In a recent episode of The Simpsons, Lisa grows a vestigial tail, ruffled fur, a cold nose and a cocked hat. She’s evolving into Poochie the Dog, a character inserted in a classic-era Itchy & Scratchy cartoon to lampoon desperate, audience-pandering program adjustments. The now tired comedy—once the best written on television—has put Lisa on a leash and trained her to list left and bark unintelligibly, all in a feckless attempt to stay “relevant” and “edgy” in the face of Family Guy and other prime-time intruders.
In classic Simpsonia, Lisa acted closest to creator Matt Groening’s sponsored character, functioning in the psyche of the show as the rational ego negotiating the unbridled id of Homer and squelching super-ego of Marge (who once memorably advised Lisa, “Take all your bad feelings and push them down, all the way down past your knees, until you’re almost walking on them.”)
More obviously, Lisa was always the smart one, not the useful idiot she’s become in what ought to be the series-euthanizing Season 25. In a show tellingly titled “The Kid is Alright”—after the mean-spirited movie commending a lesbian freezeout of males as untrustworthy sperm donors—lonely Lisa recoils at the discovery that a brainy new classmate who shares her love of the Bronte sisters and anagrams is—a gasp—Republican, and thus beneath befriending. What we’re supposed to make of Lisa’s occasional, albeit grudging indulgence of Milhouse Van Houten’s lifelong crush, or George H. W. Bush occasionally living in the neighborhood, is suddenly unfathomable.
To be sure, the joke’s often on Lisa, as she’s aghast to learn her parents were Reaganites in the “crazy” ‘80s, and she struggles to tow the P.C. line: In a recent episode the new girl, one Isabel Gutierrez (voiced by Obama supporter Eva Longoria), stands impregnable to attack on all sides, being a “non-observant Argentinian Jew” whose Republicanism can’t even be written off, Lisa despairs, as “a Catholic thing,” i.e. anti-abortion. And when pressed to defend FDR in front of classmates, Isabel advances an argument for Roosevelt’s un-Constitutional drift as Lisa stammers 2nd grade school book platitudes unworthy of her usual sophistication.
But in defending her politics in a class-rep debate against Isabel, writer Tim Long hits bottom, putting infantile words into Lisa’s mouth: Liberal is not a dirty word but “What ‘Liberal’ really means is that those who have more than enough should share a little with those who don’t,” Lisa says, “And those principles have consistently been in place during this country’s most prosperous times” (as in the Great Depression, Lis?). Long might just as well have had Lisa mouth “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” At least that isn’t sugar-coated. (Tim Long is listed as a “consulting producer” this season; one might say we’re in for a Long year.)
Plain leftist agitprop has replaced the show’s once ingenious, equitable political equipoise. In an earlier episode called “Labor Pains,” Lisa organized the Springfield Atomettes cheerleading squad by orchestrating a strike and spouting pro-union bromides, inspiring them to exploit their sexuality in media properties shown in an end-credit montage. In “Four Regrettings and a Funeral” reporter Kent Brockman refuses to join Fox News in New York because he has “scruples,” resolving to return to Springfield where he can decide what the news is, “like a god!” MSNBC, the joke of the real news world, is spared biting satire for the sake of guest star Rachel Maddow.
The coffee house radicals running the show now routinely serve up commentary on religion, rancid, bitter and acid. Since at least the 17th season, when an episode demonstrated a firm grasp of 19th century thinking in erecting and tearing apart the straw man of creationism, the show has been mired in illiberal imbalance on Christianity (and, for the most part, Christianity alone). A recent visual joke had Bart and Milhouse forming a tall man out of Reverend Lovejoy’s religious garb, Milhouse’s bulbous nose forming the shape of an erect penis wandering inside the trousers—an unthinkably crude reference for a series that once had sensibility and taste. Producer James L. Brooks has either lost control of the show or the genius of the comedy, which used to zing around the political spectrum faster than the speed of resentment. In either case, Brooks should no more have Lisa paraphrasing Marx than Mary Richards angrily burning her bra.
New episodes make a half-hearted effort at balance, but the weight’s straining one side. In an earlier day, no sooner had the show made fun of Ned Flanders’ religiosity than he could simply remind God of his supplicant’s favor to get that last bowling pin to miraculously drop. A 1998 episode slid fluidly from cult deprogramming (with Montgomery Burns the Leader demanding worship as a New God) into unmistakable Communist critique, replete with American gulag. Flanders, on the deprogramming team, tries to win back Homer by offering him beer (in angry defeat, he resolves to tap too much foam); Marge tries to get the kids to abandon the cult with her own materialist lie, “hover bikes” that are, alas, Huffies suspended from fishing lines. A modern show with the old sensibility would surely have fastened upon the cult of Obama, though it’s possible mere satire can’t top the spectacle of school children being brainwashed into singing a version of “Jesus Loves the Little Children:” “Barack Hussein Obama…Hmm, hmm, hmm!…He said red, yellow, black or white…all are equal in his sight!” (To paraphrase a triumphal Edward G. Robinson, “Who’s your Messiah now?”)
But to treat Lisa as a cipher is unforgivably grotesque, as transparent and cynical as Obama’s reelection-agitprop, “The Life of Julia,” the animated story of how an American woman can’t go a single day in her life without one of Mother Government’s wonderful, life-sustaining programs. In “The Kids Are Alright,” Lisa is completely dependent from cradle to grave on, as Lisa might say, “those who have more than enough.”
The Simpsons always had liberal tendencies. Cartoonist-Creator Matt Groening put any doubts to rest when he denied the U.S. Air Force’s request to use Bart’s image as nose art, declaring that Bart was against war until he could start one himself—the Democrat position in a nutshell. And in the new life of Lisa, liberalism is but another species of Marxism. But Springfield was always a town everyone could recognize and imagine living in. Now it’s just another intolerant suburb of Hollywood.
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