Politics in Futurama

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The animated science fiction show Futurama presents a satirical look at politics and current affairs in a number of its episodes. Series creator Matt Groening intended from the outset that Futurama would lampoon not only the conventions of science fiction, but elements of present-day life.[1][2]

Earth government[edit]

The Earth flag, "Old Freebie".

The most significant change in global politics presented in Futurama's view of the 31st century is that the whole of Earth is governed by a single united government. This united government has many similarities to the present-day United States' political system; its capital is Washington, D.C., it is a two-party system with a number of inconsequential third parties, the government is headed by a president, and there are references to a constitution and an expanded bill of rights. Citizens of Earth are referred to as "Earthicans". In the episodes "When Aliens Attack" and "Anthology of Interest 2" there is evidence that the Countries of Earth are still bound to the U.N. (the UN New York Offices appear in When Aliens Attack), headed by the Earth President. Each member appears to remain individual, sending their own representative to the UN and maintaining many of their own cultures and languages, but also show evidence of multiculturalism (France now speaks English and French is apparently a dead language, for example). It is not clear how much power the countries actually have in the Earthican government, though it appears that remnants of many U.S. states, for example, have survived into the 31st century, including "New New York", "New New Jersey", "Nukevada", "Penn Republic" and "Sylvania".

"Old Freebie," the name of Earth's flag, contains the thirteen stripes of the Flag of the United States and the Grand Union Flag but instead of the 50 stars or the Union Flag in the canton it has a picture of the globe, with North and South America prominently centered. In the episode "A Taste of Freedom", Doctor Zoidberg eats the flag, causing an interplanetary incident.

The former U.S. Supreme Court has become the Earth's Supreme Court. According to Richard Nixon's head, the Earth's Supreme Court is the "one place where the Constitution doesn't mean squat". The current Chief Justice is Snoop Dogg while the other members of the Supreme Court are several preserved, jar heads of the members of the U.S. Supreme Court during the 1990s, like Scalia, Thomas or Ginsberg, while the other members are singers or actresses such as Björk or Katey Sagal (who voices Leela). Myrtle Fu, a female judge who resembles Judge Judy, was the last non-head in jar Justice at the Supreme Court. Abe Vigoda was also a member of the Court. In Into the Wild Green Yonder, Leela and her environmentalist cohorts are convicted of various crimes because, while all five female justices vote to acquit, each female justice has only half a vote.

Presidency[edit]

Futurama's fictional president of Earth, the preserved head of Richard Nixon in a jar.

The President of Earth is introduced in the episode "When Aliens Attack", in the person of President McNeal. In a case of mistaken identity, McNeal is vaporized by invading Omicronians. In a later episode, "A Head in the Polls", a presidential election is held. Initially two clones, John Jackson and Jack Johnson, run for the presidency, representing the "Fingerlican" and "Tastycrat" parties respectively. (Notably, other political parties seen mentioned in the episode include the "Rainbow Whigs," "Antisocialists," and the "Voter Apathy Party.") Later in the episode, Richard Nixon enters the running, his living head preserved in a glass jar and mounted on Bender's previously pawned body.[3] At first Nixon's head is presented in a positive light, an effort by the writers to point out laudable elements of the real Richard Nixon's political career.[4][5] However, it is soon revealed that Nixon's head has evil intentions, planning to "sell children's organs to zoos for meat" and "go into people's houses at night and wreck up the place!" His campaign is almost undone after Fry, Leela and Bender record his confession and use it to blackmail him into giving back Bender's body, but he wins by a single vote after overwhelming support from Earth's robotic voters in response to his colossal new robot body. Nixon's head reappears as President of Earth in numerous subsequent episodes. Series creator Matt Groening has expressed pleasure at being able to continue poking fun at Nixon thirty or forty years after he was in office.[6]

Nixon's head's subsequent appearances in Futurama are often used for satirical humor. An example is the episode "Three Hundred Big Boys", where Nixon gives a $300 tax rebate to every Earthican, spoofing the rebate that was part of the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001.[7]

Democratic Order of Planets (D.O.O.P.)[edit]

The Futurama universe has a cooperative interplanetary organization known as the Democratic Order of Planets or D.O.O.P.. First mentioned in the episode "Love's Labours Lost in Space", it is explored in more detail in "Brannigan Begin Again", in which it is compared to the present-day United Nations and the Federation from Star Trek.[3] The D.O.O.P. flag is styled on the flag of the United Nations, replacing the globe image with an atom diagram with the word "doop" in lowercase in the center.[8] The typography is identical to that used by the one-hit wonder of the same name.

Environmentalism[edit]

Episodes with environmental themes include "A Big Piece of Garbage", "The Problem with Popplers", "The Birdbot of Ice-Catraz", and "Crimes of the Hot".

Former Vice President of the United States and prominent environmentalist Al Gore is a recurring guest star, due in part to his daughter Kristin Gore's involvement in the show as a staff writer and story editor. He has appeared as himself in story segments set in the early 21st century ("Anthology of Interest I" and Bender's Big Score) and as his own head in a jar in the 31st century ("Crimes of the Hot" and Bender's Big Score). His portrait also adorns the $500 bill (written prior to the controversial election in 2000), and he is described as the "inventor of the environment, and first "Emperor of the Moon."

Global warming[edit]

The episode "Crimes of the Hot" centers around the issue of global warming. The temporary solution of cooling the Earth with giant ice cubes dropped periodically into the ocean is no longer possible because Halley's Comet, the source of the ice, has been mined completely hollow. At a scientific conference, led by Al Gore, Professor Farnsworth reveals that beer-powered robots, including Bender, are the source of current global warming, and President Nixon and Professor Wernstrom attempt to destroy all robots on Earth by tricking them to convene on the Galapagos Islands for a party, and then bathe the islands in electromagnetic waves from a satellite in space. Fry, Leela, and Farnsworth arrive in time, and Farnsworth tells every robot to aim their exhaust ports upward and expel their gasses, creating a makeshift engine that pushes Earth away from the sun, thus cooling Earth and causing the electromagnetic beams to miss. The episode was nominated for the Environmental Media Award in 2003.[9] Al Gore's appearance in the episode was also listed as one of the 20 best animated politicians by The Phoenix.[10]

Al Gore's involvement with the show continued after it was cancelled in 2003. In promoting the documentary film An Inconvenient Truth, the producers of Futurama were approached to make a short animated trailer, starring Al Gore and Bender. This trailer was released online,[11] and is included as an extra on the DVD of Bender's Big Score, with a commentary track by Al Gore, David X. Cohen and Matt Groening.[12] An Inconvenient Truth used a clip from the episode "Crimes of the Hot" to humorously explain how global warming works.[13]

In "Xmas Story" Leela explains that snow still exists in the future because, even though global warming occurred, "nuclear winter canceled it out."

Conservationism[edit]

The episode "The Birdbot of Ice-Catraz" tackles the issues of pollution and its effect on wildlife. In a parody of the Exxon Valdez oil spill,[14] a tanker spaceship (piloted by a sober Bender) spills its cargo of "dark matter oil" on a penguin colony on Pluto. The dark matter actually functioned as an aphrodisiac, or as the environmentalist puts it "a Penguin Spanish fly", so rather than killing the penguin population, the pollution vastly increases the speed and rate of their breeding, as even the males were producing eggs. This leads the conservationists, who originally set out to save the wildlife and clean up the oil spill, to resort to hunting the penguins to prevent them starving from overpopulation. The episode's stance on the issue of hunting was influenced by some of the writers on The Simpsons, which has also presented multiple viewpoints on controversial issues.[15]

The episode "The Problem with Popplers" addresses conservationism in a similar fashion: it focuses primarily on the animal rights movement, parodying People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals with Mankind for Ethical Animal Treatment (M.E.A.T.) a vegan activist group that, among other things, attempt to teach carnivorous animals to eat tofu. This episode won an Environmental Media Award in 2000.

The Futurama movie Into the Wild Green Yonder showcases the fight between conservationism and the interests of big business; the construction of the universe's largest giant mini golf course (headed by Amy's father, Leo Wong) threatens to destroy 12% (an entire branch) of the Milky Way. An environmental survey headed by Professor Farnsworth and the Futurama crew discovers an asteroid full of primitive life, orbiting a violet dwarf star. However, Farnsworth has been bribed by Leo, and declares the destruction 'environmentally friendly', leading to plans for the dwarf star to be imploded, creating a black hole. This leads to two groups trying to sabotage this plan- a group of eco-feminists, who are joined by Amy, Leela and LaBarbara Conrad, who start destroying equipment, machines and sections of the golf course, and even accidentally kill Nixon's beloved vice-president, Agnew. The second group is the Legion of Madfellows, a secret organization of mind readers, of which Fry joins. They prophesize a new green age, headed by a resurgence in the life force Chi, which they believe will be started by the asteroid and the dwarf star. A resurgence in the Chi would halt the extinction rate, and increase the diversity of life by preserving endangered species DNA and reintroducing extinct life forms through the Encyclopod. Fry is given the responsibility to preserve and protect it at all costs.

Social Politics[edit]

The episode "Proposition Infinity" depicts an attempt to legalize "robosexual marriage," or marriage between robots and humans, after Bender and Amy fall in love. It closely parodies the events surrounding, as well as arguments for and against, Proposition 8 of California from the 2008 election.

Reaction[edit]

The Boston Phoenix included the episode "A Head in the Polls" in a list of the best political satires in animation.[10]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Doherty, Brian (March–April 1999). "Interview with Matt Groening". Mother Jones. Retrieved 2007-12-07. 
  2. ^ Cohen, David X (2002). Futurama season 1 DVD commentary for the episode "Space Pilot 3000" (DVD). 20th Century Fox. 
  3. ^ a b Booker, M. Keith. Drawn to Television: Prime-Time Animation from The Flintstones to Family Guy. 
  4. ^ Groening, Matt (2002). Futurama season 2 DVD commentary for the episode "A Head in the Polls" (DVD). 20th Century Fox. [on Leela's line about Nixon opening up relations with China] A positive comment about Richard Nixon. 
  5. ^ Cohen, David X (2002). Futurama season 2 DVD commentary for the episode "A Head in the Polls" (DVD). 20th Century Fox. We went through everything about Nixon that we all remembered from about eighth grade history. 
  6. ^ Groening, Matt (2002). Futurama season 1 DVD commentary for the episode "Space Pilot 3000" (DVD). 20th Century Fox. If I could have known back then that in 1999 I would still get to make fun of [Nixon]... 
  7. ^ Cohen, David X (2003). Futurama season 4 DVD commentary for the episode "Three Hundred Big Boys" (DVD). 20th Century Fox. At the time Eric Kaplan and I first met to discuss this episode, there was a very big story in the news that President George W. Bush had decided to refund $300 in tax money like this to all the taxpayers in America. 
  8. ^ "Flags of the World: Futurama (television series)". 
  9. ^ "Thirteenth Annual Media Awards". Environmental Media Association. 2003. Retrieved 2007-12-06. 
  10. ^ a b Mashburn, David (2007-07-26). "Political Cartoons: The 20 Best Animated Politicians in Cartoon History". Retrieved 2007-12-06. 
  11. ^ "A Terrifying Message from Al Gore". Retrieved 2007-12-06. 
  12. ^ Liu, Ed (2007-11-24). "Toon Zone: "Futurama: Bender's Big Score" Still a Winner for Casual Fans". Retrieved 2007-12-06. 
  13. ^ "YOU GO, GORE". The Irish Times. September 15, 2006. Retrieved 2007-12-06. 
  14. ^ Cohen, David X (2003). Futurama season 3 DVD commentary for the episode "The Birdbot of Ice-Catraz" (DVD). 20th Century Fox. I like the idea that it was like the Exxon Valdez, except Bender crashed it because he wasn't drinking. 
  15. ^ Groening, Matt (2003). Futurama season 3 DVD commentary for the episode "The Birdbot of Ice-Catraz" (DVD). 20th Century Fox. One thing which I heard from some of the senior writers of The Simpsons when I used to work there was that if you discuss a real topic like this on the show, it works much better if you give both sides a somewhat reasonable argument at the base of it...