The Eagle Has Responded

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Over at the American Prospect, Ben Adler, author of this silly column on the Simpsons movie, is upset at me for "oversimplifying" his apparently complex point about the film's disappointing lack of lefty proselytizing. My original post is here, but I'll quote a few passages from his Guardian piece as a refresher:

Some would argue that making Marge a housewife who stands by her man despite all his shenanigans hardly sets a feminist example for younger viewers.

The anti-environmental thread runs throughout the movie. Lisa's presentation at a town meeting on the pollution in Lake Springfield is called "An Irritating Truth". Lisa and her new boyfriend are presented as self-righteous nags for badgering the town about pollution and environmental efficiency.

I took the mick, as they say in Guardianville, out of Adler for applying a political litmus test to a cartoon, saying there was something "Bozellian" about it. Responding on Tapped, he points to a "libertarian impulse to falsely equate the harmless foibles of liberals with the nefarious proclivities of conservatives," and cites me as an example. I haven't a clue what this means, but his complaint that he is, after all, nothing like Brent Bozell misses my point by a country mile. Here is Adler:

Having actually covered Bozell's shenanigans I seriously resent the comparison. Bozell, like most conservative media watchdogs, does much more than write light-hearted columns gently critiquing a little political message he does not support.(Note: As one Tapped commenter put it, "Just clicked through and read the piece. That was 'lighthearted'? When is this guy dour and humorless?") Bozell leads campaigns to berate corporations out of promoting content he finds offensive for political or moral reasons. As Moynihan may have noticed I didn't call for a boycott of The Simpsons movie.

Errr, no. One needn't go whole hog, grow a pirate beard, and start a creepy pressure group to share characteristics with those on the right who comb popular culture for subversive content. If I call Adler's prose style "Brechtian," I'm not accusing him of being a communist. In other words, one can be a cultural scold worthy of the appellation "Bozellian" by simply vetting popular culture for acceptable political content on a blog.

But Ben continues his extrapolation: "I suppose Moynihan thinks no one should write op-eds discussing the political implications of cultural products at all." But dear Ben, surely there is a difference between discussing the political implications of Ken Loach film, a Kurt Weill opera, a Billy Bragg record…and a cartoon. It is one thing to discuss a political work of art—one that is either expressly or subtextually political—and quite another impart ideology onto a largely apolitical work.

Also posted on the Prospect website yesterday, as previously blogged by Dave Weigel, is this interesting column by Brad Reed and Roy Edroso, on the conservative tendency to read righty messages into Hollywood films:

[Y]ou might wonder what the political angle would be for, say, Knocked Up. Or 300. Or the new Harry Potter movie, or the old Chevy Chase chestnut Fletch, or comic book movies …

Well, wonder no more—welcome to the right-wing school of movie criticism! In this burgeoning genre, the sort of stuff that concerns ordinary critics—characters, dialogue, cinematography—pale in importance when compared to a film's potential to further right-wing political goals.

C'mon guys, what's the problem with "discussing the political implications of cultural products?"

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  1. I have a question: Who gives a flying fuck what either Adler or you think of the Simpsons movie?

  2. “I have a question: Who gives a flying fuck what either Adler or you think of the Simpsons movie?”

    I resent that!

  3. But Ben continues his extrapolation: “I suppose Moynihan thinks no one should write op-eds discussing the political implications of cultural products at all.”

    For a guy who likes doling out criticism, Adler doesn’t handle it all that well.

  4. Adler: be careful when ye do battle with Bozell lest ye become a Bozell.

  5. Here’s the quote Moynihan gives an example of Adler’s complaining “about the film’s disappointing lack of lefty proselytizing””

    Some would argue that making Marge a housewife who stands by her man despite all his shenanigans hardly sets a feminist example for younger viewers.

    Yup, that sure does look like an example of complaining about the movie not engaging in enough lefty proselytizing.

    Now here’s the uncut paragraph from Adler’s peice in which that quote is found:

    Certainly critics could quibble with the assumption that The Simpsons is entirely liberal in its politics. Some would argue that making Marge a housewife who stands by her man despite all his shenanigans hardly sets a feminist example for younger viewers.

    It isn’t quite leaving out the word “not,” but it’s pretty close.

  6. And since when is the Simpsons “a largely apolitical work?”

  7. If I call Adler’s prose style “Brechtian,” I’m not accusing him of being a communist.

    That’s just brilliant, though.

  8. Joe, are you claiming that Adler is not actually complaining about the film’s disappointing lack of lefty proselytizing?

    Here’s the last paragraph:

    But the favouritism that they’ve historically shown the left is missing. It’s not that liberal fans shouldn’t see The Simpsons movie – it’s still a very enjoyable experience. But don’t expect to leave the theatre feeling that the film did something larger, something the show so often did in its heyday: using over the top comedy to tell the truth about the real world.

  9. Adler’s original column sounded like it came straight out of The Onion. Yet he quite clearly meant every word of his whine.

    There is none whose politics need satirizing more than one who is incapable of recognizing the satirizing of his politics.

    And the less said about this…

    I mentioned the libertarian impulse to falsely equate the harmless foibles of liberals with the nefarious proclivities of conservatives.

    …the better.

  10. But dear Ben, surely there is a difference between discussing the political implications of Ken Loach film, a Kurt Weill opera, a Billy Bragg record…and a cartoon.

    Oh, come on. There have been several posts on this blog (not sure of the exact count) about The Incredibles and Ayn Rand. And I don’t know how anyone could get away with exempting the South Park movie from political critiquing on the grounds that, well, it’s a cartoon

    It’s fine if you want to ridicule the quality Adler’s analysis, but don’t ridicule him for making one in the first place.

  11. No, Aaron, I’m not.

    I just don’t like little stunts with meaning-changing tight edits from journalists.

  12. The Simpsons has a prominent subversive streak, environmentalism has become fairly mainstream.
    “Fair game”, I say.

  13. Joe, It sounds like you are trying to deny that adler’s complaint about the simpsons movie was that it didn’t push liberal politics enough. I rtfa and his basic thesis is that the movie was not lefty enough, and maybe even a little insulting to the left.
    I think both of these guys are being petty, but if your going to take Adler’s side, you are using a fallacious point.

  14. When I saw the movie, I was actually surprised at how brazenly political it was. Not that I didn’t like it. Regarding Lisa and her boyfriend’s activism, I feel the main criticism the movie presents in those scenes is that the townspeople are offensively apathetic. Even the woman whose cat Lisa saves (prior to the movie) slams the door in Lisa’s face when she tries to raise concern about the pollution in the lake.

    The lake kills Green Day and produces a multi-eyed fish; clearly, Lisa and her squeeze are not alarmists. Maybe a little self-righteous, but if that’s all Adler can take away from the whole megillah, seems to me he doesn’t deserve a mention in H & R.

  15. “libertarian impulse to falsely equate the harmless foibles of liberals with the nefarious proclivities of conservatives,”

    Ah, that explains it. Only nefarious conservatives are evil; those wacky liberals are harmless.

  16. On the South Park cartoon comment: Team America, South Park, etc are expressly political. They are meant to be debated, etc. The Simpsons movie, on the other hand, has a few jokes about politicians but it doesn’t attempt to make any ideological point. Big difference.

  17. “But dear Ben, surely there is a difference between discussing the political implications of Ken Loach film, a Kurt Weill opera, a Billy Bragg record…and a cartoon. It is one thing to discuss a political work of art-one that is either expressly or subtextually political-and quite another impart ideology onto a largely apolitical work.”

    “Its a cartoon” so it can’t be discussed next to a Billy Bragg album? Simpsons is “apolitical” — since when? Adlers an idiot, seems like y’all might get along.

  18. Eagles give Morbo gas.

  19. the harmless foibles of liberals

    PFFFFFTTTTT!!!

    *spits soda all over monitor*

    Whiskey Tango Foxtrot! Can you say entitlement programs, the Fairness Doctrine, the fucking Stamp Office, DDT bans, etc.

    Harmless foibles indeed!

  20. The difference between South Park (e.g.) and the Simpsons (as far as politics goes) seems to be one of degree. It seems like the Simpsons often expresses a pretty clearly liberal viewpoint, but, like SP, it doesn’t hesitate from lampooning each side of an issue. South Park is just more extreme.

    I agree with Paul’s comment above: the movie mocked both the denialist residents of Springfield and the annoying self-righteousnewss of the activists.

    Plus, even a cartoon (or any film, for that matter) that isn’t overtly political can be usefully analyzed for its implicit philosophical/political/social assumptions. Cf. Richie Rich and the pinko Smurfs!

  21. RC,
    Agreed. My problem with the Adler column was not that it took apart the political motivations of Matt Groening, but that he complained that it wasn’t political enough and was, therefore, some huge let down.

  22. “libertarian impulse to falsely equate the harmless ruinous foibles of liberals with the nefarious proclivities of conservatives”

    fixed

  23. Fletch promoted a theocratic plutocracy, aka Cocktosenism. Everyone knows that.

  24. Fair enough. I’m glad the movie wasn’t more political. The Simpsons is great for lighthearted jabs; I’d hate for it to be as heavy-handed as South Park.

  25. Here’s the title given by the *Guardian* (or perhaps by Adler himself) to the article:

    “The Simpsons sell out: Why did the sharp, left-leaning humor of the TV series give way in the film to a mainstream pox on-both-your houses stance?”

  26. Because no honest, rational person can escape the knowledge that both houses need poxing?

  27. “I have a question: Who gives a flying fuck what either Adler or you think of the Simpsons movie?”

    Presumably, someone who’s reading commentary on one or the other blogs that these folks contribute to.

    Or do you come here to not read what the bloggers who post here think about X, for any value of X? I think maybe you don’t get this whole ‘blog’ thing.

  28. And since when is the Simpsons “a largely apolitical work?”

    They first appeared on The Tracy Ullman show in 1987.

  29. “On the South Park cartoon comment: Team America, South Park, etc are expressly political. They are meant to be debated, etc. The Simpsons movie, on the other hand, has a few jokes about politicians but it doesn’t attempt to make any ideological point. Big difference.”

    Uh, the movie’s antagonist is director of the EPA. Every mention of the state of Alaska was followed by a comment on its environment. How do you come to the conclusion that the movie didn’t include hot-button political topics?

    The main moral I saw in the movie is that you can’t pollute an area and run away, or expect there not to be consequences, or rely on the government to solve it, or (in the case of the sinkhole as well) ignore it, or choose to be irritated instead of open-minded about causes. Recall at the end of the movie nothing was solved except Green Day’s comeback being cut short. It was a list of how not to deal with a bad environmental situation.

    Adler’s interpretation that the movie leaned away from the left may or may not have been right, but your assertion that pop culture items – even those produced by the infamously Harvard educated – can’t have political meaning or merit is wrong here, and is wrong everywhere.

  30. Moynihan slowly set down his monacle and glass of Merlot. “Oh ho ho, come hither, Winston, see what these charlatans have penned today.” Winston, a rare snow owl, perched upon his wrist and stared unblinkingly at the computer screen. “What can this Groening fellow know about living?” Winston hopped to the desk and turned the page of an open Proust book. “Ah, Proust, if only you had written more.”

  31. I think that Moynihan owes Adler an apology for comparing a bitch-piece with a ban-piece. I also think that Moynihan is wrong about The Simpsons political relevance. Its political messages may all be greased pigs, but it continues to be politically substantive.

    I think that Adler owes Moynihan an apology for not acknowledging that his humorless bitch-piece is on the same vector as the conservative ban-pieces that he so clearly loathes. He also needs to learn how to be funny if he’s going to claim lightheartedness and wit.

  32. Fletch promoted a theocratic plutocracy, aka Cocktosenism. Everyone knows that.

    I nominate Pro Libertate for thread-winner.

  33. Agreed, Rimfax.

    Where the hell’s the records room?

  34. This article shows how truly horrible living under a leftist regime would be…we would all die a slow painful death from prudish PC fussiness.

    If this Adler guy is loking for pop culture conspiracies, he should spend more time on the “right-wing” tendencies of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. The Simpsons (ostensibly the greatest TV show ever) have, alas, by now lost their edginess. And the show has definitely become left-leaning to the point of irritation over the last few seasons, with every other episode having some whiny Lisa diatribe about global warming/fast food/corporate greed/warmongering. Or is it simply a case of running out of story lines?

    And it’s been YEARS since they could even toss a bone our way, as when Ned was in danger of losing his lease on the Leftorium (“it becomes Libertarian Party headquarters tomorrow!”)

  35. Bozellian ?

    Surely you mean Tarantine, since the webmischief coefficient of Taranto’s Opinion Journal spiel vastly exceeds the reach of Human Events

  36. Well, I made the same argument on the first posting. This guy’s article is nowhere near a classic Bozellian temper tantrum. Here again is the supposedly damning quote:
    “But the favouritism that they’ve historically shown the left is missing. It’s not that liberal fans shouldn’t see The Simpsons movie – it’s still a very enjoyable experience. But don’t expect to leave the theatre feeling that the film did something larger, something the show so often did in its heyday: using over the top comedy to tell the truth about the real world.”

    In essence, I know a lot of my fellow liberal readers (it is the Guardian) think of the Simpsons as one of “our” shows, but the movie has some decidedly anti-leftist quips. I agree that works of art are often made worse when they become works of propaganda (and the more overt and zealous the propaganda in the art then yuck). But anyone who can equate this guys statements with Bozell is just not paying much attention to Bozell…

  37. “This article shows how truly horrible living under a leftist regime would be…we would all die a slow painful death from prudish PC fussiness.”
    It would not be very fun, but again it would be nowhere near as bad as Bozell and his comrades prudish utopia…
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parents_Television_Council

  38. I, for one, welcome our conservitive overlords. I’m much happier with them co-opting the things in my culture then obsessing over the imagined evils of the petty and insignifigant.

  39. “And it’s been YEARS since they could even toss a bone our way, as when Ned was in danger of losing his lease on the Leftorium (“it becomes Libertarian Party headquarters tomorrow!”)”

    Don’t forget the “Ayn Rand School for Tots” episode, although I guess that was more of a mockery than tossing us a bone.

  40. Futurama had two digs at liberterians too, one where Rand books where found in the sewers among crumbled up pornos and another in Where the Buggalos Roam

  41. A brief gloss:

    Attacks on Ayn Rand are not inherently attacks on libertarians, they could be apolitical attacks on her for being a screwball.

  42. I stopped reading after the weak-assed insult to Ben Adler’s sense of humor.

  43. The movie’s goal was obviously clear: to make a shit-ton of money. If that’s a libertarian principle i don’t know what is.

  44. EDIT: if that’s NOT a libertarian principle…

  45. In my review of The Simpsons Movie for The Guardian, I mentioned the libertarian impulse to falsely equate the harmless foibles of liberals with the nefarious proclivities of conservatives.

    I don’t really know anything about Adler, but between his blog post and his review of the movie, all I can say about him is that he needs to put his weenie back in his pants and go get a life.

    Seriously.

  46. “[Y]ou might wonder what the political angle would be for, say, Knocked Up. Or 300. Or the new Harry Potter movie, or the old Chevy Chase chestnut Fletch, or comic book movies …

    Well, wonder no more — welcome to the right-wing school of movie criticism”

    Give me a break. 99.9% of movie critics, at least the well-known ones, are on the left. And nearly every single one of them is guilty of injecting their politics into their movie criticism.
    If I remember properly, and I do, the whole conservative brouhaha over “300” and “knocked up” was in response to left wing silliness regarding these films and the fact they did not validate the worldview of liberals.
    A female critic employed by Slate went apeshit over the fact that the character in “Knocked Up” didn’t have an abortion or seem to even consider one. They were appalled that the only mention of abortion was a critical one.

    As for “300” there were reports, in mulitple newspapers (I remember reading about it in the Guardian), about critics walking out of “300”, sniffing that it was too conservative. For christ sake, you can’t even read a review about a movie with robots or monsters without some leftwing critic claiming it is a rebuke of Bush foreign policy in Iraq. And these jackasses claim that the right is mining for political symbolism in these movies? Who the hell do they think they are kidding?

    Quick, name one prominent conservative movie critic.

  47. Quick, name one prominent conservative movie critic.

    Michael Medved.

    Your point may be basically solid, but you gotta get craftier than that.

  48. Why wasn’t Ron Paul in the movie??? It is a conspiracy against libertarians.

  49. I always thought that Lisa Simpson was a parody of the Left.

  50. “Michael Medved.”

    Movie criticism is more of a side job for him. But right after I hit enter, I thought of him. He is the .1% that can be inferred from my 99.9% comment.

  51. “Why wasn’t Ron Paul in the movie??? It is a conspiracy against libertarians”

    The movie may not have been about Ron Paul, but I do believe they devoted an entire episode to him. I can’t remember the name, but I do recall that almost all the citizens of Springfield were growing lima beans or some such nonsense.

  52. Movie criticism is more of a side job for him. But right after I hit enter, I thought of him. He is the .1% that can be inferred from my 99.9% comment.

    Not disputing that; just be careful to phrase it “Name one prominent conservative movie critic (besides Michael Medved)” next time. Until someone comes back with another should-be-obvious answer after my post.

  53. What about good ol’ Brent Bozell? His nutjob 527 does movies reviews, right?

    You know, standing on the front lines of the culture war and all…

  54. I always thought that Lisa Simpson was a parody of the Left.

    Everyone on this is half-right. Lisa is a parody, but she’s a good-natured parody done (mostly) by people who are themselves of the left, broadly. Off the top of my head, the more prominent episodes that follow the “Lisa crusades” formula, with a bias toward the better seasons:

    “Lisa the Skeptic” (the buried angel turns out to be a commercial promotion and not a genuine religious relic)
    “Lisa the Vegetarian” (Lisa forswears meat, militantly opposes carnivores but learns to accept others’ differences from Apu and the McCartneys)
    “She of Little Faith” (Lisa gives up Christianity after Mr. Burns commercializes the church, turns to Buddhism, but learns from Richard Gere that she need not renounce traditional celebrations with her family while maintaining independent thought)
    “Lisa the Iconoclast” (Lisa discovers the unpleasant truth about pioneer Jebediah Springfield, but in the end decides to keep her mouth shut and let the townspeople celebrate the myth for its civic value)

    Just off the top of my head. Those pretty clearly follow a pattern of Lisa being portrayed as largely correct about the issue in question, but perhaps too insistent that everyone else recognize her correctness. She’s not wrong, but she may be going about it the wrong way. (A few episodes don’t quite conform — “Lisa the Treehugger,” for example.) The jokes in the movie (“An Irritating Truth,” the crowd booing Green Day, the poor reception to Lisa’s door to door campaign) fit this pattern. There’s really no deviation from the traditional formula. I don’t get what that guy is complaining about.

  55. Just off the top of my head. Those pretty clearly follow a pattern of Lisa being portrayed as largely correct about the issue in question, but perhaps too insistent that everyone else recognize her correctness. She’s not wrong, but she may be going about it the wrong way.

    Isn’t this largely a libertarian trait not a lefty one?

    In fact this example seems out right of Hayek:

    “Lisa the Iconoclast” (Lisa discovers the unpleasant truth about pioneer Jebediah Springfield, but in the end decides to keep her mouth shut and let the townspeople celebrate the myth for its civic value)

  56. Isn’t this largely a libertarian trait not a lefty one?

    Interesting take; you can read it that way but what I’m saying is this pattern is more like coaching from someone who’s on the liberal team: “Yes, everybody should be concerned about (insert liberal cause, which may in some cases overlap somewhat w/libertarianism), but you’re just gonna piss everyone off if you go about it in this way. Change your strategy, not your message.”

  57. Attacks on Ayn Rand are not inherently attacks on libertarians, they could be apolitical attacks on her for being a screwball.

    Or for being a lousy writer…

  58. What, no link to the South Park interview?

  59. I mentioned the libertarian impulse to falsely equate the harmless foibles of liberals with the nefarious proclivities of conservatives.

    So, liberal impulses are “harmless foibles”, whereas conservative impulses are “nefarious proclivities”. Right. Thanks for your honesty, though.

  60. I always took the “jabs” at conservatives as parodies of themselves. Burns is so over-the-top evil profiteer, Flanders is so over-the-top Christian, and Texas Oil Man is so over-the-top Texan that one could take the theme of the joke as “This is how liberals think of conservatives.”

  61. Conincidentally, this is from the next National Review (currently behind a subscriber firewall). It’s a review of the latest Bourn movie:

    The Left owns the movie industry, but conservatives can take some solace in the fact that two of Hollywood’s most profitable genres are right-wing to the core. I speak, of course, of the horror movie and the action film. (Evelyn Waugh they ain’t, but at least they’re something.) In between the gore and the goosebumps, horror flicks undercut the arrogance of scientism, punish promiscuity, and vindicate the truth claims of religion. (If you’re looking for silver-screen condemnations of Seventies permissiveness, you could do worse than to start with The Exorcist and finish up with Halloween.) Action movies, meanwhile, are islands of patriotism, moral clarity, and – I kid you not – geopolitical realism in a sea of Left Coast anti-Americanism.

    Think about it: Didn’t Red Dawn offer a more accurate depiction of Soviet Communism than Reds? Wasn’t True Lies ultimately a more realistic portrait of the threat posed by radical Islam than Syriana? Didn’t the James Bond movies come closer to the truth about the Cold War than a thousand disillusioned productions like last year’s The Good Shepherd? Wasn’t Predator a more serious take on the dangers posed by interstellar visitors than the egregiously pacifistic E.T.?

    Okay, maybe scratch that last one

  62. “Wasn’t True Lies ultimately a more realistic portrait of the threat posed by radical Islam than Syriana?”

    Is this guy fucking kidding?

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