Have the Simpsons got Britishness right?

THE SIMPSONS: Homer gets the "royal treatment" from guest stars J.K. Rowling, Prime Minister Tony Blair, Sir Ian McKellan, Evan Marriot (all playing themselves) and Edwina (guest star Jane Leeves) when THE SIMPSONS visit London in "The Regina Monologues" airing Sunday, Nov. 23 (8:00-8:30 PM ET/PT) on FOX.  THE SIMPSONS ™ & © 2003 T.T.C.F.F.C ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.  ™©2003FOX BROADCASTING  CR:FOX

An American colleague is wanting our help with this question. He has viewed the Simpsons episode where they come to Britain and has noted

  • We use of certain kinds of phrases, i.e. my word, I say, cross the pond
  • Big Ben is iconic in terms of Britishness.
  • We have a dry wit and humour.
  • We are “classy”, everyone wears suits and tuxedos or, when in the Tower of London, are dressed more like the rural people.
  • We refer to women of power as “Mum” (Judy Dench and then The Queen)
  • Theatres play nothing but Shakespeare.
  • People tend to be rich.

How representative is this of Britishness?

Help the ‘special relationship’. 🙂

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  1. Posted February 20, 2008 at 8:33 pm | Permalink

    Hi Nathan, my response first.

    I think the episode is a stereotype of Britishness. Many of the ideas represent the dominant culture of the country, for example Parliament, the Queen, the Union Jack. The idea of the class is strong throughout the episode, as is the arts etc, and this represents the high culture of the ruling elite, but this a small minority of the country, class I hope is less of an issue in our country.

    The episode is also London,orientated, so doesn’t really give you a concept of the vast cultural differences in the U.K, from the nationalities that contribute to the U.K., English, Welsh, Irish, Scots. Nor does it show the U.K. being a multicultural society. I suppose in a way it show a steretype of Englishness.

    I think the dry wit and humour part is spot on, we tend to like our comedy a little darker…

    As for differences in languages yes, Mam, is a term used to show respect for women in authority, it is still used in some schools.

  2. Nathan Wind
    Posted February 22, 2008 at 6:12 am | Permalink

    Thanks for the info, I hadn’t really thought about the fact that it is a london heavy episode so you wouldn’t get a feel for the rest of the country. The dry British humor to me is hilarious (though I tend to like the more sophisticated and dark comedies, I recommend “Bottlerocket”)
    compared with American humor which tends to be more crude. However I am still interested as to what others may think of these observations and are the Simpsons stereotypical of Americans?

    Thanks for all the help, this Yank appreciates it!

  3. sally
    Posted February 22, 2008 at 5:59 pm | Permalink

    e use of certain kinds of phrases, i.e. my word, I say, cross the pond- i have never heard people say these things- but i know we do have a lot of expressions that will probably be unfamiliar to people in the US. On a recent trip to Las Vegas I made a BIG mistake when using a British slang word for cigarettes…

    Big Ben is iconic in terms of Britishness- i think this is outdated- i think of other architecture- such as st paul’s cathedral, or something more modern like the london eye

    We have a dry wit and humour- i think, sadly, this is something that is in decline- i often watch ‘comedy’ and fail to see the humour as most comedy nowadays seems very base.

    We are “classy”, everyone wears suits and tuxedos or, when in the Tower of London, are dressed more like the rural people. CHAVS is my answer to that

    We refer to women of power as “Mum” (Judy Dench and then The Queen) What ever happened to Margaret Thatcher eh?!

    Theatres play nothing but Shakespeare.- thank GOD this is not the case

    People tend to be rich.- yes i suppose everyone except me (oh dear). Have to say here that I was shocked with the level of poverty I witnessed in Seattle, Las Vegas and LA when travelling around the US. I think our ‘deprived’ here are nothing like those in the US

    Enjoy England!

  4. Posted February 22, 2008 at 7:05 pm | Permalink

    Thanks Sally.

  5. Alan Parkinson
    Posted February 22, 2008 at 10:58 pm | Permalink

    Will ask my students to respond next week to this.
    Several people already pointed out London-centric nature. This was an episode where David Beckham was apparently deemed to be ‘not famous enough’
    I wonder if he’d make it in now that he ‘plays’ for LA Galaxy ? (how many millions ??)
    If they made a Simpons visit Scotland where would they go ? or Wales ? or Ireland ?

  6. Julie Quinn
    Posted February 23, 2008 at 2:06 am | Permalink

    Stereo types by their nature surely pick up on the outlandish nature of Britishness and accentuate it … similarly watching the Simpsons would lead you to believe all houses in amercica are built the same, that all american dads drink beer, american mums always cook , american girls are smarter than boys(ok then that ones true in all countries!!LOL) american boys are pranksters and american babies cannot speak as they are stiffled by a dummy. Having good friends in the states (western and eastern sides) i can clearly say i never heard them say Howdy!What would strike me as representation of the American view in the Simpsons which is correct (in my experience) is the loyalty to the fundamental rights in America, the love of the country and true respect for the American flag. I find that just amazing and truelly admirable. Both of my sets of friends in America started their lives as British citizens (from Northern Ireland) and have married American ladies. Their loyalty to the American way of life really srprised me and neither have no desire to return home as they want their children to be raised in the American way.

    As Tony suggests Britain is a much more diverse country than demonstrated -diverse in terms of culture, economy ,language, theatre … the list could go on.

    I live in Ireland and yet i class myself as British – i can speak some Irish and have a dialect that the Simpsons would struggle to cope with. My culture (in it’s widest terms) is drastically different than that the Simpsons portrays. Yet i class myself as British – but not the British portrayed. Stangely where i live being British has political connetations and stating you are British can both open and close doors to opportunities.

    Could i suggest (somewhat timidly) that the Simpsons portrayal is more of a stereo type of Englishness (apologies Tony and Sally) with a focus being on antiquated ideals of Victorian England – which i believe for some is the iconic period when England still felt the epitomy of a respectful country.

    The reality of Britishness really would now be too difficult to portray (due to the diverse multicultural nature of Britain in 2008) and consequently it is easier to use an old outdated stereo type than to attempt to create one now without being offensive.Possibly in our ever litigious society, The Simpsons creators know that antiquated sterotypes cannot possibly offend ( just like the old Paddy Irish man jokes).

    There is no doubt though in my mind that Big Ben does represent Britishness , as does the Queen, Buckingham Palace and Windsor Park – but so do many iconic bulidings that for most, happen to be in England!!

    Kind regards

  7. Kenny
    Posted February 23, 2008 at 11:15 am | Permalink

    I was interested in the assumption that everyone is rich. Here’s an article about Glasgow from a couple of years ago from ‘Scotland on Sunday’
    Hope this helps

  8. meg
    Posted February 23, 2008 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    I have not actually seen the episode but will do my best to comment on the points above.

    Definitely think we have phrases that are used but they vary regionally . I have lived in many different areas of the UK and notice big differences in terms of workd used. My current colleagues smile whenI refer to someone being poorly or talk about break time rather than interval.

    Big Ben – more for the English than the British but would agree with Sally now about London Eye / wobbly bridge as shown on The Apprentice

    Oh yes we have dry wit and a sense of humour as evidenced in many staff rooms – more obvious with people you know well rather than strangers / acquaintances.

    No to classy –
    In Scotland kilts would also be included in formal wear for men

    I have never come across women of note being called mum. Pupils sometimes call me mum by mistake ! Mam is used in some areas as another word for mum ( I have come across it in Manchester and the NE)whilst Ma’am is for the Queen.

    Our local theatre rarely puts on Shakespeare.

    No – as geographers we are very aware that this is not the case. By networking with other teachers we become aware of areas other than our own.

    Hope that helps Nathan.

  9. Posted February 29, 2008 at 8:47 pm | Permalink

    I think the episode was far out. It portrays old england. Not the new england. (not that there is a destinctive old and new) but the episode was made like this on pourpose i think.

  10. Nathan Wind
    Posted March 1, 2008 at 7:24 pm | Permalink

    hey everyone,
    thanks so much for the replies they are all very helpful. Sorry it has taken so long to respond but I do appreciate it and keep the comments coming.


  11. Lianne.H
    Posted June 26, 2008 at 12:42 am | Permalink

    I don’t know if the link below is of any use but I’ve just seen it and it reminded me of this video…


  12. Posted June 26, 2008 at 7:28 pm | Permalink

    Thanks, I hadn’t seen this before. Hope the exam went well.

    Enjoy your rest.

  13. Lianne.H
    Posted June 26, 2008 at 7:31 pm | Permalink

    Yes it did thanks, could have done with another 10 minutes though to check through.
    Thanks and thank you for all your help with everything 🙂

  14. Posted June 26, 2008 at 8:58 pm | Permalink

    No problem.. have a great summer.

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