Cosmic Slop #69: Brexit, nationalism and politics via The Simpsons
Following obvious recent events, Shaun Ponsonby tries to explain where the country is via a classic episode of The Simpsons and the Catholic method of contraception.
So, that Brexit vote, eh?
Wait…come back…let me finish…
I know you are as fed up of it all as I am. Don’t worry, we won’t speak of the result. I sure ain’t no expert on European economics anyway. But I’m pretty sure we can agree that this has been an abhorrent chapter in British history (present?), and sadly it’s far from over.
I’m pretty sure that we can also agree how ridiculous it is that we had no plan in place before the fucking vote. Even Baldrick in Blackadder had a plan. A cunning one at that. You would think the “Leave” campaign didn’t actually expect to win.
Essentially, this has become akin to the Catholic method of contraception; you just pull out at random and make a big mess everywhere. It might feel good whilst you’re making the mess, because you are deep in the throws of passion. But the mood dies quickly when you have got to try and clean it all up, stumbling around with an old tea towel in the dark, as it gradually dawns on you how horrible, disgusting and sticky everything has become. Furthermore, there’s still the possibility that it hasn’t worked and you are going to get pregnant regardless because it is an untested method. And the sad part is, the whole mess could have been avoided had you protected yourself sufficiently before going in.
It does seem that for many people, this wasn’t a referendum on the European Union. Most of us remain incredibly ignorant about the EU as we have never had a rational debate about it. For years, we have had scaremongering Armageddon theories from one side, and nationalistic ideologies – a “barrage of Farrage”, if you will – from the other, each masking the true heart of any debate. There is no way the 70%-odd turnout for the referendum could have made an informed decision, including me. All you have to do is look at the amount of Googles for the term “What is the EU?” following the vote.
It is the nationalist rally cry that is the most worrying aspect of all this. Racist and xenophobic abuse has reportedly increased on both social media and in person since the result was announced. This isn’t to say that everyone who voted “Leave” is racist. Will Self summed this up pretty well; “Not everyone who votes Leave is racist, but everyone who’s a racist will be voting Leave.” There are many rational Eurosceptic arguments, and no doubt millions of people did agonise over the plusses and minuses before voting. However, the “Leave” campaign did take advantage of the nation’s inner xenophobe to help make their dreams a reality.
It isn’t a far cry from the tactics being employed by Donald Trump over in the US. We have been watching America in dismay at how they could possibly allow this man within arms-reach of the White House. And yet, a similar campaign is working extremely well with too big a facet of British people, and it will continue as long as the left are so fragmented. “We want our country back” = “Make America great again”. We’re just as inherently racist and xenophobic as America, we’re just not as brash about it. It’s a very English kind of bigotry; subdued and enjoyed over a pot of tea. But it’s in there and just as institutionalised.
Meanwhile #BorisForPM started trending on social media. No harm, though, right? It’s not like nationalism and economic woes have ever contributed to horrific events spearheaded by a charismatic, far right leader in the past, is it? I mean, other than all that pesky Holocaust stuff.
[Note: In the time since this piece was written, Boris announced he wouldn’t be running for leadership. But consider this about our last few Prime Ministers; Gordon Brown was unelected, Cameron‘s first term wasn’t by majority and his second will not only be over after around 18 months, but the party are also being investigated for electoral fraud. If there is no early election, his successor will also be unelected, making that four dodgy terms in a row.]
The media are loving it too. “Look at these working class neanderthals,” they crow. “At least we make our bigotry implicit“. Showing us scene after scene of abuse, without ever trying to examine the cause. Although it probably does have to be in there to come out in the first place, like the violent drunk or the accidental Partridge, I do wonder if it is merely that these people have found a mainstream acceptance for their prejudice, or is it that their anger is dangerously misdirected?
Last year, I wrote an article which expertly, ingeniously and sexily (no?) explained why The Simpsons would be the defining artistic work of our age, to be taught in schools as the most accurate commentary on the times in which we live. I stand by this perfectly cromulent argument even more today than I did then, and there are instances where this is far more obvious than others. Just take a look at Episode 3F20; Much Apu About Nothing.
An escaped bear somehow finds its way to the streets of Springfield. Once captured, Homer – blinded by his raging emotions – whips the people into a fearful frenzy as he is tired “of these constant bear attacks”, despite the fact that this was an extraordinary event that had never happened before and would likely never happen again.
They march to the self-serving, corrupt Mayor Quimby’s office, demanding something be done. “Won’t somebody please think of the children?!” Helen Lovejoy pleads. So, he introduces a “Bear Watch” across Springfield, which is paid for by an added “Bear Tax”. The people don’t want the tax, so march back to the Mayor’s office to demand answers.
In a moment of desperation, and a need to deflect the situation to enable his future career, Quimby makes a snap decision to get out of the hole he dug for himself, or as he puts it “Ducking this issue calls for real leadership”. He tells the assembled that their taxes aren’t the fault of the legislature he introduced, but because of all the immigrants. As a result, he creates Proposition 24, if passed all illegal immigrants must leave Springfield immediately. “Immi-gents,” Moe the bartender mispronounces. “I knew it was them! Even when it was the bears, I knew it was them”.
In a fit of faux nationalism, the whole town then turns on anybody who is from another country, regardless of whether they are in Springfield legally or not. The government, authorities and the media come together and create this narrative that people just believe with no amount of critical thinking whatsoever. And they run with it, it stokes the fires of people who are dissatisfied with their lives, and finds an easy scapegoat for their anger. This leads to hilarious, but scarily accurate scenes such as this, which we literally see play out on social media every day;
Meanwhile, Lisa points out the irony of everybody turning on the immigrants, given that America was built on immigration. Grandpa confesses that he is an immigrant, having arrived from “The Old Country” (he can’t remember which one). People don’t like immigration? Boo-hoo. Tell that to the native Americans whose land you stole, then were somehow able to demonise as the bad guy through generations of Westerns.
The rest of the episode revolves around Apu’s attempts to stay, during which it is revealed – as it often is in these cases, and if you don’t believe me I defy you to pass the UK citizenship test – that he is more clued up on American history and culture than just about anyone in Springfield. After making his way through a right wing hate mob outside the exam room, Apu receives his citizenship, and despite an awareness campaign by the Simpson family (Homer changes his mind and joins the fight against), Proposition 24 passes by landslide. This proves that there are people dumber than Homer Simpson.
Obviously, The Simpsons is a cartoon. Nothing in that universe lasts forever. Even though Groundskeeper Willie was deported back to Scotland at the end of the episode, he was back in the next. The consequences of this series of events never need to be dealt with.
In the real world, we do need to deal with the consequences. Morally, yes, but also for the sake of art. There’s barely any such thing as “white popular music”. Pretty much everything is derived from the blues to some degree, and the blues has its origins in Africa. Bands such as infamous Neo-Nazi arseholes Skrewdriver somehow manage to miss that, and are apparently fine with the fact that they have appropriated music from other cultures to decry those very people. If you hold such views, throw every record you have ever bought in the bin immediately. Or delete them from your hard drive.
Al Murray’s Pub Landlord character is an excellent example of this. He is an ironical racist, xenophobic, homophobic bigot. The stereotype of the narrow-minded, Bernard Manning loving, bitter, deluded Brit. Yet the character makes much of the fact that his favourite band is Queen; fronted by national treasure Freddie Mercury. Real name Farrokh Bulsara, Mercury was a gay native of Eastern Africa, who attended boarding school in Bombay and fled his homeland of Zanzibar in the midst of extreme unrest to make his home in England in his late teens/early 20s. If the Pub Landlord is consistent with his views, he should loathe Queen and detest Freddie Mercury. This was surely a purposeful commentary on the superficiality of such views.
There are dark times ahead, both here and in the US. The reason we are in all of this shit that is destroying what Nigel Farrage panderingly refers to as “decent, hard-working Britons” is down to decades of self-serving, careerist political classes, not some bloke from Poland who works on a building site.
The senseless scapegoating of blame on to people who are only trying to make a better life for themselves needs to stop. The political classes have been fucking us over for decades, and they turn us against each other so they can get away with it. They didn’t listen after the recession, they didn’t listen after the hung Parliament of 2010, they didn’t listen when thousands of people rioted and looted the streets in 2011. They don’t seem to be listening following the EU vote. And now look.
Old Testament God told Noah to shove some animals on a boat whilst He flooded the world and started again for less than this. What in the name of Donald Trump‘s tiny dick did they do to fuck up the world enough to warrant giving up and starting from scratch that we haven’t?
What is interesting about certain demographics right now is how the generational gap is probably the widest since the 1960s. I am obviously generalising here, and there are many exceptions on both sides, but what I see a large amount of people – especially the politically active young – taking to social media and not getting their news from traditional sources. It changes the discussion, everything is dissected differently and their views are much less informed by the big media outlets.
Up until recently, they felt powerless. But then these are the people who have grown up in a multi-cultural Britain, who discuss other ways of life openly in the classroom and have friends from all over the world, be that in person who connected through the web.
These are the people who wanted Jeremy Corbyn and are arguing his case, electing him against the odds and defying his treatment by the press and even his own party. They appear far more objective and won’t necessarily believe what they see it in print (in Liverpool especially, we have suffered the fall-out of Hillsborough and the vilifying of the victims politically and through the media, something we have grown up knowing and have since seen proven).
Ideas are being shared far more freely and we are able to be much more informed than the Murdoch press would like us to be. After all, we just saw that the press hacked the phone of a murdered teenaged girl.
I can’t speak for everyone, but for me some of these are virtues picked up with subtlety from The Simpsons, despite the irony of it being owned by Murdoch. You could even argue that this is the Simpsonian generation.
The show has been broadcast pretty much every day since the mid-90s, and every day since childhood we watched as The Simpsons writers showed us career politicians, corrupt police officers, biased media, uncaring churches and failing schools. If there was an institution in Springfield, it was going down the pan.
As we grew older, we looked around and realised that it was true, and not nearly as much fun as The Simpsons made it seem. It implanted something in our brains when, as kids, we just thought it was a funny cartoon.
OK, well, maybe I’m giving The Simpsons too much credit. It does look a little like I’m championing it as the sole reason for an idealistic youth. If that was the case, there would be no such thing as the ’60s. That would be ridiculous. Everyone has their own eureka moment, it just so happens that The Simpsons was ours.
Either way, I can envision the paradigm shifting dramatically. The young people engaging in politics right now are looking at the ruling baby boomers and unanimously screaming “ENOUGH”. After decades of Tory and Blairite rule, we want a real change, not just a coat of paint. These feelings have always existed, but the available technology has the potential to throw a flaming spanner in the works.
But, still; it’s nice that civil war ended in Colombia, isn’t it?
Metallica have reportedly signed up for an Italian menswear campaign. How very metal of them.
Led Zeppelin were found not guilty of plagiarising Spirit‘s Taurus. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t true. Just ask Willie Dixon, Jake Holmes, Anne Bredon, Howlin’ Wolf, Bert Jansch and whoever else.
RIP to Bernie Worrell, Sir Mack Rice and Scotty Moore.