25 Years Ago The Simpson Saw The Wreckage of Mankind
And They Saw it In A Halloween Episode
I don’t normally dabble in the political side of things but every so often a TV show will clearly illuminate the position the world is in. And considering everything that’s going on, I thought it worth an article.
The Simpsons has foreseen the future far more often then an animated sitcom should. And during the aftermath of last Tuesday, I found myself thinking of an episode that more than anything else in the series history foresaw the mess America is into day. No, it’s not the episode where Lisa becomes president after Donald Trump. Or the episode where Homer becomes a far right pundit after an online rant on an airplane. Or the episode where Springfield becomes the center of the nation’s first primary and Ralph Wiggum ends up winning.
No, this episode took place in one of their annual Treehouse of Horror specials on Halloween, this one in 1996. Let me set the scene. It is on the verge of the 1996 Presidential Election, Bill Clinton versus Bob Dole. This election was notorious for the complete and utter lack of interest it basically inspired in America; indeed, one of the show’s better jokes when Kent Brockman describes it as: ‘Decision ’96: America Flips a Coin.”
Early in the episode both Dole and Clinton are abducted and replaced by the series resident aliens, Kodos and Kang who for the series first twenty years only appeared in Treehouse of Horror. When the replacement takes place, both candidates’ delivery is flat, halting and uninspired — and practically no one notices. Indeed, when ‘Clinton’ says “It does not matter who you vote for.” Marge shrugs it off: “Well, that’s Slick Willie for you.” (The Simpsons seemed to have a better handle on Clinton during his presidency than the rest of the cultural world did.)
As the episode progresses, Homer learns the truth of the matter and becomes determined to expose the plot. (He does so with a Lyndon LaRouche joke that represented The Simpsons ability to plant very subtle references.) And at the climax, he exposes the truth. And Kodos and Kang start laughing maniacally: “It doesn’t matter! You have to vote for one of us!” And everybody starts muttering unhappily. One brave souls peeps up: “Well, I believe I’ll vote for a third party candidate.” The aliens laugh dismissively. “Go ahead. Throw your vote away!”
Now remember, this episode came out in 1996. There was no such thing as social media back then. Cable news, for all intents and purposes did not exist. Punditry really barely existed. And America barely cared about any form of politics. (A few days after the episode aired, Bill Clinton would win reelection with the lowest recorded voter turnout in the history of America.) Yet in this Halloween episode, The Simpsons absolutely nailed what has clearly and totally wrecked every aspect of America: the two party system. Nobody in our society likes it one bit, but we don’t dare suggest anything to alter it or even worse, vote for someone else.
Think I’m wrong? Four years later, Bush against Gore. There was, if anything, less enthusiasm for either candidate then there was four years earlier. Anyone who thinks that they knew about the evils of W. doesn’t remember that period at all: we all thought he was a joke. And the deifying of Al Gore only happened several years later, we all thought he was stiff, barely human and unlikable. The reason the world didn’t erupt after Florida and the Supreme Court is frankly, because nobody cared one way or the other. I know I didn’t. Did we object that one candidate had won the popular vote and the other had still won? Sure, but that negates the fact that a) the margin was less than half a million votes and b) the turnout was barely much higher than four years later. And sure enough when one side truly began raging against all the horrible things that W was doing, did we blame the millions of Americans who hadn’t bothered to vote at all? Of course not. The world went after Ralph Nader and everyone who’d dared to vote for a candidate that actually stood for something.
Now people might argue twenty years later that the world is a very different place. It isn’t. We’re even more vested in tribalism than we were than we were indifferent to politics as a whole. We probably think in our hearts of hearts that there is no difference between the sides and that we want a new voice. But it all comes back to: “It doesn’t matter. You have to vote for one of us.”
There’s actually a punch line to the episode I discussed. Two years later, humanity has basically become a slave race, being whipped and beaten for manual labor. There’s a note of complaint and then Homer pipes up: “Hey, don’t blame me. I voted for Kodos.” It’s not a subtle point, but it’s hard to ignore. People will stick to their tribes, even if their only choice that gets to destroy mankind first — even for the person who exposed the truth.
I’m not saying I have a solution, but for those of you who will lean in to tribalism over everything else, and who think any alternative to the major parties is worse because it ‘lets the other guy win’ — well, you might want to come up with an alternative rather than just whining. I’m not entirely sure we want to look at the mess the country is and end up saying (as another famous Simpsons episode once said) “Don’t blame me. I voted for Chastity Bono.”