“The Simpsons predicted X” stories have popped up so often over the years that they’re a running joke. The latest came just last week when Kamala Harris wore an outfit to the inauguration that closely resembled what Lisa wore in a flash-forward episode in which she was president. These stories are fun, if repetitive, good for a momentary distraction from the real world.
But the latest vintage Simpsons clip that’s come to our attention wasn’t unearthed because of its eery similarity to current events. Rather, it attracted attention for one of the things that made the show, particularly in its golden age, so damn good: The Simpsons are a real family made up of characters that care about one another — a fact that makes the show easy for viewers to invest emotionally in.
The episode in question is “Moaning Lisa,” the sixth episode of the show. After a spell of depression leads her to act out at school, Lisa finds inspiration playing with jazz musician Bleeding Gums Murphy. Her mother Marge finds her and takes her away, simply because she doesn’t understand how Bleeding Gums can help her daughter.
The excerpt that’s blowing up on r/videos opens with Marge subsequently dreaming of a scene from her own childhood in which her mother makes her put “a happy face on because people know how good a mommy you have by the size of your smile,” even if it’s fake. The next day, she gives her daughter the same advice, to smile even if she doesn’t feel like it, in the car on the way to school.
“It doesn’t matter how you feel inside, you know. It’s what shows up on the surface that counts. That’s what my mother taught me: Take all your bad feelings and push them down, all the way down, past your knees until you’re almost walking on them. And then, you’ll fit in! And you’ll be invited to parties! And boys will like you! And happiness will follow!”
It’s very bleak.
Lisa obediently plasters on a fake smile and exits the car. She runs into two of her classmates in front of the school. Marge hears their conversation, in which Lisa’s smile is complemented and she is seemingly accepted into the group (“I used to think you were some sort of a brainiac, but I guess you’re OK”). An invitation to come over after school quickly sours when it comes with a request to do the inviting kid’s homework. As Lisa agrees, it’s Marge’s turn to frown from the car. Mr. Largo, the music teacher, approaches and makes matters worse.
“Ms. Simpson, I hope we won’t have a repeat of yesterday’s outburst of unbridled creativity,” he says.
“No, sir,” Lisa replies meekly.
Having reached her breaking point, Marge throws the car into gear and whips it around, tires screeching. She yanks Lisa back into the car and rectifies her mistake.
“Lisa I apologize to you, I was wrong, I take it all back. Always be yourself. You wanna be sad, honey, be sad. We’ll ride it out with you, and when you get finished feeling sad, we’ll still be there. From now on, let me do the smiling for both of us.”
Lisa beams, prompting Marge to say “I said you could stop smiling, Lisa.”
“I feel like smiling,” Lisa replies, ending the scene rather perfectly.
The message Marge ultimately delivers to Lisa is akin to the one Fred Rogers sang in “What Do You Do With the Mad That You Feel?” But the message to parents, that you can and should admit when you’re wrong and not just assume that the way you were raised was correct, is just as resonant, particularly for those whose Simpsons fandom has now lasted from their Lisa to their Marge years.