ROBERT S. STURGES: MY FAVOURITE MEDIEVAL
THE SIMPSONS AND KING ARTHUR
During its second season, The Simpsons aired an episode entitled “Dead Putting Society,” about a miniature-golf match between Bart Simpson and his neighbor Todd. What qualifies this episode as a “medieval afterlife” is the miniature-golf setting itself. On Bart’s first visit, it’s introduced by a sign at the entrance: “Sir Putt-a-Lot’s Merrie Olde Fun Center,” with a cartoon icon of a jousting knight; further attractions listed include “Her Majesty’s Batting Cage” and “Merlin’s Video Dungeon.” The “Merrie Olde Fun Center” itself, shown in the background, is a pseudo-medieval castle, and throughout the episode attentive viewers may catch sight of signs for “Ye Olde” everything: “Ye Olde End of Course,” etc.
I’m always charmed by this episode because these post-medieval features are treated as throwaways: they’re not necessary to the plot, and no one calls attention to them; indeed, the viewer has to slo-mo through the entrance sign if s/he is to appreciate the Fun Center’s features. It’s all just part of the lower-middle-class decor, and thus reflects an important aspect of the medieval Arthurian afterlife in the USA: its association with class aspirations. Everyone has seen a trailer park or motel named “King Arthur’s Court,” and the creators of The Simpsons clearly understood this phenomenon as widespread enough to be satirized for the TV audience.
The association of the Arthurian with American seediness reminds me of my second favorite medieval afterlife: when I was a young gay man living in Bridgeport, Connecticut, the seediest gay bar I frequented was called “King Arthur’s Round Table.” In addition to the class disjunction evident in The Simpsons, this bar’s name also exploited the implicit homoeroticism of the Arthurian brotherhood. From The Simpsons to bar culture, the Arthurian legend penetrates everywhere in the American class imaginary.