put on the spot and asked to come up with a paradox. He says, “Well, you’re damned if you do, and you’re damned if you don’t,” a paradox so simple and everyday, it goes over all the other geniuses heads, to say nothing of explaining everything you need to know about Bart in this episode. Again, early Simpsons is some smart shit.

Bart wants to go back to his old school under the pretence of studying and reporting on other students’ behaviours (so, what he basically exists to do), and is asked to write a proposal to that effect. He follows Krabappel’s old demand not to think aloud as he writes, and cannot make his mind work as a result, so he confesses instead. It’s tragic. Bart isn’t a failure — in truth he’s quite brilliant; the way we homogenize educational groupthink in the school system fails him.

Lisa’s comment, “I think Bart’s stupid again, Mom” really speaks to the cruelty that can come from intellectuals. The Simpsons is anything but anti-intellectual, let’s be clear, but it’s also not daft enough to presume that the very intelligence that makes us human can’t also be driven by that which makes us beasts.

See: “Id.”

The Simpsons wins at cartoon nudity every time.

Best moment: Bart schools the class of geniuses on paradoxes, and no one (kid or teacher) notices it.

Best quote: “What do we need a psychiatrist for, we know our kid is nuts.” -Homer


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