"The Simpsons Movie" serves up an "Irritating" Truth

by Shen Shi'an, The Buddhist Channel, Aug 3, 2007

Dharma-Inspired Movie Review: www.simpsonsmovie.com

Singapore -- As with the multiple award-winning television series' wide range of satirical gags, "The Simpsons Movie" is a comic parable for many issues, ranging from insensitive fatherhood to absent spousehood, callous politics to neglected environmentalism - with the last being central to the story.

"An Inconvenient Truth" might be a documentary deemed too heavy for some, thus too easily ignored. The ecologically-conscious and ever radical folks who make the Simpsons decide to reiterate its green messages in their own terribly creative and entertaining ways...

Lisa (who happens to be Buddhist and a vegetarian) gives a speech called "An Irritating Truth" to awaken her neighbourhood to their environmentally apathetic ways, while her father Homer becomes the epitome of apathy when he dumps pig manure into an already severely polluted lake out of sheer laziness.

Incidentally, vegetarians are individually less connected to the emission of greenhouse gases by about 1.5 tons a year. Meat-consmption creates more greenhouse gases than all motor transportation combined. Homer "single-handedly" causes the tipping point of Springfield's ecologically dismal situation. It results in the government's drastic pseudo-solution of encasing Springfield within a dome, so as to contain the disaster.

As we know, Homer is not downright evil - he just fumbles along in life with overwhelming greed for food, unmindfulness and delusion! Which reminds me, Homer does good when he saves a pig (Spider-pig!) from being slaughtered for burgers, and treats it like family.

However, for his dumping mistake, Homer becomes the witch to be hunted, as the trapped Springfielders point their accusing fingers at him. But was it wholly Homer's fault? No - he merely tipped the scale, while the other ungreen Springfielders had added weights to it earlier. In this sense, everyone was responsible. Or rather, irresponsible!

Everyone let everyone down - especially those like Lisa, who strove hard to make the green cause heard.

With the dome capped over town, it quickly deteriorates into lawless chaos, as supplies run out and stress runs high. Interestingly, the d(o)omed Springfield represents a micro-Earth of sorts, an enclosed ecosystem - that simply cannot sustain itself when interdependent elements in it are in a mess. It's a fast-fowarded scenario of how the macro-Earth might come to perish, given enough apathy.

Running away with his family, Homer's family later runs away from him - when they realised Springfield was about to be secretly erased from the map by being destroyed. The Simpsons, other than the reluctant Homer, wanted to do what they could to save their hometown. Left all alone, Homer sought the advice of a medicine woman, who guided him to have a fantastic epiphany. The clueless Homer realised what is probably his greatest "enlightenment" in the Simpsons' 18 years of history...

It struck him that his misery was due to his selfishness and insensitivity, which caused his family to abandon him. Being miserable, he lost interest in caring about himself, because it seemed pointless. It conversely became meaningful to care for others instead. This is reminiscent of Shantideva's teaching - "All equally experience suffering and happiness, and I must protect them as I do myself. Although it has many divisions, such as arms and so one, the body is protected as a whole. Likewise, different beings, with their joys and sorrows, are all equal, like my self, in their yearning for happiness. Even though my agony does not hurt anyone else's body, that suffering of mine is unbearable because I cling to it as mine.

Likewise, although others' suffering does not descend upon me, that suffering of theirs is difficult to bear because they cling to it as 'theirs.' I should eliminate the suffering of others because it is suffering, just like my own suffering. I should take care of others, just as I am a sentient being. When happiness is equally dear to others and myself, then what is so special about me that I strive after happiness for myself alone? When fear and suffering are equally abhorrent to others and myself, then what is so special about me that I protect myself but not others." (From http://www.shantideva.net/guide_ch8.htm).

Homer realises that to save himself spiritually and physically, he had to save his family and Springfield. Being interdependent, his existence had no meaning without his family and friends. Others are just as important as him. He decides to return to Springfield to undo his mistake, and to earn back the love of his family. This serves as an important reminder - it is not too late that those who destroy the environment make amends. The destroyers can be the saviours too. Homer stands for the everyday man. To be fair, he is perhaps a tad too thoughtless to represent most people. He is an "under-average Joe"?

But if even he can choose to fight for the right cause, why not us?

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