Where would pop culture be without Lisa Simpson? Precocious, good-hearted, and abnormally brilliant, Lisa has, over the course of nearly 30 years of TV, acted as The Simpsons’ voice of reason and a moral yardstick for the rest of the cast. Even Maggie has more skeletons in her tiny closet.
At Vanity Fair, Darryn King has written a much-deserved ode to the sax-playing, braces-needing, never-aging 8 year-old and her voice actor, Yeardley Smith. Citing Matt Groening’s description of Lisa as “the only character on the show not controlled by his or her base impulses,” King details what we’ve learned about Lisa in the decades since she was first envisioned as a far less interesting, similarly rambunctious counterpart to her brother, Bart.
The article reminds us that Lisa isn’t just a good candidate for marrying a carrot and a free-spirited jazz lover, but “an ardent feminist ... an environmentalist, a Buddhist, a champion of scientific reason,” and much else besides. Outside of the show, her character inspired “a  ‘sax craze’ among young girls” and was a notable enough cultural figure to appear, in 1994, “in a feature in Ms. magazine on ‘The Many Faces of Feminism.’”
More than a rundown of Lisa’s accomplishments, King examines the ways in which her character struggles to keep faith in what she believes despite the rest of Springfield (and her own family) so often getting her down. Discussing Yeardley Smith’s own fraught personal life, the article shows that, even for the woman who gives the cartoon a voice, Lisa is an inspiring cultural figure.
The quote from Smith that caps off King’s article sums this up well:
“I really feel like—I honestly feel this—it’s been such an honor to embody a character that I would look up to. And then, the icing on the cake is that other people look up to her too. She’s so who I wish I could be.”
The entire piece is well worth a read if you’re in the market for a succinct argument for why, exactly, Lisa is the very best part of The Simpsons’ sprawling cast. It sums up the many reasons Lisa has endured, flourishing beyond the one-note Bart and Homer craze and achieving a lasting place in pop culture greater than maybe any other Simpsons character. It also reminds us of another, probably more important benchmark for Lisa’s success: she’s a character written to be so lovable that even a misplaced evocation by Ted Cruz can’t tarnish her reputation.
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