I don't always watch new episodes of The Simpsons, but I do own Seasons 1-10 on DVD and know lots of other archivists who cherish the show as much as I do. This post is the first in an occasional series highlighting the depiction of archives, historical records, etc., in The Simpsons and other pop culture artifacts.
One of my favorite Simpsons references to archives appears in "Hurricane Neddy" (Season 8, Episode 8), when the town of Springfield is beset by a hurricane. Lisa Simpson, the first to realize what is happening, rushes to tell her father, and the following exchange ensues:
Homer: Oh, Lisa, there's no record of a hurricane ever hitting Springfield.
Lisa: Yes, but the records only go back to 1978, when the Hall of Records was mysteriously blown away!
Over the years, I've repeatedly quoted this exchange to colleagues who don't watch The Simpsons, and all of them have found it hilarious. However, in recent years the joy of watching this episode has been muted a bit. Season 8 wasn't out on DVD in late summer 2005, but I saw "Hurricane Neddy" in syndication a few weeks after I returned from SAA's annual meeting in New Orleans. The meeting ended less than two weeks before Hurricane Katrina dealt the city a devastating blow. None of the city's repositories were blown away, but many were destroyed or badly damaged by the toxic water that seeped into the city when the levees broke.
I still laugh when I see "Hurricane Neddy," which also features my favorite Ned Flanders quote ("Aw, hell-diddly-ding-dong crap!") and illuminates his boho parents' child-rearing philosophy ("We don’t believe in rules, like, we gave them up when we started livin’ like freaky beatniks!" "We’ve tried nothin’ and we’re all out of ideas.") At the same time, I think--sometimes a little, sometimes a lot-- about the vulnerability of records and how gaps in the historical record can distort our thinking in large ways and small . . . .