Posted by: Martin Russell | August 19, 2011

Guest Feature – Where Are All the Four-Leaf Covers? The Simpsons, Ireland, and the Confessions of an American Graduate Student in Dublin

We, here at the Outpost, are delighted to publish a guest feature by Genevieve Carpio.

Genevieve Carpio is a PhD candidate in the Department of American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. This summer she attended Summer School at the Clinton Institute where she wrote the following piece as an exercise in the seminar “New Media, Power, and Foreign Policy.”

After 24 hours of balancing luggage, judging the quality of airport food at Sky Harbor Interntional Airport in Phoenix versus Philadelphia International Airport, and sitting crammed in three different aircrafts, I saw it. It appeared out of nowhere like a vision under a thick blanket of clouds–Ireland. And, it was green. Just like I expected.

What I didn’t expect was that upon crossing the Atlantic the pilot would rudely interrupt Dr. Oz- who had only revealed 8 of his top 10 weight loss tips- to show a clip of The Simpsons. The theme music rang familiar as the colorful family appeared on the screen. In this episode, Springfield was celebrating a St. Patrick’s Day parade (http://www.hulu.com/watch/37322/the-simpsons-an-irish-lullaby). A stream of floats representing various Irish stereotypes drifted across the screen one by one– a pudgey boy riding atop a barell overflowing with spuds marked “Irish Boy Potatoes”, a sparsely filled float “Straight Catholic Priests”, and an overflowing animatronic piece depicting the “Small Irish Family”.

But something was missing. The booze. Mayor Quimby, a caricature of the Irish-Bostonian John Fitzgerald Kennedy, declared this to be a SOBER St. Patrick’s Day celebration. The havoc began as an orange clad parade of Northern Irish Protestants crossed paths with a green clad parade of Irish Catholics. Did I mention the parade was led by two leprechauns that bore a striking resemblance to the Notre Dame mascot? Without the dulling effects of alcohol, the opposing forces remembered their political differences and quickly fell into hand to hand combat. Apparently, the meaning of the “fighting Irish” goes beyond the football field (http://www.und.com/trads/nd-m-fb-name.html).

I thought to myself, “Do we really want this to be the last thing a plane full of Americans see before landing in Ireland? What would the Embassy have to say about this?” As a graduate student in Ethnic Studies, I’ve been taught to tear clips like this apart. However, I’ve been making a renewed effort to check my academic luggage at the Box Office in an effort to rejoin mainstream America. I’ve become much more likely to give to a free pass to satirical comedies such as The Simpsons, which let’s face it, can be hilarous. However, this week, I was on my way to an American Studies Institute (http://www.ucdclinton.ie/summerschool2011). Exploring Transatlantic issues. Especially as they perain to Ireland and the U.S. Oh baby. This clip was fodder for my analytical self.

Or so I thought. I was only in Ireland for a few hours when I first caught myself thinking “Where are the four leaf clovers?” Apparently, I was more receptive to the Ireland portrayed in The Simpsons than I had realized. I’ve been at the University College Dublin campus for four days and so far, there have been no shamrocks, no rainbows, and no leperchauns. Okay, so obviously I wasn’t expecting to be greeted by a small red-bearded man carrying a pot of gold, but I was expecting some kitch. And at that moment, I realized…I like it. I like having the markers of place I expect confirmed. I like deconstructing them. And, more nefariously, I like the joy that comes from embracing their superficiality.

Does this make me a bad person? Maybe. I’m not sure. What I do know is that my own expectations of Ireland complicated my reading of The Simpsons and any claims to moral superiority. I decided to dig deeper.

According to The Simpsons Archive (http://www.snpp.com/guides/irish.refs.html), an internet based clearing house of Simpsons’ information and episode transcripts, the show regularly makes Irish references. Catholic priests invariably have an Irish accent, the City of Springfield has celebrated a number of “Irish” holidays (from St. Patrick’s to the fictional Snake Wacking Day), mischevious leperchauns are on the rise, the Riverdance is as common as any other, and enough traditional Irish music has been featured to fill a CD-R. Especially, you guessed it, Ture-Lura-Lura.

However, the only episode to cause any real controversy in the UK was “The Father, Son, and Holy Guest Star” when Bart and Homer convert to Catholicism. One organized religion held back the chuckles, because, as described by the London Sunday Times “Heaven, according to The Simpsons, is an Irish-themed bar featuring Riverdance, heavy drinking and fighting. But that’s just the Catholic version. In Protestant heaven, people in polo shirts spend eternity playing croquet and badminton.” Apparently Protestant Heaven was depicted as just a bit too boring for representatives of the Protestant Church of England (http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/ireland/article525210.ece). They wanted their beer too. Can’t say I blame them.

The Simpsons producers made-nice. “In the Name of the Grandfather”, Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa, and Maggie travel to Ireland with Grandpa who had fond memories of a pub he visited while a soldier during WWII. The episode semed like a tourism advertisement with an added dash of Simpson humor. This Ireland looked nothing like that portrayed in Springfield. Just as I had found upon arriving, there were no fields of four leaf clovers. The Emerald Isle encountered by the Simpson family was dotted with high-tech industry, a non-smoking ordinance in pubs, people too industrious to throw back a pint, and guppie leprechauns holding hands in public. Executive producer Al Jean explained in the Irish Independent, “The episode is based on the experiences of myself and a lot of the writers on ‘The Simpsons’ who have Irish ancestry and come back to visit to find it very different, much more hi-tech” (http://www.independent.ie/lifestyle/st-patricks-day/simpsons-premiere-is-a-labour-of-love-for-cartoon-producers-1675155.html). The episode, while described as average, received a warm reception and parade in Dublin where it premiered to an Irish audience before screening in theU.S. in 2009.

I wonder, can it be that The Simpsons is the distinct product of an Irish-American diaspora? Is Springfield a transnational space created by writers, producers, and an international audience all united by the love of highly-exaggerated, over-the-top, sometimes-taking-it-too-far humor? Surprisingly, The Simpsons turned out to be a closer representation of my own ideas- and likely mainstream Americans (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/tvandradio/4860381/The-Simpsons-to-become-longest-running-US-TV-series.html)- of Ireland  than I ever expected. One informed by the far reach of Irish-American relations.

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