Bart Gets an F (Simpsons S2:E1)


When I was a little kid, I could see so much of myself in Bart Simpson. In 4th grade I had a stack of X-Men comic books underneath my desk, and I'd cracked the lid open and read comics when I was supposed to be paying attention in math class. I remember when The Simpsons got air conditioning and how excited they were to have an air conditioner, just like we were when the air conditioner was installed. I could see so much of my life mirrored right there, the working class the world. There was this episode that I clicked with, which was Season 2 episode One, Bart gets an F.

It opens with Bart half-assing a book report on Treasure Island. He's never even attempted to read the back cover of the book to see what it's about, and he bombs it utterly. Later on, he's supposed to take this history exam and he knows if he fails this exam, he fails the fourth grade. So, he makes friends with class nerd Martin Prince. Martin Prince, while being brilliant, has no social capital whatsoever. In exchange for tutoring him, Bart teaches him how to be cool, but Martin Prince, after having spent an entire lifetime on the outside, now figures out how to be one of the cool kids, and he's so intoxicated with it, he aces his test regardless, and then goes off to play with the cool kids. He's got the best of both worlds now and Bart's still screwed.

Seeking the last refuge of the scoundrel, Bart is on his knees, praying to God, saying, “Lord, please give me a snow day.” Give me something so I can study and pass this. Then it snows the next day, and Bart is about to run out and go partake in the festivities. He’s met at the door by his sister Lisa, who says, “Bart, what are you doing? God answered your prayer. I don't know who God is, but he's more powerful than mom and dad put together, and you owe him big.”

Bart goes back into study, figuring he is not missing anything. But then it cuts to outside, showing the greatest snow day in the history of mankind, rivaled only by the Christmas Truce of 1917. But Bart no matter how much Bart tries, he still fails the test the next day. The discipline he needs to be the level of success he wants, isn't there, and he’s so crushed when the grade comes back with an F.

The sense of defeatism overtakes this little boy, and I remember being such a terrible student and not really understanding why. Then at the end of the episode Bart references that obscure history fact about George Washington, and his teacher gives him an extra point which gets him to a D minus. He's so happy that he passed. it is just barely, but he’s so happy that he's not a failure.

He jumps around and yells, “I passed! I passed!” That episode showed me that the important thing, at least in the beginning of your life, is to figure out how to not fail. Don’t worry about success. That almost never happens. Failure happens to everyone all the time. Guard against failure and worry about success down the line. Because if you can keep from failing, success is just another test to pass.

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