Cultural Arts Review– The Simpson’s

Posted on November 6, 2012 by


The Simpson’s is an American satirical comedy about the jovial lives of an average middle class family.  The show serves as a laugh-a-long comedy about the funny adventures taken by the Simpson family.  Most people find each as episode as a silly different excursion by one or more of the main characters, but often miss out on the deeper hidden satires.






The example I would like to point out involves Lisa Simpson, the average 8 year old saxophone playing middle child in a seemingly normal family.  What is surprising is that in Season 13, Lisa converts to Buddhism. In this episode, the church is somewhat destroyed by Lisa’s crazy family members.  As she walks through town contemplating the incident and talking to God, she comes across the Buddhist temple and begins to learn the ideas and teachings of Buddhism.  Lisa takes home a Buddhist pamphlet that later that night convinces her about the topic of Buddhism.  She then makes it evident to the viewers that she is a Buddhist after proclaiming this to the world out her window.  Throughout the rest of the episode, Lisa tries to understand how to practice this new faith and how to do so around her Christian family.

Lisa even goes to the extent of planting a Bodhi tree in the yard outside her window.  The Bodhi tree has extreme significance involving Buddhist history and beliefs.  The tree is a sacred fig tree whose importance dates all the way back to the time of Siddhartha Buddha.  Siddhartha is said to have achieved his enlightenment seated underneath one of these sacred Bodhi trees.





Lisa’s decision to convert to this new faith and religion is challenged when Christmas time comes around.  Now that she has converted, she does not understand how to treat her old religious celebrations.  The reverend of the church even tells Lisa’s mother, Marge, to use the holiday to bribe her daughter back to the ‘normal’ religion of Christianity.  Upon realizing the bribe, Lisa runs back to the temple and to her teacher Richard Gere.  He then tells her that Buddhism is all about respecting religious diversity and even the celebrations therein.  Learning this, Lisa runs home happily knowing that she can still celebrate with her family while still being faithful to Buddhism.

While sneaking different religions into an American cartoon seems unimportant, it is interesting to see how this religion is portrayed.   In the episode, Lisa’s mother is very resistant to her conversion to Buddhism.  This resistance is very similar to the stereotypical American view of even any outside religion.  The American perspective is that anything outside of normal western culture is automatically frowned upon; Lisa’s mother Marge embodies this idea perfectly.  She even goes as far as bribing her daughter back into the family’s norm of Christianity.

Even though one character is in opposition to Lisa’s change, creator Matt Groening places an expert in the subject in the show to teach Lisa as well.  This expert is actor Richard Gere, who agreed to appear only if Buddhism was portrayed correctly.  Throughout the episode, he is the one giving Lisa advice and teaching her the ideas of Buddhism.






Although The Simpson’s is an entirely satirical comedy, I was very interested to see how each perspective was put into the episode.  This wasn’t only a stereotypical American view, but also came with expertise of somebody who knows the subject in and out. Buddhism does appear only in this episode, but throughout the series as a whole.  This certain episode just depicts the start of Lisa’s journey and the majority of information on the subject.

Posted in: Buddhism