Finding Meaning About America with The Simpsons

"Oh, Marge, cartoons don't have any deep meaning. They're just stupid drawings that you give a cheap laugh." Homer Simpson, 1991.

"I don't think real checks have exclamation points." Lisa Simpson, 1991.

'Mr. Lisa Goes to Washington' is perhaps one of the finest piece of animation political commentary I have seen yet. The Simpsons is not just a brilliant cartoon but a stark reflection of American society. One would not be exaggerating if it was to be nominated among the greatest programs in the history of American broadcasting.

This episode, first aired in 1991, remains relevant given the state of the Union these days. The show is about Lisa going to an all-expense paid trip to Washington D.C. after becoming a semi-finalist in a 'Reading Digest Patriots of Tomorrow' contest. The essay that earned her this trip was called the 'Roots of Democracy.'

However, what faith in democracy she possessed was soon shattered after uncovering Congressman Bob Arnold accepting a bribe from a lobbyist. Which led her to change her essay. It began, "The city of Washington was built on a stagnant swamp some 200 years ago and very little has changed. It stank then and it stinks now, Only today, it is the fetid stench of corruption that hangs, in the air." The camera then pans to Ted Kennedy.

Strong words for an eight year old girl in a cartoon. The whole episode is filled with many subtle commentaries about the state of democracy.

While distraught, Lisa attempts to seek guidance at the Lincoln memorial. Only this is fleeting as the masses, wallowing in vanity, self-interest and mediocrity, shout questions to a silent Abraham Lincoln. Later, Lisa goes to visit Thomas Jefferson who is bitter that no one visits him.

Seeing the gerrymandering and pork barreling politics on the steps of a Washington monument, Lisa re-works her essay and it eventually leads to Bob Arnold going to jail. Lisa concludes "the system works." The winning essay was won by an immigrant who titled his essay 'U.S.A A-Okay.'

Another memorable quote, just one among a sea of them, is Nelson Muntz's entry. "So burn the flag if you must, but before you do, you better burn a few other things! You better burn your shirt and your pants! Be sure to burn your TV and car! Oh, yes, and don't forget to burn your house because none of those things could exist without six white stripes, seven red stripes and a hell of a lot of stars!"

Faith: "Lisa, I'm Fatih Crowley, Patriotism Editor of Reading Digest."

Homer: "Oh, I love your magazine. My favorite section is 'How to Increase Your Word Power.' That thing is really,really,really....good."

Anyway, back to my point. Many have become jaded about America since the arrival of George W. Bush. To me, the reaction has been less of a Lisa style protest, and more of a teenager rebellion style attack on authority.

Assume if all that has transpired since 2001 happened under a Democrat. I doubt the voice of protest would be this vocal.

The Rolling Stones once wrote, 'You Can't Always get What You Want' and Americans who hate Bush need to accept that their 'guy' can't always win. Another leader with a different perspective and style is always good to have - even if it runs contrary to one's ideals. It's the cycle of the democratic process.

The liberal ethos won't always prevail and the fact that it has not won should give pause to everyone that the liberal message needs to be refined and redefined. Right now, it's stagnant. Neatly summarizing that '59 millions Americans are dumb' is not an example of intellectual postruring. It is the mark of an arrogant populace failing to come to terms with change.

The price of freedom indeed entails eternal vigilance. Those who spend their time mukraking Bush are missing the bigger picture.

A cartoon reminds us of how important and true cliches really are. There's a time and place for everything. Obsessively and willingly dividing the nation in times of war for narrow political expediency only wastes a precious commodity like freedom.

Democracy works. It is up to Americans if they want to make it work when it counts the most.

1 comment:

  1. This is a great post. For too long the religous right has dominated the Reopublican party, and the liberal left has dominated the Democratic party forcing both parties to the extremes, and leaving most people in the country, who tend to be in the middle - think bell curve0 without a party. The party that moves to the center first will be the one that will dominate politics for the forseeable future.


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