Cross-posted at Extra Criticum.
I seem to be banned for life from posting comments on Salon.com because of a typo. The site requires you to set up an account (another password!) in order to submit a comment, but when I tried I mistakenly typed "con" instead of "com" at the end of my email address. So Salon sent a confirmation email to a nonexistent address and now won't let me set up another account because there's already a pending account with my user name (and ISP address, presumably). What a fate: trapped on Salon's No Fly List.
Wait, will "No Fly List" mean anything to someone reading this 50 years from now, as I expect millions of people to do? The Salon article I wanted to comment on, by Matt Zoller Seitz, asks "Will Future Generations Understand The SImpsons"? Seitz looks at TV comedies with topical references — not just The Simpsons, but Community, 30 Rock, etc. — and asks whether they will hold up for future generations:
Some of the most buzz-worthy TV comedies of the last 25 years have proved as sturdy as tissue paper. Even the great ones from the '90s ("The Simpsons" and "Seinfeld") are starting to seem as era-specific as high-top fades and Koosh Balls. "I Love Lucy," "The Andy Griffith Show," "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," "Cheers" and other pre-'90s sitcoms didn't start to seem dated or irrelevant for decades, probably because they kept the pop culture references to a bare minimum; the more recent hit comedies are starting to exude that expired fish stench while they're still on the air. Can a show still call itself a comedy if you have to explain why it's funny?
We don't know which shows will hold up 25 years from now, but I wouldn't rule out the ones with pop culture references. One piece of evidence in their favor is Monty Python's Flying Circus, which found an audience in the US despite frequent references to British places and personalities that were alien to Americans from the start. As Monty Python members found to their surprise, Americans found a lot of the references to be funny just because they sounded funny. (While watching the show as an adolescent, the town of Luton and the politician Reginald Maulding struck me as hysterical even though I had never heard of them before.)
I suspect that some pop culture references will resonate because they sound funny, whether they're real or made up. The Simpsons and 30 Rock, in particular, seem to alternate between "real" cultural references and ones made up for their own universes, and neither group is inherently funnier than the other. (MILF Island is funny even if you don't know what it's making fun of; it just becomes surreal rather than a parody.) In contrast, the sitcom Murphy Brown, which liked to lazily name-drop politicians and journalists of its time, doesn't hold up very well at all.
Do you think all of the current "meta" comedies will age well? Will I Love Lucy still be popular when The Simpsons is forgotten?