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The Simpsons Gets Political - SE01 E06 - Moaning Lisa

The Simpson's Get's Political - SE01 E06 - Moaning Lisa

Script synopsis: Lisa becomes depressed, which begins to affect her performance in school. Neither Marge nor Homer are able to make Lisa happier. One night, she hears distant Jazz music and sneaks out of her room to follow it. She meets Bleeding Gums Murphy, who teaches her how to express her feelings via the saxophone. When Marge drops Lisa off at school the next day, she suggests that Lisa smile no matter how she feels. However, Marge sees that Lisa is being denied her creativity and realises that that's what is disappointing her. Marge tells Lisa to just be herself, and the entire family go to see Murphy perform at a local Jazz club.

Issue raised: Depression as a political issue.

Note:  In this post I examine a cultural artefact and a social position which is not my own, namely rap music and it's relation to racialised oppression. I do not occupy the social position of which I am talking about. Therefore, I have to recognise difficulties in ever truly understanding what it is I am discussing. For the most part the argument relayed in the first half discussion of Bleeding Gums Murphy is based off of authors I have read and speakers I have listened to. I have attempted to sympathetically relay their position. Any failure in the telling is entirely my own. Furthermore, I have to apologise for any crassness or insensitivity. Likewise any flash of insight is entirely that of the thinkers I've drawn on.

Note: I've re-read this and I've not realized this as well as I could so I want to re-write sections.


Depression is inherently limiting - some commentators see it as a font of creativity; this view is however simply the normalisation of a self limiting ideology. It may be the case that great art has been made by those that are suffering from depression. But depression is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition of the production of great art.

Our society not only normalises despair - it promotes it, and then subsequently belittles peoples experience of it.

To such an extent that a dehabilitating and crippling condition is floated as a pre-requisite to the production of interesting cultural artefacts. One might wish to conjecture that it is not because of structural racism, oppression and the despair that goes along with this that North American Black culture is so creative - it is in spite of that fact.

So long as there are groups of people, there will be culture. So long as people produce culture there will be those that seek to co-opt it. This seems to be especially the case with "outsider" art(1).

The reason art with an outsider status, from the point of view of those marketing the music,  is so marketable is precisely because of it's outsider status. However, this outsider status has been co-opted and marketed back to the communities that initially created the art form, stripped of it's radical content, and loaded full of messages which imbue the consumers of main stream hip-hop and rap at least, with a self destructive ideology.

At it's inception hip-hop had a radical content and message, the idea's of thinkers like Malcolm X, Huey Newton, Marcus Garvey and countless other great African thinkers to be mentioned alongside braggadocios lyrics. In fact the referencing of science, philosophy, literature and culture formed a part of the bragging. Intelligence is seen as a virtue. Self-help and mutual aid are extolled, expected and practiced.

There is still an incredibly large scene for this kind of hip-hop. It is not however the version of hip-hop you would get if you only listened to the hip-hop that is aggressively marketed by the major labels, and thus enters the charts.

Hip-hop as a mass cultural artefact normalises an extremely bleak version of the world. For sure, this reality is the lived experience of certain people. But it's normalisation can serve as an effective impediment on efforts to transcend it. It can also serve as a means to negatively reinforce a version of the world - if the representation of people you identify with culturally has them acting violently and dealing drugs - is it not possible that you might begin to view this as not only normal - but desirable?

This phenomenon does not only occur in the culture of the African diaspora, this occurs wherever there exists an oppressed group - it is however particularly noticeable in this context because of the prevalence of racism and bigotry - and it's particularly insidious expression.

Maybe this is why Bleeding Gums is depressed. Maybe he's noticed that the dominant culture is pushing a message which wants to see him kill himself.

In the consideration of Lisa, it is difficult to categorise, and whether it's is a function of economics or a function of culture is difficult to quantify. But consider Roman Road in Bethnal Green, London.

Bethnal Green could be considered as the current frontline in Londons ongoing de-workerisation. In this discussion, let's take it as analogous with the affordable tract housing that the Simpsons live on.

As Matt Breen(2) puts it in a shite listicle in Time Out magazine;

"Gentrification in east london[sic]: weep, sigh, moan, etc. The popular image is one of beleaguered enclaves of valiant jellied-eel vendors battling an onslaught of cash-haemorrhaging, craft-lager-addicted professionals. And okay, it’s not wholly a myth. But there are places where the two tribes live in harmony, and Roman Road is one of them."

You have to admire Breen's capacity to both belittle, misunderstand and misrepresent peoples lived experience in only four sentences. It is something which takes skill, and clearly he's honed his craft. Matt Breen could possibly be the Hemingway of being a cunt.

It's almost tempting to not deconstruct this paragraph because of the fucking shipwreck it obviously is. But alas;

"Gentrification in east london[sic]: weep, sigh, moan, etc."

Way to belittle genuine concerns. The condescension oozes from this sentence. Imagine reading this as someone who is being priced out of the area? Imagine reading this as someone who is finding that they are welcome in less and less of the  pubs and businesses in an area they have lived all their lives because they occupy the the wrong class position?

Gentrification might be a buzz-word associated with liberal guilt and hypocrisy to staff writers at Time Out. But for the people living along Roman Road in Bethnal Green and Bow - or those who have already been forced out of the area by sky-rocketing prices, or who remain but find themselves outsiders in their own community it is not a joke. Belittling it to hock your free lifestyle magazine makes you a proper fucking cunt.

"The popular image is one of beleaguered enclaves of valiant jellied-eel vendors battling an onslaught of cash-haemorrhaging, craft-lager-addicted professionals"

The further you read into the "article" the more you get the impression that Breen has never actually been anywhere near Roman Road. Matt Breen deals almost solely in platitudes and cliches - characterising the residents of E2 and E3 as "valiant jellied-eel vendors" is not only lazy and patronising - it is also false.

Bethnal Green has an active and thriving Bangladeshi culture. East London has a large Jewish community. Due to its links to the London docklands it has a large community of second and third generation Irish immigrants, and a genuine working class English culture. Reducing it to this kind of "spare us' an apple core guv'nor" or "shine ya' shoe's mate" Oliver Twist cliche is fucking insulting, and I want to repeat again - it makes you a fucking cunt.

"...battling an onslaught of cash-haemorrhaging, craft-lager-addicted professionals."

You can't expect an incisive insight into the process of gentrification in a magazine designed to push gimmicky shite onto people.  Even if you where expecting it, Breen in the course of this one paragraph would have radically disabused you of the expectation. But the problem that those who oppose gentrification have is not with those who move into the area.

It is with the destruction of communities that attends; the policy choices made by ostensibly representative governance structures that allow this take place, and the belittling and condescension that attends with the destruction of communities and identities. All chrystalised in one sentence by Matt Breen - the poet laureate of being a cunt.

Maybe it is the destruction of a community that depresses Lisa - maybe it is the condescension which makes it worse.


(1) Outsider is contained in parenthesis because I disagree with it presenting those that produce this culture as "Other" - it does this however because from the point of view of the dominant culture this is "Other" - from the point of view of the vast majority of humanity however the dominant culture is alien because it says "Nothing to me about my life" - to quote Morrissey.

(2) I'm sure he's not a cunt in real life, despite the fact I'm about to call him a cunt four times. This piece of writing makes him look a cunt. Now, that's five time. Matt Breen is a cunt. Six time. Cunt. Seven.


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