Bart Simpson: Then and Now

One of the primary factors that made the Simpsons so beloved back in the day was its at-the-time edgy humor. The show used to make some really scathing points with some of its jokes. As time progressed, however, that edge was gradually softened until we reached the point we’re at now, where it basically doesn’t exist.

It wasn’t just the edgy political humor or the points on alcoholism or stuff like that, either. Everything in the show was reigned in. Once, the Simpsons was the show that made the risky jokes. Now, it’s pretty much the safest, most pedestrian show on television.

It’s this very taming of the show that contributed largely in the demise of one of its most beloved characters: Bart.

Whereas Homer usually got into trouble accidentally and Marge was the straight-man who reacted to it, Bart went out of his way to create it. He was a rascal, the town prankster. Kid would have set the world on fire if he could get away with it.

There are countless examples of this. From small things, like repainting the lines in the parking lot, to big things, like sending all the teachers in the school onto a massive strike. We saw this very often because it was Bart’s most surface-level character trait.

But again, what sets the Classics apart from the Modern is the depth hidden beneath the surface.

For one, Bart wasn’t without empathy. Many of Bart’s pranks went too far and had more dramatic consequences then he expected. A great example of this can be found in ‘Bart VS Thanksgiving’; in this episode, Bart upsets Lisa to the point of tears. When she confronts him about it, Bart angrily declares that he himself doesn’t understand why he does the things he does but he knows he’ll do it again.

Upon hearing this, Lisa asks Bart to look deep inside himself and see if there’s a part of him that actually feels bad about it. So Bart looks, fully expecting not to find a thing. But he does find it. He does feel bad. So he apologizes and the two make up.

Kid was never an evil mastermind. He was just a trouble-making kid whose imagination ran away with him. On the rare occasion that he does genuinely hurt someone, he goes out of his way to make it up to them.

That, or they would blow up in his own face. Like the episode ‘Bart Gets Famous’, where he becomes a celebrity for his “I didn’t do it,” line. At first, he revels in his new fame. But it quickly begins to make his life miserable, so he has to find a way to get out of it.

It goes without saying that Modern Simpsons Bart isn’t like this. In fact, he’s not even that much of a troublemaker. Instead, he’ll just get involved in situations he shouldn’t be in. Like in ‘E My Sports’, when… Bart gets into E-Sports. Or in Season 32 Episode 22, when he accidentally wins a bottle of vodka in a crystal skull.

That’s really the best they could come up with?

One aspect about Bart I’ve always loved is how smart he really was. Bart was never stupid, like Homer. Kid just never put his faculties in the right place. But every now and then, we got to see him actually try. And it made for some great stories.

The most obvious example is the season two episode ‘Bart Gets an F.’ In this episode, Bart actually sits down and tries to do his best for a coming test. No distractions, no shenanigans, he hits the books and gives it his all. No one believes it because how could Bart possibly study? But he gives it an honest effort.

And… he fails. He gets another F. Only this time, he doesn’t shrug it off, he doesn’t laugh. Poor boy starts to cry because he actually tried his best and it wasn’t good enough. It’s a gut wrenching scene that really makes you feel for Bart.

Does the modern series ever do anything like this? Take a guess. I’ll give you five minutes. Hell, take all the time in the world, it’s not like I can stop you. Go ahead. Guess.

What Modern Simpsons does often focus on is Bart’s love life. Girlfriends new and old came in and out of the show like they’re passing through a revolving door. Because that’s just what it’s like for a prepubescent boy, right?

Now, to be fair, Classic Simpsons did have a few stories about Bart and girls. Some of them were actually pretty good! Like ‘New Kid on the Block.’ Bart develops a crush on an older girl, who is dating one of the school bullies. It’s a hilarious take on something that a lot of boys go through; most kids Bart’s age can relate to having a crush on someone too old for them.

Do any of the Modern Simpsons stories tackle such themes with such maturity or humor? Nope. Most of them just boil down to ‘Bart gets a girlfriend, girlfriend dumps Bart, status quo is reset.’

That, or they just have him treat some celebrity like he’s a god. Remember when Tony Hawk took him to school? Wow, what a clever and funny scene!

Bart used to be one of the best characters in the show. He walked on the line between cartoonish devilish entertainment and grounded emotional drama absolutely brilliantly. It’s no wonder audiences fell in love with him!

Alas, that magic is long dead and buried. They’re too tame to be shocking and too shallow to do anything emotional. Gone is the rascal with a wild imagination and a heart of gold. Now all we’ve got is an animated kid who does silly things, gets dumped by girls, and hangs out with celebrities.

It makes a sad kind of sense. How can one write a child with imagination when the writer themselves don’t have any?

2 responses to “Bart Simpson: Then and Now”

  1. I like The Simpsons, but I haven’t followed the show too closely over the years. So this was an interesting and informative read about Bart’s evolution, or perhaps regression, as a character. I guess there must be many examples like that in the cartoon, like Flanders.

    Liked by 1 person

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