You Can't Argue with the Little Things

By Michael Frost


This essay examines utopian themes in "You Only Move Twice" (Swartzwelder, 1996) [1], an episode of The Simpsons television programme (a brief narrative of this episode is attached at Appendix A). In particular, this essay holds that "You Only Move Twice" is anti-utopian in that, it questions the notion that utopia can be rationally conceived and pursued. This is premised on a notion of utopia as a community or society which is ordered on some rational principle (usually economic), which offers 'the good life' to its people so that they are happy (Dahrendorf, 1968: pp. 107-110). This is not an exclusive definition of what is utopia, rather it is a commonly used notion of utopia, and the one most applicable here. The first element of this argument involves showing that Cypress Creek, the fictional community into which the Simpsons move (Swartzwelder, 1996), is consistent with the above conception of utopia to the degree that it can be called utopian. The second element focuses on the experiences of the individual Simpsons in Cypress Creek, drawing the conclusion that where the experiences are negative this is because Cypress Creek undermines the identity of those concerned. This is caused by the particularity of utopia, a notion similar to, but distinct from, that of the relativity of utopia. The particularity of utopia is a problem, which manifests in the implementation of a rational conception of utopia, where new problems arise from change because the utopian conception was developed to deal with previously existing problems. This is the focus of the third element of this essay.

Is Cypress Creek Utopian?

For "You Only Move Twice" to be anti-utopian it must portray scepticism toward the possibility of achieving a rationally conceived utopia. For this to be the case, Cypress Creek, against which the episode is critical, must be utopian. To establish this, the above notion of utopia must be expanded so that Cypress Creek can be tested against it.

The first element of this notion of utopia is that a utopia must be a rationally ordered community or society. This is because this essay's notion of utopia is one which values social harmony, positing the social state of being as the most enlightened (or natural, from a different perspective), hence the goal of community is the most important (Kateb, 1967: p. 215). Given this, everything in the community must have a role or purpose consistent with the community's goals or interests in an integrated manner which makes the community a system, or an organic unity (Kateb, 1967: op cit). This means that the goals or interests of each person must be consistent with those of the community. However, these goals must be rationally consistent with the community's goals as the community expresses them.

This point can be clarified by the example of homeless, unemployed people in a community which values work, or productivity. It can be argued that there can be systemic dysfunction which serves the goals of the system (Dahrendorf, 1968: pp. 116-117). For example, homeless, unemployed people, in a community which values work could serve a systemic purpose by exemplifying the hardships of those who do not work. In this instance the dysfunctional, homeless, unemployed, people reinforce the tendencies of the functional, employed, people in that the functional people would wish to avoid the plight of the dysfunctional people by working. Another function of dysfunction, in this view of the system, is to avoid the problem of stasis to improve the system's longevity (Dahrendorf, 1967: p. 117). That is, a dynamic tension is created between function and dysfunction, where dysfunction highlights the need for change, and provides the motivation for individuals, as part of, and subservient to, the system, to make change (Dahrendorf, 1967: op cit). By either account of dysfunction's function, this concept is inconsistent with this essay's notion of the rationally ordered utopia, because it is based on scepticism toward rationality.

In the case of a rationally ordered utopia, there is no need for dysfunction or change. If there is utopia in this systemic conception, then it will arise through the evolution of the system according to its own logic. However, this essay's focus is on utopia created by people, presupposing rationality, in that, it presupposes the idea that people can rationally pursue the ideal state of being based on truth. If people can rationally pursue the ideal state of being then dysfunction is not necessary because there is no systemic logic outside the rational order, and function is a product of that rational order (Dahrendorf, 1967: pp. 107-110). In terms of dysfunction as a means of avoiding stasis it is also unnecessary, as there is no need to change from a rationally ordered ideal state of being because it is ideal (Dahrendorf, 1967: op cit).

In the rational utopia, dysfunction is only dysfunction. This is because its functional implications appeal to a logic outside the rational order of society. In effect, the homeless, unemployed people (dysfunction) are superfluous, as they do not contribute to productivity, and are not necessary as a negative example as the functional people are functional as a product of the rational order of society (Kateb, 1967: p.215). So, the criteria for a rationally ordered utopia, in this context, are that no people are superfluous to the rational order of the utopia, and that people assume their functions in the rational order as a product of that rational order.

The second element of this essay's notion of utopia is that it provides 'the good life'. This refers to the manner in which the rational order makes people do as the community requires them, or how it makes their goals and interests the same as those of the community. This must be voluntary, that is, to avoid dysfunction and change, all people must be happy with their lot in life and their role in the community, such that this is what they will do of their own will (Kateb, 1967: p.215). So, ‘the good life’ is whatever the community requires of each person, and ‘the good life’ is what makes these people happy, i.e. what makes the people happy, and what the community requires of them, are the same.

If utopia is a rationally ordered community providing ‘the good life’ for its people, as set out above, then to be utopian, Cypress Creek must have these things as its aim: that there be no superfluous people; and, that people perform their roles in the community by virtue of its rational order because it, and their role, is their conception of ‘the good life’.

The first evidence of this is provided by the promotional video “Cypress Creek: A Tale of One City,” which Homer is given to convince his family to move (Swartzwelder, 1996). The video begins with a woman and a man looking over a decrepit town rife with crime, the homeless, abandoned warehouses, and pollution (Swartzwelder, 1996). The woman says with disgust: “Look at this place,” to which the man responds: “Somebody ought to build a town that works” (Swartzwelder, 1996). The video’s narrator then says: “Somebody did” (Swartzwelder, 1996), at which point the ugly town begins to change into “... the perfect community; parking met[re]s become trees, abandoned warehouses become coffee shops, and a bum becomes a mailbox” (Swartzwelder, 1996).

So, the idea behind Cypress Creek is that it is a ‘town that works,’ providing a number of examples to that effect. Notably, the ‘bum’ becomes a mailbox: a conversion from dysfunction to function paralleling the example given above. That is, in Cypress Creek, “... a planned community designed for the workers of the Globex Corporation” (Swartzwelder, 1996), there are no superfluous people.

This is emphasised again in the following exchange:

         Marge: Mr Scorpio, this house is almost too good for us.  
                I keep expecting to get the bum’s rush.
  Hank Scorpio: We don’t have bums in our town , Marge, and if we did 
                they wouldn’t rush; they’d be allowed to go at their 
                own pace.  (Swartzwelder, 1996).

Not only does this exchange emphasise the lack of superfluous people in Cypress Creek, it brings forth the attitude of Cypress Creek (or of Globex) to its people. The people of Cypress Creek do what they do ‘at their own pace’ because the system is set up such that it is effective, but that it is effective because all the people in Cypress Creek have a role, or function, that is best served by them doing what they do ‘at their own pace’. This is extended to the point that if there were ‘bums’ in Cypress Creek they would be there for a reason, and hence would be allowed to ‘go at their own pace’. In short, this attitude displays the voluntary nature of what people do in Cypress Creek, consistent with the notion of them being happy and living ‘the good life’ set out in the framework above.

There are other examples throughout the episode which strengthen this claim. One example lies in parallels to Celebration, a planned community in Florida for the workers of Disney (Swartzwelder, 1996) [2] representing Walt Disney’s conception of a planned community where “... crime, pollution, and deviance would be replaced by community, cleanliness, and uniformity” (Wood, 1998). The parallels extend beyond this to its technologically innovative homes, its discouragement of car travel (Wood, 1998), and its school “... showcas[ing] ... new and innovative teaching techniques, with a particular emphasis on computer technology” [3] (Meloan, 1999).

Additionally, when Homer asks Scorpio about hammocks, in order that his workers may rest, he directs Homer to a number of stores located in the “hammock district” (Swartzwelder, 1996). Cypress Creek is ordered to the point that there is a district devoted to something as unlikely as hammocks. It is also one of many examples of Homer’s problems being solved by Scorpio throughout the episode indicating that the man who created this ‘town that works’ can solve any problem.

Taken overall, these factors indicate that, despite its failures (as examined in the following section), Cypress Creek is a utopian community. It aims to be a rationally ordered community where its people live ‘the good life’ (are happy) in a manner which is effective in terms of the community’s goals as set out by Globex, and its president, Scorpio.

The Simpsons in Cypress Creek

In regard to this essay’s conception of utopia, Cypress Creek functions as a utopian community should. This is exemplified by the initial experiences of Homer Simpson in Cypress Creek.

Homer, at first, finds that he enjoys his ‘work’ (although Scorpio prefers that it not be called work), and that he has a good relationship with his employer, Scorpio (who does not like things that “... elevate [him] above the other people,” like being called ‘boss’) (Swartzwelder, 1996). Not only does he enjoy Cypress Creek, but, in his own words, “... for the first time in my life, I’m actually good at my job” (Swartzwelder, 1996). This is not technically correct, although he has increased productivity, and brought his team “... way ahead of the weather machine and germ warfare divisions” [4] (Swartzwelder, 1996), this is not the first time he has been good at his work. Homer was also good at his work in “And Maggie Makes Three” (Crittenden, 1995).

This inconsistency is instructive in that it highlights the nature of Homer’s new work. In “And Maggie Makes Three,” Homer fulfils a “lifelong dream” (another clue, in that the ‘lifelong dream’ theme appears again in “You Only Move Twice”) by working at a bowling alley, where he is good at his work (Crittenden, 1995; Groening, 1997: p.164). So, the close to the Cypress Creek promotional video, “Cypress Creek: where dreams come true” (Swartzwelder, 1996) seems appropriate to Homer. However, Homer’s dream life comes to an end; when he realises that his family is not happy in Cypress Creek, the Simpsons return to Springfield because Homer’s family, and their happiness, is important to him.

What is important to this essay, though, is the nature of what makes the other Simpsons unhappy. Marge is unhappy because she is bored on discovering that the new Simpson house and garden is self-maintaining (Swartzwelder, 1996). Marge’s life in Springfield normally revolves around her housekeeping duties; the “happy little rut” she refers to earlier in the episode in resisting the idea of moving, which, she finds she cannot take with her, as Homer had suggested in reply to her objections (Swartzwelder, 1996). In essence, Marge finds herself without a role in Cypress Creek.

Bart becomes unhappy when he is placed in a remedial class at Cypress Creek Elementary School with a group of slow learning and misfit children (Swartzwelder, 1996). This class essentially operates as a quarantine for the bad and less able students: to keep them from disrupting the education of the more able students; to prevent them from doing any damage, to themselves or others; and, to ensure that they are happy in this less advanced setting (and the lesser positions in society they are being prepared for) (Swartzwelder, 1996). For example, for an activity each student is issued with a “safety pencil and a circle of paper” (Swartzwelder, 1996), the students learn the alphabet at the rate of one letter per week (or perhaps slower) (Swartzwelder, 1996), and for entertainment, the students play ‘musical chairs’, with twelve chairs for seven students, while singing the song “I like me/ I like me/ I’m as good as I can be...” (to the tune of ‘This Old Man’) (Swartzwelder, 1996). Bart laments his new situation, “I can’t get in trouble at school, they put me in the remedial class...” (Swartzwelder, 1996), as his renowned anti-authoritarianism (Steiger, 1999) no longer has a point. So, in much the same way as Marge, Bart’s identity is challenged by the move to Cypress Creek.

Lisa faces a similar dilemma. In Springfield she was disgusted by the town’s mistreatment of its surrounding environment, and has campaigned throughout the series for better treatment of the environment and animals. For example, Lisa embarks on such campaigns in “Mr. Lisa Goes to Washington” (Meyer, 1991), where she uncovers a corrupt congressman accepting bribes from a logging company to allow logging in an old growth forest (Groening, 1997), and in “Whacking Day” (Swartzwelder, 1993), where she campaigns against a Springfield holiday involving the citizens of Springfield killing as many of the town’s snakes as they can (Groening, 1997). In Cypress Creek, however, Lisa finds she is allergic to the plants and animals of Cypress Creek after taking a walk in the forest (Swartzwelder, 1996). The symbolism of one scene is particularly clear. As Lisa falls to the ground, in an allergic fit, she appeals to a nearby chipmunk for help, which responds by blowing the seeds of a dandelion in her face (Swartzwelder, 1996). Lisa’s environment has turned against her such that her identity is also challenged.

Maggie’s experience in Cypress Creek is also negative as she is placed in the mechanical “Swing-A-Majig,” in which she appears terrified, attempting to turn it off (Swartzwelder, 1996). This does not clearly fit the pattern identified above, in that, although Maggie has an identity throughout the series, it is not developed well enough that this experience could challenge it. In this respect, Maggie’s experience has more to do with Marge’s dilemma. That is, even the care of Maggie is automated, further challenging Marge’s identity.

So, the other Simpsons are unhappy in Cypress Creek, and in all cases, except Maggie, this is because their identity is challenged. If it was true to say that the close to the Cypress Creek video was appropriate to Homer, the disclaimer which follows it (in a hushed and rapid voice) "Your dreams may vary from those of Globex Corporation, its subsidiaries and shareholders" (Swartzwelder, 1996) is appropriate of the other Simpsons. This is because of the particularity of utopia.

The Particularity of Utopia

The above locates the cause of the Simpsons' unhappiness in Cypress Creek in its particularity as an utopian community. The problem of particularity in utopia is a problem similar to that of relativity, i.e. that everyone has a different notion of utopia, which no one conception can unify (Nozick, 1974: p. 299). However, it is distinct from the problem of relativity in terms of its frame of reference. The problem of relativity is a conceptual (or theoretical) issue, whereas the problem of particularity is a practical issue. So, the problem of particularity, in the context of the Simpsons in Cypress Creek, is that the practice of the utopian conception underlying Cypress Creek creates new problems for its people such that it does not integrate all its people into 'the good life'.

A good point at which to begin this discussion is "the Globex corporation, its subsidiaries and shareholders" from whom "[y]our dreams may vary," as embodied by the president of Globex, Hank Scorpio. It is here that the conceptual role in Cypress Creek, as utopia, lies. That is, it is Scorpio, who planned Cypress Creek, "for the workers of Globex Corporation." Whether he does this out of concern for his workers' well-being, or as a means to get an effective workforce to assist in the goal of world domination, or both, does not matter for the purposes of this essay. What matters is that Cypress Creek is designed for workers and this is the cause of Cypress Creek's particularity, in that it is rationally designed to address their concerns with work outside of Cypress Creek. The source of this problem is conceptual, and hence, is one of relativity, but the concept still appealed to all the Simpsons, not only Homer. So it is a problem of particularity as it was in practice that the Simpsons, other than Homer, found it inconsistent with their idea of 'the good life'.

That Cypress Creek is only for the workers is made evident by two incidents in the episode. The first occurs when Homer and Scorpio discuss hammocks. In referring Homer to the hammock district, Scorpio refers to a number of hammock stores, but one is particularly good, "Mary Ann's Hammocks," because "... Mary Ann gets in the hammock with you" (Swartzwelder, 1996). This can be read as an attempt to undermine Homer's relationship with Marge. A more explicit incident occurs when Homer discusses his family's problems with Scorpio. Scorpio replies "Let them go. You'll stay here with me, we'll go bowling" (Swartzwelder, 1996). This is more direct in its implications. It is clear that Scorpio's, and Globex's, only interest is in Homer, the worker, not in his family, hence the suggestion that Homer leave his family.

As its ordering principles are focused on the workers, Cypress Creek can not, in practice, address the problems created by those principles for those who are not workers. Homer is a party to this problem as, when questioned by Scorpio as to what his family's problems with Cypress Creek are, he responds "Nothing big. It's just a lot of little things" (Swartzwelder, 1996). This essentially represents the practical problem of particularity with its source in the conceptual problem of relativity, as, in terms of the ordering principles of Cypress Creek, the problems faced by Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie are 'little things'.

Such 'little things' are not recognised by the ordering principles of utopian communities as the premise of rationality assumes that there is a means by which communities can be ordered according to a unifying principle. This is true, in a sense, in that Homer could leave his family; Marge can be replaced by technology, and the children are not necessary in terms of the reproduction of labour as external workers can be hired. If there are problems which fit the category of 'little things' it is because they are not consistent with the ordering principles of the community, they are an appeal to a previous social order, human nature, socialisation, or some other contaminating influence (such as the family in this instance) (Dahrendorf, 1968: p.109).

These 'little things', however, are important to the people who make up the community (whether their source is in a rigid notion of human nature, or a more malleable concept of socialisation), hence, if a community is going to offer 'the good life', the 'little things' must be taken into account, even if they are inconsistent with its rational ordering principles. Scorpio realises this when Homer rejects his suggestion to stay alone in Cypress Creek: "Well, you can't argue with the little things. It's the little things that make up life" (Swartzwelder, 1996).

It is on this basis that "You Only Move Twice" is anti-utopian. Anti-utopianism, as mentioned above, is scepticism toward the notion that utopia can be rationally conceived and pursued. This episode bears such scepticism through its portrayal of the Simpsons in Cypress Creek, a rational, utopian community, confronting the problem of particularity: the 'little things' which cannot be resolved by the rational ordering principles of the community. In order to deal with the problem of particularity, the rational ordering principles of a utopia must change. This is anti-utopian in that the necessity of change undermines the rational conception of utopia (Dahrendorf, 1968: p.110). Hence, an ideal end-state cannot be conceived, as the translation of such conceptions into practice will create new problems for investigation and resolution by the utopian intellect (such as those the Simpsons experienced in Cypress Creek), which will meet with new problems in translation into practice, and so on (Nozick, 1974: pp. 315-316).

The episode closes on a positive note though, emphasising the need for utopian thinkers. The final scene shows the Simpsons, after returning to their home, receiving a telegram from Scorpio (while the Denver Broncos practice football on their lawn), which reads, in part: "This will get you a little closer to that dream of yours [5]. It's not the Dallas Cowboys, but it's a start." (Swartzwelder, 1996). This indicates that the journey to utopia, if it is to be completed, will be completed in steps.


The episode of The Simpsons, "You Only Move Twice," is anti-utopian in that it is sceptical toward the idea of a rationally conceived and implemented utopian community in its portrayal of the Simpsons in the utopian community Cypress Creek. This scepticism is based on the problem of particularity; that rational conceptions of utopia will confront difficulties in their translation from theory into practice. Such difficulties mean that rational conceptions have not achieved the ideal state they are aimed at, hence the ordering principles of such utopian conceptions must change. However, change undermines the rationality of the initial ordering principles, and with them, the notion of a static utopia. Thus, utopia cannot be achieved rationally, in one step, to the ideal state of social being. Rather, it requires an incremental process driven by an ever-changing utopian ideal. That is, a dynamic conception of utopia, as opposed to the static, rational conception of utopia, is the path to utopia, if such a path exists.


"You Only Move Twice": Narrative

Homer Simpson is offered an "exciting employment opportunity" in the nuclear division of Globex Corporation, located in Cypress Creek. He then convinces his family to move to Cypress Creek as Springfield compares unfavourably to the images presented in a Cypress Creek promotional video. Abandoning their home, and their economic problems, the Simpsons move to Cypress Creek where Homer begins work with Globex. While Homer enjoys, and is unusually competent at, his work, Marge finds herself bored in her perfect, self-maintaining, house and garden, Bart is placed into a remedial programme where he can do no harm, Lisa is allergic to her new environs, and Maggie is frightened by her mechanised baby swing. At the same time, the president of Globex, Hank Scorpio, is plotting to takeover the world, threatening the United Nations (UN) with his "doomsday device.” As a battle ensues between Scorpio's and the UN's soldiers, Homer resigns from Globex in order to return to Springfield in accordance with the wishes of the other Simpsons. (Swartzwelder, 1996; Swartzwelder, 1996).


  1. Episodes of The Simpsons are referred to by supervising writer and the date of their first broadcast in the United States. It must be noted that episodes of t Simpsons are written by a group of writers in committee, with one writer given the supervising role. The broadcast date is chosen as that which most closely corresponds to the notion of a publication date. The information used to refer to such episodes is taken from The Simpsons: A complete guide to our favorite family, (Groening, 1997). This is also the source of the picture of Hank Scorpio on the cover sheet of the printed version.
  2. This point is somewhat speculative, however, a reference is made to Disney as the Simpsons drive into Cypress Creek. Lisa reads a Cypress Creek brochure, commenting: “It says here, one of these giant redwood trees can provide enough sawdust to cover an entire day’s worth of vomit at Disneyland” (Swartzwelder, 1996).
  3. Cypress Creek Elementary School has a website, which was not common in 1996 (Swartzwelder, 1996).
  4. This is a reference to Scorpio’s plot to take over the world, which would provide an interesting study in the links between utopia and violence.
  5. This ‘lifelong dream’ is the theme referred to earlier in the essay, in this case, Homer’s dream is to own the Dallas Cowboys.


  • Crittenden, J. (1995), “And Maggie Makes Three,” The Simpsons, Episode 2F10, 22 January.
  • Dahrendorf, R. (1968), Essays in the Theory of Society, (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul).
  • Groening, M. (1997), The Simpsons: A complete guide to our favorite family, R. Richmond (ed.), (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.).
  • Kateb, G. (1967), “Utopias and Utopianism,” Encyclopedia of Philosophy, pp. 212-215.
  • Meloan, S. (1999), “Laboratory of Learning: The Celebration School,”, (
  • Meyer, G. (1991), “Mr. Lisa Goes to Washington,” The Simpsons, Episode 8F01, 26 September.
  • Nozick, N. (1974), Anarchy, State and Utopia, (Oxford: Blackwell).
  • Steiger, G. (1999), The Simpsons - Just Funny or More?, (
  • Swartzwelder, J. (1993), “Whacking Day,” The Simpsons, Episode 9F18, 29 April.
  • Swartzwelder, J. (1996), "You Only Move Twice," The Simpsons, Episode 3F23, 11 March.
  • Wood, A. (1998), “”Spaghetti dinners and fireflies in a jar”: Commodified Nostalgia in Disney’s Celebration,” Disney’s Celebration: Small-town Americana on the edge of the twenty-first century, (
© Michael Frost, University of Sydney, 2000

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