“Simpson, Homer Simpson, he’s the greatest guy in history!”

I’ve been on a recent Simpsons kick lately – and by “recent” kick, I mean I’m working my way through all the episodes ever made – so far, I’ve watched Seasons 1-12 of 24 (25 starts in less than a month!)

To celebrate the half-way point of my progress, I decided to compile a list of my 12 favorite episodes thus far. This does not mean I think these are the best written or the most iconic episodes, merely the ones that stood out to me as being exceptionally funny, witty, and entertaining.

1. Marge Vs. the Monorail

Season 4, Episode 12
Celebrity Guest Stars: Leonard Nimoy

Highlight: The songs – opening spoof of The Flintstones theme song, and the “The Monorail Song” as a parody of the Music Man’s “Trouble”.

2. Last Exit to Springfield

Season 4, Episode 17
Celebrity Guest Stars: Dr. Joyce Brothers

Highlight: Homer becoming the newest Union Leader and misconstruing Mr. Burns’ strike negotiations as sexual advances.

3. A Streetcar Named Marge

Season 4, Episode 2
Celebrity Guest Stars: Jon Lovitz

Highlight: Tie between Ned Flanders as Stanley in the musical production of “Streetcar Named Desire” and Maggie’s daycare escape parody of The Great Escape.

4. 30 Minutes over Tokyo

Season 10, Episode 23
Celebrity Guest Stars: George Takei, Karen Maruyama

Highlight: The Simpson family participating in a spoof Japanese Game Show called “The Happy Smile Super Challenge Family Wish Show“.

The Episode never aired in Japan because the scene where Homer throws the Japanese Emperor into a dumpster of sumo thongs was considered disrespectful and offensive.

5. Duffless

Season 4, Episode 16
Celebrity Guest Stars: None

Highlight: Homer having to give up alcohol for a month after Marge determines he has a drinking problem.

Marge: “Homer, do you ever drink alone?”
Homer: “Does the Lord count as a person?

Also, this reference to A Clockwork Orange:

6. Kamp Krusty

Season 4, Episode 1
Celebrity Guest Stars: None

Highlight: Bart trying to score good final grades by returning all of his books in excellent condition, “in some cases, still in their original wrappings!”.

7. Lisa the Simpson

Season 9, Episode 17
Celebrity Guest Stars: None

Highlight: The scientific explanation that the defective “Simpson gene” lies only on the Y chromosome.

8. Treehouse of Horror IV

Season 5, Episode 5
Celebrity Guest Stars: Frank Welker

Highlight: So many. The fact that Ned Flanders shows up as the Devil in the short “The Devil and Homer Simpson” because “Its always the one you least expect“, or that the Devil and Bart casually greet each other as acquaintances, or that Homer can’t fit through the Portal to Hell.  And that’s just the first third of the episode.

9. The City of New York Vs. Homer Simpson

Season 9, Episode 1
Celebrity Guest Stars: Joan Kenley

Highlight: The Broadway show about The Betty Ford Clinic.

10 . Tales from Public Domain

Season 13, Episode 14
Celebrity Guest Stars: None

Highlight: The epic story choices – The Odyssey, Joan of Arc, and Hamlet.  And Ned Flanders as the King of Troy.

Ned (Upon receiving the wooden Trojan Horse): Now throughout history, when people get wood, they’ll think of Trojans!

11. You Only Move Twice

Season 8, Episode 2
Celebrity Guest Stars: Albert Brooks

Highlight: Homer unknowingly working for a supervillian named Scorpio and tackling Secret Agent James Bont, who is trying to stop the evil plans.

12. Weekend at Burnsie’s

Season 13, Episode 16
Celebrity Guest Stars: Phish

Highlight: Homer becoming the alpha male in a murder of crows.

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While I start research on the second half of this project, I recommend watching the honorable mention, a Treehouse of Horror short narrated by James Earl Jones: “The Raven”. (click on the picture below for the full video)

Quoth the Raven "eat my shorts"

Quoth the Raven “eat my shorts”

“What is history, but a fable agreed upon?”

In a lecture regarding Egyptian tombs the other day, my professor mentioned how some kings were so afraid of graverobbers disrupting their tombs – thus making their afterlife more difficult or even impossible – that they had booby traps built. What he meant by this was secret doors or unbalanced rocks that may fall. Of course, what was in my imagination was more like Indiana Jones, with spikes that pop up through the floors, pressure plates that trigger poisonous darts, or a giant rolling rock ready to crush you should you disturb the tomb the of the sacred king. That is until my professor made a point to abruptly stop his lecture to add “NOT like in Indiana Jones”.

Apparently, he gets that sort of question a lot, along with questions about whether or not aliens helped build the pyramids and if there really is a curse of the mummy of Tutankhamen (no and no). He says the crazies asking him these questions are merely one of the “perks” of being an Egyptologist with a publicly accessible university email address.

And I hate to admit that I’ve gotten caught in a class discussion before with a faulty assumption I made after watching “The Mummy” – that the Egyptian Book of the Dead was a standard text that was so special that only a few copies existed. In reality it was actually called “The Book of Coming Forth by Day” and copies were buried with most elites in a practice that lasted over 1,700 years, and the content of each varied greatly based on the individual it was buried with.

This error made me wonder how much damage these myths about archaeology do to the art of science. It never seemed like a big deal to me: as a kid I was fascinated by characters like Indiana Jones and Allan Quartermain. And though they are horribly inaccurate, I credit movies like “The Mummy”, “Gladiator”, “Kingdom of Heaven”, and “Braveheart” with my early interest in anthropology, archaeology, and history.

Admittedly, I had to relearn many of the “facts” I learned from so-called historical movies, but nevertheless popular culture made me interested enough in a topic to learn the real facts behind it. So, is historical inaccuracy okay if it increases the public interest and awareness in a topic such as archaeology or history?

I guess that answer depends a lot on the story being told. For example, the Disney movie “Hercules” is infamous for its inaccuracies when it comes to the Greek traditions of Herakles – my favorite being that Zeus was such a man-whore that he fathered Herakles with another woman, not Hera. But, the Greeks had so many different versions of their own stories, that it wouldn’t seem that big of a deal to make inaccuracies now when the original myths were equally inconsistent.

But, what about a movie like Gladiator? It is meant to give an idea of life in Roman times and all of its characters are named after real people. Except none of them are represented accurately – Maximus of Hispana lived over 200 years before the Emperors Marcus Aurelius and Commodus, and Commodus certainly did not murder his father. So, do we damage the history and memory of these individuals by mixing their stories with fable and vilifying them without just cause? It seems a little unfair to the dead who are unable to defend their images in the face of popular culture.

Perhaps the most dangerous of these issues is when misconceptions arise about entire cultures, that still may exist. My mind jumps to the opening scene of “Raiders of the Lost Ark”: Indy is in Peru searching for a golden fertility idol, and ends up being chased by the “Hovitos” tribe who bow down before the idol and engage in mindless killing at the order of Indy’s archenemy “Belloq”. Except the Hovitos never existed and are dramaticized and loosely based on the “Chachapoyas” of Peru, while the artifact is actually a representation of the Aztec goddess “Tlazolteotl”.  This picking and choosing and combining of interesting imagery from various cultures is a common theme in films and seems to do a disservice to a culture of which only some traditions and values are worth retelling.

Or the ending of “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull”, where Indy learns that a group of aliens, which ancient peoples around the world worshiped, actually built pyramids and other major ancient monuments. As my professor pointed out:

“the belief that aliens helped the Egyptians build the pyramids is less crazy than it is a sheer insult to the engineering skills and intellect of the Egyptians, because you are basically claiming that they couldn’t have done it on their own”.

But, it is also arguable that the creative arts of film and literature should be given a bit of poetic license on a historical matter, because history is never clear-cut and unambiguous. One could argue that we never know how the true events played out because “history is written by the victors”. And many people simply want to know how to feel about a historical event in a black & white way – basically, was a person good or bad? Was an event positive or negative? And films do a good job of presenting history in this sense, in a fun and entertaining way that leaves the viewer with a clearly defined idea of what they just witnessed and how they should feel about it.

That being said, maybe the best way to look at a blockbuster film is with interest, a grain of salt, and a desire to learn the real facts. Visual imagery is a great way to spark interest, but one should never claim to have any real knowledge on the matter if their facts come from Hollywood.

“Blessed are the legend-makers with their rhyme of things not found within recorded time”

Working off the theme of my past post, a defense of anthropology, I was wondering if there was a similar argument for the merits of studying archaeology and mythology, and as it turns out, a poem written in 1931 did all my work for me.

I am a huge fan of mythology and the more you know, the more you realize how much mythology has influenced culture, art, and literature. The study of classical mythology has been considered a necessary part of any education for hundreds of years, so much so that students were not admitted to many of the higher universities without the ability to read classical writings. For admittance to Harvard, students were required to be able to read and write Latin all the way until the 1950s, and even later for admittance to Oxford or Cambridge.

Mythology has always played a strong role in our basic understanding of literature and religion, even in modern writings. References from classical literature and mythology are found everywhere. So studying mythology can be important to understand the greater concepts in our world around us.

And there is a term used to imply the importance of studying mythology, mythopoiea (myth-uh-pee-uh), which stems from a poem of the same name emphasizing the importance of mythology in our culture. “Mythopoeia” was written by J.R.R. Tolkien after a meeting of the literary group known as “The Inklings”. They were a group of authors and professors at Oxford during the 1930s and 40s, and they valued fiction writing, especially the use of fantasy as way to demonstrate ethical values and Christian morals.

Members of the Inklings included J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, Charles Williams, and a variety of other literary figures of Oxford in the '30s and '40s.

Members of the Inklings included J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, Charles Williams, and a variety of other literary figures of Oxford in the ’30s and ’40s.

The Inklings met at this bar in Oxford to discuss their work.  They sometimes referred to it as "The Bird and Baby", and the pints served up here probably helped inspire their writing...

The Inklings met at this pub in Oxford to discuss their work. They sometimes referred to it as “The Bird and Baby”, and the pints served up here probably helped inspire their writing…

Supposedly, C.S. Lewis had said that he didn’t find value in myths because they were not true, and though “lies breathed through silver”, they were lies nonetheless. He later came to write the Chronicles of Narnia, a mythopoeic narrative with abstract allegories to Christianity, possibly as a result of his viewpoint being changed by Tolkien’s arguments.

Tolkien, the author of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, obviously found value in the reading and writing of myths and after this conversation with Lewis wrote Mythopoeia as a response. The poem, whose title means “myth-making”, defended mythology as a literary art that demonstrates fundamental truths of life. Tolkien argued that you cannot restrict your search for knowledge in the purely material world and that you must also seek truth and understanding in symbolism.

The poem is a narrative where the philomythos (myth-lover) speaks to the misomythos (myth-hater) about the value of mythology. The poem explains that the universe is a mystery and there is no way for an individual to understand everything in God’s plan. However, we have a sense and so we try to define our own world with mythology to help us comprehend the bigger issues in life. The act of creating the spiritual stories and retelling of the truths helps disclose these truths to others.

That humans retell the stories they are told and remake them to fit their own ideals and beliefs is an important part of the idea of Mythopoeia, and demonstrates the importance of it. Joseph Campbell claimed that “without relevant mythology, society cannot function well and happily”. Therefore, we need mythology to help us comprehend the things in our life which otherwise would overwhelm us with questions and wonder in our own world.

“To the one who said that myths were lies and therefore worthless
even though ‘lies breathed through silver'”

PHILOMYTHUS TO MISOMYTHUS

-Mythopoeia, 1931
-J.R.R. Tolkien

“Wonder that which one would not have been able to guess”

A defense of Anthropology and Archaeology as sciences, according to this blogger.

Being an anthropology and archaeology major nearing graduation and thus the real world, I from time to time (i.e. all the time) get asked why do I study what I do. Which is the polite way of people asking “why do these things matter in the real world?”. I’ve become very accustomed to answering why I study evolutionary anthropology, especially at family gatherings, and over time I feel like I have developed my answer to form an acceptable response that actually gives credit to my academic comrades in anthropology:

The biggest problem I have is when I explain how much I love science is that people ask that if that is the case, why I didn’t study a “real” science? A “hard” science like physics or chemistry? I love telling people its because they are too easy, just to see their reaction.

Not that I think physics and quantum mechanics and all those beautiful things are easy by any means, but honestly wheres the fun in knowing a ball is always going to fall to the ground due to gravity? Heat will always travel to the colder region due to conduction? Water will always flow downhill to gain kinetic energy? A molecule will always diffuse to the lowest concentration due to diffusion? It all gets so predictable and tedious after a while.

The so-called “hard” sciences are so calculable and certain. An object will always fall at 9.8 m/s^2, always.

Anthropology has none of that monotony. Instead, we must consider a complex interaction of environment, genetics, and culture to find our answer. And there is something thrilling in knowing that you will never truly know the answer to something, because the situation is always changing. It can never be predicted.  It can never be proven.  More often than not, it can never be repeated.  And so, to me, it always remains interesting.

Anthropology is seeking to answer that which you can never truly answer. Its a very bold quest in my opinion, a never ending quest and something that keeps my interest after these years of study and something that keeps me guessing and keeps me wondering about the world.

Mystery creates wonder, and wonder is the basis of man’s desire to understand
-Neil Armstrong

“You got no time to lose. You are young men, you must be living”

So I realize there hasn’t been anything new in a while.  This is mostly due to a killer finals week coupled with my motivation dropping oh so very low after finding out last week I got accepted to an Ecuador volunteer program with Pangea World Service Team.  Yesterday’s news that I was accepted to a study abroad program at St Peter’s College of Oxford University may well be the last blow to any chance I had of being able to focus and pay attention in the rest of this year’s classes.  Seriously, try sitting in an anthropology class that references the Ecuadorian Galapagos Island finches or some Oxford Research Journal and tell me that your mind doesnt wander past the point of learning.  But seeing as how I am sitting in my room, bored waiting for Spring Break to start, I thought this would be a good time to sit back and type something new.

A few weeks ago in my Ecological Issues class (which is taught by the most delightfully liberal British man you will ever meet), I had a term introduced to me that I had never really thought of before: Social Capital.  Wikipedia says it is a”sociological concept which refers to the value of social relations and the role of cooperation and confidence to get collective or economic results“.  Ignoring all that technical wording, I took it to basically mean it is the belief that it is more important to invest in the welfare of society as a whole than trying to acquire things just for yourself.  And my professor didn’t think that Americans do this enough.  We don’t watch out for each other like we should, at least in terms of finance and wealth.  I am sure most people are well aware of this notion by now, what with the whole “Occupy” movement that has spent the past months sweeping the country and even the world.

I thought it was an interesting idea, but didn’t think much more about it until today when I spent a solid 3 hours fighting with the “Federal Application for Financial Student Aid” (or something like that, everyone calls it the FAFSA because we hate it so much we don’t care if we call it by its proper name.)  It took me nearly half an hour just to convince them I was a real person.  Then at the end I find out that even though I live dangerously close to the poverty line and basically support myself by paying my own tuition and housing, I will be eligible for less aid this year because the government has redefined what it means to be living in poverty and in need of financial aid.  But the funny thing is – I don’t feel richer because I technically am now farther away from some arbitrary wealth status.  Things havent gotten cheaper and indeed to go along with less financial aid, tuition is going UP.  This made me start thinking about that whole social capital thing again…

At this point in my life, I feel like I can do whatever I want – I want to bust out into the world and make a difference and live a crazy awesome life and learn all I can about the world we live in.  But college costs money and I end up getting burdened with things like student loans as a result of ridiculous tuition rates (or even more ridiculous book prices!) that pretty much guarantee most of us will start our careers and adult lives in debt and struggling to get ahead.  I don’t get the most out of my college education if I am working two jobs to support it, and even international volunteering costs money I don’t have (yeah, i know, i said i was going to Oxford – like i said, two jobs bitches).

It’s not fair that as youth, when we feel we can do the most good in the world, we are burdened with ridiculous prices for college.
And yet people complain America is falling behind in educational standards – well, ever wonder why? It’s because most other countries don’t bankrupt their students with college costs and anyone of ability can attend a university.  I know this is going to sound crazy, but I for one wouldn’t mind paying higher taxes when I’m older if that means the government will help me a lot more as a student – it balences out doesn’t it?  Invest in us as youth and as future contributors to our nation, help us get through college with less debt and more sanity, and we will repay the government later.  Sounds good to me.  I know it wouldn’t be a perfect system – but nothing in the government is a perfect system.  Our current system sure isn’t perfect either – USA Today says 2/3 of our 20-something kids are in debt, mostly all of it due to student loans.  Just pay a little more attention to the social capital of America and maybe we can start doing better as a country.

Quoting the USA Today article Young People Struggle to Deal with the Kiss of Debt  “It’s the single greatest problem facing this generation

I’m the first to admit I’m not sure the best way to remedy this debt situation is, I don’t like or understand politics and economics.  I’m just sayin’ get your shit together America – stop cutting student aid, stop increasing tuition, and stop expecting so much [money] out of kids trying to get their lives going. *Or at least stop expecting us to settle down right out of college, that’s just when we get a chance to start living! (but that is a whole different issue I guess.)

“If you walk the footsteps of a stranger…”

Okay, so this is my first official attempt at a blog post.  Mostly because I am bored out of my mind, waiting for classes to restart next week so I can learn about Roman Archeology and Molecular Evolution and Volcanos (I like to take random classes). 

I’m not really sure what goes into making an interesting blog post, in the future I hope to inform you all about witty things like cool new discoveries in science and anthropology, maybe entertain you with awesome travel stories and college hijinks (I think that’s an awesome word, by the way), and maybe even add some tacky-yet-awesome tutorials and recipes like every other blog on the internet.  And dare I say, occasional words of wisdom and life lessons? Well, maybe not the last one, but hey, watch for future blog posts and anything is possible.