Compare & Contrast: Self Help Charlatans

“You know, my course can help you with every personality disorder in the ‘Feel Bad Rainbow’.  Let’s look at the Rainbow, what’s in there?  Depression, Insomnia, Motor-mouth, Darting Eyes, Indecisiveness, Decisiveness, Bossiness, Uncontrollable Falling Down, Geriatric Profanity Disorder or GPD, and Chronic Nagging.” – Brad Goodman

Back when the show still had heart and soul, one of the things they liked to do was make fun of the seedier ends of American capitalism.  Sometimes this was Dr. Nick hawking his shabby inventions; sometimes it was the customer contemptuous likes of Stern Lecture Plumbing or Ex-Con Home Security.  Then one time, it was Brad Goodman, and all the bright, shiny self help scams for which he stood. 

Bart's Inner Child3

Before. . .

Goodman was the perfect embodiment of the low-rent hucksters who ply the airwaves at the most non of non-primetime television hours looking to make a buck from people Homer famously described as, “alcoholics, the unemployable, angry loners”.  Though the specifics varied, each one of them had a system that was pitched at one basic concept: a richer, happier you.  Their systems usually came with scientific sounding jargon, a couple of catch phrases, and lots of numbered points (the better to seem more organized).  The main thing they all had in common was that you paid up front (for a book, a video, whatever) in the hopes that this valuable information could change your life for the better. 

Bart's Inner Child4

. . . and After.

The other thing these “impr-U-vement” scams had in common was that no one who wasn’t already desperate took them the least bit seriously.  Goodman charged peopled real money for pithy advice Lisa accurately described as “easy answers”, but if you’re enough of a sucker to pay for his advice then you’re also too much of a sucker to be able to call him on it.  That’s why The Simpsons made Goodman such an obvious conman, but still let him get away with the cash.  The people of Springfield regretted their decision almost as soon as they started practicing what he preached, but by then he was long gone. 

What makes “Bart’s Inner Child” so great is that the jokes and the scorn are heaped both on Goodman (using “important celebrities” like Martha Quinn and Troy McClure) and on the people he scammed (“We’ve made a false idol of this Brad Goodman!”).  Goodman may be a successful charlatan who got away with it, but he’s still very obviously a charlatan the show holds in utter contempt. 

Compare that rather harsh treatment to the fawningly sympathetic portrayal of the “pick up artist” conman odiously named “Dr. Kissingher”.  (Since I flat out refuse to type that name several more times, he shall henceforth be known as Pick Up Kissingher, or “Puke” for short)  With the tiny exception of having to announce his own introduction, Puke escapes from the episode completely unscathed.  He’s shown as being sympathetic and kind to his dimwitted clients, and is even given a tongue bath in the form of recurring appearances as an omniscient, floating pop-up head.  All by itself that’s a pretty big blown comedy opportunity, but the bigger failure is the credulous way the show treats Puke’s highly dubious advice. 

Do Homer or Moe suffer for following Puke’s retrograde self help canards?  Nope, quite the opposite.  Moe spends the rest of the episode with ridiculously attractive women on his arm, and Homer (though we don’t actually see why this happens) becomes the object of affection of every pretty young thing in Springfield.  Late night infomercials would be hesitant to show that kind of wild success for fear that it would be too incredible even for an audience sleep deprived into total gullibility. 

Pick Up Artist Extraordinaire

Nine women and not a fatty in the bunch!  Order now!

If you want to see what this stuff looks like in the real world, Google “pick up artist” and hold your nose, for the foul stench of scamming the clueless and the desperate will immediately waft from your browser.  This is from the first page of Google’s results

What is PUA Training "System"

The System represents the evolution of the pick-up arts, a new frontier that for the first time builds on established principles and methods and adds in the latest cutting edge techniques. Five years in the making. Drawing on the entire Pick Up Artist / PUA universe of knowledge as well as body language, psychology, and the experience of talking to thousands of beautiful women, we deliver the first complete proven system for building a better you. Only a select few will learn these powerful techniques. Those that have are already seeing huge results.

That is exactly the kind of garbage that The Simpsons so brutally attacked in Brad Goodman.  It sounds science-y (“evolution”, “cutting edge techniques”, “psychology”) and promises that a “better you” is only a few dollars away.  The sole difference is that “beautiful women” have replace “self improvement” as the glittering prize.  Not only did Zombie Simpsons decline to make fun of this blatantly misogynistic shit, it swallowed it hook, line and sinker.  Here’s the first thing Puke says from his narrator bubble:

Jumping on the grenade.  The wingman engages the less attractive friend, isolating the target.

And here’s the “PUA Dictionary” (this is also from the first page of the Google results):

For instance, if I see a less than attractive woman, I would never want to hurt her feelings, so in a very low voice I might tell my wingman she is a UG (Ugly Girl).

It almost couldn’t get any lazier.  Zombie Simpsons has given up on satirizing society’s foibles in favor of copying and pasting them. 

On The Simpsons, was the Juice Loosener really whisper quiet?  Did Homer get rich thanks to that guy with the trapezoid scheme?  Did everyone in Springfield live happily ever after once they knew how to use the Feel Bad Rainbow?  Of course not!  But in Zombie Simpsons, did Homer and Moe start scoring babes left and right once they knew Puke’s secrets?  And how!  To make things even worse, Zombie Simpsons bought into the skin crawlingly awful and boldly stupid bullshit of the “pick up artist” scammers.  The whole thing is disgracefully dumb and blatantly anti-woman, on a show that didn’t used to be either. 

11 Responses to “Compare & Contrast: Self Help Charlatans”

  1. 1 Izzy
    15 February 2011 at 7:04 pm

    No mention of the fact that Marge knows she’s had gray hair for like 15 seasons? Homer claimed she’s been “gray as a mule” since she was 17 in “Secrets of a Successful Marriage”. The writers don’t even care enough to keep track of these inconsistencies.

    • 15 February 2011 at 9:33 pm

      If you were paid 125,000 dollarinos to write a script for a show where cancellation is a non-entity, and where over 90% of the audience is too young to know (or remember) the Simpsons used to be a clever satire, I doubt you would care, either.

      • 3 Ryan
        16 February 2011 at 12:59 am

        I would care. I like to be proud of my work, no matter what factors come into play.

        I don’t think it’s a matter of the writers not caring; I just don’t think they know any better.

        • 4 Cassidy
          16 February 2011 at 1:38 am

          I think the “culture” inside the writers’ room has changed as well. There simply isn’t that drive, desire or need for subversive writing or biting satire. Another casualty of a 20 plus year run. Doesn’t help that the gates have collapsed and the FOX executive barbarians are now pretty much running the show.

        • 16 February 2011 at 8:46 pm

          I remember some of the writers mentioning they worked over 18+ hours a day on the show back in the single digit seasons and how the show went through dozens of rewrites so that EVERY joke was funny after hearing it a hundred times. IMO, it feels like the current Simpsons has the writers barely rewriting anything to see if a joke can stand the test of time. It’s like the show is being written to be funny now instead of being funny five years from now. Sadly, the show has become so popular that it can spew out this disposable humor and the writers are happy to keep churning out this level of trash.

          Maybe it’s not caring ENOUGH.

  2. 6 Cassidy
    16 February 2011 at 1:32 am

    Awesome post once again. Love these “Compare & Contrasts” – despite the fact that they are a depressing reminder of how far this show has plunged.

    • 16 February 2011 at 4:39 am

      I love them too – they’ve quickly become my favourite category on this site. As depressing as they are they also highlight why the programme was so great in the before time.

  3. 8 Mike Russo
    16 February 2011 at 9:30 am

    That photo made me throw up in my mouth a little. I hate the way the one-off female characters are drawn on the show now. What the fuck happened?

    • 9 D.N.
      16 February 2011 at 5:34 pm

      Most of those females look like the same person, only with different hair and clothes. I guess it’s possible that the show is making some kind of comment about the female beauty ideal becoming more generic, but I think it’s far more likely that the animators are just lazy.

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