Dealing With The Circus: “Just Don’t Look”
Beyond its material success as the longest running animated television series in history, The Simpsons has always remained exceptionally aware of the changing politics and anxieties of Middle America, establishing it as a significant part of American culture. The catchphrases of the show’s characters have become part of the English lexicon and the show has effectively changed how we understand comedy and satire.
At times, The Simpsons has even been known to be prophetic, seemingly predicting many future events several years in advance, including the discovery of the Higgs boson equation, the Siegfried and Roy tiger attack, the emergence of smartwatches, and several correct Superbowl predictions.
It would seem less than surprising then, that in an episode aired back in 2000, The Simpson’s would predict the coming presidency of Donald Trump.
In an episode entitled, “Bart to the Future”, The Simpsons reveal a future world where Lisa has become President of the United States. The episode is remembered best for a remark she makes as she sits in the Oval Office, reminding her staff that, “as you know, we’ve inherited quite a budget crisis from President Trump”. The episode’s writer, Dan Greaney remarked years later that, “it was pitched because it was consistent with the vision of America going insane.”
Greaney’s vision of America “going insane” has not only come to fruition, but with seemingly endless displays of violence and racism, a failing economy, and the mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic that has left over 220,000 American’s dead, we have seen the U.S. begin to crumble from within.
The country has become so politically polarized that even the wearing of masks has become incredibly politicized. Briefly put, the last four years have been disorienting, chaotic, distressful and has left many of us in a frenzied state.
While it would seem easy enough to blame the failures of the current administration for what has felt like a continued and constant sense of overwhelming dread for many of us over the last four years, what simply cannot be overlooked is the mainstream media’s continued bias toward “sensationalism, conflict and laziness,” a critique made by John Stewart in a 2011 Fox News interview.
In the four years since Trump shocked the world and became the President of the United States, some of the largest mainstream ‘establishment’ news networks have played a significant role in not only electing him, but continuously accelerating tensions between many of the country’s political factions.
Almost immediately after Trump announced his bid for the Presidency, all major media outlets began to record a huge ratings boosts, with CBS Chairman Les Moonves wondrously quipping that “Trump may not be good for America but [he’s] damn good for CBS.”
His meteoric rise to the leader of the Republican Party turned Trump into a ratings machine, as mainstream media became infatuated with his every move—Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC once opted to broadcast footage of his empty podium in lieu of Democratic candidates giving live speeches.
This obsession with Trump allowed him to develop a ubiquitous presence throughout all of the major news networks and has created a perverse mutual dependency between them.
Well into his presidency, these networks have continued to perpetuate a news cycle focused on sensationalism and conflict, which has left us feeling exhausted, and has allowed them to continue to profit off the continued chaos of the American political system.
With all this in mind, it may be worth taking a look at another Simpson’s episode, one that features giant monsters and a surprise performance by Paul Anka.
“Attack of the 50-Foot Eyesores” is a Treehouse of Horror episode (a non-canon Halloween special for those who are unacquainted), which originally aired in 1995. The episode critiques the contemporaneous state of advertising and its significant influence on American culture, and offers (perhaps prophetically), an effective way to deal with the mainstream media; stop paying attention to it.
The episode begins as Homer makes his way to “Lard Lad Donuts” in the hopes of purchasing a “colossal” donut like the oversized prop one in the hands of the giant mascot situated in front of the store. He becomes disappointed with the size of the donut he receives, calling it “false advertising” and grows upset. He takes vengeful action and goes to steal the “colossal donut” later that night from the hands of the mascot.
Immediately after the Lard Lad’s donut is stolen, an ‘ionic disturbance’ brings him, and the other giant advertising characters in Springfield to life, and they begin to wreak havoc and terrorize the town. After Homer returns the donut to Lard Lad, thinking it will stop the advertising monsters’ rampage, it only emboldens them, as they become more aggressive.
In the hopes of stopping the carnage, Lisa tracks down the ad agency responsible for creating the characters, and is greeted by its owner, who remarks that, “advertising is a funny thing. If people stop paying attention to it, pretty soon it goes away.” He suggests that a jingle will stop the chaos, and enlists the help of Paul Anka. As Lisa and Paul Anka sing the jingle, the citizens of Springfield become distracted and begin to ignore the monsters, causing them to lose their powers and collapse.
As I write this article, we are days before what may turn out to be one of the ugliest and distressing moments in American history. Pundits fear at best, a long drawn out election process owed to the new challenges associated with increased absentee and mail-in ballots. And, at worst, constant partisan fear mongering related to voter fraud that will continue to embolden certain political factions, and potentially lead to the mobilization of armed right-wing groups.
While there is no certain way to predict what will happen in the days following the election, these terrifying events are even more likely to become a reality should the sitting President do what many fear, and refuse to accept the legitimacy of the election results.
After America makes its decision, and as we are all sure to experience the exhausting and disorienting never-ending news cycle that will follow, remember the jingle:
To stop those monsters, one-two-three, Here's a fresh new way that's trouble-free, It's got Paul Anka's guarantee ... Lisa: Guarantee void in Tennessee. Paul Anka and Lisa: Just don't look! Just don't look! [repeat several times]
Below are two links to excerpts of the episode (Season 7, Episode 6):
(1): A summary of the show can be found at: (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DwYBXCxXCS8)
(2) The ending of the episode including the jingle sung by Lisa and Paul Anka:
(3) The complete episode – Season 7, Episode 6 – is also available to watch in its entirety on Disney +)