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"The Joy of Sect"
The Simpsons episode
The Joy Of Sect.PNG
A Movementarian mass wedding
Episode no. 191
Prod. code 5F23
Orig. airdate February 8, 1998[1]
Show runner(s) David Mirkin
Written by Steve O'Donnell
Directed by Steven Dean Moore
Couch gag Tiny versions of the Simpsons climb on the couch, and Santa's Little Helper runs off with Homer.[2]
Matt Groening
David Mirkin
Steve O'Donnell
Yeardley Smith
Steven Dean Moore

"The Joy of Sect" is the thirteenth episode of The Simpsons' ninth season. It originally aired on the Fox network in the United States on February 8, 1998. In the episode, a cult called the "Movementarians" takes over Springfield, and Homer and the rest of the Simpson family become members. Homer and Bart are initially introduced to a pair of young Movementarian recruiters in an airport. Homer becomes brainwashed, and moves his family into the cult compound. David Mirkin had the initial idea for the episode, Steve O'Donnell was the lead writer, and Steven Dean Moore directed. The writers drew on many groups to develop the Movementarians, but were principally influenced by Scientology, Heaven's Gate, the Unification Church and Peoples Temple.

The episode was later analyzed from religious, philosophical and psychological perspectives, and books on The Simpsons compared the Movementarians to many of the same groups that the writers had drawn influences from. The show contains many references to popular culture, including the title reference to The Joy of Sex and a gag involving Rover from the television program The Prisoner. USA Today and The A.V. Club featured "The Joy of Sect" in lists of important episodes of The Simpsons.



Mr. Burns as the god of his new religion

Homer takes Bart to the airport to greet the local football team after their championship loss. At the airport, Homer meets Glen and Jane, a pair of recruiters for a new religion called Movementarianism. They invite Homer to an introductory session at their resort, where a number of Springfield residents watch a video about the religion. The video explains that the Movementarians plan to take a spaceship to the planet Blisstonia. They are guided by a mysterious male figure known only as "The Leader." Most of the attendees are brainwashed into worshipping The Leader, but Homer does not pay enough attention to the video to be affected. After trying other methods, Glen and Jane finally convert him by singing the theme to Batman, replacing the word Batman with the word Leader.

After Homer joins the sect, he moves his family to the Movementarian compound. The compound is a fenced agricultural facility where everyone is forced to grow and harvest lima beans from dawn to dusk. The Leader lives in a "Forbidden Barn," where his spaceship is supposedly stored. He only appears briefly, riding through the fields in a Rolls-Royce.

As Movementarianism gains popularity, Mr. Burns decides to start his own religion, jealous of The Leader's tax-exempt status. Burns declares himself a god at a grand display atop one of his buildings, with Springfield residents and Burns's employees looking on. However, the Springfieldians are unconvinced after his outfit catches fire in a pyrotechnics display.

Though defiant at first, all the Simpson children are converted to Movementarianism. Bart plans to cause trouble with his "Li'l Bastard Mischief Kit," but the Movementarians outwit him with a "Li'l Bastard Brainwashing Kit." Lisa loathes that "The Leader" is the answer to every question at the Movementarian school, but she complies for the sake of her grades. Maggie and other babies are brainwashed by Barney the Dinosaur, who sings them a song about The Leader. Marge is the only family member to resist the Movementarians' methods, and she escapes from the compound, narrowly avoiding many obstacles along the way. Outside, she finds Reverend Lovejoy, Ned Flanders, and Groundskeeper Willie, and with their help, she poses as The Leader and tricks her children and Homer into leaving with her.

In Flanders's rumpus room, Marge deprograms her children by promising them what appear to be hover-bikes. In reality, Marge had suspended regular bikes from the ceiling with wires, and Flanders provided hover-bike sound effects while hidden in a closet. Homer yields after Ned offers him a beer, but just as the first drop lands on Homer's tongue, he is captured by the Movementarians' lawyers. Back at the compound, Homer tells a crowd of Movementarians that he is no longer brainwashed. He opens the doors of the Forbidden Barn, hoping to expose the religion as a fraud. However, he is surprised to find "one hell of a spaceship," and The Leader proclaims that, due to Homer's "lack of faith," humanity will never reach Blisstonia. The Springfieldians fear that The Leader is speaking the truth, but as the spaceship begins to fly away, it falls apart, revealing The Leader on a pedal-powered aircraft departing with everyone's money. Everyone's faith is broken, but The Leader does not fly very far, crashing on Cletus Spuckler's front porch. Cletus promptly relieves the Leader of the town's money at gunpoint.

As the Simpsons return home, Lisa remarks, "It's wonderful to think for ourselves again." However, the family soon becomes hypnotized by a Fox television commercial, which declares, "You are watching Fox." In unison, the family responds, "We are watching Fox."


A seated man wearing a cap smiles as he looks into the distance. His hands are crossed.
David Mirkin, executive producer of "The Joy of Sect", who pitched the episode's plot

The episode was the second and last episode written by Steve O'Donnell and was based on an idea from David Mirkin. Mirkin had been the show runner during seasons five and six, but had been brought back to run two episodes during the ninth season. He said he was attracted to the notion of parodying cults because they are "comical, interesting and twisted."[3] The main group of writers that worked on the episode were Mirkin, O'Donnell, Jace Richdale and Kevin Curran. The episode's title "The Joy of Sect" was pitched by Richdale.[3] Steven Dean Moore directed the episode.[4]

Aspects of the Movementarians were inspired by different cults and religions, including Scientology, Jim Jones and the Peoples Temple, the Heaven's Gate group, the Unification Church, the Oneida Society, and Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh.[3] In particular, the leader driving through the fields in a Rolls Royce was partly inspired by the Bhagwans, and the notion of holding people inside the camp against their will was a reference to Jim Jones.[3] The name "Movementarians" itself was simply chosen for its awkward sound.[3] The scene during the six-hour orientation video where those who get up to leave are induced to stay through peer pressure and groupthink was a reference to the Unification Church and EST Training.[5] The show's producers acknowledged that the ending scene of the episode was a poke at Fox as "being the evil mind controlling network."[3] The episode's script was written in 1997, at roughly the same time that the members of the Heaven's Gate cult committed mass suicide. The writers noticed strange parallels between Mirkin's first draft and Heaven's Gate, including the belief in the arrival of a spaceship and the group's members wearing matching clothes and odd sneakers.[3] Because of these coincidences, several elements of the episode were changed so that it would be more sensitive in the wake of the suicides.[5]


Chris Turner's book Planet Simpson describes the Movementarians as a cross between the Church of Scientology and Raëlism, with lesser influences from Sun Myung Moon and Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh.[6] Planet Simpson also notes the Simpsons' chant at the conclusion of the episode as evidence of a "true high-growth quasi-religious cult of our time," referring to television.[6] The book refers to a "Cult of Pop," which it describes as "a fast growing mutation ersatz religion that has filled the gaping hole in the West's social fabric where organized religion used to be".[6] Martin Hunt of FACTnet notes several similarities between the Movementarians and the Church of Scientology. "The Leader" physically resembles L. Ron Hubbard; the Movementarians' "trillion year labor contract" alludes to the Sea Org's billion year contract; and both groups make extensive use of litigation.[7] The A.V. Club analyzes the episode in a piece called "Springfield joins a cult", comparing the Movementarians' plans to travel to "Blisstonia" to Heaven's Gate's promises of bliss after traveling to the Hale-Bopp comet. However, it also notes that "The Joy of Sect" is a commentary on organized religion in general, quoting Bart as saying, "Church, cult, cult, church. So we get bored someplace else every Sunday."[8] Planet Simpson discusses The Simpsons' approach to deprogramming in the episode, noting groundskeeper Willie's conversion to the philosophy of the Movementarians after learning about it while attempting to deprogram Homer.[6] Author Chris Turner suggests that Marge should have instead gone with the "Conformco Brain Deprogrammers" used in the episode "Burns' Heir" to convince Bart to leave Mr. Burns and come back home.[6]

In The Simpsons and Philosophy: The D'oh! of Homer, the authors cite "escaping from a cult commune in 'The Joy of Sect'" as evidence of "Aristotle's virtuous personality traits in Marge."[9] As the title suggests, the book The Psychology of the Simpsons: D'oh! examines "The Joy of Sect" from a psychological point of view. It discusses the psychology of decision-making in the episode, noting, "Homer is becoming a full-blown member of the Movementarians not by a rational choice, ..but through the process of escalating behavioral commitments."[10] The Psychology of the Simpsons explains the key recruitment techniques used by the Movementarians, including the charismatic leader, established authority based on a religious entity or alien being (in this case "Blisstonia"), and the method of taking away free choice through acceptance of the Leader's greatness.[10] The book also analyzes the techniques used during the six-hour Movementarian recruitment film. In that scene, those who rise to leave are reminded that they are allowed to leave whenever they wish. They are, however, questioned in front of the group as to specifically why they wish to leave, and these individuals end up staying to finish watching the film.[10] The book describes this technique as "subtle pressure," in contrast to the "razor wire, landmines, angry dogs, crocodiles and evil mystery bubble Marge confronts to escape, while being reminded again that she is certainly free to leave."[10] The Psychology of the Simpsons writes that "the Leader" is seen as an authority figure, because "He has knowledge or abilities that others do not, but want."[10] Instead of traditional mathematics textbooks, the children on the compound learn from Arithmetic the Leader's Way and Science for Leader Lovers.[11]

In Pinsky's The Gospel According to the Simpsons, one of the show's writers recounted to the author that the producers of The Simpsons had vetoed a planned episode on Scientology in fear of the Church's "reputation for suing and harassing opponents".[12] Pinsky found it ironic that Groening spoofed Scientology in spite of the fact that the voice of Bart Simpson, Nancy Cartwright, is a Scientologist,[12][13] having joined in 1989.[14] Pinsky notes that Matt Groening later "took a shot at Scientology" in Futurama with the fictional religion "Church of Robotology".[12] Groening said he received a call from the Church of Scientology concerned about the use of a similar name.[15]

Cultural references

Barney the Dinosaur indoctrinating toddler recruits of the Sect.

The episode contains several references to popular culture. The title of the episode is a spoof of the book The Joy of Sex, by Alex Comfort. When Marge attempts to leave the compound, she is chased by the Rover guard "balloon" from the 1967 television program The Prisoner.[2][16] Neal Hefti and Nelson Riddle's theme music to the 1960s Batman series is used in the episode to indoctrinate Homer,[2] while "I Love You, You Love Me" sung by Barney the Dinosaur on the Barney and Friends/Barney and the Backyard Gang series is used to brainwash babies. When Mr. Burns introduces his new religion, most of the sequence is a parody of the promotional video of Michael Jackson's 1995 album HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book I.[3]


In a 2006 article in USA Today, "The Joy of Sect" was highlighted among the six best episodes of The Simpsons season 9, along with "Trash of the Titans," "The Last Temptation of Krust," "The Cartridge Family," "Dumbbell Indemnity," and "Das Bus."[17] The A.V. Club featured the episode in its analysis of "15 Simpsons Moments That Perfectly Captured Their Eras."[8] The Mirror gave the episode positive mention in its review of the Season 9 DVD release, and wrote "The Joy Of Sect is hilarious with only Marge keeping her head."[18] Isaac Mitchell-Frey of the Herald Sun cited the episode as the highlight of the season.[19] The Sunday Mail highlighted the episode for their "Family Choice" segment, commenting: "Normally, a show about religious cults would spell doom and gloom. Only Bart, of The Simpsons, could make a comedy out of it but then, he and his cartoon family are a cult in their own right anyway!"[20]

Jeff Shalda of The Simpsons Archive used the episode as an example of one of the "good qualities present in The Simpsons," while analyzing why some other aspects of The Simpsons make Christians upset.[21] The book I Can't Believe It's a Bigger and Better Updated Unofficial Simpsons Guide commented that the episode was "an odd one," with "a lot of good moments," and went on to state that it was "a nice twist to see Burns determined to be loved." However, the book also noted that "The Joy of Sect" is "another one where the central joke isn't strong enough to last the whole episode."[2] In a lesson plan for St Mary's College, Durham: An Introduction to Philosophy: The Wit and Wisdom of Lisa Simpson, the episode is described in a section on "False Prophets" as applicable for "..studying the more outrageous manifestations of ‘religion’ or those simply alert to the teachings of Christ on the subject."[22]

See also


  1. ^ "The Joy of Sect". The Retrieved 2007-10-24.  
  2. ^ a b c d Martyn, Warren; Wood, Adrian (2000). "The Joy of Sect". BBC. Retrieved 2007-10-24.  
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Mirkin, David. (2006). Commentary for "The Joy of Sect", in The Simpsons: The Complete Ninth Season [DVD]. 20th Century Fox.
  4. ^ Alberti, John (2004). Leaving Springfield: The Simpsons and the Possibility of Oppositional Culture. Wayne State University Press. p. 321. ISBN 0814328490.  
  5. ^ a b O'Donnell, Steve. (2006). Commentary for "The Joy of Sect", in The Simpsons: The Complete Ninth Season [DVD]. 20th Century Fox.
  6. ^ a b c d e Turner, Chris (2005). Planet Simpson: How a Cartoon Masterpiece Documented an Era and Defined a Generation. Da Capo Press. p. 269, The First Church of The Simpsons. ISBN 030681448X.  
  7. ^ Hunt, Martin. "Celebrity Critics of Scientology, Simpsons (TV show)". FACTnet. Retrieved 2007-10-24.  
  8. ^ a b Koski, Genevieve; Josh Modell, Noel Murray, Sean O'Neal, Kyle Ryan, Scott Tobias (July 23, 2007). "Features: Inventory: 15 Simpsons Moments That Perfectly Captured Their Eras". The A.V. Club (2007, Onion Inc.). Retrieved 2007-10-24.  
  9. ^ Irwin, William; Aeon J. Skoble, Mark T. Conard (2001). The Simpsons and Philosophy: The D'oh! of Homer. Open Court Publishing. pp. 48–49. ISBN 0812694333.  
  10. ^ a b c d e Brown, Alan S.; Chris Logan (2006). The Psychology of the Simpsons: D'oh!. BenBella Books, Inc.. pp. 211–212. ISBN 1932100709.  
  11. ^ Gimple, Scott M.; Matt Groening, introduction (December 1, 1999). The Simpsons Forever!: A Complete Guide to Our Favorite Family ...Continued. HarperCollins. pp. 26–27. ISBN 978-0060987633.  
  12. ^ a b c Pinsky, Mark I.; Tony Campolo (2001). The Gospel According to the Simpsons. Westminster John Knox Press. ISBN 0664224199.  
  13. ^ Emma Brockes (2004-08-02). "That's my boy". The Guardian.,,1274066,00.html. Retrieved 2007-05-14.  
  14. ^ Burnett, John (March 12, 1997). "All things Considered: Scientology". All Things Considered (National Public Radio). Retrieved 2007-10-28.  
  15. ^ Groening, Matt. (2003). Commentary for "Hell Is Other Robots", in Futurama: Volume One [DVD]. 20th Century Fox. "I did get a call from a Scientologist who had somehow gotten hold of the script."
  16. ^ Booker, M. Keith (2006). Drawn to Television: Prime-Time Animation from the Flintstones to Family Guy. Greenwood Press. p. 66. ISBN 0275990192.  
  17. ^ Clark, Mike (December 22, 2006). "New on DVD". USA Today (Gannett Co. Inc.). Retrieved 2007-10-24.  
  18. ^ Staff (February 2, 2007). "DVDS: NEW RELEASES". The Mirror: p. 7.  
  19. ^ Mitchell-Frey, Isaac (February 11, 2007). "Comedy - The Simpsons, Series 9". Herald Sun: p. E12.  
  20. ^ Staff (March 15, 1998). "Family Choice: Today's TV highlights". Sunday Mail (Scottish Daily Record & Sunday Mail Ltd.).  
  21. ^ Shalda, Jeff. (December 29, 2000). Religion in the Simpsons. Online. The Simpsons Archive. Retrieved 2007-02-10.  
  22. ^ Taylor, Tessa (August Term 2004) (PDF). An Introduction to Philosophy: The Wit and Wisdom of Lisa Simpson. St Mary's College, Durham: Farmington Institute. pp. 30–32.  

Further reading

External links



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