Oh, Lisa Simpson. My Lisa Simpson. Lisa Simpson the feminist vegetarian cartoon 8 year old is the best character on the Simpsons and possibly on all of TV. And as if that isn’t enough, Lisa, ever the over achiever, also reveals what female characters on TV could be, if only they didn’t have tits.
Lisa Simpson is the best character in a show with over 100 named characters; Lisa Simpson is the best character in one of the greatest, most iconic and – for a significantly long time – the funniest TV shows ever made; AND Lisa Simpson is a character that feels like a real human being in a show so heightened the white people have yellow skin and that’s fine.
You’d have coffee with Lisa Simpson. Who else in the Simpsons would you have coffee with? Go to the pub with, sure, there’s plenty of those. But have coffee with? There’s really only Lisa. (Okay, maybe Sideshow Bob. His feet go to the ends of those shoes, you know. But perhaps that’s a conversation for another day.)
Intellectual Lisa, with her penchant for museums and libraries, is an outlier in her family, in her whole town. But her basic brain power could easily have come from Marge. Although, unlike her mother, Lisa would never put her dreams aside. (Oh, Marge, your life of quite desperation depresses me so. How could you throw so much away, no matter how hot that Mr Plow jacket is?) How did Lisa manage to escape the domestic trap that ensnared her bright, brittle mother?
If you think about it, I’ll bet you’ll find you already know. In the second season of The Simpsons – early enough for it’s affects to be seismic – Lisa had a substitute teacher who was the greatest substitute teacher in the world. He was Mr Bergstrom. It’s my pet theory is that his influence made Lisa totally awesome.
In a fleeting 22 minutes her taught her all she needed to know. And he left her with THAT note. All YOU need to know. The note that said: ‘You are Lisa Simpson’.
My emotions. MY EMOTIONS.
This is the most traumatically perfect thing that has ever happened on The Simpsons. (‘Do It For Her’, is pretty good. But ‘You Are Lisa Simpson’ even beats ‘Do It For Her’. That’s how fucking good it is.)
You may continue reading when you are done misting up. Because Bergstrom’s note – it was a note for all of us.
Lisa Simpson is the most enduring feminist character on TV by about a trillion miles. That fact might make you angry, but there it is. I’m sorry that there is simply nothing else to compare her too. But Lisa was making her Malibu Stacey doll a studio flat where she prints an weekly feminist newsletter, long before we were all fighting about what kind of feminism looks best with sequins on twitter.
Because that’s Lisa. She’s astonishing. She’s unique. She’s very likely the most well rounded and believably female character on TV. And the real reason for that, the reason why we got such an amazing character, in this freaking cartoon, is kind of fucking sad really: it’s because Lisa Simpson is 8. Always and forever in the mysterious time loop of the Simpsons, Lisa is an 8 year old.
Oh, she might flirt with the world that would lie ahead of her and enter a beauty contest or worry about her weight. She might fixates on non-threatening boys. Or have a bit of a thing with Nelson Muntz. She might have to deal with the nice guy issue in the form of Millhouse Vanhouten. (ALL those complaints about being in the friendzone are written by the bitter Millhouses of this world.) But because Lisa stays prepubescent, she is a female character on TV who isn’t ever a sex object. Possibly the only one.
Cuz every TV lady with a set of tits has to function as sex object sooner or later. That’s why in every series ever that has a lady in it that solves crime they’ll be an episode where they have to undercover as a prostitute. Sooner or later. Always. BECAUSE. And in stories, having to serve a decorative function so often replaces, you know, being an actual person; it gets in the way of having a more developed character, like what humans generally have and like what I have and so respond to.
And Lisa is probably our only real example of what a female character looks like without this layer of must-be-sexy bullshit. (Of course, Lisa – being 8 – doesn’t have any kind of sexual autonomy either. And that’s why she gets to be this sort of immaculate female character. The two things go frustratingly, SHAMEFULLY together. Which is why people always mix up being sexualised and being sexually objectified. In a way that is consistently frustrating and dumb.)
Lisa Simpson is awesome and, god help us all, actually unique because she is a female TV character who, because she is a kid, is an actual person. Like us real life people everywhere. Because Lisa is 8, so she can’t be sexified so there’s nothing else to be done with her except make her an actual character in the show.
And that’s why You are Lisa Simpson. She’s the greatest female character on television. It shouldn’t be, it sounds completely backwards, but because she’s a kid, so she gets to be a more whole person. Gets to be someone more like an adult woman I recognise, than anyone else on TV.
We need more female characters like Lisa. Female characters as nuanced and real as her. If we can make a character like Lisa, who is an adult with an adult life, we’ll have cracked it. Until then, I’m glad I have Lisa. You should be too. Because You are Lisa Simpson. Say it in the mirror. And then, if you like, say thanks Mr Bergstrom – I believe there were Jewish cowboys.