If you’re a writer or other creative type, you have grandiose dreams. It comes with the territory; no matter how clear-eyed and self-deprecating you are about your abilities, or the state of your career at the moment, you’re convinced you have a civilization-defining magnum opus within you. It comes with the territory; in order to put in the drudgery and the mental effort of putting pen to paper (or keystroke to laptop), you have to believe in your heart that you have what it takes to write a definitive account of your society and times, something that perfectly sums up the world around you and will last for generations. And helping to fuel these ambitions is the fact that, from time to time, masterworks like this are indeed created. They really do exist.
You know, like The Simpsons.
It’s been around nearly thirty years. For much of the show’s latter years, the episode quality has been spotty at best, so if your last viewing of the show was on a recent Sunday after the football game, you may find the language above a little hyperbolic. But in its heyday (from roughly Season 3 through either Season 8 or 10, depending on your taste), The Simpsons was the greatest sustained work of satire American culture has yet produced. Obviously, its catchphrases still resonate decades later (and I’m not just talking about obvious Bartisms – I’m talking about observations which, like Shakespeare, have become such a part of our lexicon that we forget where they’re originally from – like, for instance, the title of this post). But more than any joke or gag, the show’s legacy is its vision of what America looks like, its visualization of our ridiculous id, Kwik-e-Mart donuts and all. It’s so perceptive, it’s managed to predict significant events years and decades before they occur – most recently, of all things, our nation’s gold medal Olympic curling victory. It’s an American institution, and over time, every citizen of this nation has come to understand its take on who we are.
Unless, of course, that citizen is the junior Senator from Texas.
At a speech at CPAC this past week, Senator Ted Cruz referred to the Season 9 episode “The Cartridge Family” as part of a speech on the current gun control debate. That episode contains this exchange between Homer and Lisa:
Lisa: Dad, the 2nd amendment is just a leftover from revolutionary days. It has no meaning today.
Homer: You couldn’t be more wrong, Lisa. If I didn’t have this gun, the King of England could just walk in here any time he wants and start shoving you around. Do you want that?
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Cruz sides with Homer in this debate. But it’s the vehement certainty with which he does so that has made the news. In case you haven’t already heard it, here’s Cruz’ quote:
“I think the Democrats are the party of Lisa Simpson and the Republicans are, happily, the party of Homer and Bart and Maggie and Marge.”
That’s right. Cruz happily defined his own political party in opposition to the preeminent voice of reason in modern American fiction. And his audience roared with approval and delight. Set aside, for a moment, the fact that Cruz’ assertion isn’t even true – after all, Marge famously voted for Mary Bailey over Montgomery Burns, and Mr. Burns is one of Springfield’s most prominent Republicans, so by the transitive property Marge isn’t a Republican. But Cruz wants to believe she is, and wants the family to join in permanent opposition to, and mockery of, their celebrated daughter.
Here’s the thing about The Simpsons when it comes to Lisa – she’s frequently at odds with the rest of her family, and they don’t know what to do with her precociousness or her ideals. They love her all the same. Episodes aren’t driven by Homer trying to humiliate Lisa – they’re driven by his bungling efforts to help and understand her. It’s a profoundly humane vision of the country as a whole, a mass of eccentric and conflicted people nevertheless trying their best to love each other – and it’s a vision that Cruz simply doesn’t understand.
The question is, why? What do Cruz and the rest of the CPAC crowd have against Lisa Simpson?
I could be a partisan and say that it’s because the modern conservative movement has come to define itself against the ideals of intelligence and civic engagement that Lisa Simpson represents. That would be something of a cheap shot, though, and against the show’s humanistic spirit. (Plus it would be rather hamfisted and clutzy, and the show’s writers could do a much better job of making the point – or at least they could if the fourth season writers were still at their desks.) So instead, I’ll suggest it has something to do with the show’s record of prophesy. After all, in the eleventh season episode “Bart to the Future,” a glimpse of the future is given where Lisa Simpson herself has been elected President of the United States, and is busy dealing with the debt crisis created by her predecessor in the office – Donald Trump. Yes, The Simpsons’ prophesied our current political situation. And I imagine that Cruz and his ilk are worried at the thought that their replacement, President Lisa Simpson, has at last arrived.
I, for one, welcome our new Lisa Simpson overlord