Andrew Breitbart was fond of saying politics is downstream of culture, by which he meant — I think partially anyway — that people tend to invest more of their interest and time in cultural pursuits, so what they embrace in that arena, they’ll embrace in the political arena.
In a practical sense what that means is that Democrats, liberals and progressives, who had the jump on conservatives and Republicans on this issue by an order of decades, used entertainment to promote their political agenda (usually fairly surreptitiously rather than overtly) so that when it came time to embrace something politically, viewers were already primed to know which were the — for lack of a better word — popular things they should be voting for.
In an interesting and hilarious turn of the tables, Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas has apparently prompted liberals to backtrack a bit and explain themselves as regards one of the most popular television characters ever created: Lisa Simpson.
At CPAC last week, Cruz told The Federalist’s Ben Domenech that Lisa Simpson — the bleeding heart sister of the rebellious Bart — was a Democrat and that all the other Simpsons were Republicans. If memory serves, he may even have said something to the effect of “they can have Lisa.”
Well sure enough, in yesterday’s Vanity Fair magazine, which has a history of taking issue with Donald Trump, there appeared an article entitled, “Why Lisa Simpson Matters.”
If your identity has to be inextricably intertwined with that of a single cartoon character, you could do worse than Lisa Simpson.
Simpsons creator Matt Groening has described Lisa as the only character on the show not controlled by his or her base impulses. More than that, Lisa is the family’s, and the series’s, moral center and voice of reason. She’s a precocious reader, a preternaturally talented musician, an ardent feminist, a vegetarian, an environmentalist, a Buddhist, a champion of scientific reason, a grassroots activist, an eloquent orator, a fiercely independent thinker, and an all-round bastion of social justice. “Democrats are the party of Lisa Simpson,” as Senator Ted Cruz put it, during February’s Conservative Political Action Conference. “And Republicans are happily the part of Homer, Bart, Maggie, and Marge.” (The first part, at least, is true.)
As if in an outward display of her inner complexities, she also happens to be the most complicated Simpson family member to animate, her sunburst-do defying the natural principles of geometry. (The jagged hem of Lisa’s Flintstonian dress, which gives her the silhouette of a shuttlecock, is trickier to explain.) And as the episode “Bart Gets Famous” suggests, she may also be the only Springfield resident without a catchphrase. (“If anyone wants me,” she deadpans instead, “I’ll be in my room.”)
Lisa is not only a Democrat, she’s also apparently a Baby Boomer. Sensitive, intellectual, elitist. And she matters, Ted Cruz. You hear that?
“With Lisa, you just feel like hugging her. She just wants what’s right, a world ruled by logic and justice. It’s a tricky performance Yeardley pulls off. She makes Lisa into the type of nerd that every nerd aspires to be. The kind that doesn’t get punched in the face.”
In fairness, Lisa is kind of cool. She plays the saxophone for pete’s sake. But she is a bit idealistic and at times naive about the world, unlike her worldly-wise brother Bart. And that’s likely what Cruz meant in giving her to the Democrats, to the extent he wasn’t just making a huge joke. Which he was. (I know. I was there.)
What’s hilarious is that there’s now an effort afoot to explain how being a Lisa is a-ok. Liberals took the joke way too seriously. Which is also something Lisa would do; which proves Cruz’s point, really.
Anyway, it looks like Republicans have finally figured out this culture/politics nexus. Forcing liberals to go back and explain pop culture takes a lot of mystery out of the messaging. It’s also really, really funny to watch. I hope it happens more.