Homer States and Lisa States

Coupla weeks ago I was having a beer with some Barbaric colleagues when the conversation turned to phrases, most of them not repeatable in polite company, that generate search-engine hits. Turns out that saying some pretty disgusting stuff can get you a lot of mentions in certain circles, and real quick too.

But that shouldn’t convince you that the following Simpson analogy means I’m all about hits, no sirree. In fact I decided to write about the analogy first, then I remembered the beers. And the Manhattans. Oh yes, and the discussion too, and its relevance to what I’m going to say, yes, that was the point.

The Homer and Lisa problem

I begin by arguing that Homer and Lisa constitute the two poles of the Simpsons. Of course the major conflict is between Homer and Bart, because they’re so similar; but the axis is the line between the two poles, represented in this family by father and daughter.

Homer has a pretty happy life. He loves his wife and kids. He hates his job but it’s easy (the way he does it). He has his friends and his neighborhood bar, and he almost never suffers from the idiotic things he does. What’s not to like? (Of course, according to Behind the Laughter, off-screen Homer had plenty of pains, and was feeding his kids anti-growth hormones.)

He gets away with this because other people take responsibility for the cleanup and recovery efforts his actions require: the infrastructure supports him. Normally he knows nothing of this, though on occasion he comes into brief but hilarious contact with how things work. For instance, in Trash of the Titans he’s elected Sanitation Commissioner when the town goes for his campaign slogan, “Can’t Someone Else Do It?”, and of course he quickly trashes the town.

Lisa, on the other hand, is from the reality-based community. In Boykin terminology, she has a much bigger world-view. So she sees the results of Homer’s ignorance, while he remains blissfully unaware. She recycles, she writes to the President. She has a innocent faith in civilization to go with her cynicism about society. She doesn’t just complain, she demonstrates what’s wrong with Homer’s (or Springfield’s) ideas, though her efforts to fix things yield varying results.

Thus Lisa often turns out to be the agent through which the real world contacts Homer. Often he blames the messenger. But, thankfully, she has a stronger self-concept than he does. And despite being a bumbling idiot, he really does love and respect his daughter; so in the end they work it out. Somehow, you can’t really hate him.

Homer states and Lisa states

These two characters present radically different weltanschauungs. Indeed, they’re poles apart; and that’s a phrase that’s been used a lot recently to describe the yin and yang of political feeling in the US.

Suppose we draw an analogy between the two pairs. As monikers, red and blue are so impersonal. But when you talk about Homer states and Lisa states, you put a face on the numbers and the ideas.

Homer states:

  • complain about taxes, while getting back more from the Federal government than they pay in
  • are comfortable with Plan B, moving the town five miles down the road to get away from the garbage
  • can leave their parents and grandparents to fend for themselves in a market economy
  • are ignorant of what happened before they were born, or while they were watching television, and are thus, as Cicero said, forever children

Lisa states:

  • believe government’s purpose is to act for the good of society
  • are willing to take a hand in their own government
  • believe everyone deserves a fair shot at success
  • think that the community benefits from immigration, living wages, and progressive taxes

In other words, they’re taking responsibility for themselves and their actions. But they also understand that many important things must be done collectively.

I certainly don’t believe everyone in a Homer state fits there. Nor do I advocate segregation of the population along Simpson-character lines (“Simpson cleansing”?). But evocative metaphors can be very helpful in connecting with large groups of people. If this one catches on, maybe the big boards in the next election, instead of red and blue, will have little pictures of Lisa and Homer.

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