A Review of
Homer Simpson Marches on Washington:
Dissent Through American Popular Culture.
Timothy Dale and Joseph Foy, eds.
Hardback: University Press of KY, 2010.
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Reviewed by Chris Smith.
Homer Simpson Marches on Washington: Dissent Through American Popular Culture is a fine follow-up to the earlier volume 2008’s Homer Simpson Goes to Washington. In the book’s introduction, editor Joseph Foy, gets to the heart of the book’s purpose:
In the premiere episode of The Colbert Report, Stephen Colbert announces that the viewers of his show are “heroes” who know that “something must be done.” He then pounds his fist on his C-shaped desk to inform them that they are doing something right now – they are “watching TV.” His proclamation might be met with smirks, guffaws, and skepticism, but the authors of the chapters of this book lend credence to this tongue-in-cheek commentary. Although true activism requires mobilized engagement to inspire change, the empowerment of political dissent via mass media and popular culture reflected in these pages provide an argument that true public, democratic action is occurring through popular culture. We merely have to tune in to join the conversation (14).
The essays in this collection explore a diverse range of media from television (The Simpsons, of course, The Daily Show, Star Trek: The Next Generation, and more), to music (“Protest Songs in Popular Music,” Hip-Hop) to the movies (M. Night Shymalan’s The Happening, and more). Although this is an excellent and engaging book, a few of the essays were difficult to read because I was unfamiliar with the TV show or film that they were examining. Perhaps the most captivating piece, however, was Matthew Henry’s “Gabbin’ About God: Religion, Secularity and Satire on The Simpsons,” which not only explores these themes as they are played out on the show, but also critically examines other books that have explored The Simpsons’ treatment of Christianity. Two more of the best essays in this volume were Jamie Warner’s treatment of the “Politics of Truth” on Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show and Carl Bergetz’s piece “It’s Not Funny ‘Cause It’s True: The Mainstream Media’s Response to Media Satire in the Bush Years.” On the other hand, Jerry Rodnitzky’s essay on “The Evolution of Protest Songs in Popular Music” was rather disappointing because it limited its focus to only the most mainstream of popular songs, ignoring more marginal arenas of pop music like rap (e.g., Public Enemy) or punk/post-punk ( The Dead Kennedys, Rage Against the Machine, etc.).
Homer Simpson Marches on Washington is essential reading for anyone who believes that mass media can be effective in exposing the oppressive powers that be and inspiring people to resist them.