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We Are Lisa Simpson: 30 Years with the Smartest and Saddest Kid in Grade Two

Lisa Simpson and every ambitious, out-of-place or caring woman hold a special relationship. Broadly spoke to a Simpsons writer to reflect on how Lisa and almost every girl you know have shaped each other over the last three decades.

by Sara David
23 April 2017, 1:06pm

ART BY LAURA HORSTMANN

Thirty years ago, the smartest woman you know was born: Lisa Simpson. The eternal eight-year-old was quickly sketched by Simpsons creator and cartoonist Matt Groening while he sat in a lobby waiting to meet producer James L. Brooks. In those precious minutes, he laid the groundwork for the character who would become the conscience, sadness, and hope of America. Lisa is the child-Sibyl of our time and place. She is every ambitious, out-of-place, or caring girl in the world—and we are Lisa Simpson.

Lisa and her family made their debut in a short for The Tracey Ullman Show on April 19, 1987, and landed their own series on Fox two years later. Originally written generically and characterized as a "female Bart" who mirrored her older brother's troublemaking antics, Lisa was voiced and brought to life by Yeardley Smith, and eventually grew into a more complex character. Executive producer, showrunner, and writer Al Jean tells Broadly that once the Simpsons went to series, Brooks suggested Lisa be the "out of place intellectual in the family," who ultimately became the brilliant, passionate person known and beloved across the world today.

Jean, who has two daughters—and noted that most Simpsons staffers with children have daughters as well—says he's "had a little Lisa Simpson in [his] house for the last 25 years," and that they always remind him "an eight-year-old can be awfully sharp." As evidenced by women who have told me they named their pets "Lisa Simpson," who have written extensive blog posts about her, and had her tattooed on their bodies, we see ourselves in Lisa who, in turn, reflects us. Lisa Simpson and every woman like her hold a special relationship: We've molded, mirrored, and moved each other over three decades.

Lisa is always searching for something she doesn't see in the world.

In a town where "independent thought alarms" are sounded when a student doesn't want to dissect an animal, Lisa is a vegetarian, environmentalist, Buddhist, feminist, musician, supporter of LGBT rights and freedom for Tibet, and an opponent of apartheid. With a remarkable intellect, liberal political leaning, and hunger for knowledge, Lisa is set very far apart from the rest of the Simpsons, other children her age, and indeed, all of Springfield.

"Lisa is always searching for something she doesn't see in the world," Jean explains. While we watch her navigate displacement and longing in the Simpsons universe, Lisa embodies this quality, one that is intrinsically tied with the experience of girlhood.

Read the full story at Broadly.