The Accursed Sovereign

A Moment

Posted in Criticism, Film by bradishn on January 21, 2010

I recently chanced across an old episode of the Simpsons (full episode here).  This episode condenses an American cultural fact that I might refer to as my Enemy #1.  In this episode, Homer discovers that a crayon has been lodged in his brain since his youth, which resulted in his low intelligence.  Homer has it removed and his intelligence skyrockets.  However, Homer alienates himself from his friends through his new-found brainpower.  Everything returns to normal after Homer has a crayon re-lodged in his brain at the end of the episode.

Moral of the story: intelligence is not, and should not, be valued. In the final summation, we must forego an intelligent and engaged existence in order to be a good American.  Intellectuals always stand outside of American society; ignorance is the realm of the common citizen.

The event which precipitates Homer’s social alienation is a safety report which he submits regarding the nuclear plant at which he works.  The plant is closed while it is brought up to safety code, and many workers are laid off while this happens.  Despite the clearly positive nature to this event, Springfield disparages Homer’s actions.

Do note that Homer’s intelligence is only denigrated once it interferes with the productive process.  To some degree, intellectualism stands in opposition to the productive processes of American capitalism.  What is a good life?  How should one live?  Capitalism offers no answers to such questions, but instead compels us: ‘work! produce! buy! consume!’  The intellectual, through critically engaging with difficult questions leaves the domain where capitalism can provide answers.

I’m reminded of Jacques Ellul’s Propaganda: the Formation of Men’s Attitudes (Vintage Books, New York; 1973).  Though much of the book focuses on mechanisms and techniques of propaganda, the final chapter of Ellul’s Propaganda consists of Ellul’s analysis regarding propaganda and modern democracy.  Of prime importance is that propaganda programs out the democratic elements in man, not through content of propaganda but through its form as a technique:

…if democracy corresponds to a certain type of human being, to a certain individual behavior, then propaganda destroys the point of departure of the life of a democracy, destroys its very foundations.  it creates a man who is suited to a totalitarian society, who is not at ease except when integrated in the mass, who rejects critical judgements, choices, and differentiations because he clings to clear certainties.  He is a man assimilated into uniform groups and wants it that way…  The word democracy, having become a simple incitation, no longer has anything to do with democratic behavior.  And the citizen can repeat indefinitely the “sacred formulas of democracy” while acting like a storm trooper.  (pp 256)

Though mass society plants crayons in our brains, our goal as intellectuals is to remove these stumbling blocks in order to be better citizens.  Bleating party slogans or espousing the ideals of the ruling elite is little more than shoving a giant hunk of wax into our frontal lobe.


Rather than consume media that rationalizes and justifies the worst proclivities of American society, I prefer media that revels in the ignorance of certain stereotypes and logics.


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