30 April 2012

David Foster Wallace on The Simpsons

by Matt Rubinstein at 7:07 pm


This week’s episode of The Simpsons is full of pleasing references to David Foster Wallace’s famous essay A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, first published in Harper’s as Shipping Out: On the (nearly lethal) comforts of a luxury cruise and expanded in the essay collection that bears its new and lasting title. 

The connections begin obviously enough with the episode title, the grammatically-fussier A Totally Fun Thing That Bart Will Never Do Again. DFW geeks may also notice that the four-fingered family narrowly avoid being shunted onto a sugar-free fitness cruise (“welcome to eight days and seven nights of push-ups and kale!”) aboard the grim Nadir, which was DFW’s ironym for the Zenith, the luxury liner he spends nearly 30,000 words (plus footnotes) hilariously eviscerating. 

Even more piquant is this quick cameo of the man himself, sitting behind Bart in his celebrated tuxedo T-shirt:

The Fleet Bar was also the site of Elegant Tea Time later that same day, where elderly female passengers wore long white stripper-gloves and pinkies protruded from cups, and where among my breaches of Elegant Tea Time etiquette apparently were: (a) imagining people would be amused by the tuxedo-design T-shirt I wore because I hadn’t taken seriously the Celebrity brochure’s instruction to bring a real tux on the Cruise…


I, dickhead that I am, decided in advance that the idea of Formalwear on a tropical vacation was absurd, and I steadfastly refused to buy or rent a tux and go through the hassle of trying to figure out how even to pack it. I was both right and wrong: yes, the Formalwear thing is absurd, but since every Nadirite except me went ahead and dressed up in absurd Formalwear on Formal nights, I—having, of course, ironically enough spurned a tux precisely because of absurdity-considerations—was the one who ends up looking absurd at Formal 5*C.R. suppers—painfully absurd in the tuxedo-motif T-shirt I wore on the first Formal night…

Since it appears only in the footnotes to the essay, the tuxedo T-shirt probably occupies a whole additional level of DFW geekery, so hats off to the Simpsons writers for their delightful tribute. There are almost certainly even more stratospheric references visible only to even more dedicated DFW geeks than me. 

For what it’s worth, DFW might not have been entirely happy to be even further immortalised here. As he told Wisconsin Public Radio’s Steve Paulson in 1997:

I think The Simpsons is important art. On the other hand, it’s also—in my opinion—relentlessly corrosive to the soul, and everything is parodied, and everything’s ridiculous. Maybe I’m old, but for my part I can be steeped in about an hour of it, and I sort of have to walk away and look at a flower or something. 

4 Responses to “David Foster Wallace on The Simpsons

  1. Bob Geary Says:

    I missed the “cameo” – nice! I did notice, however, that one of the stations in Lisa’s “Elite Kids’ Club” room was labelled “Iowa Writers’ Workshop at Sea.”

  2. Mame Says:

    Another amazing reference: Shooting skeet at sea!!

  3. mzieg Says:

    Thank you for sharing this…I would never have found this episode otherwise!

  4. yall Says:

    yall just gonna ignore that last quote huh

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