Homer and Marge make a visit to the endangered towers in this week's episode, drawing much-needed attention to the local landmark.
Many of us here in Los Angeles know that the Watts Towers—the famous folk art sculpture in South L.A. which Italian immigrant Simon Rodia hand-crafted from scrap metal and found objects—are in trouble. The 60-year-old towers suffer from severe lack of funding and possible staff cuts, and an adjacent art center has also been threatened. Doh! Last year, the county museum LACMA took control of the towers' management, and earlier this year it received a $500,000 grant to help with upkeep. But the real issue with preserving the towers' heritage is their invisibility. Tucked into a part of the city without many services (and still perceived as dangerous), visitors have to make a special trip to see the historic monument, and not many do. This week's episode of The Simpsons not only portrayed the towers beautifully, it encouraged its viewers to go there.
Of course, they did it in a predictably perverse manner. When Bart's movie Angry Dad gets nominated for an Oscar, the family heads to Hollywood, but Bart wants to keep Homer far away from the ceremony so he doesn't steal his glory. So he gives Homer and Marge a list of "highlights" to visit in the city (a bunch of insider jokes for Angelenos: the 405/10 freeway interchange, a car dealership with perhaps the most pervasive jingle on local radio—"Keyes, Keyes, Keyes, Keyes on Van Nuys"—and, simply, "The Valley"). Watts Towers tops that list.
The representation of the towers themselves is pretty true to life. The shot where Marge and Homer are standing before the 99-foot structures accurately conveys the scale as well as the detail in the mosaics. Poking fun at the seemingly flimsy construction of the towers is especially funny because they were actually tested for their structural integrity and ended up damaging the crane that was testing them. And the Rodia name-check by the guys in the passing car is a nice touch. I do think The Simpsons meant it as a gentle urge for people to visit the towers, no matter what "must-see" list they're on. Just think what wonders Homer did for Spider-Pig!
It also made me think about more unique ways that Angelenos—with their unique grasp of international media—could help bring attention to the towers. For ideas, visit this Save Watts Towers site, or check out the urban revitalization initiative across the street called the Watts House Project.