Functions of Intertextuality and Intermediality in The Simpsons

The Simpsons is one of the most successful programs in the history of television, as its social criticism, its wide range of characters, its realism, and the extensive referential network to other texts have created a sophisticated prime time enactment of American culture and society that fascinates audiences of various ages and sociocultural backgrounds. Scholars agree that one of the most obvious reasons for this success lies in the show’s extensive use of intertextual references to other cultural works, current political and social trends or discourses, and real life persons. Still, research to date has not satisfactorily tackled the question what makes the creators use intertextuality as one of the most omnipresent ingredients of the show. The present contribution attempts to fill this gap with a comprehensive and integral function-oriented analysis of intertextuality in The Simpsons. Therefore, the study combines a wide array of source texts and suitable scenes from The Simpsons with extensive theoretical and methodological work in the fields of intertextuality, intermediality, animation, audience reception, and self- and meta-reflexivity. While the theoretical chapters address various approaches to the concepts mentioned above and thus set up a framework that guides the following observations, the main analytical part establishes three categories of possible functions of intertextuality: intratextual functions (how do intertextual references contribute to the narrative of The Simpsons?), extratextual functions (how do intertextual references help to address issues that lie outside the realm of a TV cartoon?), and self- and meta-reflexive functions (how are intertextual references used to reflect upon the status of The Simpsons as a commercial TV show and as an animated sitcom?). The numerous scenes and episodes discussed demonstrate that the function of the countless intertextual and intermedial references in The Simpsons can by no means be reduced to the humorous moments they initiate. The author finds examples for eleven functional subcategories and various narrative and technical approaches that are involved in creating/supporting these intertextual functions. The analyses show that there is a larger concept behind intertextuality in The Simpsons than the lack of innovative ideas, the aim for a cheap laugh, or the playful exhibitionism of cultural knowledge. While those aspects might at times also inspire intertextual references, they can hardly account for the ongoing success of the show, its appeal of innovation and creativity, and the status it has achieved in cultural studies and among media buffs. Intertextual references can fulfill various functions that are essential for the show to work as a media-saturated entertainment program and as an analyst of medial structures and narrative patterns.



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