chapter  4
17 Pages

Head work: The problem of time on tasks

There must now be very few people in the English-speaking world who do not know Principal Skinner – the harried headteacher who runs Springfield Elementary, the school attended by Bart and Lisa Simpson. Episodes of The Simpsons regularly feature Principal Skinner engaged in misguided and generally unsuccessful attempts to establish his authority: imposing ludicrous amounts of detention on Bart, running fire drills which go badly wrong, saving money on school dinners, trips and amenities, or attempting to foster an old-fashioned sense of school spirit in mystified students. While Principal Skinner’s frequent flashbacks and references to his glory days as a Green Beret in Vietnam may be simply comical, his battle with officialdom in the form of Superintendent Chalmers produces sympathy. However, his home life – as an aging, lonely, lovelorn bachelor living with a mother who doles out his pay cheques as pocket money – makes him a pathetic and sad character. When Homer Simpson asks him about his personal circumstances, Principal Skinner’s reply has resonance well beyond the stereotypes ironically exaggerated in the cartoon world of Springfield.