How Shows Like The Simpsons Can Make Your Children Smarter

“Two, four, six, eight, Homer’s crime was very great! “Great” meaning large or immense, we use it in the pejorative sense!”

That happy little ditty was the chant by the protesters camped outside the Simpson residence in the Season 6 episode entitled Homer Badman. The reason why I open this article with that song is to highlight the word “pejorative.” Before this episode that word was not part of my vocabulary and a word like that should be. I have to admit, because of that, I didn’t fully understand the joke. I chuckled at it, for sure, but until I knew the correct meaning of pejorative I was only getting half the gag.

simpsons dvds
Just some of the DVDs in my Simpsons collection

We are lucky to be living in these technological times, when the answers to everything are at the click of a button, when you can type a question into Google or misspell a word and it comes back suggesting what it is that you really might have meant. Back when this episode aired, the internet was still in its infancy. I had to look up the word in a dictionary.

But this is not about old school research techniques versus the “interwebs.” What I am promoting here are the benefits of extracurricular activity that can be born out of watching what many perceive to be mindless television shows.

There are countless debates that go on throughout forums on the internet about the brilliance of shows like The Simpsons and how they (to use a Simpsons joke) work on so many levels. And they do. There are jokes aimed at young kids who are basically waiting for a fart sound from Bart, there are jokes in their for nerdy young teenage girls that can relate to Lisa, and there are those esoteric gags that you really have to be “in the know” to get.

I grew up on English and American sitcoms and sketch shows. Being born and raised in Australia, it made it hard for me to get all of those jokes that related to actual people from those foreign countries. Whether it be localised historical figures, controversial small time politicians, or current stars of the silver screen, how can you truly laugh at the line “just like Terry Wogan” when you don’t know who he is?

But this is where I came into my own. I wanted to know. I wanted to get each and every joke that spewed out of Bill Cosby’s mouth. I wanted to know exactly what Jerry Seinfeld was inferring. I wanted have all the intent of The Two Ronnies double-entendres laid bare before me. So I did the research.

I felt, if the good people at the studios took the time to create a great joke, I should offer them my full attention and have the decency to find out what they are talking about. I wrote down the jokes or remembered them. I asked my parents (who are both British born and raised) about those historical figures from England’s past that were mentioned in the joke. I asked my teachers if they knew about the Americanisms that I wasn’t familiar with.

Now, more than ever, we have the ability to look up these answers in an instant. I sit there most nights with smart phone in hand waiting for a joke about thermonuclear combustion or gravitational force on The Big Bang Theory, or waiting for a random cross reference to a 1970s throwback on The Family Guy during one of Peter’s “that reminds me of the time” interjections.

It is not just the jokes to look out for. And it is not just on sitcoms that you can find your next subject to look up. I never want to stop learning. And it is something that I have held near to my heart; the desire to know as much about everything as possible. I didn’t see school as the only breeding ground for knowledge. I didn’t see homework as the only means of learning outside of school hours.

What we have in front of us, in the lounge rooms of nearly every home in the country, in the entertainment rooms or bedrooms in the modern day home is a window to the outside world; a window that often begins with the word Microsoft. But we need to do more than just stare. We need to take it in, in all its glory.

And speaking of Microsoft, they have a lot for me to thank them for as it was their Internet Explorer that took my learning capacities to greater heights (well before Chrome and Firefox). So don’t just sit their staring at the television like you’re a zombie. Watch the show but suck it all in. And then once that is over explore the rich fields of the internet and discover more about what you just watched. You might just learn something. And television might make you more intelligent.

What have you learned from a television show?

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