Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Simpsons Movie: The Red State Review

The Simpsons movie is out, and it’s funny. It’s not super, like you can’t look away because it’s so beautiful, but good. Unlike the South Park movie, which towered above the series, the Simpsons movie is more like a great Simpsons’ episode that you don’t want to end. Luckily, it doesn’t end; it just keeps going strong the whole feature. The question for many is the controversy factor. Environmentalism, anti-military, anti-all-censorship, anti-religious, and anti-capitalist/anti-corporation (ironically), these are the some of the many pet liberal/progressive causes which pop up in the Simpson series. The movie is no exception, but I had to roll the dice for my fellow evil conservatives and answer one question:

Does the Simpson’s movie break the Red State Filter?

It's hard to be a red stater--you work hard, come home, you want to veg out, and WHAM! Some commie sticks a sickening liberal public-service message in the middle of your program. The Red State Filter is when your brain filters out the bull and only accepts the good stuff. For example, in the commentaries on Return of the Jedi Lucas compared the Ewoks to the Viet Cong! Claimed it was like Vietnam: a primitive culture defeats an imperial superpower! Filtered. It didn't happen for me. I just ignored the political commentary. Or the unbelievably forced lesbian-storyline in the Buffy series. How brave to make the mousy, Thelma-eqse, bookworm wicca into a lipstick lesbian. Really breaking new ground with the teenage male demo, guess we’ll just have to vote for “gay marriage” now. Almost killed the fun. I love They Live, but when an evil alien gives Reagan's “Morning in America” speech, you're pushing the filter to the limit. And every once in a while the Simpsons do, too.

In fact, creator Matt Groening admits that the show's pot shots are intentional: "In America there's someone to pretend to be offended by everything. Yeah, we annoy people, but that's part of the appeal. We aim to entertain people, but also to annoy a certain segment of the audience." I’m positive some will claim Simpsons is an equal opportunity annoyer, but in reality they are just not as bad as all the other shows. Here’s the break down on the movie’s transgressions against our malevolent beliefs.

Bart is dared to skate board naked through the town by Homer, but Homer sells him out when caught leading to a Bart/Homer movie long feud. Slap in the face number one is Bart’s full-on naked crotch-shot. Is it funny? Meh. The joke is that they beautifully animate a minute long sequence where every possible object blocks the view and then for one second there’s this absurd bush that blocks the view of everything but Bart’s genitals. It probably would have been almost as funny blurred. But really who cares? Well, as with most of the slaps I’m going to list, it is the attempt to offend which is really the annoying part. Going out of your way to offend “prudes,” (those who think this kind of humor is kind of unnecessary) because we represent evil in its purest form, in such pedestrian way displays how unsophisticated you think we are. All in all, this was done purely for ratings or to reeducate the straitlaced menace which is destroying our “hey, man, be cool” society. I stand by my “meh.” Unnecessary, but non filter breaking.

Slap number two is the whacks at God, the Bible, and church. Religion and the insanely religious are a big target, and not above a good swipe or two. But in reality the Media is riddled with attacks on religion. Frankly, the Simpsons have consistently gotten by with this story that because they have religion and even a vengeful God in their series they are actually a pro-religion show. Sure, super Christian Ned Flanders is happier than Homer, but he’s depicted naïve, effeminate, uncool, slightly mentally ill on occasion, and a total zealot that even annoys the minister. Unlike marriage, raising a family, and even civics, religion is something the Simpsons almost never get square with by the end of an ep. In the movie, God makes a small appearance as a beam of light and most of the spirituality is handled by a medicine woman because everyone knows vision quests are more realistic than all that hokey praying stuff. At the end, Marge says “G.D.,” which unless you never want to hear that phrase, was timed where it was reasonable and funny. Regardless, the jokes, while profane, are nothing to write home about. Only mild filter use, mostly just tried of the Simpsons trying to have it both ways.

Slap number three is Otto’s bong hit. Maybe this is a personal thing, but I hate marijuana use in shows. It’s almost never a plot point. Half the time it’s just a way to advance the “every body does it” idea, which just gets kids in trouble. But here Otto is smoking a bong right at the movie’s climax? Were we really longing to see Otto getting stoned on screen that bad? The gag is that he doesn’t know what going on at all during the critical moment. Internal chortle at best. While the placement is pretty annoying, the Red State Filter wouldn’t be very useful if it couldn’t handle wanton and superfluous drug use on screen.

Slap number four is the environmentalism. This was my big fear. In the past, Lisa Simpson has championed some pretty liberal views including the green politics (which seem more red to me). Theses eps often rival the Catwoman/anti-hunting episodes of Batman: TAS in filter busting. But other than a running gag that environmentalism is wrongfully ignored in America (which suggests it shouldn’t be and that it isn’t, in reality, constantly on being pushed on us at all levels of the media 24 hours a day) and a slash at Alaska for *gasp* allowing satanic oil companies to drill (shudder), the green peace brainwashing was not too bad. The filter is pretty good on this one and luckily its use was not taxing at all.

One might think slap number five would be the shots at the US government. Other than constantly portraying our servicemen and women as drunk, slack-jawed psychos, the Simpsons series does a good job lampooning the gov’ment. I can’t figure out why they put Schwarzenegger in the oval office, maybe because neither the far left or right firmly support him. Conservatives might be more supportive of terrorist surveillance then your average pot-growing hippie, but we’ve never been super comfortable with the federal government or its large agencies like the EPA. Of course, the bad guy is actually a rich white guy (the source of all evil) but the government jokes were generally funny and delightfully cynical.

Of course, it is the Simpsons. I still buy Marvel even though they constantly create books and give interviews, like Millar’s recent one to CBR, that proclaim their distaste for conservative views. It is Marvel. And like any cornerstone of geekdom the Simpsons are good even when they are bad—most of the time. Watching the movie I realized how much of a cornerstone: the Simpsons have changed things.

Geekdom owes the Simpsons a nod. A long time ago, I told my mother my friend said Star Trek was stupid become it wasn’t about the real world. My mother told me I didn’t need friends like that. Hard to believe but about ten years ago, or more, it was a prevailing belief that cartoons, anime, and comic books were either for kids or geeky perma-virgins. People like my friend roamed the earth with no clue what “spidey-sense” was—the wretched fools. The Simpsons had a lot to do with changing the perception of cartoons and other geek interests. Just by being a cartoon for adults, the Simpsons opened up the world. Crazy recluse Matt Groening’s little known “Life in Hell” comics launched him to do the Simpsons, and the underground went primetime. The Simpsons spread into toys, games, DVDs, and, of course, comics. Animated series popped up everywhere, even a Sci-Fi one called Futurama. Adults had Homer Simpson dolls and coffee mugs in their offices. Ever heard of Adult Swim? How about South Park? It isn’t a stretch to say that this one small step in cartoony goodness was one giant leap for geek-kind. Sure lots of things led to the world changing, but just step back and realize we have cartoons, high production value comics, superhero movies that don’t suck, anime—we’ve come a long way baby. And one must credit the Simpsons with some part in this boom, if only to say they helped make watching cartoons cool.

Well, this cartoon is still cool. Conservatives fear not, the movie isn’t lame or too liberal. So, strap on your Red State Filter and have a good time.

Note: This post was actually written by genie junkie, I'm just posting it to save him the 4 clicks of a mouse.

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