By: Alberto Sclaverano
Almost everyone knows the popular animated sitcom The Simpsons. Less famous, but extremely successful at the time of his release, is The Simpsons Movie (2007). When it opened in theaters it was criticized by some parts of the traditional fan base for being too “soft”, and lacking the sharp irony of some of the best TV show episodes. It is still pretty funny, with at least a couple of memorable gags. But what is really interesting is how it put the climate crisis front and center in the plot. The screenplay, written by the original show creator Matt Groening alongside several of his frequent collaborators, starts with the popular band Green Day literally dying on the notes of Titanic, due to the fact that the barge they were playing on collapsed into Springfield’s Lake waters. Just minutes before the tragedy, they had tried to sensibilize the people of the city about the environmental crisis, instead receiving insults and things thrown at them. All of this is put into action with great humor, but it is also a denouncement of the indifference to the topic of climate change. Poor Lisa Simpson, always the more socially conscious member of the dysfunctional family, succeeds in persuading the city council of the danger of the situation.
The pollution level of the city lake has reached a critical point. In a clever scene that spoofs, but also echoes, Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, Lisa used graphics and data to show the incoming apocalypse. And things seem to be redeemable until Homer came in with one of his absurd decisions, which involves his new friend, a pig named Spider-Pig. The lake quickly reaches the no-return point, and the consequences are catastrophic. The US administration, incompetently led by Arnold Schwarzenegger (the recent American history would have shown us that reality can be worst than a parody) puts Springfield under quarantine, using a giant glass dome to separate the city from the rest of the world. I won’t tell the rest of the story, which is even more absurd and over the top.
So, what is exactly the main ecological message of The Simpsons Movie? It is certainly a parody of the worst impulses of the early 2000s US internal politics, which swung between climate change denial and obsession with social surveillance, while celebrity status and populism take the role of scientists and experts. The critique of Mr. Bush’s tenure as a president is explicit, even if expressed in an indirect form. Again, the real US political landscape of the next decade would have contained all these elements, on a much higher scale. But the Environmental Protection Agency EPA, which should act to protect the environment, is also ridiculed. Its director, the evil Russ Cargill, is the movie’s true antagonist. Apparently driven by the safety of the environment, he soon becomes a mad man obsessed with power and social control. There is also a funny, yet sad, reflection on how a lot of people simply do not care about climate change and the environment-related issues, up until the moment in which they become a threat to their lives. Much like Don’t Look Up, which I think has several aspects in common with The Simpsons Movie, the incoming catastrophe is first ignored, and then it only shows the worst aspects of human nature. But this is a happy ending story nevertheless, and after a bizarre, and funny, redemption arc Homer will save Springfield from total destruction.
The true final question of the movie remains if the city’s inhabitants have learned the lessons and have become more careful about the environment. Knowing The Simpsons’ characters the correct answer is probably a big NO. The same thing, unfortunately, can be seen for a lot of real people.