Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Do ‘The Simpsons’ Distort People’s Perceptions of Nuclear Power?

I’ve watched ‘The Simpsons’ cartoon since their inception and have never been fazed about their misleading depictions of nuclear power. Interestingly enough, others may have. Here’s what a philosophy professor says about the show:

Dr. Bill Irwin, a philosophy professor at King's College in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., says Homer - the bumbling main character in The Simpsons who works at a nuclear power plant - has perhaps helped to put a negative spin on nuclear power by doing such things on the show as trying to stop a meltdown by randomly pressing buttons on a console.

He also points out that the owner of the nuclear power plant in The Simpsons, Mr. Burns, is portrayed as a cold-hearted, greedy industrialist. But the show's most intelligent character, Homer's daughter, Lisa, is portrayed as a staunch environmental advocate.

"She's very eco-friendly and very much against nuclear power and the nuclear power plant run by Mr. Burns," Irwin said during a recent interview on a Saskatchewan radio talk show.

Probably the reason why I’m not fazed about The Simpson's depictions is because I’ve seen them put a negative spin on other technologies such as wind. This episode between Itchy and Scratchy comes to mind.

It’s tough for me to say if they’ve negatively impacted perceptions of nuclear power. I would have to say no but check out the survey at the top right to tell us your answer.


Joffan said...

The Simpsons do affect perceptions of nuclear power negatively to some extent but only among those who know almost nothing about the subject. Unfortunately this is a rather large number of people, some of whom are rather more confident in voicing their opinion than seems reasonable.

There was an episode of the Simpsons where the whole town was cut off in a bubble of some sort, I seem to remember. Good job they had nuclear power on that occasion. :-)

Anonymous said...

In raging against nuclear misinformation in local newspaper blogs, I have sometimes given in to the temptation to cite The Simpsons as a symptom of public ignorance (e.g., the belief that spent nuclear fuel is a glowing green liquid stored in 55-gallon drums).

That said, the Rabelaisian funhouse world created in that cartoon may have done a lot to blunt irrational fear of nuclear power. After all, other than three-eyed fish that appear pretty content, there are never any serious consequences to the various nuclear "accidents" in The Simpsons. In fact, for better or worse, the attitude of the characters toward nuclear power is pretty blase (Lisa being the exception, perhaps).

I suppose one could plausibly suggest that the show actually pokes fun at nuclear hysteria, but we are in the realm of symbolism and irony here, both of which depend heavily on public perception for their basis in "consensus interpretation," so I probably wouldn't attempt such an argument myself.

Anonymous said...

Hmmmm, well my wife does her shoe shopping online these days and did watch Al Bundy do his thing for years on-end. Similar connection???


The bubble is from the Simpsons Movie.

The show was in its initial season when I graduated from college and began working at the Savannah River Site (I've since moved on). Those were the days of the Bart Simpson T-shirts, etc. Remember those?

I've had no problem embracing Homer as a comedic icon, a sort of mascot of our industry.

I now have two sons (young teen and pre-teen) who love the Simpsons and know the value of nuclear power. I'm not saying everyone is as perceptive as these boys, but that this is one of those issues likely to generate a lot more heat and noise than light and forward motion.

gman said...

I was going to try and say something that follows Anon's post (No. 2) - but the more I think about it, the more I wonder if it is another case of seeing what I want to see. I have worked in nuclear power for 30 years and I think the Simpsons is funny. Maybe my anti-nuke counterpart views the same episodes and sees them as supporting his beliefs. If so, this really just demonstrates how good the show is - everyone likes it...

GRLCowan said...

A little-known part of the nuclear story in America is the vital role of an earlier cartoon in the Manhattan Project. Nazi Germany had carbon bricks, but they weren't sufficiently boron-free. America had Ignatz and Krazy Kat, and after 1931, every brick Ignatz threw ended up at Stagg Field.

I don't see why "The Simpsons" has never been able to show hippies waving antinuke placards for TV cameras, the cameras being turned off, and the "hippies" then pulling off their hippie masks and revealing themselves to be J.R. Ewing; black limousines turning up to collect them.

(How fire can be domesticated)

Adam said...

Life imitates art.

Jason Ribeiro said...

Other industries would have sued the Simpsons show for slander and libel for far less disparaging messages about their industry.

For example, the beef and cattle industry sued Oprah Winfrey for her statements that she would not eat another hamburger. Though I believe the beef industry was in the wrong, nonetheless it shows a certain tenacity to protect their industry.

Rather than going after the Simpsons show like the beef industry went after Oprah, why not attempt to recruit them for a pro-nuclear energy spot? No doubt that would be a long-shot, but it would probably make a very memorable tv commercial.