How Liberal is “The Simpsons?”

Here I am in exciting Berlin, blogging about….American television. I know, I know. But I need a breather after visiting the Reichstagg, Holocaust memorial and museum, Brandenburg Gate, and then walking the entire Unter der Linden all in one day.

Ben has a great take on the politics of the new Simpson’s movie at the Guardian‘s Comment is Free. He posits that unlike the television series, the film backs away from liberal politics in favor of a libertarian "pox on both their houses" stance, especially when it comes to environmentalism. His evidence? Lisa nags everybody about cleaning up Springfield’s environment, and then the government, in its efforts to save the Earth, isolates polluted Springfield under a giant dome and tries to wipe the city out entirely with a bomb.

Ben compares this backlash against liberlalism with the show’s gender politics, writing that although sainted Marge is a housewife, the series repeatedly portrays women as smarter, kinder, and better than men. This "subverts the father knows best cultural paradigm," he writes, which he takes to be progressive.

I’d only add that the "father knows best" paradigm has coexisted on film and TV throughout the twentieth century with the same conservative gender politics seen on "The Simpsons" — a forgiving wife who ultimately redeems her husband. Think of Lucy, forever tolerant of Ricky‘s temper, or Ray Romano‘s wife on "Everybody Loves Raymond." She’s long suffering, and you’re clearly meant to take her side in most arguments between the two. Romantic comedies repeat the theme of men struggling to live up to their wife or girlfriend’s high standards over and over again. Most recently, "Knocked Up" featured one of these "taming" plots, for lack of a better term.

It’s never struck me as particulary feminist to portray women as inherently better than men. If women sometimes seem to value maturity more, it may be because we get ourselves together in order to be taken seriously by men and not just be seen as girls.

All in all though, Ben’s analysis of the movie and show is good fun, so check it out.

3 thoughts on “How Liberal is “The Simpsons?”

  1. Scott Lemieux

    It’s never struck me as particulary feminist to portray women as inherently better than men. If women sometimes seem to value maturity more, it may be because we get ourselves together in order to be taken seriously by men and not just be seen as girls.

    Right. Putting women on a pedestal is a key element of patriarchy. (the old “in the time of the Titanic, women went first!” routine.)

    Reply
  2. Ashish George

    “Think of Lucy, forever tolerant of Ricky’s temper, or Ray Romano’s wife on “Everybody Loves Raymond.”

    I have never really watched “Everybody Loves Raymond”, but on “I Love Lucy” wasn’t Ricky the forgiving one? You know, with impetuous Lucy always doing something silly or over-the-top and making a mess of things?

    Reply

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