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14 March 2008

Women are animated - Lisa Simpson

Lisajazz It’s no secret in our household that Mr Brilliant thinks Jimmy Neutron’s mother is hot.

I think he also might have a mad crush on Marge Simpson, but I can’t be too sure.

And so, conversation at dinner the other night turned from Fermat’s last theorem (or was it something about how to make vegan s’mores?) to female animated characters. There’s no doubt that many female characters (animated or otherwise, now that I think of it) are portrayed as weak, stereotypical, vacuous. But some aren’t. Wilma Flintstone’s name came up. Lucy from Charlie Brown. Peggy Hill, though she might have a teeny ego problem. Jane Jetson. I voted for Lisa Simpson.

I’ve written about her before. I hadn’t read this essay for the three years since I wrote it, until today. Perhaps you might enjoy it. Here’s to Lisa Simpson, wearer of pearls and saxophonist, with a not insignificant connection to Emma and her tuba.

FIND YOUR SAXOPHONE (from 1985)

Follow your bliss. Find where it is and don't be afraid to follow it. -Joseph Campbell

If you’ve read 37days before, you might have picked up on my love affair with actor Johnny Depp. Beautiful, talented Johnny.

Quixotic, funny, odd, quirky Johnny. Did I mention beautiful? Ooh-la-la.

What can I say? There’s no defending it. I won’t pretend it makes sense, this long-distance obsession from North Carolina to France, this enormous, smothering, consuming disdain for that little fragile wispy twig of a French blonde he keeps taking to awards shows and having children with for some unimaginable reason. Why, I could take her out in the blink of an eye, the bat of a more well-nourished eyelash, were I the least bit inclined toward violence, which - of course - I am not, having attended a Quaker college (whose football team was paradoxically the "Fighting Quakers," but I digress).

There’s no need to alert the authorities: I don’t really think about Johnny or Stick Girl too awfully much until I hear the name Johnny, watch “Pirates of the Caribbean” again or see previews for “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” which starts on July 15th, not that I’m counting the days or anything.

But imagine now a thinking girl’s Johnny Depp and you’ll approximate my passion for former United States Poet Laureate Billy Collins. Heartened by the fact that his first book of poetry was published when he was in his 40s (hope springs eternal even though I missed my first two deadlines for writing the great American novel—in 1985 and 1995, respectively), I was introduced to him by candlelight at an outdoor dining table under a tin roof pelted by furious torrents, the remnants of one of those last hurricanes (scary making), by my friend Gay who, in order to be heard above the rain, had to yell-read Billy’s most fantastic love poem, its verses certainly a rich cousin to Tina Turner’s brilliant “What’s Love Got to Do with It?” in its approach, and all in a beautiful Southern accent under the influence of fine wine and food beautifully prepared by our friend Rosemary, a woman who can make cooking grits look like an exquisite love affair, a sensual, slow, hot tango of hominy and butter.

His (back to Billy, stop dallying at the grits) is a sardonic, quixotic, odd, sensual, beautiful way of looking at the world, with a twist. Hmm. Mr. Depp in poet form, perhaps? Life comes full circle, doesn’t it?

While recently stalking researching my new love online, An excerpt:

I found the text of a commencement speech that he (Billy Collins) delivered at some lucky college in which he urged the “very sharp looking Class of 2002” to “not graduate,” but to always continue learning. The whole speech was witty and memorable and written just for me; there are several pieces of it that I’d like to write about sometime: “Don’t graduate” and “Write in the margins” are two such future ponderings, perhaps.

But for today, what stood out was this riff on modern culture:

“What is truly disappointing about television is to realize that in its vast landscape, there is only one character I would hold up as a role model to you—the Class of 2002—a single character, a lone beacon. I am referring, of course, to Lisa Simpson. I would hold her up for her fierce curiosity, for the courage of her numerous convictions, her outspokenness, her sensitivity to environmental issues. Here is a character who will not graduate—not because animated characters never age—but because, for her, life is a learning experience. And then there is her patience in a family environment most inimical to learning—patience in the face of her father's profound density, her brother's cruelty, and even, yes, she must be included—her dear mother's vacuousness. And let us not forget her commitment to the saxophone, regardless of the results. What I am saying, I think, in this regard, is find your own saxophone. There is one out there for each of you graduates. Your saxophone might be growing orchids or taking photographs of clouds—it might be learning sign language or driving an ambulance. Or your saxophone might be the saxophone itself—that would make things very simple. In any case, find your saxophone and play what you feel on it—even though it might result in your getting tossed out of the school band. That's the lesson, I think, of Lisa Simpson. The only thing that worries me about her is the pearls—I just could never figure out the pearls.”

Note to Billy: forget the pearls. They are simply a tribute to her mom’s long-suffering and yet somehow sweet relationship with Homer, a reminder for Lisa to raise her expectations beyond that patriarchal beacon of manhood, and perhaps also her subtle way of literally throwing pearls before swine.

Lisa, of course, finds her passion in the saxophone, a passion for which she is willing to risk getting thrown out of the school band (weekly, I might add) by playing her heart’s song, not the stiltingly arranged piece of music demanded by the band director. Instead, she riffs and rolls, feeling the music, dancing with it, playing her little cartoon heart out, and – inevitably – being asked to leave, further freeing her to scat all the way down the hall.

What’s my saxophone, I wonder? What’s yours? Are we playing them? Have we even found them? Are they dented? Are the reeds cracked dry from being in the case too long? Are we willing to play our real music, even if it means getting thrown out of the band? Or are we waiting for the newest model of saxophone, apologizing for the tone of our current one, making excuses for our performance? It occurred to me recently—as much as I hate to admit it—that until now I have never done my very best work. Because if I did my very best and if I rid myself of all excuses—too little time, earthquake in China, teleprompter malfunctioned, printer broke, semi-annual shoe sale at Nordstrom, solving world hunger, strep throat, hangnail, protesting the war, tiebreaker on “American Idol,” dog ate my homework—then if people didn’t like what I did, I’d have nothing to fall back on. No more, my friends. What I’m saying to you from now on is here’s my saxophone and I’m going to play it with all the heart and heat I’ve got. Come join me. It will be lots of fun. Rosemary will cook us some grits and Gay will read poetry to us.

There is much to commend Lisa, all of which Billy makes note of (I presume I can call him Billy, seeing as how we are pretty much soul mates by this point)—her passions, her willingness to speak out, her devotion to animals and the environment. In fact, this small yellow spiky-haired girl with the red dress and moral compass has long been a role model for my older daughter, Emma, herself a lifelong vegetarian who writes letters to KFC about their treatment of those poor defenseless little chickens and who proudly plays the massive tuba rather than the delicate flute I had first urged her to embrace.

Yes, I have resigned myself to the fact that Emma has chosen a cartoon character rather than me as her lighthouse of selfhood. And there are very early signs that her 36-inch-tall sister has followed suit, demonstrating a preternatural urge toward emulating Spongebob Squarepants. But that’s a story for another time.

Emma turns 13 in August. I think I’ll give her pearls.

~*~ 37 Days: Do it Now Challenge ~*~

Find your saxophone and play it for all you’re worth. Get thrown out of the band. Hell, throw yourself out of the band. Write a letter to KFC about all that poultry and wear pearls with abandon. And could someone send this on to Johnny and Billy with my love?

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It's odd that when considering some of the leading animated female characters that many find themselves diametrically opposite their slumber-headed, sodden, sulfurous husbands. According to my invisible Crayonoscope findings, George Jetson, Homer Simpson, Hugh Beaumont Neutron and Fred Flintstone are the opposite of the things their wives are--in general, they are dense, dull, and demented. (Sorry.) The men tend to be lovable, even the destructive, beer-sodden Homer; the wives, on the other hand, aren't nearly so. (The exception seems to be Mr. Hank Hill--he is somewhat naive, a little dense, somewhat humorless, but very capable, very loyal and dependable.) Go take a look at my non-existent numbers--and don't argue with the data. Truly though married animated non-Disney women tend to be stronger, more capable, and more intelligent than the hubbies.

This brings back the memory of a story... however, being that I have a dentist appointment in 25 minutes and I don't have the time to tell it, I will skip right to the end.

"If you don't get thrown out of something because you found your passion and your passion doesn't 'fit', make sure you defend others who get thrown out of their places because they found their passion. Finding your passion is contagious. If you hang with those that know theirs, you'll probably find yours, too."

Art imitating life, John?

how 'bout women are ANIMATORS

John, um, I'm thinking maybe we watch too many cartoons?

Becky - you can't keep me hanging like that. I'm sure the dentist would have waited... but I *love* the ending!

Rick - hmm...I can't get my head around what that means...

T - of course! That's it! As the mother of a girl who wants to be an animator, I'm all over that one - thanks!

So here's the story. I am against all 'isms' (racism, sexism...) but one that really gets under my skin is ageism. I don't know, I really take that one personally even though I have never been directly affected by it (unlike sexism, etc). But it irks me! Just because someone is young or old doesn't make them less valuable in society. It bugs me when I see this.

Well, one day my husband and I were at the mall and I went into a little knicknack store. They had some little things, but for the most part they sold furniture. Well, in-front of me walked in about a 12 year old girl. She wasn't rowdy, with other teens, or looked 'different' (not that that should matter, I realize... but for the story, I'll put it out there). She was just an every day 12 year old browsing around a store. Her parents and younger brother were outside the store eating something (which is why I guess they didn't go in with her--no food allowed).

Well, that wasn't the only thing that wasn't allowed in this store! The 12 year old wasn't allowed either! She had barely taken 10 steps into the store and the clerk said, "We don't allow kids without adults. You'll need to leave." No apology. Nothing.

I was FURIOUS. I said as much although honestly, not as eloquently as I would have liked since I was seeing red. I took the clerks name and asked if this was a policy throughout the entire chain or just this store. Well, after I found out it was a chain policy I told her she would NEVER have my business again and I walked out, too.

What bugged me is that the girl and her parents weren't bugged by it at all or didn't let on. Anyway, ever so eloquently, letters went out about ageism all the way up to the president of that said company. I didn't think I'd hear anything back but one day I actually did! The president himself wrote to me and thanked me for my letter and presumed to not know that this was a policy and one he will see changed. Turns out he has a 13 year old daughter who is the sweetest kid.

Then, I was waiting at a cosmetic counter and I was behind another young lady who had to have been about 14. The MA came up to our counter and the girl started to talk to her and the clerk looked right past her and spoke to me asking how she can help me. I told her, "Well, this lady was first, so you may help her first." You can tell she was bugged. She helped her rather flippantly and the girl left. But before she did she thanked me. Then when it was my turn, she asked oh so sweetly how she can help me. At which point I said, "You can get over your bias about age and how worthy people are of your time based on age. As for me, I will find another counter to sell me the same things you were just about to." Then it was my turn to walk away. When I returned to the mall, the girl was there. She had been waiting for me to thank me personally. She said, "From now on, I'm going to get my turn in line when it's my turn in line. Thanks for helping me see that."

On the opposite end of the spectrum--a grandmother I know and love wanted to join a class that was physically pretty strenuous. The instructor tried to persuade her not to take it. Well, she threw a royal fit and 'just because I'm gray and old doesn't mean I shouldn't take your class.' I loved her for that! She did take the class and together we discussed another class that would be great for a follow up. Turns out the director was up for it and the same instructor taught it with her (grandma's) guidance! She was AWESOME. And let me tell ya, she gave me some passion!

Lisa has long been my favorite character on The Simpsons ... but now when I see her on TV I will use it as a reminder "to find my saxaphone" and play it loud and proud

The pearls are also about creating something lovely out of 'dirt'; wearing them not because they are special, but because you are special! (Lisa rocks)

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