Friday, June 1, 2012

ESPN and Lisa Simpson Denounce the World

Am I the only one who still watches The Simpsons every week? Sometimes it seems like it...and it seems like the writing staff of The Simpsons knows it. The show has become a trifle (after beginning as a powerhouse) over the last several seasons, and only occasionally still has something interesting to say. In last week's episode "Lisa Goes Gaga" (even the episode titles are boring..."Lisa Goes Gaga?" This from a show that brought us "Burns Verkaufen der Kraftwerk.") Lady Gaga comes to Springfield. She's not planning to; her joyful train only stops in town after Gaga notices what a sad and depressing place Springfield is (a billboard reads Springfield: The Little Town that Can't - and Won't). All Springfield needs, she figures, is a dose of the Gaga magic.

"Never forget, you're all my little monsters," coos Gaga. "You should love yourself as much as I love you. Because..." and then she breaks into song:

When they're young, all little monsters learn that they are scary/Ugly, stupid, shunned by cupid, overweight and hairy/But every monster needs to find the secret deep inside/that transforms Dr. Jekyll into sexy Mr. Hyde.

Come on monsters so beautiful/Monsters don't need implants or [an awesome] monster car/Monsters only need to love the monsters that they are.

When she's finished singing joy and self-love into the gathered residents of Springfield, she breathlessly asks, "Does everybody love themselves?" Lenny, one of Homer's wage-slave colleagues at the nuclear power plant, answers her with the brilliant, "That kind of thing sounds hollow coming from anyone but you!"

With that one sentence, the Simpsons writers put the lie to Gaga's rhetoric. Of course her song is hollow: If loving oneself were so easy, we'd all do it. Immediately. Later in the episode, Lisa Simpson loudly denounces Gaga on the school playground: "I denounce thee! I denounce thee for giving people ambitions they cannot fulfill, [and] for positing a world where social acceptance and walking on heels are easy! I denounce thee, I denounce thee, I denounce thee!"

Entertainers are forever suggesting that if the rest of us "just want it badly enough" our lives can turn into the glorious fever-dreams of their latest songs. Athletes tell us the same thing:  desire equals success. In his "The Fix" column in the May 2012 issue of ESPN: The Magazine (which is, as ESPN's own Gregg Easterbrook jokes, published on Earth: The Planet), Chris Jones pulls a Lisa Simpson: "You have most likely been told all your life, probably by people who love you very much, that you can do or be anything you want. You have been lied to. You might be living smack in the middle of the Age of Entitlement, but desire alone doesn't make dreams come true." Ask the hundreds of thousands of kids who grow up wanting to play in the NBA, NFL, or MLB or who want to grace the silver screen in Hollywood. Jones' words are unassailably true, and elucidate the reason that Gaga's ring so false.

The world has no answer for the people who try and fail.  The Simpsons loses its nerve: Lisa finally admits that she just needed to vent, and that Lady Gaga's magic did, in fact, do its work, and Jones' Age of Entitlement survives another day.  The answer must come from somewhere outside the world.   Gaga suggests that we fall in love with our Mr. Hyde. Deliverance sounds better to me:
I do not understand my own actions.  For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing that I hate...I can will what is right, but I cannot do it...wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (Romans 7:15, 18b, 24-25a)

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