Friday, April 4, 2014

Cultural Referencing with the Simpsons, D'Oh!

By Nikki Cain

Every Halloween, since 1990, The Simpson's television show has regaled fans with new tales in The Tree House of Horror series. There are now twenty-five episodes of fantastically freaky fun in this series. Each episode is brimming with intertexuality references. The first episode, The Tree House of Horror 1, contains no less than twenty references to movies and books, if not more. The series was originally inspired by EC Comics Horror Tales. There are three segments or stories in each episode which always parody popular and classic literature, movies, radio, and television shows. With twenty-five Tree House of Horror episodes, The Simpsons have touched upon subjects and themes concerning every thing spooky often overlaying plot lines from a variety of sources.

In the debut episode, during a segment called Bad Dream House, the Simpson family finds that their house is trying to possess their souls in order to convince each family member to murder one another. The segment uses themes from The Shinning, Ghost Busters, The Exorcist, Amityville Horror, Poltergeist, Psycho, The Fall of the House of Usher, and The Addams Family. In a funny plot twist, the house kills it's self rather than continue to try and convince the family to do each other in.

In the segment called The Raven, a satire of Edger Allan Poe's poem, a grief stricken Homer is plagued by a bat like Bart. This segment appears in the first Tree House of Horror episode. Not only is The Raven referenced but so is The Cask of Amontillado, The Pit and The Pendulum, The Tell Tale Heart, and The Purloined Letter. Edgar Allan Poe's poem is only slightly changed in it's wording so the viewer gets a close rendition of the original Raven. Poe's bust appears in the scene as well as the bust of Peter Lorre who stars in Tales of Terror which was inspired by Poe's writings.

The Simpsons are a wealth of intertexuality. Anyone craving a healthy dose of popular cultural education needs only watch The Simpsons to be fulfilled. The episodes are full of written as well as visual references that create richer, deeper jokes for the audience to enjoy. Reference layering is the joy of intertexuality; it creates an enriched experience for the media consumer by representing ideas and themes and creating fresh interpretations. The Tree House of Horror series as well as the rest of The Simpsons episodes, offer a rich assortment of intertexuality and parody from a wide breadth of sources. Watching one episode will remind the viewer of countless plot lines, characters, and themes from popular culture. With twenty-five full and irreverent seasons to enjoy, viewers can get a full sense of classic and popular themes in literature as well as a good laugh.


  1. I agree with you that The SImpsons host a wealth of intertextual references. This show, along with Family Guy and American Dad, are shows that make references upon references to other material. I remember watching some of these particular Simpsons episodes as a child, particularly the one that parodied Edgar Allen Poe's The Raven, and I find them just delightful. This is a very thoughtful and interesting reflection on the intertextual references in The Simpsons, and I enjoy to see such a lighthearted show put into a more serious, but still humorous, light.

  2. I grew up with the Simpsons since I was small. I loved watching the show with my family. I didn't catch on to the references of intertextuality until I was older and realized, "hey I've seen that before". I think all those references make the Simpsons so unique and original. We are seeing this more and more through different shows and media but the Simpsons are the OG's. In a way I learned a lot from this show, probably not the most accurate way of learning and educated, but I can say it got my foot in the door and opened my curiosity. I wanted to learn more of Stephen King and Edgar Allen Poe along with other references. This is a well written and enjoyable blog and I will always love the Simpsons.