“When the other kids see these layouts and fonts, you’re going to be the most popular girl in school!” A fellow nerd tells Lisa as the yearbook club unveils the new “Retrospecticus” yearbooks.
“Summer of 4 ft. 2,” the 25th episode of the eighth season of The Simpsons, is by far one my favorites. My family never ate dinner at the table, we never really went on family outings, we never took vacations but we did watch The Simpsons every Sunday night. The episode is about conformity, coolness, communication and self-realization.
“If you hadn’t done it, some other loser would have so quit milkin’ it,” Nelson, the school bully says, as Lisa proudly announces to her classmates that she edited the entire thing. No one cares. No one even cares to sign Lisa’s yearbook.
“I don’t get it: straight As, perfect attendance, bathroom timer – I should be the most popular girl in school,” she says, flipping through the blank “autograph” pages of her yearbook. The moment, like many moments of The Simpsons, is very funny and very sad. It’s funny because we all know that these are not the things that make anyone cool but it is also sad because we know there’s no real reason why these things aren’t cool. It just is. The family sets out to the Flanders’ beach house for two weeks. After Marge instructs Lisa to invite a friend and she realizes she doesn’t have any, Lisa is adamant about making some on vacation. She ditches her summer clothes, books, and microscope as she declares, “Bye-bye, Lisa Simpson.”
With uber ’90s, baggy, tie-dyed, clothing and round tinted sunglasses, Lisa meets a group of “cool kids.” One voiced by another ’90s icon,
Christina Ricci who says, “You like hanging out too?”
Lisa replies, “Yeah, it beats doing stuff.”
To which Ricci says, “Yeah, stuff stucks.”
She tells them she knows a place where they can skateboard without getting hassled by the cops, the library. Bart, jealously spies on Lisa’s new friends and tries to impress them with an elaborate skateboarding routine. They were unimpressed. One of the kids says, “That kid tries too hard. The whole thing stinks of effort.”
In a jealous rage, Bart exposes Lisa’s nerdy past, showing them yearbook pictures of her in Model U.N., student rodeo and voted “Teacher’s Pet.” Lisa runs away crying, in one of the many Simpson’s tearjerker moments. After some major sibling rivalry, Lisa discovers that the popular kids didn’t care about her nerd-past because they could see that she was a kind person. Bart gets them all to sign her yearbook – in another tearjerker moment. Lisa feels validated and embraced for who she is.
The episode is one of my favorites now, because it’s presents an always timely question about any generation’s youth: Why is acting indifferent toward everything cool? It was my favorite at seven years old because, although I wasn’t a teacher’s pet, I was quite the overachiever and knowing “big words,” having cultural references and trivial knowledge wasn’t exactly winning over my peers who were more interested in Barbie dolls than writing horror stories.
Re-watching the episode all these years later, not only do I pick up on a lot more of the jokes, but I can see the broader themes.
More than that I can see that the episode isn’t simply about just being yourself, it is about communication. It wasn’t enough for Lisa to just be herself to make friends. It was only when she was able to speak to teenagers in the way that they communicate with slang and undermining qualifiers, “Like, you know, whatever,” did she begin to relate to them. They didn’t care that she was teaching them about crustaceans or marine biology because they could understand what she was saying so it became more relevant to them. One of the key moments in the episode that emphasizes the importance of communicating on the same wavelength as your peers is early on in the episode. Popular Bart creates his own yearbook autographing stand. After signing one girl’s book, she swoons, reading his message, “It says, ‘See ya!’ He writes like people talk!”