SPRINGFIELD, Ore. — The Springfield that exists in the mind of Matt Groening is a kind of American everything — hick pit stop, rosy-cheeked Rockwellian font of family values, cesspool of corruption, ethnic melting pot, boomtown gone to rust.
It’s what the creator of “The Simpsons,” the nation’s longest-running sitcom, used as a backdrop for 22-minute allegories about the American experience, beginning as earnest tales about a lower-middle class nuclear family and expanding to encompass spoofs of presidential elections, the obesity epidemic and “Citizen Kane.”
The inspiration, Groening explained, came when he was a child watching the TV show “Father Knows Best,” set in a town called Springfield. Groening said he was thrilled to imagine the show was based in Oregon’s Springfield, about 100 miles south of his hometown of Portland.
“In anticipation of the success of the show, I thought, ‘This will be cool; everyone will think it’s their Springfield,’” he said. “And they do.”
The acknowledgement ends one of the longest-running mysteries in popular culture. But people in town on Tuesday weren’t quite sure what to do with the information.
“He did?” asked convenience store manager Denise Pohrman. “I think that’s a good thing. I think.”
But how should the town react? On the surface, it’s not a flattering portrait. Groening’s Springfield is polluted and sad, run by corrupt officials and beset by the simpleminded populace that keeps voting for them.
Embrace it, Pohrman said.
“There’s the stuffy part of history, and then there’s the trivia,” Pohrman said. “Everybody needs some fun.”
The series has been on the air for 22 years, becoming the longest-running American sitcom, the longest-running American animated program and a cultural phenomenon with colleges devoting courses to studying it.
The real Springfield is a western Oregon town of about 60,000 people. Its quiet Main Street is struggling in the face of a recession while the highway-based chain stores and restaurants survive or thrive. Its median income is just under $40,000 and nearly 20 percent of people of all ages live under the poverty line.
“It took a lot of tenacious people to found Springfield,” Springfield Museum executive director Debra Gruell said. “When the railroad went away, they persevered. The town wouldn’t be here without that.”
Some comparisons do hold true. Just as the fictional Springfield endures the hate hoots of rival Shelbyville, the real Springfield must contend with the larger — and wealthier — Eugene, home to the University of Oregon and the recipient of much of Nike founder Phil Knight’s largesse.