Thursday, November 26, 2015

Leela vs. Lisa on the Subject of Meat

"Life feeds on life feeds on life feeds on -
This is necessary!
This is necessary!
This is necessary!"

Tool - Disgustipated

Compare two scenes from The Simpsons and Futurama:

1) Lisa: "You don't have to eat meat! I've made enough gazpacho for everyone!"
2) Leela: "Animals eat other animals. It's nature."

Futurama aired soon after The Simpsons began its rapid decline into endless celebrity guest spots, so maybe its higher quality represents a transfer of head creator oversight. Maybe it was better simply because it started with better material. The Simpsons, as a parody of the all-American family, had to make do with the very limited Norman Rockwell mindset - there's a reason why Halloween Specials became instantly memorable, the much wider array of source material letting the writers spread their wings a bit. Futurama on the other hand parodied Science Fiction, a genre which defines itself by imagination and pushing social boundaries.

So it's a bit odd that Lisa Simpson at first glance comes across as so much more "progressive" than any character on Futurama, even her logical counterpart: the civic-minded Leela. Yet, though every nerd identified with Lisa, she gradually became just a little bit too perfect as the show went along, too ingratiating, too unassailable on her high horse. The more idealized the character grew, the more she resembled only a cheap, self-serving pastiche of self-described liberalism - "Springfield's answer to a question no-one asked" as Ned Flanders lambastes her during his nervous breakdown.

Lisa the Vegetarian dates from Season 7, before the show really went sour, but it already exemplifies that nuance-blind, cliquish leftism. Though it makes some show of fair-mindedness in criticizing Lisa for ruining Homer's picnic, this criticism makes no allowance for the mere possibility that vegetarianism maybe might kinda sorta be fundamentally flawed in ethical terms, but that she can get her way more effectively by more insidious, less honest means; which "criticism" itself comes from the rock star endorsing her side to begin with.

The Problem with Popplers on the other hand starts the ethical portion of its program by taking a swipe at P.E.T.A.-style extremism. Then, just as the hippie-bashing is getting good, Leela (who's been peddling meat with a clear conscience) takes a break from ridiculing the protesters to find more bricks to throw at them... and discovers that the meat she's been selling is sentient! In two seconds (give or take a commercial break) she flips a one-eighty and becomes Popplers' champion. That's how intelligence works, actually. You work with the information at hand. Near the end of the episode, Leela learns of the Popplers' own killer instincts, and divests herself of them instantly.

Leela is not fundamentally less of a left-winger than Lisa but merely a better-written character, more self-conscious, capable of making mistakes, and more importantly not banking on little-girl cuteness and helplessness for pre-emptive audience approval. Though Futurama always had its own agenda, it achieved the more flexible, razor-tongued comedy promised by the first few seasons of The Simpsons, before the characters all became hopelessly locked into their simplistic, crowd-pleasing flatness. It struck right and left to keep moving forward. It acknowledged the inherent problem of applying idealism to human nature, which will turn any idea into a fad and any fad into tyrannical dogmatism, the discrepancy between holier-than-thou grandstanding and observable human impulses.

Tell it, Reverend Maynard:
"Let the rabbits wear glasses! Save our brothers!
Now red was your color and, of course, those little people out there were yours too"


P.S.: Happy turkey day!

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