Debunking the ‘Simpsons’ and Springfield myth


New Sodom. America’s Worst City. America’s crud bucket.

The Simpsons’ Springfield has adopted many names over the years. And in the spring of 2012, the city of Springfield, Ore. cheered when news hit that they were America’s crud bucket.

“Springfield was named after Springfield, Ore.,” “The Simpsons” creator Matt Groening said in an interview with the Smithsonian Magazine in 2012. “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.”

“Matt Groening will not confirm or deny that Max’s is Moe’s so we don’t have any credible proof that that’s us. It's more folklore.”

— Kim Fairbarin Co-owner of Max's Tavern

After the article’s release, Groening’s comments made countless headlines that claimed the show’s beloved town existed in the state of Oregon, but the statements were distorted and taken out of context. “I never said Springfield was in Oregon,” he told TV Guide. “I said Springfield was the name of my sled.”

“The Simpsons” is considered one of the most influential and popular television shows to ever grace the small screen. After 25 seasons, “The Simpsons” can be found in Vietnamese gift shops, the streets of Montevideo and in countless living rooms on a Sunday night. Because of the show’s stardom and proximity to where Groening grew up (he was born and raised in Portland), myths and legends have sprouted up attempting to connect Eugene with the show. Max’s Tavern, the University of Oregon pioneer statue and our neighboring city of Springfield are three of the most famous examples of how the Eugene community relates to “The Simpsons” — but these rumors may in fact carry no validity.

Kim Fairbarin and her husband have owned Max’s Tavern for the past 21 years and the myth that Max’s is Moe’s Tavern has lingered since before they purchased the bar.

“Matt Groening will not confirm or deny that Max’s is Moe’s so we don’t have any credible proof that that’s us,” Fairbarin said. “It’s more folklore.”

Both taverns have a similar set up. The bar is located on the right side of the room and a jar of pickled eggs rests behind the counter. But Moe’s is much more spacious — if you’ve ever been to Max’s on a weekend night, you know just how tight it can be.

A few blocks east of Max’s on the UOcampus is the Pioneer statue, a gift from the artist Alexander Phimister Proctor dating back to 1919. The bronze statue is speculated to be the basis behind the Jebediah Springfield statue located in the town square of “The Simpsons.” The two statues depict settler men sporting traditional garments but they’re situated differently with the Pioneer statue carrying a whip and the Jebediah Springfield statue standing on top of a deceased bear, leaving their resemblance in question.

Cora Bennet, the director of student orientation programs, oversees the student tours and acknowledges the statue-to-statue connection as a campus legend that adds flare to the campus tours.

“There’s enough parallels that we think it’s safe to play around with that in terms of having a light-hearted, humorous tour and be able to say, we think that perhaps Matt Groening was referencing pieces of Eugene and Springfield in ‘The Simpsons,’” Bennet said.

A statue in "The Simpsons" resembles the Pioneer statue on campus.

Despite Groening clarifying that Springfield, Ore. isn’t home to the show, Executive Director of the Springfield Museum Jim Cupples entertains the idea to any admirer of the show who journeys to Springfield on a fan’s quest.

“I’ll usually point in the direction of Eugene and say what’s the big hill in the middle of Eugene? Well that’s Skinner’s Butte, right? And that’s Principal Skinner,” Cupples says. “And then if you go up to Portland you’re going to go down Lovejoy or Flanders (which are characters’ names in “The Simpsons”), so there are all these things that are directly local landmarks and tie-ins from Matt’s state of Oregon with “The Simpsons.”

Dr. André Sirois, an adjunct instructor for both the journalism school and the cinema studies program, teaches courses on media’s relations with society and notes the possibility that Groening was inspired locally.

“It makes total sense that Groening would base many of these things upon things that he had seen and experienced,” Sirois said. “I think with any cartoon, while they’re completely made up, they always reference something that exists. Whether it’s a specific person, experience, place, anything; it’s always referential. Both “The Simpsons” and “South Park” are highly intertextual, always drawing from cultural familiarities from other shows and films.”

The Emerald sits down with Matt Groening's high school teacher.

Groening was born on Feb. 15, 1954 and raised by his parents Homer and Margaret on 742 S.W. Evergreen Terrace in the West Hills of Portland.

“Matt was one of a number of students at Lincoln who were socially and politically active,” David Bailey said. “Matt was a good student and was also one who liked to — I don’t want to say agitate because that’s not fair. Let’s just say that Matt liked to have fun as a student of Lincoln and if that meant tweaking the powers that be then let’s tweak the powers that be.”

Bailey has been teaching civics and running the journalism program at Lincoln High School for the past 46 years and it’s been said that he’s the inspiration behind the notoriously evil character Mr. Burns — a rumor that, according to Bailey, Groening laughed off and disagreed when a parent asked him a few years ago.

Groening attended Lincoln from 1968 to 1972 and in that time he ran a comics appreciation club, wrote for the school newspaper (both articles and cartoons), started his own underground publication called the Bilge Rat and even dabbled in politics.

“He ran for student body president and won. He was the anti-establishment establishment kid. He set up, I guess you call it a quasi-political party called Teens for Decency. So you can see Bart Simpson,” Bailey said.

Bailey remembers Groening as being very socially aware and conscious and viewing the world through a prism of humor. Groening’s first homework assignment in Bailey’s class in 1970 was to create a list of topics they’d discuss in the forthcoming year. A few of Groening’s choices were “Vietnam, Civil Rights and the miniskirt crisis.”

“Humor was his thing. Or what passed for humor in Matt’s adolescent mind,” Bailey said. “He would make light of people who were anti-drug. And of course this was at a time when marijuana and LSD was coming from the college campus on down to the high school campus. I doubt if Matt was involved in any of that. But I think he came down on the side of the old folks, the older generation — he just really didn’t understand the younger generation.”

Groening created a board game while in high school that comically paralleled life as an early 1970s teenager. “The Game of Lincoln High School” was set up like a tweaked version of Monopoly with the vice principal’s office substituting as jail and one space that acts as a prelude to a future “The Simpsons” episode. The space reads: “The head of the Lincoln statue is missing and a chisel is found in your locker. Go to the vice principle’s office,” which is the plot line of season one’s “The Telltale Head.”

The last space on the board game showcases Groening’s humor and critical perspective on American life. “Congratulations!” it begins. “You’ve graduated! You study at the college of your choice, get married and move to the suburbs. You raise some kids and one day, while working in the garden, you clutch you heart and fall over, dead. Lose one turn.”

Even in high school, Groening was writing “The Simpsons.”