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The Simpsons in Japan: A Lesson on Stereotypes

Introduction

The Simpsons television series is a treasure trove of resource material for the ESL/EFL classroom. It contains everything from low-brow slapstick humour to literary social satire. It includes references to major literary works, pop songs, movies, and numerous other cultural markers. A Simpsons episode "is a text that most of our students will encounter and some will pursue regularly, owing to screen culture and the place of television in their lives" (Doyle 1999). It is a medium in which most students can connect with and enjoy. The Simpsons can be used in a number of ways to focus on particular language targets or specific topics.

The Simpsons use stereotypes for each its major characters as well as that of particular cultures. Members of the Simpsons have spent time in various countries, such as Japan, Brazil, England, Canada, France, and Australia. In these cases, they often use a large variety, and sometimes extreme, cases of stereotypes, generalizations, and major icons from each of these cultures. The choice of elements that are shown is often more telling about the culture that created it, than that of the culture being observed (Hamilton 2002). This can provide fruitful debate or discussions among students.

The episode "Thirty Minutes Over Tokyo" can be used to identify particular characteristics in each of the characters, to discuss the use of stereotypes, and to generate discussions on travel expectations. This particular lesson plan is designed for one or two classes for upper-intermediate level students, but can be easily shortened or tailored for higher-level students. With a little work, the worksheets could also be adapted to fit the other 'travel' episodes mentioned above.

{tab=Lesson Plan} 

This lesson plan is based on the Simpsons episode, "30 Minutes Over Tokyo" Season 10, Episode 23, #AABF20.

Activity 1 - Going Places: Japan

Hand out Worksheet 1 "Going Places: Japan". Get the students to work together in partners or groups and brainstorm reasons why people from other countries would like to visit Japan. From this, the students would then come up with a list of things to do and places to see in Japan. Finally, students can come up with specifics for a particular city.

Activity 2 - Stereotypes

Explain to the students that they will be talking about stereotypes. Be sure that they all understand what a stereotype is. Hand out Worksheet 2 "Stereotypes: Other People, My People". Have students work together (this usually works best with lower-level students) to come up with a list of stereotypes that are common to their own, and other, cultures.

Activity 3 - 30 Minutes Over Tokyo

Tell the students that they are going to watch an episode of the Simpsons, a very popular TV program from the United States of America. Ask if any of them know the Simpsons - drawing your own rendition of them on the board will generally result in character recognition (and laughter, in the case of my drawing abilities). Write all of the Simpsons names on the board so that the students are familiar with each of the characters.

There are several ways to show the episode, depending on the level of your students and the time allowed for your class.

Watch the segment from the time the Simpsons are on the plane to Japan to the moment they lose all of their money.

  • a) (OPTIONAL) Watch it without sound. Get the students to watch and check for stereotypes as they appear. They should check off any that match the list that they came up with, in addition to writing down any new ones that they have missed. After having done this, get them to check it with their groups and go over it together as a class.
  • b) Hand out Worksheet 3 "Thirty Minutes Over Tokyo" (Parts 1 and 2, double-sided). Use Side A. Watch the segment and get the students to answer the questions. Repeat, if necessary.
  • c) Use Side B. Watch the segment from the Simpsons visiting the U.S. Embassy to their return back home. Repeat, if necessary (you may need to pause the tape at specific listening points). Get the students to check their answers.
  • d) Hand out Worksheet 3, Part 3. This is a list of questions that can be used for discussion between group members or as a class.
  • e) Finally, go over student answers and get them to discuss what they thought of the episode and use of stereotypes on the show. The level of teacher guidance will be determined by the level of your students. One idea is to ask students what they thought was true, what wasn't, and how they might "rewrite" particular points in the episode. You might also ask them to write a sequence/dialogue for the Simpsons visiting their hometown.

These are just a few ideas one could use with this episode. I've taught it in a variety of ways and have always had success with it.

Note: there is an instance where Homer tosses "The Emperor" (i.e., the real emperor) into a pile of sumo thongs. I was originally worried that this may cause offense with students, but I have not yet had a single complaint.

{tab=WORKSHEET 1} 

WORKSHEET 1 - Going Places: Japan

Part 1: Travel to Japan

Why do you think people want to come to Japan? Please think of three different reasons.

1. _______________________________________________________
2. _______________________________________________________
3. _______________________________________________________

Part 2: Things to do, Places to see

Work with a partner.

1. What places do you think tourists want to visit in Japan?

a._____________________________

b._____________________________

c._____________________________

d._____________________________

e._____________________________

2. What do you think tourists want to do in Japan?

a._____________________________

b._____________________________

c._____________________________

d._____________________________

e._____________________________

3. Choose one Japanese city. What are some famous places and/or things to do in that city?

a._____________________________

b._____________________________

c._____________________________

d._____________________________

e._____________________________

The Simpsons in Japan: Going Places

Part 3: The Game Show

The Simpsons lost all their money and now they are stuck in Japan. Please answer the following questions.

1. Where do the Simpsons go for help?

_______________________________________________________

2. What kind of job do the Simpsons do to earn some money?

_______________________________________________________

3. What prize do the Simpsons want to win on the game show?

_______________________________________________________

4. What category do the Simpsons choose to compete in?

_______________________________________________________

5. What is the difference between Japanese and American game shows?

_______________________________________________________

6. How do the Simpsons win their prize? (Four activities!)

_______________________________________________________

7. What country does the next couple come from? What slang words do Homer and Wink (the host) use to call them?

_______________________________________________________

8. What will Bart miss about Japan?

_______________________________________________________

9. What is the final problem in the airplane?

_______________________________________________________

10. What did you think about this episode? Do you think the stereotypes in the show are true? Why or why not?

_______________________________________________________

{tab=worksheet2} 

Worksheet 2 - Stereotypes: Other people

Stereotypes are impressions or generalizations that people have about different cultures or groups. There are usually good and bad stereotypes about any culture. Although they may be based in truth, they generally don't reflect the reality of a diverse group of people.

Part 1 Stereotypes: Nationalities

Below is a list of nationalities. Please write down any impressions or stereotypes you have of the country or its people.

a. USA/Americans___________________________________________

_________________________________________________________

b. UK/British ____________________________________________

_________________________________________________________

c. Germany/Germans__________________________________________

_________________________________________________________

d. India/Indians ____________________________________________

_________________________________________________________

e. China/Chinese _________________________________________

_________________________________________________________

f. _______/________:________________________________________

_________________________________________________________

Where do you get these impressions from? TV? Movies? Books? ___? Have you ever traveled to these countries?

_______________________________________________________

Part 2 Stereotypes: About Japan

People also have stereotypes about Japan. How do you think non-Japanese people view Japan? Please fill in the blanks in the list below with at least one example for each category.

(ex. Food: Japanese people eat a lot of sushi)

Culture/Customs: _______________________________________________________

_______________________________________________________

Sport: _______________________________________________________

_______________________________________________________

Technology: _______________________________________________________

_______________________________________________________


Food:_______________________________________________________

_______________________________________________________

Character/Personality: _______________________________________________________

_______________________________________________________


Homes:_______________________________________________________

_______________________________________________________

Cities/Countryside: _______________________________________________________

_______________________________________________________

Education/School: _______________________________________________________

_______________________________________________________

Work: _______________________________________________________

_______________________________________________________

Part 3 - Think about it!

1. Homer always walks through the sliding paper doors. Why do you think he does this?

_______________________________________________________


2. The Simpson family has seizures after watching the cartoon, "Battling Seizure Robots." What real event (in Japan) is this based on?

_______________________________________________________

3. The Simpsons go to "America Town" to eat. Why do think an American family would want to visit a place called America Town? Why would Japanese people want to go there?

_______________________________________________________

4. Bart and Homer see Woody Allen (a famous Hollywood director and actor) filming a (boxing) commercial in Japan. Why do you think this is included in the show?

_______________________________________________________

5. The Simpsons go on the "Super Challenge Family Wish Show" to win tickets back to Springfield, USA. Do you think the game show is similar to TV game shows in Japan? If yes, which one? If no, why not?

_______________________________________________________

6. When Homer is being struck by lightning, his friends in Springfield, USA see him on TV. Why do you think they are watching the Japanese channel?

_______________________________________________________

7. Is there any part of the episode that you thought was unreal or too stereotypical? What part of this episode would you change?

_______________________________________________________

{tab=Worksheet 3} 

Worksheet 3 - 30 Minutes Over Tokyo: The Simpsons in Japan

The Simpsons fly to Japan for a short visit. Please answer the following questions.

1. What was Bart playing with on the airplane? What does Lisa read?

_______________________________________________________

2. What city have they arrived in? How do you know?

_______________________________________________________

3. What places does Lisa want to visit?

_______________________________________________________

4. Where do the Simpsons go to eat?

_______________________________________________________

5. Why does Homer end up in jail?

_______________________________________________________

6. What did Bart and Homer learn while in prison?

_______________________________________________________

7. What happens to their money?

_______________________________________________________

8. Please list five Japanese stereotypes that you noticed in this section.

_______________________________________________________

9. Who is the most interested in Japanese culture? Who learns the most about Japan?

_______________________________________________________

Source: http://iteslj.org