‘Simpsons’ Springfield Controversy: Bart Strikes Back

Bart weighs in on the subject of Springfield on "The Simpsons" (Photo: Fox/The Simpsons)

UPDATED: “The Simpsons” had some fun with last week’s Springfield controversy with some pointed “commentary” inserted into the opening titles of Sunday’s episode. The additions, evidently made at the last minute, included: The words “Now entering Oregon” just under the show’s “Simpsons” title, and moments later, Bart at his traditional chalkboard writing “The true location of Springfield is in any state but yours.” The insertions were the producers’ response to last week’s “revelation” — and subsequent debate — that the hometown of the Simpsons was Springfield, Ore. We told that story earlier, right here …

PREVIOUSLY: The mystery of the “real” Springfield that is home to “The Simpsons” has long bedeviled TV scholars. And every once in a while, something happens to make at least some observers believe that the cat has finally leapt out of the bag.

Such was the case this past week when the creator of “The Simpsons,” Matt Groening, disclosed in an interview that the Springfield that served as the inspiration for the Simpsons’ hometown was Springfield, Ore.

Groening, 58, is an Oregon native, and he told Smithsonian magazine that he had Oregon’s Springfield in mind when he named the town in which he would place Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa, Maggie and dozens of friends, enemies and neighbors for the Fox series that is now in its 23rd historic season.

“Springfield was named after Springfield, Oregon,” Groening is quoted as saying in the interview – a statement that would seem to settle all arguments. But when you read what else he said, you might conclude that he didn’t really mean that his fictional Simpsons really live in Oregon.

“The Simpsons” — still going strong at 23 seasons: Watch a recent episode right here:
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Here’s the rest of the quote, as pointed out by the Web site known as Bestweekever.tv: “The only reason is that when I was a kid, the TV show ‘Father Knows Best’ took place in the town of Springfield,” Groening said, “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.”

So he chose the name, but he never says that he based any “Simpsons” characters on any real-life residents of Springfield, Ore. Nor does he apparently think of his creations specifically as residents of Oregon. In fact, it’s doubtful he actually knew any real residents of Springfield, Ore.

He even seemed to attempt to backtrack on his Smithsonian statements later in the week when he told TVGuide.com: “I never said Springfield was in Oregon. I said Springfield was the name of my sled.” I’m not sure what he meant by that, but it’s possible he was making a reference to “Citizen Kane,” in which a child’s sled plays a significant role in Charles Foster Kane’s childhood memories.

Groening’s backtracking didn’t sit well with the real-life residents of Springfield, Ore. “ ‘Family Guy’ would never do this!” exclaimed a spokesman for the town, according to this story.

The “real” Springfield? Watch a classic episode of “Father Knows Best” right here:
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Whatever Groening meant to say about whether or not the Oregon Springfield is the “Simpsons” Springfield, he was correct about the ubiquity of Springfields in North America. The index of the Rand-McNally World Atlas lists 25 Springfields in the United States, and three more in Canada.

And this latest “revelation” of the “real” Springfield is far from the first. Back in 1998, a very quick image of a map in the show’s annual Halloween special – “Treehouse of Horror IX” – seemed to show the location of Springfield in Louisiana, in a part of the state where there does happen to be a Springfield, about 60 miles northwest of New Orleans.

The image of the map flashed on screen when baby Maggie was apparently sending intergalactic radio signals via her pacifier to the green, slobbering alien known as Kang who appears in every “Simpsons” Halloween special. The image showed the pacifier signal emanating from Louisiana, and sharp-eyed “Simpsons” watchers believed that the show had just revealed the location of the “real” Springfield.

At the time, executive producer Mike Scully told me it wasn’t so. He indicated that the Springfield location shown in the episode was as fanciful as the special’s other far-out storylines. “It’s the Halloween show, so nothing is real,” Scully said. “If the Simpsons are really from Louisiana, then Homer is really a serial killer and Maggie’s father is really an alien!”

Truth is, it’s probably better to believe that the Simpsons’ hometown is wholly fictional – like the Flintstones’ hometown of Bedrock. The Springfield of “The Simpsons” is supposed to stand in for any town or city anywhere in the United States. And that’s probably as it should be.

“The Simpsons” airs Sunday nights at 8/7c on Fox.

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The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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