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Foss: ‘Simpsons’ episode contained some hard truths

Foss: ‘Simpsons’ episode contained some hard truths

Foss: ‘Simpsons’ episode contained some hard truths
The "Niskayuna" water tower on Sunday's 'Simpsons'
Photographer: FOX

I laughed at "The Simpsons" grim take on life in upstate New York. 

I also winced. 

Not because I was offended, but because the episode contained some hard truths, delivered in the show's endearing "take-no-prisoners" style. 

There were gags about population loss and declining industry, crumbling infrastructure and bitterly cold weather. 

One brightly animated bit, in which an Eastman Kodak factory crumbles to ruin while people take selfies with digital cameras, might be the very definition of painfully funny. 

Unsurprisingly, "The Simpsons" scathing depiction of upstate New York sparked political finger-pointing and defensiveness, with Ed Cox, chair of the New York Republican Party, using the episode as an opportunity to attack Gov. Andrew Cuomo. 

"There are very real life consequences to (Cuomo's) bad policies that have caused people to lose hope in their government and leave for better opportunities elsewhere," Cox said. "New York went from being the Empire State to the butt of jokes." 

In response, Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi said, "While there is more work to do, the facts are the facts and jobs are up, unemployment is down and millennials are starting to move back." 

Personally, I give "The Simpsons" credit for putting upstate New York's problems on everyone's radar.

The show's depiction of upstate was unflattering and sometimes mean, but it was also more clear-eyed and candid than we're accustomed to. 

In many ways, it functioned as a firm corrective to the story of economic renewal and rebirth that Cuomo and other political leaders like to tell. 

The governor rarely mentions upstate's ongoing population loss. "The Simpsons" made a joke out of it, showing numbers plunging on a population counter in Utica.

It also made a joke out of our deteriorating infrastructure.

The Simpsons narrowly miss being crushed when a bridge falls apart as they're driving beneath it, and at one point a truck is swallowed by a pothole. 

None of which seems especially far-fetched if you've spent any amount of time driving the streets of the Capital Region. 

Rather than trade pot-shots over "The Simpsons" and who is most to blame for upstate's decline, politicians from both parties should put their heads together and have a serious discussion of how to address problems that have been decades in the making. 

Upstate needs a comprehensive long-range plan that contains innovative ideas for attracting residents and businesses, fixing infrastructure and eliminating blight and tackling ills such as substance abuse and poverty. 

Homer Simpson described upstate as "the one place that can never decline because it was never that great." 

It's a funny line, but it isn't true. 

If you live here, you see evidence of upstate's decline every day, in the form of vacant buildings, empty storefronts and poorly maintained sidewalks and streets. 

These are serious problems, and they deserve serious consideration. 

If "The Simpsons" can get people to pay attention to upstate, well, I can certainly think of worse things. 

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