Classic Simpsons Reviews: “Bart vs. Thanksgiving” crafts an example of a pretty decent apology.

2.7 “Bart vs. Thanksgiving”

Bart accidentally destroys Lisa’s Thanksgiving centrepiece during a fight and runs away after being punished. When he returns home he struggles to come up with a genuine apology.

For all its silly old person gags, The Simpsons is willing to get kinda serious about ageism. When Homer picks up Grandpa Simpson from the retirement home, a caretaker is reading off a list of residents whose families send their acknowledgement (on awesome 90’s printer paper, by the way). It’s such a pathetic scrap of love, so when one of the residents says, “Oh I knew they wouldn’t forget me,” it’s so perfectly hilarious and awful.

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I need a t-shirt that says the opposite of this.

I also like how the writers put a a giant Bart balloon in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade playing on the Simpsons’ TV (there was, in fact, a giant Bart balloon in the Macy’s parade that year).

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It’s nice how The Simpsons finds its own success kinda absurd.

Ok, apologies. What constitutes a good one? Let’s start with the etymology:

The current meaning of the word, “apology” as a regretful acknowledgement is relatively new. The Greek, Apo means “apart or away from,” and Logos means “word, reason, or plan.” Together they denote a verbal defence. This definition survived as the primary sense of the word until the 18th century. Playwrights and essayists employed apologies regularly as a framing device.

The best example of what used to be an apology in The Simpsons would be Bart’s epilogue at the end of “Bart the General,” where he assures the audience that there are no good wars, and that the viewer should take anything that might have been perceived as glamourizing war with a certain measuredness.

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“If we shadows have offended, think but this, and all is mended…”

It’s interesting how so many apologies you hear in life sound more like what an apology originally was than what it’s supposed to have evolved to be.

The apology as a literary convention is out of vogue somewhat. Family Guy explicitly makes fun of it (TW: anti-Indigenous racism), if for no other reason than to make fun of it.

I’m a proponent of the apology, myself. Putting a sacred bubble around a narrative that says “Though shalt not draw attention to the fact that this is a narrative” makes for a passive viewing experience. While you don’t want to infantilize the viewer in how you convey your message, a well-placed apology can, as Brecht put it, “make the familiar strange” by alienating the narrative from its medium in order to provoke a call to action in a way that a conventional story wrapped with the same old bow can’t.

Just watch any Last Week Tonight episode. The show is basically a half-hour long essay with comic window dressing — with a bunch of apologies for (or, defences of) it being a half-hour long essay with comic window dressing. The first thirty seconds of this clip on televangelism is a traditional apology.

Anyway, Bart is afraid that if he tries to apologize, it won’t be enough; his family will want him to beg and feel pain beyond the scope of having seen the magnitude of his actions.

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I think we’ve all felt this to some degree. It’s not easy to look past that impulse to defend yourself, and it’s not like there aren’t people who make you feel like you’re apologizing an unreasonable amount. This makes a genuine apology an act of faith.

Lisa asks Bart to look inside himself for a spot where, in spite of his defensiveness, he feels bad that he hurt his sister (she’s very clever in how she finally gets to Bart by subtly empathizing with him).

Bart’s apology is a really good one, for a few reasons:

1. He allows Lisa to see him realize what he caused.

2. He doesn’t self-deprecate. Saying stuff like “Oh I’m such garbage” is a manipulative attempt to gain sympathy. He also keeps it brief. Drawing an apology out is just more self-deprecating BS.

3. He doesn’t say shit like “I’m sorry this offended/hurt you.” It’s important that you centre your apology on the harm *you did* rather than the other person’s feels.

Something to the effect of “I won’t do that again/tell me if I do” is good too, but, not bad for an unsupervised ten year old.

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It’s important that the kids have their reconciliation on the roof, as it symbolizes that higher place where mutual empathy lives.

Best Moment: The caretaker in the Springfield Retirement Home lists off the residents who had their families ‘send their regards’.

Best Quote: “I have laryngitis and it hurts to talk, so I’ll just say one thing. You never do anything right.” -Jackie Bouvier (How is she not used more often. She’s outstanding.)

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Sap Alert! This episode made Taylor cry. The nuance of Lisa being pissed off at Bart while also missing him did it for me. I don’t know whether the ability to express anger and empathy at the same time is a natural thing we relearn, or an unnatural thing we have to cultivate, but I’ve learned to expect nothing less than it.

Homework: Write a 140 character essay on how the Sap Alert constitutes an apology. 😘

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