What The Simpsons Characters Taught Us About Money
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Thursday, August 21, marks the kickoff of an absolutely epic marathon of "The Simpsons" on the FXX channel. Starting at 10 a.m., the network will show every Simpsons episode ever (#everysimpsonsever in social media-speak) back-to-back in chronological order, with "The Simpsons Movie" thrown in as well. That's a total of 552 episodes—25 seasons of the longest-running sitcom and longest-running animated show ever—running 24 hours per day for 12 straight days, ending on Labor Day, September 1.
In honor of the marathon, we thought it would be fun to reflect on what some of the most colorful and memorable characters on "The Simpsons" have taught us by their good (or, more likely, bad) examples. Here are 11 money lessons from "The Simpsons," each with a memorable quote to bring the message home.
Homer: “If you don’t like your job, you don’t strike, you just go in there every day and do it really half-assed. That’s the American way.”
Lesson: Job security can be wonderful thing. Homer said these words to his daughter Lisa during a teacher strike at her school, and they bring to mind how amazing it is that an inept, clueless worker like Homer can avoid being fired from his job at the nuclear power plant. By extension, the takeaway is that workers should not underestimate employment fields that come with decent job security. Unfortunately, fewer and fewer lines of work are immune to forces like the economic downturn and increased automation across all industries. So pretty much everyone should always have an updated resume at the ready, and be prepared to launch a second career at a moment's notice. Oh, and do try to do your job well rather than "half-assed," to limit the odds you'll get fired in the first place.
Kent Brockman: "Things aren't as happy as they used to be down here at the unemployment office. Joblessness is no longer just for philosophy majors—useful people are starting to feel the pinch."
Lesson: Choose a practical major and career. TV news anchor Brockman, the face of journalism in Springfield, is known for tone-deaf reports like this one, delivered during a season five episode when a casino was proposed to revitalize the local economy. (A concept that quite a few U.S. communities have glommed onto lately, by the way.) His offhand swipe at liberal arts majors obviously calls to mind how important it is for students to choose a college and college major wisely.
Marge: "We were using $50 bills as toilet paper and toilet paper as dog toilet paper."
Lesson: Don't go overboard when success comes your way. Marge is usually the voice of reason on "The Simpsons," but even she could go off the deep end—like in the casino episode mentioned above, when she became addicted to playing the slots. (Money-hungry Monty Burns, who of course owned the casino, explained that legalized gambling was "the perfect business: People swarm in, empty their pockets, and scuttle off.") The quote above from Marge was related during a "Behind the Music"-type episode, when the gang reflected on how famous and rich they became at the height of "The Simpsons" craze. The simple moral is: Don't let success or sudden wealth change who you are, nor what you consider appropriate material for wiping your butt. For that matter, the whole career of Springfield celebrity Krusty the Clown, who built and lost fortunes many times over—once betting everything he had that the Harlem Globetrotters would lose ("I thought the Generals were due!")—is a cautionary tale about how not to handle success.
Waylon J. Smithers, Jr.
Smithers: “Your new duties will include answering Mr. Burns’s phone, preparing his tax return, moistening his eyeballs, assisting with his chewing and swallowing, lying to Congress, and some light typing.”
Lesson: Do what you need to do to impress the boss to get ahead. OK, so you might not want to mislead Congress or get quite as up close and personal with your boss as Smithers does with Mr. Burns. (Smithers’s quote is directed at Homer, who temporarily took over Smithers’s duties.) But less extreme ways of buddying up to the boss can yield serious benefits in your career.
Bart [speaking as Steve Mobs]: "You are all losers. You think you're cool because you buy a $500 phone with a picture of a fruit on it? Well, guess what? They cost $8 to make, and I pee on every one! I have made a fortune on you chumps, and I've invested it all in Microsoft."
Lesson: Don't be suckered into buying overpriced technology you don't need. Bart skewers Apple—and trendy overpriced tech in general—by subbing in his voice for Steve Mobs, a turtleneck-wearing stand-in for Steve Jobs, speaking from a big screen to a crowd of over-the-top fanboys at a "Mapple" store. Guess who is also being mocked here? Early adopters who blindly buy whatever gadgets are hottest, most hyped, and splashed in front of them at the moment.
Millhouse: “I kind of traded your soul to the guy at the comic book store.”
Lesson: Understand the true value of things. Bart sells his soul to Millhouse for a mere $5, and Bart thinks he took his pal for a sucker in the deal because there is no such thing as a soul. (“It’s just something parents made up to scare children, like the boogeyman or Michael Jackson,” Bart says.) After Bart realizes the error of his ways, it’s too late to get his soul back because Millhouse swapped it—for pogsfeaturing TV alien Alf, of all things. The “joke” here is that both the boys have dramatically and foolishly underestimated the value of the soul, which should not be sold at any price. If indeed the soul does exist, that is.
Mr. Burns: "Eternal happiness for one dollar eh? Hmmm… I’d be happier with the dollar."
Lesson: Some things are more important than money. The richest man in Springfield is the ultimate miser, who loves money above all else and reluctant to part with a dollar even for a seemingly "eeeeexcellent" reason. Mr. Burns probably has more quoted lines about money than any other Simpsons character, including "What good is money if it can't inspire terror in your fellow man?" and the one above, spoken in response to Homer's telemarketing plea promising eternal happiness for just a buck. Occasionally, though, Mr. Burns gets his comeuppance for his stingy and crooked ways, most notably when he was shot by Maggie when trying to take her lollipop—yep, he was stealing candy from a baby.
Moe: "Sure, Homer, I can loan you all the money you need. However, since you have no collateral, I'm going to have to break your legs in advance.”
Lesson: Borrow money responsibly, from a reputable source. After Homer loses all his money investing in pumpkin stocks when they tank after Halloween—another money lesson entirely—he goes in seek of a loan to keep up with his mortgage payments. He deems a loan from Moe, the local bar owner, as less than ideal, before turning to an arguably worse resource: his gruff, spinster sisters-in-law Patty and Selma. They give him the money, but turn him into their servant and make his life a living hell. All in all, if you need help with your mortgage or are dealing with debt collectors, try not to be like Homer, and steer clear of characters like Moe, Patty, and Selma.
Apu: "Pardon me, but I would like to see this money spent on more police officers. I have been shot eight times this year, and as a result, I almost missed work."
Lesson: Have a strong work ethic. The Springfield Kwik-E-Mart seems to never close, and its proprietor, Apu, never takes a day off. Not even when he's shot on the job. And sure, he's overworked, but at least his dedication and hard work helps him run a successful business. In the quote above, Apu is weighing in on what Springfield should do with a $3 million fine paid by Mr. Burns for dumping nuclear waste illegally. The town doesn't heed Apu's suggestion, and instead falls for the pitch of a mysterious huckster named Lyle Lanely, who convinces Springfield to build a boondoggle of a monorail. There are some lessons to be learned in there too, of course.
Lisa: "My administration will focus on the three R's. Reading, writing, and refilling the ocean."
Lesson: Your circumstances shouldn't dictate your ambitions. In episodes that show the future, we find out that Lisa, the bright and plucky middle sibling stuck in the nutty, underachieving Simpson household, winds up being president of the United States. If she can make it given her surroundings, anyone can.
Comic Book Guy
Comic Book Guy: "I've spent my entire life doing nothing but collecting comic books... and now there's only time to say... LIFE WELL SPENT!"
Lesson: Follow your passion. While some say that "follow your passion" is horrible career advice, Comic Book Guy, quoted from "The Simpsons Movie," seems to have no regrets doing what he loves most, even if others think it's silly. Then again, awkward, friendless Comic Book Guy is basically a miserable character, and at times he admits as much. "Oohh, I've wasted my life," he reflects on one Halloween episode. We still say follow your passion, so long as your passion isn't a complete waste of time.