Ralph is not a rule-follower like Lisa, nor a rule-breaker like Bart; Ralph does not observe the rules because he is almost completely unaware of them. More than any of the other students at Springfield Elementary, Ralph is a child. Bart and Lisa and Milhouse and Nelson and Janey are kids, and therein lies the difference. Ralph sees things that aren’t there (“Ralph, remember the time you said Snagglepuss was outside?” “He was going to the bathroom!”), eats paste, picks his nose, volunteers unprompted, nonsensical declarations (“My cat’s breath smells like cat food”) disguised as Zen koans. His character is sometimes written as dim-but-profound, sometimes borderline-psychotic, and occasionally developmentally disabled, but more than anything else, Ralph [is] like what he is: a child who hasn’t yet aged into a kid, which is one of the most embarrassing things a child can be.
Mallory Ortberg, “Not Allowed in the Deep End: Ralph Wiggum’s Finest Moments,” The Toast, August 11, 2014
It’s rare to find good writing about The Simpsons, both because people have been writing about it for 25 years already and because most people don’t realise that writing well about it requires pretending there have been no episodes made in a year beginning with 2. This is great though, in that it treats the characters sensitively and thoughtfully and also in that it spends a lot of time quoting really funny lines from the show, which is crucial to writing about The Simpsons.
(I like also its focus on the kids of Springfield Elementary as kids; I must say more some day about how one of the things that made it so great was not that it was an adult cartoon that looked like it was for children, but that it genuinely functions well as kid-lit in a way its successors don’t. Bart and Lisa are relatable to children and the plots in which they’re involved take place in a kid-size world and are told from a kid’s point-of-view. It’s not that the show’s material is understood differently depending on your age, though there are the jokes about Roy Cohn that operate in that way, but that there was a plausible Saturday Morning Cartoon happening at the same time as all the grown-up stuff.)
The first in the series, about Martin Prince, is equally enjoyable:
The piggy-print pajamas. The fuzzy pink slippers. Martin cannot even sleep right. He is hopeless; this is why I love him. He cannot keep his mouth shut, he is effeminate, he is excited about school, he is a narc, he is chubby (though not exactly drawn “rounder” than any of the other children, he is most often referred to as such), and he wants to be your best friend more than anything else in the world. Martin Prince is undeniable. He is no one but himself.
That Australians have anything to teach Americans about coffee culture may come as a surprise to casual drinkers.
Her mouth opened in a strangled sob, Tacy’s teeth blare bright red.
"You come at the king," Beth says, "you best not miss."
Megan Abbott, Dare Me (2012)
Trying to talk about American cities can be a bit frustrating because America does this weird thing where its primary use of the word city is to indicate a governmental area rather than a socio-cultural urban space. By this reckoning, you end up with factoids like America only has 9 cities with populations over one million people and China has more than 160. This is how you end up with folks saying that Phoenix and San Antonio are among the 10 biggest cities in America, and behemoths like Atlanta and Miami are way down in the 40s — which is only interesting if you want to talk about administrative challenges at the local government level or maybe make comparisons between the history of annexation and incorporation by city governments in the west as compared to the east. But mostly it just means trying to talk about a Los Angeles in which Santa Monica doesn’t exist or a Detroit where Hamtramck doesn’t exist, and that’s just silly.
So I tend to avoid defining US cities by city population. But what to use instead?
The US also talks about the city using the far more intuitive frame of the metro area. But even this doesn’t entirely solve the problem; because there are a few definitions of metro area around, and not all properly encapsulate the city as entity. Just like I’d like a definition of Sydney that includes Parramatta (by which the city has a pop of approx 4.5 milion, I think it’s most sensible to use a measure, that, say, considers Seattle and Bellevue and Tacoma to be part of the same space, or Washington and Arlington and Falls Church to be of a piece but Baltimore to be a discrete place.
Primary Statistical Area seems too broad to me; good perhaps for discussing economic interdependence but too far-reaching to properly describe lived experience. I think a statistical measure that treats Trenton and Brooklyn as part of the same metropolitan entity is flawed for most purposes. Combined Statstical Area is likewise too expansive; Atlanta and Athens are not part of the same city in the way, say, Boston and Cambridge are. This is why I think the most useful definition is the Office of Management and Budget’s Metropolitan Statistical Area. It’s not perfect; I do wonder if the Inland Empire is distinct from Los Angeles and San Jose distinct from San Francisco–Oakland to the extent Chicago and Milwaukee are distinct from one another — if so, Riverside–San Bernardino is America’s fourteenth biggest “city” — but its definitions usually feel right and its population figures are logical for comparative purposes. Sydney and Boston being similar in size works. Sydney being four times bigger than Dallas does not.
In other news, Serbia is now on Streetview. Exciting!