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Politics is a common theme in the animated television series The Simpsons, and this phenomenon has had some crossover with real American politics. Some U.S. conservatives have voiced opposition to the show. Former U.S. President George H. W. Bush has even said that the U.S. needs to be closer to The Waltons than to The Simpsons. The show has a liberal slant which was joked about in the episode "The Simpsons 138th Episode Spectacular", in which a reference was made to "hundreds of radical right-wing messages inserted into every show by creator Matt Groening." More recently, however, at least one conservative has adopted character Groundskeeper Willie's derisive term for the French, "cheese-eating surrender monkeys".[1]

Political topics addressed on The Simpsons include gay marriage (in the episode "There's Something About Marrying"), drug abuse and alcohol usage ("Brother's Little Helper", "Weekend at Burnsie's", "Homer vs. the Eighteenth Amendment", "Duffless", E-I-E-I-(Annoyed Grunt)", and "Days of Wine and D'oh'ses"), gun rights ("The Cartridge Family"), homophobia ("Homer's Phobia"), environmentalism ("Trash of the Titans", "Lisa the Tree Hugger") and election campaigns ("Sideshow Bob Roberts", "Mr. Spritz Goes to Washington", "E Pluribus Wiggum").

Contents

Political bias

Some commentators say the show is political in nature and susceptible to a left-wing bias.[2] Al Jean admitted in an interview that "We [the show] are of liberal bent."[3] The writers often evince an appreciation for progressive ideals, but the show makes jokes across the political spectrum.[4] In the DVD commentaries, creator Matt Groening and the majority of people who work on the show state several times that they are very liberal, but some, such as John Swartzwelder (the writer of many episodes), are conservative. So the two main political parties of Springfield, the Republicans and the Democrats, reside in a stereotype Draculan castle, and in a public salad bar respectively. The show portrays government and large corporations as callous entities that take advantage of the common worker. [3] Thus, the writers often portray authority figures in an unflattering or negative light. In The Simpsons, politicians are corrupt, ministers such as Reverend Lovejoy are indifferent to churchgoers, and the local police force is both incompetent and corrupt.[5]

Criticism of values

On January 27, 1992 then-current President George H. W. Bush made a speech during his re-election campaign that reignited the feud between the Simpsons and the Bushes. At that point family values were the cornerstone of Bush's campaign platform. So he gave the following speech at the National Religious Broadcaster's convention in Washington. "The next value I speak of must be forever cast in stone. I speak of decency, the moral courage to say what is right and condemn what's wrong, and we need a nation closer to the Waltons than the Simpsons. An America that rejects the incivility, the tide of incivility and the tide of intolerance".[6]

The next broadcast of the Simpsons was a rerun of "Stark Raving Dad" (season 3, 1991) on January 30. In that broadcast there was hastily included a new opening, which was a response to Bush's speech. The scene begins in the Simpsons living room. Homer, Patty, and Selma sit on couch. Maggie is in her high chair next to the couch. Bart and Lisa are sprawled on the carpet. They all stare at the TV and watch Bush's speech. When Bush says, "We need a nation closer to the Waltons than the Simpsons," Bart replies "Hey, we're just like the Waltons. We're praying for an end to the Depression, too."[6]

The producers of the show later responded by making the episode "Two Bad Neighbors" (season 7, 1996), which had Bush move into the same neightborhood as the Simpsons. Josh Weinstein said that the episode is often misunderstood. Many audiences expected a political satire, while the writers made special effort to keep the parody apolitical.[7] Bill Oakley stresses that "it's not a political attack, it's a personal attack!", and instead of criticizing Bush for his policies, the episode instead pokes fun at his "crotchetiness".[8]

Foreign relations

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Argentina

The episode "E. Pluribus Wiggum" caused controversy in Argentina prior to its broadcast there. The controversy is over an exchange between Lenny and Carl. Carl says "I could really go for some kind of military dictator, like Juan Perón. When he 'disappeared' you, you stayed 'disappeared!'". Carl's comment is a reference to the Dirty War, a period of military dictatorship during which as many as 30,000 political dissidents disappeared, and is largely regarded as having begun at least two years after the death of Perón, who was elected three times. The clip was viewed on YouTube over ten thousand times in Argentina and some politicians in the country called for the episode to be censored or banned.[9]

Lorenzo Pepe, former Justicialist Party congressman and president of the Juan Domingo Perón Institute, said "this type of program causes great harm, because the disappearances are still an open wound here."[10] Some reacted negatively to Lenny's response to Carl's comment: "Plus, his wife was Madonna", a reference to the film Evita, where Madonna played Eva Perón. Pepe added "the part about Madonna—that was too much."[10] Pepe's request for banning the episode was rejected by the Federal Broadcasting Committee of Argentina on freedom of speech grounds.[11]

In an unprecedented decision, Fox decided not to air the episode in Latin America. In an e-mail sent later to the media, the network said that this decision was based on "the possibility that the episode would contribute to reopen wounds very painful to Argentina". The Federal Broadcasting Committee made it clear that the episode was not aired in Argentina by Fox's own choice.[11]

Brazil

In 2002 Rio de Janeiro tourist board found the season 13 episode "Blame It on Lisa" so offensive to the Brazilian people that they threatened to sue the producers. The board's exact words were "What really hurt was the idea of the monkeys, the image that Rio de Janeiro was a jungle ... It's a completely unreal image of the city".[12] Brazilian president Fernando Henrique Cardoso found it to be "a distorted vision of Brazilian reality".[13] Rio de Janeiro had just spent millions promoting the city internationally. Their reputation was already damaged because of an outbreak of dengue fever a few years earlier. The producers apologized and the issue did not go any further. However it was international news for a while.[12]

France

"Cheese-eating surrender monkeys", sometimes shortened to "surrender monkeys", is a satirical and insulting phrase referring to the French, which gained notoriety[14] in the United States, particularly in the run-up to the Iraq War. The phrase was first popularized in the Simpsons episode "'Round Springfield" (first aired on April 30, 1995).[15] Groundskeeper Willie, the school janitor, an unkempt immigrant from Scotland, is teaching French due to budget cuts, dressed in a striped jumper and a beret. He greets the class with (in heavy Scottish accent) "Bonjourrrrrrrrr, yah cheese-eatin' surrender monkeys!"

The line was first picked up and used predominantly by Republican American politicians and publications. They were led, according to the British national newspaper The Guardian, by Jonah Goldberg, a popular columnist for the U.S. bi-weekly National Review and editor of their website National Review Online.[16] Goldberg's online-only column, the G-File, is written in a more casual, personal manner and in the late 1990s often contained Simpsons (and other pop-cultural) references. Goldberg's repeated aggressive use of the phrase "cheese-eating surrender monkeys" led to its more widespread use amongst his readers, although Goldberg had stopped using it by the time the phrase was gaining mainstream popularity post-9/11.

France opposed many U.S. positions and actions, in particular, the 2003 invasion of Iraq.[17] Some argue the phrase's success reflects deep antipathy in the U.S. towards countries such as France who oppose the U.S. in international forums.[14] The New York Post resurrected the phrase "Surrender Monkeys" as the headline for its December 7, 2006, front page, referring to the Iraq Study Group and its recommendation that U.S. combat brigades be withdrawn from Iraq by early 2008.[18]

Issues

Gun rights

The theme of gun rights were explored in the episode "The Cartridge Family". Sam Simon had pitched an episode for one of the first seasons which saw Homer getting a gun and nobody wanting him to have it. The episode concluded with Homer foiling a robbery and stating that although guns bring destruction, it worked for him.[19] However, this episode was pitched by Scully for either season seven or eight, before being used for season nine.[20] This provided the basic outline, and John Swartzwelder wrote the script.[20] A lot of lines in the episode put guns in a positive light, as the staff felt that they could not just make an episode about how bad they were.[20] Several of the staff are "pro gun" although others, such as Matt Groening, are very left wing and completely against them.[21] That said, the episode was designed to be unbiased and does portray each side of the argument equally.[22] Scully noted that if there is any message in the episode it's that a man like Homer should not own a gun.[20] The censors were nervous about some of the episode's subject matter, such as Homer pointing the gun in Marge's face, and Bart aiming the gun at Milhouse with the apple in his mouth, but ultimately let it go.[20]

Homosexuality

The Simpsons have explored lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) themes several times. The first incident was the episode "Simpson and Delilah" (season 2, 1990) in which the character Karl (voiced by Harvey Fierstein) kisses Homer.[23] "Homer's Phobia" (season 8, 1997) was the first episode to entirely revolve around homosexual themes.[24] The episode features the gay character John (John Waters), who is not immediately identifiable as a gay man and does not conform to the typical gay stereotype. After initially being fond of John, Homer acts strongly against him when he finds out about his sexuality. Later Homer accepts John for who he is and is fine with the way he leads his life.[25] Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation called it "a shining example of how to bring intelligent, fair and funny representations of our community onto television";[26] and awarded it the GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding TV - Individual Episode.[27] Two later episodes that explored LGBT issues were "Three Gays of the Condo" (season 14, 2003) and "There's Something About Marrying" (season 16, 2005).[28] The later was centering on the right for homosexuals to get married and revealed that Marge's sister Patty was a lesbian. The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation described this episode as a "ray of light".[29]

The character of Waylon Smithers represents the stereotype of the closeted gay man, and numerous overt allusions and double entendres concerning his homosexuality are made. Although he has not declared himself to be gay, he has several gay friends, frequents Springfield's gay village[30] and goes on a vacation to a male-only resort.[31] Smithers is shown to have a passionate and deep love for Mr. Burns.[32] Smithers has occasional fantasies about Burns: when we see his computer turning on, it shows a nude Burns with an audio montage saying: "Hello Smithers. You're quite good at turning me on."[33] Smithers has openly declared his love for Burns on at least two occasions, such as in "Lisa the Skeptic" (season 9, 1997), when, believing the world is ending, Smithers says "Oh, what the hell!" and kisses Burns on the lips, later explaining it to him as "merely a sign of my respect."[34] Another is Smithers' fantasy of a naked Mr. Burns popping out of a birthday cake in "Rosebud" (season 5, 1993). "Marge Gets A Job" has a dream sequence where Smithers is sleeping and Burns flies through a window. The sequence shows Burns flying towards him and Smithers looking happy. Here Burns is shown landing in a particular position on Smithers anatomy.[35] In the episode "Homer Defined" (season 3, 1991), as they think they are about to die, Smithers tells Burns "Sir, there may never be another time to say: I love you, sir."

In a 2006 study conducted by the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, it was determined that nine of the 679 lead and supporting characters on scripted broadcast television were gay or lesbian, but Smithers was not included. Patty Bouvier, Marge Simpson's lesbian sister, was included on both lists.[36] A list published in 2008 by the same organization included Smithers.[37]

In an interview Matt Groening has made it clear that he sympathizes with gay people. He has many gay friends, some of whom he has lost to AIDS. He feels that gay individuals and couples are under represented in popular media as he says, "gay men are starved for positive portrayals of lasting love".[38]

The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), which was in the middle of running a campaign to prevent casual use of the adjective "gay", criticized Nelson Muntz's line "the Grand Pumpkin is super gay" in "Treehouse of Horror XIX". A spokesperson for the GLSEN said "many people say gay without even realizing what they're saying is bad, we're trying to educate people that this is a term that is hurtful to young people when used in a negative way."[39] Several similar jokes have been made throughout the series without controversy.[40]

Notes

  1. ^ The Guardian. Wimps, weasels and monkeys - the US media view of 'perfidious France'
  2. ^ Turner, pp. 221–222
  3. ^ a b Turner, p. 223
  4. ^ Turner, p. 224
  5. ^ Turn The er, p. 56
  6. ^ a b Turner p. 225-226
  7. ^ Weinstein, Josh. (2005). The Simpsons season 7 DVD commentary for the episode "Two Bad Neighbors". [DVD]. 20th Century Fox.  
  8. ^ Oakley, Bill. (2005). The Simpsons season 7 DVD commentary for the episode "Two Bad Neighbors". [DVD]. 20th Century Fox.  
  9. ^ Charles Newbery (2008-04-14). "'Simpsons' stirs uproar in Argentina". Variety. http://www.variety.com/VR1117984017.html. Retrieved 2008-04-15.  
  10. ^ a b Monte Reel (2008-04-17). "D'oh! 'Simpsons' Again Angers South Americans". Washington Post. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/04/16/AR2008041603385.html?hpid=moreheadlines. Retrieved 2008-04-20.  
  11. ^ a b BBC Brasil (2008-07-30). "Referência a Perón leva TV argentina a não exibir 'Os Simpsons'". O Estado de S. Paulo. http://www.estadao.com.br/geral/not_ger214774,0.htm. Retrieved 2009-10-24.  
  12. ^ a b Turner, p. 326
  13. ^ Turner, p. 325
  14. ^ a b Wimps, weasels and monkeys - the US media view of 'perfidious France' The Guardian. Retrieved on December 27, 2006
  15. ^ Sound recording of Groundskeeper Willie's line About: Political humour. Retrieved on December 27, 2006
  16. ^ Younge, Gary; Jon Henley (February 11, 2003). "Wimps, weasels and monkeys — the US media view of 'perfidious France'". Guardian. http://www.guardian.co.uk/france/story/0,,893202,00.html. Retrieved 2007-06-30.  
  17. ^ "France threatens rival UN Iraq draft". BBC News, October 26, 2002. Retrieved on April 23, 2007
  18. ^ Lathem, Niles (December 7, 2006). "Iraq 'Appease' Squeeze on W.". New York Post. http://www.nypost.com/seven/12072006/news/nationalnews/iraq_appease_squeeze_on_w__nationalnews_.htm. Retrieved 2006-12-07.  
  19. ^ Meyer, George. (2006). The Simpsons The Complete Ninth Season DVD commentary for the episode "The Cartridge Family". [DVD]. 20th Century Fox.  
  20. ^ a b c d e Scully, Mike. (2006). The Simpsons The Complete Ninth Season DVD commentary for the episode "The Cartridge Family". [DVD]. 20th Century Fox.  
  21. ^ Groening, Matt. (2006). The Simpsons The Complete Ninth Season DVD commentary for the episode "The Cartridge Family". [DVD]. 20th Century Fox.  
  22. ^ Michels, Pete. (2006). The Simpsons The Complete Ninth Season DVD commentary for the episode "The Cartridge Family". [DVD]. 20th Century Fox.  
  23. ^ Stephen Kiehl, "Homersexual debate splits Springfield," The Ottawa Citizen, February 12, 2005, pg. L.7.
  24. ^ Raju Mudhar, "Springfield's coming-out party; Cartoon to reveal gay character And it might not be Smithers," Toronto Star, July 28, 2004, pg. A.03.
  25. ^ Alberti, p. 240
  26. ^ "Homer's Phobia?". Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. 1997-02-21. Archived from the original on 2007-09-29. http://web.archive.org/web/20070929091529/http://www.glaad.org/publications/archive_detail.php?id=2163. Retrieved 2007-02-14.  
  27. ^ Alberti, p. 241
  28. ^ "Springfield awaits its first outing," Calgary Herald, July 29, 2004, pg. E.2.
  29. ^ "Simpsons' gay character is Patty", BBC News, February 21, 2005, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/tv_and_radio/4285287.stm, retrieved 2007-07-07  
  30. ^ "Three Gays of the Condo". Warburton, Matt; Kirkland, Mark. The Simpsons. Fox. 2003-04-13. No. 17, season 14.
  31. ^ "Homer the Smithers". Swartzwelder, John; Moore, Steven Dean. The Simpsons. Fox. 1996-02-25. No. 17, season 7.
  32. ^ Carroll, Larry (2007-07-26). "'Simpsons' Trivia, From Swearing Lisa To 'Burns-Sexual' Smithers". MTV. http://www.mtv.com/movies/news/articles/1565538/20070725/story.jhtml. Retrieved 2007-10-24.  
  33. ^ "Lisa vs. Malibu Stacy". Oakley, Bill; Weinstein, Josh; Lynch, Jeffrey. The Simpsons. Fox. 1994-02-17. No. 14, season 05.
  34. ^ "Lisa the Skeptic". Cohen, David S.; Affleck, Neil. The Simpsons. Fox. 1997-11-23. No. 08, season 09.
  35. ^ Oakley, Bill. (2005). The Simpsons season 7 DVD commentary for the episode "The Simpsons 138th Episode Spectacular". [DVD]. 20th Century Fox.  
  36. ^ Finn, Natalie (2007-11-07). ""Simpsons'" Smithers Part of Shrinking Minority?". E! News. Archived from the original on 2007-05-18. http://web.archive.org/web/20070518233200/http://www.eonline.com/news/article/index.jsp?uuid=fd0da574-316b-4300-80a7-8662f9a096b2&entry=index. Retrieved 2006-08-22.  
  37. ^ Finn, Natalie. "LGBT Characters for 2008-2009". Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. http://www.glaad.org/eye/ontv/2008/broadcast.php. Retrieved 2008-11-06.  
  38. ^ Alberti, p. 230
  39. ^ Grossberg, Josh (2008-11-04). "D'oh! Simpsons Under Fire for Gay Crack". E!. http://www.eonline.com/uberblog/b67129_doh_simpsons_under_fire_gay_crack.html. Retrieved 2008-11-04.  
  40. ^ Sassone, Bob (2008-11-05). "Gay group mad at The Simpsons". TV Squad. http://www.tvsquad.com/2008/11/05/gay-group-mad-at-the-simpsons/. Retrieved 2008-11-17.  

References

Further reading

  • Foy, Joseph J.. Homer Simpson Goes to Washington: American Politics through Popular Culture. University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 978-0-8131-2512-1.  

External links


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