I haven’t watched a new episode of The Simpsons in, oh, probably five years.
I, like many other former fans, have the same complaint: it’s just not as darkly funny and incisive as it was in its 1990s heyday. I’ve replaced the series with the consistently excellent/equally game-changing animated show Bob’s Burgers; Tina Belcher: An Appreciation coming soon.
I will always love Lisa Simpson.
Mostly because I AM Lisa Simpson.
I’ve long identified with Springfield’s long-suffering and impossibly, hilariously, heartbreakingly world-weary eight-year-old — as an actual eight-year-old who was allowed to watch The Simpsons (my dad used to tape episodes on VHS for me when I had Brownies) but also well into adulthood.
Lisa is a brainy, bookish, over-achiever — but more than that, she always seemed like she knew something no one else did.
Lisa Simpson is WISE. She’s an old soul in pearls.
She’s precocious but not precious. She possesses the sardonic, sarcastic deadpan of a chain-smoking, seen-it-all, been-there, done-that woman of the world. She’s a misunderstood misfit — often within her own family.
Lisa is an empath. She’s an activist who really fucking gives a shit — sometimes too much of a shit.
She’s intelligent and politically aware enough to be frustrated and disappointed with the world she lives in — “Dad, as intelligence goes up, happiness often goes down,” she tells Homer. Still, she’s hopeful; like the precursor to Leslie Knope, she never gives up on trying to change the world/make her voice heard. She has integrity.
Lisa is a rebel but she’s also a good girl. She’s flawed, too. She’s a know-it-all. She can be sanctimonious — particularly about her vegetarianism.
She has an obsessive need to be graded — “Grade me! Look at me! Evaluate and rank me! I’m good, good, good and oh so smart! GRADE ME!” — that comes with an innate need to realize her own potential, ever striving for gold stars.
Of course, she’s also a pretty regular pre-tween who loves Malibu Stacy and Non-Threatening Boys Magazine and grapples with insecurity, isolation, peer-pressure and wanting to be popular.
Swap out the baritone sax with a piano and SHE IS ME.
Besides being a TV character I could easily identify with — a pretty rare thing, that — Lisa Simpson also played an important role in my formative feminism, though I may not have known it at the time.
As Jezebel’s Tracy Egan Morrissey once posited, Lisa Simpson, despite being a fictional, animated eight-year-old, “might just be the most visible, mainstream feminist of our time.”
There are numerous examples, but perhaps the most definitive is the now-classic Season 5 episode Lisa vs. Malibu Stacy — which, B-T-Dubbs, turned 20 years old this month in case you haven’t felt old yet today.
In the episode, Lisa is disillusioned by the new talking Malibu Stacy doll (a send up of Teen Talk Barbie), who spouts such sexist phrases as “I wish they taught shopping in school” and “Let’s bake cookies for the boys!” (It’s not far off; real things Teen Talk Barbie said/wondered aloud: “Math class is tough!” and “Will we ever have enough clothes?”)
“I’ve waited my whole life to hear you speak. Don’t you have anything relevant to say?” Lisa implores.
“Don’t ask me, I’m just a girl,” Malibu Stacy responds.
Bart makes a crack and Lisa lets him have it:
“It’s not funny Bart. Millions of girls will grow up thinking this is the right way to act, that they can never be more than vacuous ninnies whose only goal in life is to look pretty, land a rich husband and spend all day on the phone with their equally vacuous friends talking about how damn terrific it is to look pretty and have a rich husband!”
Along with the original creator of Malibu Stacy, Stacy Lovell, Lisa creates Lisa Lionheart — an empowered, independent doll with “the wisdom of Gertrude Stein and the wit of Cathy Guisewite, the tenacity of Nina Totenberg and the common sense of Elizabeth Cady Stanton. And to top it off, the down-to-earth good looks of Eleanor Roosevelt.”
HOW FUCKING AMAZING IS THAT? Twenty years later and I’ll still take Lisa Simpson as a role model any day of the week. LISA SIMPSON 4 LYFE.