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A R T S   &   C U L T U R E
If Marx Ran the Freak Show
Jeffrey Dorough • The Oblongs is Must-Flee TV • May 2001

Every now and again, a television show comes along that changes the way we understand the social impact of this most influential medium, opening our eyes to new possibilities and perhaps even exposing the viewing public to the first stages of a cultural shift. From All in the Family to The Simpsons, certain programs attain the status of cultural iconography, forever altering the public dialogue and mindset on important issues of the day. However, on the other end of the spectrum of culturally relevant television is The Oblongs, a new animated series from the great minds of the WB network, that at best leaves the viewer begging for the return of that half hour of their life, while at worst provokes dementia and suicidal tendencies. Perhaps this is a bit extreme, but upon viewing one episode of this program, I was convinced we were suffering some new Biblical plague designed to herald the end of mankind as we know it.

 Though one might find it impossible to fathom that the producers of The Drew Carey Show, Norm, and The Simpsons could come together to create a television program that plunges to new depths of agonizing entertainment, it has, alas, come to be. The Oblongs, based on the cartoons of Angus Oblong, boldly attempts sharp social satire but proves as successful as a hooker at a eunuch convention. The premise of this program surrounds the harrowing trials facing a family straight out of Ripley’s: Bob, the family patriarch, has a heart of gold instead of arms and legs; his bald wife Pickles who happens to be an alcohol and nicotine addict (I imagine many viewers will find themselves sympathizing with Pickles, reaching for any nearby chemical that might alleviate the pain of this show); their conjoined-twin sons, Biff and Chip; their daughter Beth, who has a phallic object sprouting from her forehead; and finally their emotionally-warped and large-headed son Milo. This is not a joke; these are actually the characters in this show. Why are they deformed?  Here is where the “social satire” comes into play: they are deformed because they live in the working-class neighborhood that is grossly polluted by the rich, beautiful people who live up the hill.

Subtle, no?  It gets better. All of the freak show rejects are forced to slave away at the local industry and source of pollution, Globocide (killing the planet) Industries, where all of the wealthy people exploit their labor for fun and profit. Of course, the wealthy individuals are shallow and callous, and all of the wealthy women even have the same name – Debbie. Meanwhile, the armless, legless, hairless, multi-headed, jaw-lacking, emotionally-disturbed proletariat are the most folksy and good-hearted people since the Smurfs. Sadly enough, this is as deep as the satire goes – a weekly Greenpeace ad that mixes in a healthy dose of class warfare. And the show still manages to do it poorly.

Though it has been clear for several decades that Hollywood is a great bastion of leftist ideology, what with great political minds like Barbara Streisand and clan Baldwin mouthing off about every issue under the sun, it is not too much to ask that satire springing from the bowels of this Marxist pit intelligently attack relevant issues and play to an audience with mental capacity surpassing that of the common cantaloupe. With programs like The Simpsons taking aim at nearly all social sacred cows and doing it in a way that keeps both conservatives and liberals laughing (often at themselves), it is disappointing to see a show like The Oblongs fighting the great windmill of the evil privileged class seeking to feather their nests at the expense of the average working man. This is not an exciting or relevant satire. It shows a clear lack of understanding of how the world works. Despite some of the problems with corporate America, it does allow the citizens of this country to have a standard of living beyond that of nations like Uruguay or Nigeria. Furthermore, the plight of the working class in America is far from the grim picture painted by this horrendous cartoon.

Ultimately, The Oblongs represents the sad state of art in America, reflecting its desire for specific ideological content over a form that expresses greatness. The Oblongs pretends to fight important battles, but in reality it puts its petty collection of lame weapons on display for the enjoyment of those who already love petty collections of lame weapons. It fails to take its opposition seriously, and therefore fails to present a compelling message to anyone other than those that already agree with it. The hallmark of great satire, even in the form of modern television, gains strength from its ability understand why people would choose the opposing viewpoint and attack that entrenched mindset as well. In literature, Evelyn Waugh managed to create a rich, compelling picture because he wrestled with the “dark side” of life, and The Simpsons represents a more modern example of this same excellence in form. When The Oblongs are touted as social satire on the same level as works that do demonstrate the ability to wrestle with the opposition, today’s mindless-automaton television culture will lose any ability to understand what makes art of this sort redeeming or great.
In essence, The Oblongs takes cheap shots at target at which liberals love to aim, and these cheap shots fail to understand the complexity of issues surrounding the environment, labor, and corporate America. The writers should take notes from The Simpsons – attack relevant social issues, not straw men, and for God’s sake be funny.

Jeffrey Dorough is a senior in Trumbull College

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