Two-Dimensional Politics

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Reason writers around town: At the Baltimore Sun, Jesse Walker groks the politics of television cartoons.

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  1. I liked the article, but I think the Simpsons is as left-wing as Southpark is Libertarian. Sure, they skewer everybody and everything, but the show is definately harsher on the right-wing and often very sympathetic to the left. Nevertheless, it is my favorite TV show.

  2. Finally! I’ve been waiting for somebody at Reason to write about the strong political intelligence, biting social commentary, and libertarian leanings of South Park. Parker and Stone really do make statements that one can’t find in other popular media, either because it’s not popular (the recent Big Tobacco ep, or Big Gay Al v/s the Scouts), or simply because nobody with any sense would touch it (ahem-Mormons or OJ/Ramsey/Condit). I get the feeling watching it I used to get reading Royko columns–“How can anybody be this right and still be popular?”

    And in a lot of ways, South Park is to our times what Bugs Bunny was to the time of the world wars (with a little more domestic criticism), right down to caricatures of bin Laden and Saddam. And after the Taliban ep, they evidently see themselves the same way.

  3. True, the Simpsons does make fun of right-wing institutions (i.e. the Church) and positions (“if you still don’t think guns are great, we’ll argue some more”), but it also pokes fun at the left-wing as well. My favorite example is when the teacher tells the students, “Go ahead and do as poorly as you can on this standardized test. The worse you do, the more money we get!” That’s one of the great things about the Simpsons. They are an equal opportunity ridiculer.

  4. Editorial note for Walker: Find moose and squirrel!

  5. While the finer points of where on the political spectrum these cartoons can be located is a matter of debate (Simpsons a bit left of center, South Park firmly on libertarian right). That they will skewer lefty sacred cows in ways that live action shows seem unwilling or unable to do is interesting. I wonder if it is that they took an alternative path to TV success that did not enmesh them in the regular Hollywood culture, or that the cartoon medium gives a freedom to express contrary opinions that isn’t available in live shows, or is it just the odd coincidence?

  6. How about a cartoon of a political debate:

    “I speak softly, and carry a big stick.”

    “Well, I talk loud! And I carry a BIGGER stick! And I use it, too!”

  7. Eric Cartman in ’04. You WILL respect my authoritie!!! Goddammit, where’s my nightstick? Mom!! Mom!! Crap!

  8. There have been occasional live-action gems: Parker and Stone’s own “That’s My Bush,” for a recent example.

    I don’t think there is a schism between cartoons and live action, as much as between major networks and cable, or perhaps establishment producers and maverick independents.

    Animation does have a big advantage when it comes to retaining the focus and purity of the vision of a single creator or small creative team. These days, you can use computers to handle most of the animation chores (especially on a show like South Park), thereby eliminating one or more layers of interpretation and potential dilution of the creators’ intent. Live action can’t quite give the same level of control to the creators — yet. But look at the “Final Fantasy” movie, or what’s been done with Yoda in “Star Wars” and Gollum in “Lord of the Rings,” and tell me that we won’t soon have “live action” movies that are the product of one or two people wielding a very sophisticated and powerful moviemaking computer. At that point, I think the use of “moving sketches” will become entirely a stylistic choice, and that many creators who now use stylized or abstracted animation will elect to use “live action” mode instead.

  9. method,

    Have you seen Daffy in “Commando Duck?”

    “Methersthmidths! A whole meth of Methersthmidths!”

    Brad S,

    The Simpsons ridicules hypocritical, self-servers who use leftish talk, and true believing conservatives. I think that puts it firmly on the left.

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