Margaret France (’02 MA English) wrote the book on Bob’s Burgers.
Here, she talks about the show’s beloved characters, her favorite season, her top ten reasons to love Bob’s Burgers, and more.
What are your top 10 reasons to love Bob’s Burgers?
- Its characters are weird and sad, but the show posits that they are still worthy of love, a message I appreciate hearing on a regular basis.
- Routinely excellent original songs.
- The shifting dynamic between family as employees and family as family.
- A fancy toilet speaks like Jon Hamm.
- The siblings act like siblings.
- Young romance is accurate without being creepy (not true of the fanfiction!).
- Linda names the raccoons in the alley Big Baby Pudding Snatcher and Little King Trashmouth.
- Little King Trashmouth is gay.
- Bob’s mustache.
- Rampant, wild punning.
If you were a Bob’s Burgers character—real or imagined—who would you be?
Teddy! I just want to be with my people, so I try to make myself useful but fail. Often.
Do you have a favorite Bob’s Burgers character? Who? Why?
This changes based on the day, but probably Linda. She gets so much stimulation from her objectively bleak living situation that she’s constantly breaking into song! Truly a model for our times.
The third season is where I think the show really settled into itself, so you can see the beginnings of characters that would become part of the show’s fabric, for better (Boo Boo) and worse (Logan Bush).
Favorite single episode?
I love boy bands, so it’s hard to beat “Boyz4Now.” The songs are bangers, and the boys are, well, not entirely boys? The running joke about Matt being way too old really nails the classic boyband dynamic: the one with the cool hair on his face is always two weeks away from less-cool hair in his ears.
Why do you think the show has been such a success? What makes it resonate with people across generations?
Bob’s Burgers entertains a variety of people because it’s not leaning too hard on a single schtick. Its laughs derive from silly puns, pop culture references, family dynamics, and the daily struggle to stay afloat in the sludge that is late capitalism. I mean, isn’t that something for everyone?
How did this book come about? Why did you want to write it?
The best way to keep hanging out with your friends from graduate school is to attend the same academic conferences. Often, you can get funding to present your research, so it’s not only fun, but subsidized fun. Unfortunately, my field of research was very different from my friends; they all studied contemporary media and I specialized in eighteenth-century English novels. Thus, I decided to start writing about this cartoon that my students got me into, Bob’s Burgers. My friend co-wrote a fantastic book about using The Simpsons to teach writing (The Simpsons in the Classroom, check it out, teachers!) so when I started writing about Bob’s Burgers I knew it could lead somewhere. My papers’ titles got attention from editors pretty quickly. My favorite one was “Boys are from Mars, Girls are from Venus, I have a Yum Yum, Mom has a Penis.”
What was the research and writing process like?
The work came in fits and starts beginning in 2015, and then I worked in a really concentrated way in 2020. I really loved the research and writing process, because I got the chance to learn about so many things: the history of the sitcom, of animation, popular psychology, fanfiction—I even did a deep dive into competitive table setting! Mostly I worked piece by piece, and because I’ve written academic articles and a dissertation, I had a sense of what would be big enough to be a chapter, and how to find a throughline through all of the topics. And, if I can get personal here, the period in which I wrote this book was a time of tremendous personal and professional upheaval for me. During that period I moved six times, changed jobs four times, and ended one marriage. Writing about the show was a constant source of companionship for me when I really needed it.
Gen Xers from the Pacific Northwest especially seem to have a special place in their hearts for The Goonies, but might not ever watch it again the same way after reading your Steven Spielberg chapter. Discuss?
As a member of the generation and region that particularly prizes The Goonies, I’m an outlier. Josh Brolin and Martha Plimpton gave me special secret feelings, but otherwise, I never really got into it. When I rewatched it and discovered that the whole film is an extended dick joke—how else do we read a group of adolescents following the path of “One-Eyed Willy?”—it seemed like a really cynical hoax, like convincing your little sister to name her imaginary friend “Mike Hunt” and watching her horrify your parents with tales of their adventures. That would actually be a lot funnier, now that I think about it…
What surprised you during the research and writing? Did you learn anything new? Anything you weren’t expecting?
I came to the book with some expertise in gender and literary studies. I knew I would discover a lot about the show by applying those tools, but almost every chapter required me to dig into another field: the history of voice acting, workplace sitcoms, even Christian marriage manuals. What was most surprising and satisfying to me was learning about the fan culture. Getting on Reddit and seeing people compare their Bob’s Burgers tattoos was such a great time. I’m still ruminating over whether I should have tried to get rights to some of those images, but I do encourage the readers to look them up, so I guess I’ve made it an interactive book by leaving them out.
Do you have plans to do any critical studies of any other animated shows?
Animation has become so niche since Bob’s Burgers began in 2011 that I don’t know that I could find a text that has the same kind of demonstrated universal appeal and impact. If I’m going to write in that much detail about a work of art, I really want to find out what it says about our shared imagination as a culture, and nothing has come out lately that appeals so much to me and to so many others. So, no, probably not.
Talk about the appeal of studying popular culture.
We can learn about our culture through crime statistics, political analysis, demographic data. There are so many tools. But I want to learn about who we are when we are seeking joy and delight, not when we are declaring our identities or at our most vulnerable. When we look at popular culture we are looking at the choices we make when we are most at liberty, and I feel like that’s a really intimate way to get to know people.
What are some of your other particular pop culture interests?
I love reality TV! I treat it like watching a nature show. I also collect Playgirl magazines from the ’70s and ’80s, which I was thinking of turning into another academic project but I’m not sure if I want to take them so seriously.
What’s next? Writing or otherwise or both?
Since the book, I’ve been following a lot of different threads. I’m writing poems about reality television, basically recaps of Below Deck and House Hunters. Again, I’m trying to give that kind of observation the same aesthetic capital we assign to migrating birds and budding crocuses. I’m also playing around with a hybrid of self-help and fiction that could be a guide to lesbian divorce. I wish I had an idea for another cultural studies book, because I think McFarland or another publisher would be happy to work with me after the last one, but that’s just not where I’m at right now.
Just for fun, to meld two of your areas of study, write a short personal ad for Gene?
Juicy AMAB seeks playmates. Must love music, messes, and my mom.
What else should people know about this project?
As much as this book is about Bob’s Burgers, it’s also about what we can bring to any work of art that speaks to us. What I model here is not a search for the truth so much as a series of lenses for understanding what those truths say about individuals and our culture at large. If you truly love Bob’s Burgers, you will find moments where you vehemently disagree with my assertions, but engaging in conversations about the things we love is just another way of cherishing them. I hope this book helps you cherish not just Bob’s Burgers, but anything that brings you joy.
Read the WSM review of France’s book The Genius of Bob’s Burgers.