Compare & Contrast: Strikes and Strikebreakers

Last Exit to Springfield11

“Goodbye, Springfield, from Hell’s heart, I stab at thee!” – C.M. Burns

The line everyone knows from 1987’s Wall Street is, “Greed is good”.  Of course, Michael Douglas doesn’t quite say that; his actual line is “Greed, for lack of a better word, is good”.  Either way it’s not the best line in the movie.  That honor goes to Martin Sheen, playing the skeptical head of an airline mechanics union.  Sitting in Gordon Gekko’s excessively 1980s penthouse as the iconic bankster of the time licks his chops over wage cuts now for theoretical profit sharing tomorrow, Sheen sagely notes:

“The rich been doing it to the poor since the beginning of time.  The only difference between the Pyramids and the Empire State Building is the Egyptians didn’t allow unions.”

The fight between labor and management is as old as the hills, and labor has only one weapon: organizing.  Not that unions are all smiles and sunshine.  They can be every bit as corrupt, short sighted, and greedy as their opponents, and the conflict between the two are often complicated, messy and painful.  In other words, the whole thing is fertile territory for satire, parody and general yuk-yuks.

Like many rich comedy veins, whether fart jokes or mocking those clowns in Congress, taking a swing at employers, employees and their eternal struggle against one another can be done with verve, insight and wit, or it can be done quickly and cheaply with the barest minimum of thought or humor.  Not being particularly fond of either thought or humor, Zombie Simpsons went with the second option.

Lisa’s cheerleader union plot begins after she is twice magically transformed by the cheerleaders into and out of a cheerleader outfit, so things don’t exactly get off to a good start, but they do manage to cover the bare minimum of "strike" plot points.  Basically these:

1.  The need to strike

2.  The decision to strike

3.  The strike itself

4.  Management’s counter moves

5.  The resolution

All of these have been done by The Simpsons, of course, most completely in "Last Exit to Springfield".  Obviously the B-plot for “Labor Pains” has much less screen time than the A-plot of “Last Exit to Springfield”, so instead of comparing them in whole, just consider those five scenes that they have in common. 

1.  In Zombie Simpsons, Lisa discovers how poorly compensated the “Atomettes” are when the Rich Texan walks over to them and pays them their meager wages, helpfully expositing the amount just in case anyone wasn’t paying attention.  It’s perfectly hacktacular, with characters walking on and off as needed, repeated explanation, and no real connection to anything we’ve seen so far.  (And nevermind pulling a theoretically 8-year-old girl out of the crowd and putting her in a skimpy costume to dance around in front of a bunch of drunken dudes.)

In The Simpsons, Burns decides he wants to cancel dental insurance for his workers more or less out of spite.  He remembers the good old days when you could wall up impudent employees and wants to get back to that.  He doesn’t specifically target the dental plan because it’s expensive or he needs the money, he just wants to screw his workers on the principle that workers should be screwed.  This being The Simpsons, the union doesn’t come off any better.  They almost accepted a keg of beer in exchange for dental coverage and then elected Homer as their leader.  Not only does all this mesh with the B-plot of Lisa needing braces, but it’s a lot more interesting and involved that some simple and heavily exposited pay dispute.  The conflict flows directly from the evil of Burns, Homer gets naturally caught up (instead of just happening to be there), and things can proceed.

Last Exit to Springfield10

“Unless you’re crooked.” “Woo-hoo!”

2.  From there, we see our two opponents, Burns and Homer, hilariously misunderstand each other, starting with Burns trying to bribe Homer and Homer thinking Burns is hitting on him.  Homer hates his new position so much that he goes to resign, but the hotheads in the union cut him off and assume he wants to go to war with Burns instead.  The whole strike is a farce, built on one comic misperception after another.  In "Labor Pains", Lisa and the Rich Texan both wander to cheerleading practice for another exposition and coincidence filled meeting that sees both of them going through the motions.

Cheerleader Padyday

I’m sure Jerry Jones has done some terrible things to Cowboys cheerleaders over the decades, but even he doesn’t pay their pittance  personally.

3.  Both episodes feature quick strike scenes and little montages, but all you really need to know is that The Simpsons wrote a strike song and had Lisa sing it whereas Zombie Simpsons grabbed an old Woody Guthrie song called “What Are We Waiting On”.  That’s pretty lazy, but it’s even worse than it first seems because while the song does contain the word “union”, Guthrie isn’t referring to a labor union, but rather the Union (as in the United States of America).  The song is about fighting Hitler, not fighting management.  So not only did Zombie Simpsons just buy a song, they picked a song by Woody Guthrie, most famous for singing about the lives of working people, that isn’t actually about working people.  Jebus.

Weak Scabs

Oh, Patty & Selma, remember when you were awesome and didn’t take shit from people?

4.  When Burns counterattacks the union, he goes with head busting strikebreakers, fire hoses, and robot workers.  His ideas are very Burns like: outdated and/or insane, but ruthless and at least theoretically effective.  The Rich Texan, on the other hand, makes just a single countermove: hiring Patty, Selma, Nelson’s mom, and the Crazy Cat Lady to replace the hardbodied twenty-somethings who make up his usual cheer squad.  Say what you want about the robot workers, but the box did say they’d be “100% Loyal”.  It could have worked.  Crazy Cat Lady in spandex, on the other hand, is weak tea gross out humor that nicely demonstrates just how empty this conflict really is.

Last Exit to Springfield12

The kind they had in the 30s . . .

5.  And what happens at the end?  Well, the Rich Texan goes to the Simpson house (which is where the strike is being organized because shut up that’s why) and concedes because apparently it never occurred to him to hire more hardbodied twenty-somethings.  Compare that meek surrender to Burns, who deliberately blacks out all of Springfield (even the red light district and the fake vomit factory) while quoting Captain Ahab’s speech from the end of “Moby Dick”.  Having tried to destroy the entire town rather than surrender, Burns finally admits defeat.  The Rich Texan went down with hardly a peep.

Tried Nothing and I'm All Out of Ideas

Ladies, I’m here to wrap up this B-plot because the A-plot has scenes even worse than this coming right up.

The Simpsons mocked both labor and management to within an inch of reality and let the good guys win only because the bad guy is irredeemably insane.  Zombie Simpsons had some cheerleaders giggle and shake their stuff.

The tragedy of all this is that “cheerleader union” is a fantastic idea.  Real NFL cheerleaders are basically paid in pompoms, and an actual Simpsons episode about them unionizing or just getting something more than a token salary (most make well under $100 per game, and they have to do lots of uncompensated non-game stuff as well) could be hilarious.  Instead we got this.  Oh well.

11 Responses to “Compare & Contrast: Strikes and Strikebreakers”

  1. 1 Anonymous
    23 November 2013 at 8:51 am

    Isn’t Nelson’s mom in jail?

    • 23 November 2013 at 11:27 am

      Haven’t you learned by now that Zombie Simpsons characters are anywhere the writers need them to be at any given time for no apparent reason? That’s the great thing about making a cartoon – you don’t have to care about anything. Al Jean and James L. Brooks say so.

    • 3 Stan
      23 November 2013 at 12:47 pm

      The Rich Texan bought her out of jail for 15 minutes.
      There, see? I can write ZS episodes too!

  2. 23 November 2013 at 11:31 am

    The New England Patriots cheerleaders made an appearance at the grand re-opening of the Walmart I work at a couple of months ago. I deliberately didn’t go to see them because I was against the idea of management trying to lure customers into the store using scantily-clad women. Knowing that they probably didn’t even get paid for this makes it all the more shameful.

  3. 23 November 2013 at 12:51 pm

    There’s more hilarity in the little touch of Carl wiping a way a tear of laughter after hoping the last union president turns up “alive and well” than in this entire ZS season.

  4. 6 Stan
    23 November 2013 at 12:53 pm

    Unless I’m mistaken (because compared to most visitors we get here I don’t know shit about the show), Last Exit to Springfield features a pissingly hilarious parody on the Grinch, with Smithers replacing the dog. Shit that was funny! And like many other things, it’s also funny even if you never saw the Grinch, the animation’s still splendid. Ending the ep with Burns going mad about his workers still having a good time together is relatively out of context because we’re not dealing with strikes and strike conditions anymore. We’re dealing with a bunch of low income people still rejoicing their moment, despite all the crap Burn has sent their way. As soon as you see the segment you know Burns will never win. It kinda needn’t say more.

    Also, a C&C on a Saturday? Busy week, eh?

  5. 23 November 2013 at 3:17 pm

    oh for the love of god! enough with the crazy cat lady! It was funny at once two sight gags but they now use her for anything anywhere even when it doesnt make any sense! jeez!

    that wtso i snot anymore I cannot watch these episodes and see all their full awfulness so I guess win some lose some :P

  6. 8 Joe H
    23 November 2013 at 8:44 pm

    The Rich Texan really just went through the motions in this one. Even his voice actor sounded bored with what was going one.

    There was really no satire to be found in this one regarding unionizing and labor vs management. And Lisa continues to be boringly self-righteous in every scene she’s in. Remember when Lisa stories (and Simpsons stories in general) at least had some sort of comedic irony in them? Or when Lisa had more complexity than just a moral figurehead?

    • 9 Stan
      24 November 2013 at 2:54 am

      No I don’t. When did this ever happened?
      All I remember was Lisa being a fucking liberal douchebag a la Brian Griffin. Were you talking about anything before Season 12?

      • 10 Al Gore Doll
        24 November 2013 at 5:29 pm

        I really hate people who find “liberal” characters to vocally hate, like it’s their ideology that’s annoying and not the sharp decline in writing quality the character has suffered. Being unfunny is a far greater crime than any political disagreement you have.

  7. 11 Hannah
    24 November 2013 at 5:25 pm

    The other aspect of this that struck me as particularly disappointing is the completely flat characterisation of the cheerleaders. I’ve been rewatching some of the old episodes, particularly from season one, and the contrast with Princess Kashmir from “Homer’s Night Out,” who the writers made the effort to humanise, jumped out at me. I think the slightly wonky animation also helped, as while she was clearly meant to be attractive, it was roughened around the edges, whereas the cheerleaders are merely interchangeable male fantasies.

    Another, unrelated, observation, is the zombification of Maggie. While there were always prodigious capabilities, like escaping from the cot via the overhead fan, escaping from nursery, feuding with the baby with one eyebrow and shooting mr burns, she was, underneath it all still a baby. Now the authentic babyishness is gone, and she’s just a tamer, mute, Stewie Griffin.

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