Springfield is here.

22 July, 2007 at 6:25 pm (dear diary, film, new hampshire)

Went to the world premiere of the upcoming Simpsons movie last night, and am overflowing with stuff to say about it, despite the fact that I haven’t written about anything on this blog for, literally, months. And yet this movie — or, more accurately, this event — has me brimming with commentary. So expect three or four (depending on how I organize it) posts about the film and the premiere and the Springfield hometown search. Once I’m done with that, I plan on backfilling the emptiness of my previous silence with some stuff I planned to post and never got ’round to. More on that in a future post! Goodness, I have prolific plans!

As has been fairly widely reported, the definitive location for The Simpsons‘ Springfield has been chosen. Creator Matt Groening had frequently said that the reason he chose the name for the town was that it was so omnipresent — Wikipedia informs us that there are Springfields in 34 of the United States, including one in New Hampshire, which probably shouldn’t surprise me, but does (I’d never heard of it, certainly, but who is intimately familiar with the names of towns of under a thousand people in Suffolk county? Not I, in any case). A joke in the film’s trailer is that from the peak of a local mountain one can see the four states that border Springfield: Ohio, Nevada, Maine, and Kentucky… thus helping to solidify the town’s non-location. However, as one of the many promotions for the film — including turning 7-11s into “Kwik-E-Marts”, Dunkin’ Donuts Simpsons varieties, ancient pagan chalk outlines, et al.a competition was held in USA Today to determine, once and for all, the actual location.

Welcome to Springfield, VTThirteen of the many and varied US Springfields were listed by the paper as possible candidates, and each had submitted a brief video as to why their location deserved the honor. And, against most expectations, Springfield, Vermont was chosen by popular vote. Clear skies, rolling mountains, deep winters, and a local nuclear power station may have all seemed convincing physical aspects, but it seems from the number of votes that it’s likely that people watched the video and found it to be the most amusing of the possible options. Apparently, some people thought that Oregon had a lock on it (I would have assumed Illinois, myself), as Groening is an Oregonian originally, but they only came in third place.

So it’s Vermont. And on 21 July, slightly less than a week before the film opens around the globe, 20th Century Fox shuttled in two SUVs of writers and staff in order to inaugurate the town’s official relationship with the show, and to present a plaque that stated as much. Vermont, in turn, gathered together the members of the Vermont Film Council, the Springfield Chamber of Commerce, and a couple of state senators to preside over the occasion and to pass over the key to the city town to Groening and producer James L. Brooks.

The disparity between the public’s reaction to their local officials and the more Hollywood power set was pretty noticeable. Clapping was polite but brief for the senators, and laughter at their jokes and Simpsons references was almost nonexistent. Applause for the creators and crew was voluble and sustained, even for people like Mike Scully and Al Jean, who can’t have been household names for a group of people who kept on pronouncing Groening like “Groaning”. But their very connection to the show was sufficient to bring the glamour, particularly evident when both Groening and Senator Peter Welch used the exact same line in their prepared remarks (“As Homer would say: ‘Woo-hoo!'”), and the Senator got no love for his attempt to reach out to the people. Some young teenagers who were standing near me in the crowd were complaining about the sheer number of local dignitaries and politicos that needed to thank people and confirm their association with the event. “Who cares?” one muttered to his cronies. “Bring on the Simpsons guys!” And even though none of the vocal talent was in attendance at the event, they were riveted by the presence of these West Coast VIPs.

Reference: the Rolling Stones perform at Bloom County Elementary SchoolHere’s the thing these kids are too young to realize: you’re basically required to namecheck sponsors and include local influence in these things, no matter what kind of event it is (see the Bloom County excerpt for a parallel example). These events don’t happen without the work of focused individuals exerting their personal and professional influence to grease wheels and make calls and get people thinking about, talking about, and acting on whatever needs to happen in order for something to take place. This didn’t “just happen”. And while the event itself was not run with the sort of efficiency or consistency one might have preferred, it didn’t organically fall into shape or spring up like a forest mushroom. The people these kids wanted to see were there because of the efforts of the people they didn’t care about. And the people they didn’t care about were damn well going to make sure that you associated them with this event. Just like political candidates are constantly churning through The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, US Senator Bernie Sanders and VT State Senator Welch (who’d really like to trade up to Congress) would love to be associated with the success of the campaign to bring The Simpsons to Vermont, or just to have some small name recognition at all with the show’s target audience.

In fact, the whole event, before the film actually began screening for the lucky lottery winners, felt like a fascinating combination between a political stump speech and a town fair. With the road shut down and the booths of local wares lining the sidewalks, it felt like a street fair, right down to the rock cover bands and the insipid cheerleading by a local “comedian” and radio/TV personality. On the other hand, the thanks yous had a certain political hucksterism to them. Amidst all the ludicrous claims that “We knew all along that we were the real Springfield”, was the underlying message that Springfield, Vermont and Vermont in general could really use a shot in the arm. Otherwise you wouldn’t have Senator Sanders saying, “This day is about showing the whole darn country that Springfield, Vermont is a strong community!”

Ned Flanders gestures to Maine, which does not share a border with VermontUm, no… no, it’s not, Bernie. That’s a nice spin on why Vermont got the votes over the other twelve candidates, but the day is about Fox and NewsCorp advertizing their new movie, and they’re using you to do it. If you get something out of it, then they’re happy for you, but your claims of strength make you sound a little desperate, a little worried.

One last note: yay, Vermont, and all that. But you certainly cannot see Maine from the top of a peak of a local mountain. You know why? Because Maine does not share a border with Vermont. Vermont borders New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and New York. Maine borders New Hampshire… and nothing else. It is, in fact, the only state to share a border with only one other state. So if Springfield is in a state that borders Maine, then I don’t give a damn what the readers of USA Today think, it has to be Springfield, New Hampshire. Take that, Vermont! Snookered by your own sponsor!

EDIT: There were fourteen candidates, not thirteen. An article talking about the thirteen other Springfields lodged the incorrect number in my head. Please add one to all references to twelve and thirteen in the above posting. Ta.

1 Comment

  1. VTvid said,

    I am one of 200 volunteers who appeared in the winning Springfield Vermont video. After we helped our local Chamber of Commerce win the contest, they turned their backs on us. We should have been the first in town to be receive invitations to the world premiere but the elite in town were awarded our seats instead. And then not even a word of thanks or mention of us in the public ceremony outside the theater! Read more and view our famous winning video on our new website:The Simpsons Springfield Vermont

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