About Me

My photo
I'm an NYC-based director, and this is an outlet for my various musings about theater and about the city of New York. Sometimes the subjects run together, sometimes they are entirely separate, but between the two they comprise the most fitful, most intense, most trying love affair of my few years. They fill my head, my heart, my mouth every hour of every day; they could fill a book.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

I Care About The Simpsons for the First Time in 10 Years.

So, this is the first post of mine that isn't strictly theater or New York related, but it's still firmly in the arts realm, plus it's just too strange not to discuss, so I'm going for it.

I'm talking about the opening sequence of The Simpsons done by UK graffiti artist Banksy.

Now, in the interest of total honesty, I haven't watched The Simpsons in a decade. The truth? The joke got old for me around age 16. It's difficult to explain. Although the subject matter continues to be socially relevant, its brand of humor somehow... isn't. Its satirical style, starting with its interpretation of the prototypical American family, seems dated now. It's not edgy anymore, it doesn't shock or challenge; the show has somehow gone soft.

Feel free to disagree with me there. I know the argument, "I can't explain it, but it's just not edgy," is totally airtight and not vague AT ALL.

That is, by the way, a total digression, as the sequence in question is, if nothing else, certainly edgy and socially relevant.

But to continue. I also had no idea who Banksy was until this opening sequence was brought to my attention via the remarkable power of the interwebs, so I'll immediately concede that I am maybe not the most informed person to be declaring her opinions on the matter. But this does spark in me some major opinions, so I'm going to vocalize them anyway. Maybe even create a dialogue here.

First of all, here's the sequence to which I am referring. Embedding a video within a blog post is still out of my range of capabilities, so click here to see it on Hulu.

As I understand it, Fox/The Simpsons allegedly outsources much of its merchandising to South Korea. I say allegedly because I'm not sure if these are simply allegations or an undisputed fact. In any case, the sequence is obviously a response to that subject.

My first question is, if this was created in response, then by whom? Obviously, the sequence was directed by Banksy, but it was certainly realized by the creative team behind The Simpsons. So, why? What kind of response is this? It doesn't refute the allegations, or paint The Simpsons or Fox in a particularly positive light.

Or does it? The images in the sequence become so increasing absurd that by the time we arrive at the scenes of workers killing kittens to stuff Bart Simpson dolls or abusing unicorns to manufacture DVD's they are laughable. But are we supposed to laugh? I don't feel much like laughing. The tone of the sequence is eerie and dark; it evokes an ethos of horror and tragedy rather than humor. And even if the tone were more overtly satirical, the issue of sweatshops and the exploitation of foreign workers is a serious issue and I'm not quite sure why it should be lampooned, especially be an organization accused of contributing to it.

What exactly is the message here? Is it, "Hey, exactly what kind of hell do you imagine in these South Korean sweatshops? Do you think we're killing kittens and unicorns over there? Everybody just chill out." I certainly hope not, but... it kind of seems that way?

Or maybe this is a secret form of protest by the socially conscious artists behind The Simpsons? An effort bring awareness to a business practice they disapprove of on the part of the organization that produces them? That would actually be pretty cool. And hey, it's gotten me talking, it's gotten my Facebook page a-buzzing on subject about which I was hitherto entirely ignorant. It's even gotten me a vaguely indignant - a feat in my generation of glorified indifference.

Still, as far as I can tell, it's supposed to be humorous, but it's funny for all the wrong reasons. Not in the "that's-so-wrong-I-can't-believe-I'm-laughing," sense, but in the sense that the humor seems to tear down the argument that (if you land on the side of human decency) it should be building up.

I just can't figure it out.

1 comment:

  1. The more I try to think of a way to frame my response to this, the more I struggle. I understand what I mean to say, but I am, as always recently, braindead. So, ok. I'll try to be succinct & apologize in advance if my point does not quite come across.

    The Simpsons has long been fond of jabbing at Fox whenever possible. Fox allows it because, even now that the Simpsons aren't funny anymore, they're still a major aspect of Fox's programming and, ironically, I can't think of any other television show so visibly tied to Fox. What I mean is, if someone runs up to you on the street and says, "hey, name the first tv show you can think of that Fox broadcasts," a lot of people would think first of the Simpsons. So, acrimonious or not, it's a business relationship that has worked well for both entities.

    You throw Banksy into the mix. A once anonymous street artist, his work is socially aware in a way that condemns not only what he perceives to be corrupting social forces--capitalism, police authority, and so forth--but also the will to conform that makes corruption by such forces possible. So my perception of the opening sequence is that he is condemning, yeah, third-world sweat shops, but in exaggerating the horrors of the sweat shop until they're killing kittens (I thought they were rats?) to make Bart dolls amongst the skeletons of children, he's also condemning how jaded the public is, at this point recognizing the various horrors of the corporate world but failing completely to take them seriously. The absurdity that Banksy's piece reaches by the end is much more ludicrous than what actually occurs, but ultimately no more horrific.

    Also, pretty sure that the Simpsons' staff's decision to have Banksy open the show is mainly just an attempt to stay "relevant" and "edgy" even though it really IS just kind of a phoned-in shade of what it used to be, but that may just be another dimension of the show's humor (which has always been self-deprecating, including itself in the world it's so bitterly satirized) rather than a marketing ploy.

    That's my take, anyway.


    ps: I will probably not make many comments on your blog, but I read every entry.