Classic Simpsons Reviews: “Mr. Lisa Goes to Washington” is more farce than satire, which doesn’t lessen any of its impact.

3.2 Mr. Lisa Goes to Washington

Lisa wins an essay contest for writing about what makes America great, but changes her tune when she witnesses a corrupt congressman accepting a bribe.

This episode uses the innocence of childhood as a framing device to explore the public’s naiveté about politics.

It could be interpreted as a cynical episode, but Lisa’s revisions to her essay do cause a corrupt congressman to be arrested. I appreciate the message that while corruption is inevitable in a system that privileges power, our speaking up and fighting it is still far from pointless.

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In one transition you can clearly make out “Springfield, NT.” Given that “NT” isn’t an actual state, I’ve always been puzzled by the guesses as to which state Springfield is in. It’s every state and every town.

Lisa’s exclamation of “The system works” upon the congressman’s arrest is something a mixed message, but one that works very well. Lisa’s line is pointedly not earnest. There’s a quick sequence leading up to it where the congressman is arrested by a cartoonishly patriotic FBI agent. The House of Representative then votes to expel the congressmen and (in perfect unison) not give themselves a pay rise, and President Bush signs the document expelling the congressman while saying it’ll make his 250 million bosses happy. All this happens before the essay contest is over, which is a nice little dig at congress’ timeless inefficiency.

It’s really more farce than satire, as farce uses far more exaggerated situations to make its point. A corrupt congressman getting sent to jail at all, let alone becoming a born again Christian, is obviously too outlandish for reality.


The Simpsons walk in on a bathing Barbara Bush, who tells the family the history of the White House.

And yet, for all that’s fucked up about politics, the system does work, but only does because someone actually put their freedom to scrutinize it into practice. A previous scene with citizens asking the statue of Abraham Lincoln meaningless questions illustrates this point.

My favourite example of the kind of reverse psychology employed in this episode is in the “Human CentiPad” episode of South Park, where Kyle seems to be the only person in town who doesn’t read the iTunes terms of service, much to the astonishment of everyone else. Butters reads one of the ToS lines, which says, “By clicking agree you are acknowledging that Apple may sew your butthole to the mouth of another iTunes user.” He clicks “decline,” and it’s obvious to everyone that he’d do his due diligence.

That’s basically what Lisa’s “The system works” moment is going for. As one of Lisa’s fellow essayists says, “The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.”


The Simpsons couldn’t care less about specific politicians; it never fails to make us the primary target of its political satire/farce.

The biggest laugh for me was the same essayist saying “Where else but America…or possibly Canada could our family find such opportunity?” Lisa’s essay being rated on Jingoism is another great one, as is Marge whispering a penis joke to Homer at the National Mall.

Best Moment: Marge giggling at the Washington Monument.

Best Quote: “Bart! Get out of the Spirit of the St. Louis!” -Homer


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