Student finds meaning in 'Simpsons'

Saturday, April 3, 2004

— It doesn't sound all that exciting: another college student writing about Homer's odyssey -- until you realize this trip ends not with Penelope in Ithaca, but with Apu at the Kwik-E-Mart.

Credit Steven Keslowitz, a Brooklyn College sophomore who turned his Sunday night obsession with "The Simpsons" into a scholarly study of the Springfield scene, ruminating on subjects from Bart's bad boy persona to Marge's towering 'do.

In "The Simpsons and Society," Keslowitz fixes a serious eye on America's favorite dysfunctional cartoon crew, looking for deeper meaning in the antics of Krusty the Klown, Chief Wiggum and the rest of the twisted townsfolk.

He actually finds some, too.

"I've been watching the show for years," said Keslowitz, a Simpsons geek who never misses an episode of the Emmy Award-winning show. "In college, I realized the show had academic issues that merited serious attention."

Others agree. Tufts University said the book already had turned up on the reading list for its class on the Simpsons. Orders for the book also came in from Western Michigan University, although it was unclear for which class, Keslowitz said.

Even better, it's sold at Keslowitz's campus book store, where he held a successful signing (59 books bought) last semester.

"The Simpsons and Society" takes on the big topics, with a tone that's alternately serious and slapstick:

"It was very interesting how many issues were addressed in there," said Josh Belkin, who teaches the Tufts class on the Simpsons. "It's a quick, fun read."

Belkin, a 21-year-old senior who launched the class two years ago, assigned the book to his 18 students. He said it compared favorably with other serious studies of the Simpsons, such as "The Simpsons and Philosophy: The D'oh! of Homer" or "The Gospel According to the Simpsons."

Yes, those books exist, too.

"The other readings were very in-depth and academic," Belkin said. "This book was easier to relate to, and very example-driven."

It's no surprise that Belkin would relate, since "The Simpsons and Society" was written by a peer. Keslowitz, at age 19, is barely older than the program, in its 15th season.

Keslowitz began writing about the Simpsons in his college newspaper, The Excelsior, and quickly developed a following. Using those essays as a starting point, the honors student launched work on his book last summer.

By the time he returned to campus in the fall, "The Simpsons and Society" was finished. The 160-page book was published -- woo-hooo! -- in October, complete with footnotes and an extensive bibliography. Hats Off Books, based in Arizona, is publisher.

"It took me about five weeks," Keslowitz said. "It was great. Nobody ever thought I'd write a book on 'The Simpsons."'

The bespectacled teen's favorite character: Homer, hands down.

"He's very well-written," said Keslowitz, whose pet parrot is named after the Simpsons pater familias. "The character development over the years is terrific."

His favorite episode: No. 163, "The Springfield Files," in which special agents Mulder and Scully pursue a ghostly figure that turns out to be an iridescent Mr. Burns.

"I found the jokes in the show unbelievable," said Keslowitz. The episode also included several examples of the Homeric view of life:

In the final chapter, Keslowitz delves into the Simpsons and Descartes' "First Meditation" -- heavy stuff. But he first lightens things up with a bit of Homerian philosophy that's difficult to dispute:

"Facts are meaningless. You could use facts to prove anything that's even remotely true."