Friday, May 2, 2014

The Future of Satire

The Simpsons creator Matt Groening spawned a landmark animated series in 1999, one that has become nearly as well-known in popular culture as his first creation, The Simpsons. The show ran for 4 seasons on Fox before being canceled in 2003, but was picked up by Comedy Central in 2008 and ran another 3 seasons. The show aired its final episode on Sept. 4, 2013, leaving a solid impact on popular culture through syndication, comics, and ubiquitous Internet memes. The show follows the misadventures of Philip J. Fry, a 20th century pizza delivery boy who has awoken in 31st century New New York City, after being cryogenically frozen for 1000 years. Fry quickly seeks out employment with his only living relative, Professor Hubert J. Farnsworth, who runs an interplanetary delivery company in order to fund his experiments in mad science. The company is called Planet Express, and through this workplace format, the series blends relatable office humor and a discernible reason for the crew’s outlandish adventures in outer space. The delivery crew comprises a cast of bizarre, futuristic characters: the cynical, criminal robot Bender; who happens to be Fry’s best friend, the beautiful one-eyed Cyclops Leela, the ship’s captain; and Dr. Zoidberg, an incompetent physician who resembles a gigantic shellfish. Futurama’s main humor comes from its use of satirizing everyday life and popular culture by depicting it in a futuristic setting. For example, the president of Earth happens to be Richard Nixon, except that it is his preserved head from the 20th century. “Satire is a broader term, indicating a critical commentary on a topic using pointed and often ironic humor”  (Mitell, 290). One of my favorite episodes that portray Futurama’s brilliant and comical use of satire is in the episode entitled “Attack of the Killer App.”

            The episode begins with an all Earth recycling day that is promoting the “proper” disposal of old electronic devices. However, instead of actually recycling the devices, Earth’s government is going to dump them on a “Third World” planet for minimum wage, by the Planet Express crew. The “Third World” is called Antares, and it is depicted as similar to third-world countries in our present day. Like Saturn and Jupiter, the planet has a ring that orbits around it, except that the ring is made of floating garbage.  When the crew lands, the planet is seen as an uninhabitable wasteland filled with smog, treacherous waters, and poor, unhealthy citizens.  The people of Antares even imply that children do all the harmful work, which hints at the unseen practices of child labor laws in third world countries where unethical behavior and child abuse is prevalent.
    Shortly after leaving the “Third World,” the crew arrives back in New New York.  They all realize that they need to stop wastefully throwing away old electronics and make use of them, even if they are outdated.  However, this behavior lasts for about one minute before they all see on TV that a new cell phone has been released to the public.  “With the new eyePhone you can watch, listen, ignore your friends, stalk your ex, download porno on a crowded bus, and even check your email while getting hit by a train. All with the new eyePhone” (“Attack of the Killer App,” Futurama). After viewing the commercial, reverts back to their irresponsible ways by immediately throwing their old cell phones in the trash.  The characters then proceed to go purchase the new eyePhone.

            Right as they exit the office building, the crew is abruptly stopped by a massive line of people waiting to get the new device.  It literally takes them all day and night to reach the store. The store is clearly a mockery portrayal of the Apple stores as an aluminous white, all glass box-shaped building, and the show satirizes the contemporary obsession and hype that goes into the release of a new Apple product.  On the inside, it is playing an obscure song that is synced up with the infamous black silhouette advertisement of people dancing with a variety of colorful backgrounds. When Fry rushes to purchase the new eyePhone, the retailer states, “It’s $500. You don’t have a choice of carrier, the battery can’t hold a charge, and the reception isn’t very.” He is cut off by Fry’s impulsive desire to have the new phone and shouts, “Shut up and take my money!” which has since become yet another well-known Web meme. The eyePhone itself is a device that is literally inserted into a persons eyeball, creating digital animated screen projected in front of the person at all times. This is a great satire of the obsession people have nowadays with constantly being on their phones, only taken to an extreme degree by the show. After everyone purchases the new eyePhone, they all bask in awe of the phones amazing abilities. 

             “Animation as a form taps into the long traditional of political cartooning and caricature, allowing satirical representations to push boundaries and challenge conventions in ways that would feel uncomfortable – or outright impossible – in live-action programming” (Mitell, 298).  Throughout the entirety of this Futurama episode, satire is incorporated in a numerous of different ways.  It first draws on the many problematic issues that are unseen in America’s business practices in globalization.  It hits every aspect including the unethical child labor, the improper disposal of harmful products, and its damaging effects it has on the countries people and environment.  Even though this knowledge is very well known among Americans, we as a whole are still reluctant to change these corrupt and inexcusable activities.  This on-going process is never solved due to the result of human susceptibility to trendy advertisements, general hype, and the perceived status gained by owning the newest and latest electronic devices.  The episode further continues to interpret this notion in a satirical form by attacking Apple, Inc. and its most revolutionary gadget, the Iphone. Apple has created a cult-like following, where its customers seem to only strictly and exclusively purchase Apple products.  People line up days in advance, waiting endless hours to purchase the next, latest and greatest device.  However, once the “newer/better” version is out, the previous version is seen as obsolete and has to be replaced by purchasing the next version.

Futurama does an excellent job by incorporating satire and humor into its episodes. I would recommend giving this show a chance, especially for all The Simpsons fans out there.  Also, rumor has it that Matt Groening is in the midst of searching for another network to air more episodes, and pick off where the seventh season ended.  Keep your fingers crossed!


“Attack of the Killer App.” Futurama. Comendy Central. 10 July. 2010. Television

Mittell, Jason. Television and American Culture. New York, NY: Oxford UP, 2010.

1 comment:

  1. I love both Futurama and the Simpsons, and it's unfortunate that Futurama wasn't as widely received as the Simpsons. I say that because the Simpsons as a well-written program is beginning to disappear, but Futurama could definitely fill that satire gap. If you lay the shows side by side it's almost as if satirizing various aspects of our culture in the context of a futuristic world or current world is incredibly effective in analyzing our surroundings. Cool post. I've heard rumors about a cross-over episode sometime this season between the Simpsons and Futurama...No idea how that's going to work but it'd be interesting to see.


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