Wednesday, March 25, 2009

"The Simpsons" and the Freemasons


That cultural icon, the television show The Simpsons, has long been known for its depiction of a faux Freemasonry. A 1995 episode titled “Homer the Great” featured a fraternity called the Stonecutters. Now, The Simpsons has mentioned Freemasonry explicitly and at some length, in the recent episode “Gone Maggie Gone.”

The episode identifies itself in its opening moments as a spoof on The Da Vinci Code. During the episode, a couple of groups seek the fabled Jewel of St. Teresa of Avila, which is prophesied to lead to an era of peace.

In an encounter at the foot of the Springfield sign atop Springfield Hill (reminiscent of the climax of Hitchcock’s North by Northwest), sleuthy Lisa—accompanied by Principal Skinner and Comic Book Guy as ‘the Brethren of the Quest’—are confronted by Mr. Burns. Burns explains that a group of high-ranking Freemasons have been searching for the Jewel of St. Teresa for years. In fact, he says, Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, and King George III conducted the American Revolutionary War just to cover up their entirely amicable association, as they searched for the Jewel. Burns goes on to claim: “I joined the Freemasons before it was trendy. That’s my eyeball on the dollar bill. That’s also my pyramid.” (See image above.)

It is unwise to read too much into a Simpsons episode: the writers simply do things because they’re funny. But it is also unwise to just pass over details in The Simpsons as if they were totally unimportant, either: the writers are famous for working cultural references into their episodes, sometimes quite subtly; if nothing else, a Simpsons episode is an expression, intentional or not, of the cultural Zeitgeist. What, if anything, does “Gone Maggie Gone” have to say about the way that Freemasonry is perceived by the general public? How is this different from the depiction of Freemasonry in its guise as ‘the Stonecutters’ in “Homer the Great”?

The Image of Freemasonry in The Simpsons

I found it interesting that, in “Gone Maggie Gone,” the writers saw no need to explain who the Freemasons are: the writers just made the reference, with the assumption that the audience would know who ‘Freemasons’ are, in the same way that they expected the audience to know who Ed Begley, Jr. is (Begley also showing up briefly in the episode). At least for the Simpsons writers, the Masons are sufficiently well-known to need no introduction.

It was nice to hear Burns refer to joining the Freemasons as now being “trendy.” I wish I had more hard data on this issue, but the notion that Freemasonry is becoming popular again certainly fits with my anecdotal experience, as I see a substantial number of men in their twenties and thirties entering the Fraternity through my mother Lodge in Florida over the last couple of years, and the Lodges and affiliated organizations that I have been visiting in New York City over the last few months.

Of course, having Burns as a Mason does lend at least a slightly sinister cast to Masonry. I was happier when Grandpa Simpson casually identified himself as a Mason during “Homer the Great.”

It is interesting to see how the two Simpsons episodes reflect two different caricatures of Freemasonry. The Stonecutters of “Homer the Great” are heirs to a noble tradition that they have sold out for drunken entertainment. As their Chapter leader, Number One (voiced by Patrick Stewart) tells Homer immediately after his humiliating initiation: “You have joined the sacred order of the Stonecutters, who since ancient times have split the rocks of ignorance that obscured the light of knowledge and truth. Now let’s all get drunk and play ping-pong!” When the Chapter brothers discover that Homer’s birthmark identifies himself as the prophesied ‘Chosen One’ of the Stonecutters, they elevate him to a high rank of leadership—but when Homer tries to lead them into a variety of service projects, the entire membership of the Fraternity defects to form another self-centered fraternal group: the No Homers Club.

In “Gone Maggie Gone,” the Freemasons are shown in the light of the currently popular stereotype, as devoted to the pursuit of secrets and mysteries. Masonry, in this view, is the possession of men like Burns, who hold power, but not a decent character. (At one point, Burns is talked into giving Lisa and others a ride on the skids of his helicopter. During the flight, Burns’ lackey Smithers asks Burns if it feels good to help people. Burns’ response: “No. It feels … weird.”)

What Masons Can Learn From The Simpsons

Of course it is the case that the image of Freemasonry in these episodes is shot through with inaccuracies. (Hey, lighten up, fellas: it’s a cartoon, not a documentary on Discovery Channel or The History Channel.) However, rather than catalog these inaccuracies, it might be worthwhile to consider what these episodes have to say that might have some relevance. What might Freemasons have to learn from these caricatures? Several things come to mind.

First, Freemasonry would do well to look to its noble traditions, and emphasize the unselfish service to others that is a core value of the Fraternity. I have been fortunate to see several lodges and affiliated Masonic organizations of my acquaintance engaged in such service, often in secrecy. I think that this is closer to the norm than The Simpsons would lead one to believe—but one cannot emphasize enough the need for us to remember that our fraternity is supposed to be about something, and service to others is a central part of that something.

Second, we would do well to remember that, in point of fact, part of the mission of Freemasonry indeed is, as Number One put it, to “split the rocks of ignorance that obscured the light of knowledge and truth.” Real Freemasonry uses different language and symbols, but the mission of the Masonic Fraternity is actually rather well expressed in the language of the cartoon episode.

Masons would do well to remember two things about our fraternity: (a) Masonry is supposed to change the individual Mason, to help him on a journey to knowledge and truth that will require serious inner growth; and, (b) Masonry is supposed to help the individual Mason to affect society for the better, dispelling ignorance with knowledge and truth. Not for nothing did the Masons of an earlier era establish public education in different nations. Not for nothing did Grand Lodge Masonry emerge during an era that is now known as the Enlightenment. No, Masons do not possess the secrets of the Pharoahs—but they are supposed to possess a degree of personal enlightenment that is more valuable than any external secret. What are we doing, as individual Masons, as particular Lodges, and as Grand Lodges and affiliated organizations, to further that goal?

Third, we do need to correct the notion that Freemasonry is about gaining unfair personal privilege and power. I have already mentioned the implication of having Mr. Burns as the example of Freemasonry in “Gone Maggie Gone.” In “Homer the Great,” the power trip is even worse, with Homer Simpson (after his initiation as a Stonecutter) obtaining preferential treatment in everything from getting his plumbing fixed to receiving a massage chair at work. In my experience, lodges do emphasize that a desire for preferential treatment is an unworthy motive for entering the Fraternity; we need to emphasize this even more, and counter this image in the mind of the public, as well.

The Buddhists say that ‘one can learn from a stone.’ I hope that we as Freemasons can learn from a cartoon show.


References

“Homer the Great” episode: episode code 2F09; season 6, episode 12, first broadcast January 8, 1995. Written by John Schwarzwelder. Available online at http://wtso.net/movie/402-612%20Homer%20the%20Great.html

“Gone Maggie Gone” episode: episode code LABF04; season 20, episode 13, first broadcast March 15, 2009. Written by Billy Kimball and Ian Maxtone-Graham. Available online at http://wtso.net/movie/448-2013_Gone_Maggie_Gone.html

20 comments:

  1. I am not a freemason but I have read enough to have the mind that it is a noble fraternity. The encouragement that masonry puts on learning from different cultures and beliefs is a sure sign of wisdom. We can all learn from a stone.

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  2. Thank you for your kind words about the Fraternity, Jordan. If you ever wish to learn more about Freemasonry, you may either post a question here, or on my e-mail; there are plenty of good books and websites to consult. Be well.

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  3. While there are surely noble men who are freemasons, the heart of masonry is now anything but noble. The freemasons/illuminati are evil controllers of the world who are soon to be no more.

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  4. To Anonymous, Sorry not to get back to you earlier. Could you offer even a shred of evidence for your assertion that "the heart of Masonry is now anything but noble"? Or that "Freemasons ... are evil controllers of the world"? Or that the Illuminati even exist, let alone act as evil controllers of the world?

    Incidentally, when it comes to evidence, please keep in mind that simply referring to the fantasies of some conspiracy writer is not enough--because a lot of those folks simply have no sense of what evidence is, either. Please give us something concrete.

    I look forward to your response.

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  5. I am a Freemason... and a young one at that, joined as a lewis when I was 18, I am now 21 years old and am now in the Royal Arch which is an extended series of degrees, above normal "blue lodge" masonry.

    So far I havent seen any evidence of corruption on a huge scale, sure the brethren help each other out when it is needed, but this is an accepted practice, after all would you let someone you know go hungry?

    I cant vouche for masonry as a whole, but from what I have seen and the degrees which I have undergone, I see nothing hugley sinister in the whole fraternity... I have had some encounters and reservations during ceremonies and whilst being charged with degrees, and some of my questions havent been answered to the standards at which I accept them as truthful... but none the less, the brotherhood does contribute greatly to the community and is a great way to help shape a good man into a great man.

    I for one have lost all of my social anxiety and I hold masonry responsible for nthis, I can now reciet a charge or conduct a speech or presentation with ease, whether it is in the lodge or out of the lodge.

    Masonry does help people and contribute to society, and thats a proven fact.

    As for ruling the world, being satanic etc... that is unproven, and will remain so.

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  6. To my Second Anonymous commenter on this post: Thank you for stepping in here with your observations. If I or the other readers of this blog can address any of the questions to which you allude, by all means feel free to share them here (if they are the sort that can be shared publicly).

    I'm pleased to hear about the effect of Masonry on your social anxiety. I read that there is a substantial proportion of the population who fear public speaking more than death itself--not kidding. Part of the practical advantage of Freemasonry is that the members have the opportunity to _do_ a lot in the lodge: sit in for a missing officer (which means there may be a few words to share in the opening and closing ceremonies), take part in the degree work (opportunities ranging from just a line or two in the ritual to long speeches, and everything in between), and so forth. Modern American culture is so much about spectating rather than participating; Freemasonry is highly participatory, which in my opinion is much better than merely spectating.

    (Incidentally, congratulations on reaching the Royal Arch. The Chapter degrees are really quite beautiful and impressive when done well.)

    Yes, Masonry does indeed help people and contribute to society. I'd be interested in hearing examples that you have seen.

    The reason the whole Masonry-as-a-satanic-conspiracy thing will be unproven is that it just isn't so. I am still waiting to hear counter examples from the First Anonymous commenter on this post, incidentally. I'll be delighted to respond.

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  7. I joined the Royal Arch today! May 16, 2009. Rio Grande chapter #4 @Albuquerque New Mexico. The degrees are a lot of fun, people that just stay in blue lodge are missing out!

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  8. Evidence?

    How about this one? These are 33rd degree masons sacrificing a goat on a pentagram. Note the white robes.

    Skip to 6 minutes into the video to see the goat and pentagram on the floor.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HyuhhH2g5lY

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  9. Freemasons are evil...its a cult, full of those that know the truth and thise who are fed "trues".

    Cant deny facts, if the freemasons were to disappear and all die off and go to hell where most of them belong the world will be a better place if we didnt have a select few of old ass wrinkled men deciding on how the world will turn.

    Jesus saves, not man

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  10. weapons of mass deceptionAugust 13, 2009 at 3:51 AM

    WHERE can i find that episode in the still picture!?!?!?

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  11. islam is the answer to life

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  12. why is there a mason symbol on every corner? why do they push this into our minds. theres more to them than anyone will ever know. oh and also i had talked to a mason and he said he watches the simpsons to laugh at how ignorant the general population is. in every episode theres a mason reference. he refused to say what they were. but they are there. and if anyone knows how your selected for masonry let me kno how it happens. send to my email redrum_dresscore@yahoo.com

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  13. Mr Koltko-Rivera seems to have no response, months on, so I have no qualms with interfering.

    Evidence or no evidence, Freemasonry, I believe, is indeed a subtle "evil". However what we must appreciate is what one perceives as "evil", and what one perceives as "good" is simply down to a matter of opinion. Be it faith, be it moral values or be it tradition. Mr Koltko-Rivera, and possibly other Masons worldwide truly believe that they are are a benefit to society in general and that Masonry significantly improves their social awareness and quality of life. Even though I believe Masonry is a source of "evil", I cannot sit here and be ignorant to the fact that Masons feel they are productive - and if they truly are a benefit to society, I cannot say I condemn them.
    The matter of the fact at hand is that this world is somewhat in a diabolical state, if I am perfectly honest. There is no sense of justice and humanity certainly does not prevail in this day and age. Racism is strife and poverty is overwhelming. And I can wholeheartedly say I would rather have a Freemason who is sincere with his actions and is truly out to improve the society he is in by my side as opposed to someone that incites hatred, or is a "virus" to society.

    As always though, there are rotten apples in every tree.

    Without evidence, we cannot say that Freemasons are ruling this world. However, I must say that from what I say around me, I truly believe that Freemasons play a huge role in governing this world. "The Chaos Theory" springs to mind - and I am yet to be proven otherwise. As Mr Koltko-Rivera would like to see evidence that Freemasons are indeed evil, I would like to see evidence - clear cut, well defined, unbiased and categorical evidence - that they are NOT.

    Again, it's a matter of opinion.

    Whether you believe in God, or not, I am a proud Muslim - albeit not a very strong one - however still proud. And I wish nothing but peace and happiness for everyone of all faiths, cultures and beliefs. I am still a student and I am due to complete my studies soon, and I will try my utmost hardest to be a benefit to this society, as the state of turmoil it is in at this moment in time really does upset me. The society is what is important. Let us all work together to make the world a better place. That is all I pray for.

    Many regards

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  14. ok i gotta a couple of things to say about this... 1st about the notion of freemasonry becoming popular which i think is due more to freemasonic lodges opening there doors to outsiders not just relatives of members due to a lack of members...a fact i was told by a mason when i visited the grand lodge of my state...
    with this conspiracy trend alot of people are going to lodge to see if what said is right and while your there they try to get you to sign up... just like they tried to get me to do 3 or 4 time while i was there till i bluntly said i dont join secret societies... which didnt make the 30th degree tour guide to happy lmao ...

    2nd the contrast between mystery seekers and drunken fools is probably cause they are both... the freemasons actually have a lodge called the lodge of research dedicated to researching themselves...im guessing they are searching for something they hid an lost in the distant past no doubt because they have become drunken fools...
    i was actually offered a position at the lodge of research as bait to get me to join after i started braking down all the symbolism in the lodge and how there G is always linked with the sun cause they praise a sun god and shit like that...

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  15. P.s 3/4's of masons are just old people who pay there membership fee every year and help accumulate a big budget so the degrees above 33 which in the words of my tour guide "they dont acknowledge as such" can do what they do

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  16. P.P.s regardless of who the freemasons are & and there hidden causes... no president , prime minister or even police officer or judge should be obligated or bound by anything other than the laws of his country & the people of said country...<<all debates about freemasons & secret societies aside its really that simple

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  17. Bro. Mark:
    My lodge holds an annual event wherein we gather for dinner, watch "the Stonecutters" episode, and poke a little light hearted fun at the anti's and ourselves.

    I can't wait to share the above article with my brethren at this event.

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  18. Bro. Christopher32*:
    Thank you for your comment. Please give your lodge hearty good wishes from me.

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  19. Quite frankly, I see two completely opposed points of view here, those who are intelligent enlightened individuals (Masons or not), and those who are just pathetic ignorant individuals who have absolutely no clue as to what it means to be a Mason.

    Even before I personally submitted my application to join the fraternity, I had no notion in my head that the Masons were anything but upright citizens of the world. The one thing that impressed me most was that there is NO bar in a Masonic lodge. The notion of one of the above posters that we are "drunken fools" is totally absurd. So far as I have seen, none of my piers appear to be tea-totalers but also none have ever been drunk either. Just a company of normal individuals on a joint quest for more knowledge.

    When I first was accepted into the fraternity it was all very strange at first but soon it became quite evident that I was amoung friends of like mind and attitude. Now I can't imagine not being there. Becoming a member has NEVER been difficult. I procrastinated over 30(!) years in doing so and am sorry that I did. During all that time, the one message that was always there in plain sight was that "If you want to be a Mason, ask a Mason." I just never got around to it and it had nothing to do with the Masons being an exclusive (or elusive) society.

    As for any part of Masonry being an evil cult... Thanks, I need a good laugh now and then!! The only evil thing we do, so far as I can see, is that we keep the actual rituals secret and that annoys the "outside" world completely.

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  20. To this author of this blog: have they told you the mystery of Freemasonry yet? Funny how Pike, Hall and others never mention it in any of their works. In the highest of ironies, one must turn to the boring old King James Bible to discover the mystery, which is the sons of God (fallen angels) mingling with the daughters of men to corrupt the seed of man. Satan hates man because he is created in the likeness of the Lord God. Turn away from the false illumination of Satan and look to the Lord to save you through His Son, Jesus Christ.

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