McGinnis: Laughing to the BanksyWritten by Jeff McGinnis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Say what you will about the Oct. 9 episode, but you have to admit this: It’s gotten people talking about “The Simpsons” again.
There are few shows which can be said to have changed everything, but “The Simpsons” is one of them. When it began, the animated series was a lightning rod for passionate opinion, with many rightly praising it for its creative genius, and others condemning it for its supposedly negative effects on “family values,” whatever that meant.
As time went by, the show matured into a true comedy classic — at the time, the best show on television. For years, the show became the benchmark by which all television comedy would be judged. It was smart, irreverent, hip and funny as hell.
But as time passed, something sad happened to “The Simpsons.” The show’s creative well seemed to run dry. And still, it pushed on, long past any rational point of closure. That was more than a decade ago. For those who remember the early years, the recent incarnations of “The Simpsons” are like watching a brain-dead patient on life support. It’s still hanging on, barely, and will keep hanging on until someone pulls the plug.
Seems like very few people talk about “The Simpsons” anymore. Which is why the opening credit sequence that aired on Oct. 9, directed by controversial British graffiti artist Banksy, must be given credit — it got people interested. But to what end?
For those who missed it, the opening started as almost every other “Simpsons” ever has, save for the name “BANKSY” being sprawled everywhere. It led to the traditional “couch gag,” a joke that is different each week. This week’s “gag” was more like a lecture.
The footage cut to stylized shots of what seemed to be a Korean animation studio, where anonymous laborers toiled to make “The Simpsons.” Children dipped the animation cells into open vats of toxic waste. Rats munched on piles of bones in the corner. Workers ground up live kittens to make stuffing for Bart plush dolls. “Simpsons” DVDs were made by using a dying unicorn’s horn to punch out the center — all inside a prison shaped like the 20th Century Fox logo.
You can’t fault Banksy for being subtle, that’s for sure. Nor can you say the creators of “The Simpsons” weren’t somewhat brave for letting the opening air. But realistically — what did this grotesquely on-point satire accomplish?
Fox is meant to be seen as a villain. But it’s not like “The Simpsons” hasn’t taken shots at its network before. And it certainly hasn’t ever been a secret that the show hired Korean animators — after all, it’s been right there in the closing credits for two decades. If Fox really had been outraged by or concerned about the opening, it simply wouldn’t have aired it.
Another target is “The Simpsons” itself. The opening clearly is supposed to take shots at the cash cow the franchise has become. But the days of Simpson-mania are long gone. It would be one thing to make such observations if the show was still on the cutting edge of pop culture. But we’re at least 12 years past that.
But the biggest target of all might be the viewers themselves. Imagine watching an opening which basically tells you this show is produced in the most horrific conditions imaginable. And then, you’re expected to keep watching and be entertained by it, without any moral objections. What does that say about the artists’ attitude toward their audience?
The big winner of the whole thing is Banksy, who made a name for himself in America in the space of a few minutes. He can stand as the brave artist who took shots at Fox and lived to tell the tale. Granted, the shots weren’t creative or artful, and his targets will make a lot of cash from his criticism, but it’s the thought that counts, I guess.
For “The Simpsons,” the minor firestorm will be over by the time this year’s “Treehouse of Horror” plays. The show will keep going, Fox will keep making money, any sense of quality or relevance will once again vanish. And those of us who remember the good old days still wait patiently for the day when what was once the best show on television will be allowed to rest in peace.
E-mail Jeff at PopGoesJeff@gmail.com.