By Michael Muskal
Massachusetts, you’re out. Ohio? Sorry, another loser. In the race for cultural mecca, the winner is: Oregon.
That is, Oregon is the winner as far as “The Simpsons” are concerned, according to creator Matt Groening, who told Smithsonian magazine that the real-life home of his fictional characters is the Springfield in the Northwest. It was the first time that Groening had specified the place where almost anything can happen — and seemingly has — in the show’s 22 years on TV.
Groening acknowledged that he has always avoided naming the state.
“I don’t want to ruin it for people, you know? Whenever people say it’s Springfield, Ohio, or Springfield, Massachusetts, or Springfield, wherever, I always go, ‘Yup, that’s right.’”
Groening created the animated Springfield as a sort of Erewhon, but in keeping with the best television tradition, it is self-referential. After all, what happens on television, stays on television.
“Springfield was named after Springfield, Oregon,” Groening told the magazine.
“The only reason is that when I was a kid, the TV show ‘Father Knows Best’ took place in the town of Springfield, and I was thrilled because I imagined that it was the town next to Portland, my hometown.
“When I grew up, I realized it was just a fictitious name. I also figured out that Springfield was one of the most common names for a city in the U.S. In anticipation of the success of the show, I thought, ‘This will be cool; everyone will think it’s their Springfield.’ And they do.”
The real Springfield, Ore., has about 60,000 people, a median income of less than $40,000 and perhaps one in five living below the poverty line.
The animated Springfield has perhaps four dozen inhabitants. There is no poverty line since pretty much anybody can afford to do anything he or she wants, though to be fair some, including the cat lady, have chosen lives of total desperation for reasons best left to themselves.
Not everybody is as wealthy as the show’s Mr. Burns, perhaps, but the title characters seem to have a house, two cars and a life free from want.
What no one can escape is the rapier-like parody of the middle-class lifestyle that crosses all incomes, ethnicities, sexual orientations and most conservative politicians. (Only President George H.W. Bush seemed to really fit in, but that was short-lived for personal, not political, reasons.)
The Simpsons are also seemingly immortal (not to mention able to travel in time and space, sort of). The series is the longest-running American sitcom and the longest-running U.S. animated program. Considering it’s in syndication as well, the show may well be on some television screen somewhere in the world almost every minute.
The show arguably reinvented the adult cartoon series and was a key factor in the initial and continued success of the Fox television network as a whole.
In 2007, Springfield, Vt., beat out the estimated 13 other Springfields (note that 13 carries it own ominous overtones in this context) for the premiere of “The Simpsons Movie.” Each town had to submit videos connecting them to the animated version.
In a plot twist that even Homer Simpson could understand, Springfield, Ore., the real model, lost.