Imagine, if you will, walking ino your place of work, summoning over your boss, and calling him/her ‘borderline retarded’. And then doing the same thing at regular intervals for two decades.
Well, fair play to Matt Groening and The Simpsons for essentially doing just that. The most recent example being the latest title sequence, conceived by British street artist Banksy.
If you can find it (the clip’s been pulled from YouTube) you’ll be treated to the bleakest opening credits in The Simpsons‘ 21 year history. In place of the regular couch gag, we cut to a factory of child labourers working on the animated stills for the show.
It then proceeds to show how the Simpsons dolls are made from kittens and chained-up unicorns are forced to use their horns to punch out the centre of DVDs. All set to some incredibly depressing choral music. The only real joke is the juxtaposition when the overly-cheerful, familiar Danny Elfman music kicks back in.
Banksy’s goal? To show the dehumanising effects of corporate outsourcing (parts of the show are animated in South Korea).
So why would the Simpsons‘ creators allow that kind of criticism? Simple: it’s another swipe at the Rupert Murdoch-led Fox Corporation.
The show’s writers have always had a love/hate relationship with their paymasters. For starters, The Simpsons is a left-leaning show, while NewsCorp (the company that owns Fox) is one goosestep away from installing Glenn Beck as its fuhrer.
This passive/aggressive relationship meant that, while it was the most successful show in Fox’s history, The Simpsons was still the underdog. But an underdog with teeth. For in its inception, producer James L. Brooks negotiated a provision in the contract with the Fox network that prevented Fox from interfering with the show’s content.
Which is why the Banksy promo can go out unabridged. Which is why Homer can complain to Lisa that, “We can’t watch Fox because they own those chemical plants in Syria”. And which is why any mention of The Republican Party by the yellow family will almost certainly include a dig at Fox.
Not that chief bad guy Murdoch doesn’t get the joke. He even went to the trouble of writing the opening line for his guest appearance, “I’m Rupert Murdoch, the billionaire tyrant, and this is my skybox.” Whether or not he’d have appreciated the simpleton way in which he scrawls his signature in the same scene is another matter.
In fact the only time that Fox has specifically complained about The Simpsons was Fox News’ infamous run-in over their ‘pretend ticker tape’ which read; “Pointless news crawls up 37 per cent… Do Democrats cause cancer? Find out at foxnews.com… Rupert Murdoch: Terrific dancer… Dow down 5,000 points… Study: 92 per cent of Democrats are gay… JFK posthumously joins Republican Party… Oil slicks found to keep seals young…” Their complaint was, viewers of Fox might believe it was real.
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You could argue that The Simpsons family are just as much to blame for continuing to give Fox another cash cow. You could argue the only way to attack is from the inside. You could argue that pieces like this are the purpose of the opening titles, to stir up controversy and gain more viewers, when ratings are dropping. You could argue all these things and more.
Just, please don’t say The Simpsons isn’t as funny or as relevant as it used to be. Compared to the majority of television, as this latest news piece proves, it’s still shining a light on America, how we see it, the repercussions of its actions and giving great lessons in the best way to bite the hand that feeds you. After 21 years, not many cartoons can lay claim to that.