Monday, October 11, 2010

Micah talks about The Simpsons, but can't come up with a title

The notable artist Bansky provided the vision for the memorable couch gag on last night’s edition of The Simpsons. In Bansky’s vision, Our Favorite Family’s rush to couch is produced by anguished Korean, presumably South Korean, animators working in dry and literally toxic conditions. And that is the good life as we also see the sweatshop, complete with animal chipper, necessary to produce the Simpsons products that I love, and frankly can’t find in stores much anymore. A panda is whipped and the horn of a shackled unicorn is used to poke holes in the center of DVDs. All of this done in a giant 20th Century Fox building that is guarded by a barbed wire fence like it is a prison. (You can see the intro by going here.)

Now obviously Banksy does not understand how modern capitalism works. A unicorn would be paraded around from city to city and also forced to breed with other stallions to give horse racing a much-needed boost. Hollywood would of course do what is presently unthinkable and make movies about horses that didn’t die over 20 years ago.

I also wonder how accurate the bleak portrayal of the production of The Simpsons is. There is a significant range of conditions in the factories of less developed (or whatever other term you want to use) countries, and I have never been able to find out much about the conditions in the Chinese factories that Homer Simpson clocks and such. As for the animation of the show, it is done in South Korea, which I believe has relatively good working conditions as these things go.

There are probably some out there who would respond to my unqualified response of Fox by saying that exaggeration was used in this opening to make a comedic point. To them, I say exaggeration for comedic purposes is tired and old fashioned. Unless Bret Michaels is to be a star again, I need sincerity and this opening makes me uncomfortable because it makes me question not only my love all things related to The Simpsons, but how I consciously realize that I love this show in an unquestioning way. I don’t worry all that much about the conditions used to produce my action figures and Burger King toys, nor do fear the social outcome of my actions. It is a release from the examinations of everyday life that plague me in all but a dozen or so areas of my existence. Moreover, I hate what makes me uncomfortable almost as much as I hate what I don’t understand.

The political elements of opening are also worth looking at. Fox Broadcasting will go about its business after this aired without a touch of change. This suggests that books such as the John Alberti edited Leaving Springfield: The Simpsons and the Possibility of Oppositional Culture and Mark I. Pinsky’s The Gospel According to The Simpsons are right about the impotence of The Simpsons as an agent of dissent. (Alberti’s work is more nuanced on this point, FWIW.) Then again, one only needs to look at a copy of Juxtapoz to see that major titans of capitalism such as Nike are more than willing to pay for artwork that the average person often can neither understand nor appreciate. Does that mean that art itself is ineffective at commentary? Perhaps, and perhaps there is no effective way to critique the world as it currently exists.

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At October 11, 2010 1:43 PM, Blogger micah holmquist said...

This is a bit different than most posts here, and not just because it is an off the cuff attempt to express artistic criticism in a comedic form. (I’m not sure how well it worked.) But I do think the post touches upon an important issue not discussed much here. How can we, but which I mean people who generally agree with the positions presented in Dead Horse, converse with and convince others? The current methods are not working.

At October 11, 2010 2:17 PM, Blogger Jonathan Versen said...

Hi Micah,
I don't think art is ineffective as commentary, or as a tool of persuasion. (I note that Glenn Beck has a novel out.)

As far as "critiquing the world as it exists goes," I think the post-modern ironic stance being such a dominant attitude is a bit of a problem, as millions of people think they're too cool to be earnest about anything. (Or at least, they think they need to seem too cool, etc, etc...)

At October 11, 2010 5:02 PM, Blogger JM said...

Al Jean explains the opening and seems very uncaring about what Bansky was saying:

Hell, I'm surprised they didn't realize Bansky was actually saying fuck you all.

At October 12, 2010 5:53 AM, Blogger Mimi said...

Good lord, did I actually just watch an entire episode of The Simpsons? I did and, incredibly, I enjoyed it.
Micah's post make me think of when I buy some inexpensive, unneeded item. What comes to mind--uninvited, I can tell you--is the idea of the grindingly poor, undernourished, slave-in-all--but-name foreignor (Asian?) who sweated buckets making it just so this well-fed, well-housed, placid American can enjoy a little extra luxury she doesn't need and doesn't deserve.
But I loved the show...

At October 12, 2010 9:29 AM, Blogger micah holmquist said...

I think you are right and I doubt this will change till people believe in something as fiercely as they oppose things.

Jean’s statement about how “The Simpsons” is produced is weak. Then again, he isn’t responsible for the manufacturing of licensed merchandise, or even in the discussion.

As far as Banksy’s message, hasn’t he included comments in his work that he is aware of the odd –I’m trying to avoid using a word that starts with I here- situation where his political street art has resulted in him being a sought after artist who can sell many pounds of paintings and such? I don’t follow him all that closely, but I believe he has. Assuming this is the case, I don’t see how this opening would be antagonistic towards “The Simpsons.” Rather it would be acknowledgement of the contradictions that exist in making popular, or at least relatively popular, works.

I suspect Fox let this be broadcast, because The Simpsons makes lots of money and the formula for doing that is giving the writers and producers a lot of leeway. Besides, they can pat themselves on the back for allowing such commentary to be expressed.

Two related cases spring to mind. While he was at NBC, David Letterman would criticize the heads of GE as idiots and the like, but he didn’t like it when Harvey Pekar brought up GE’s labor and environmental record on the show. Then again, Letterman didn’t censor it, so it just went into the matrix. The other is the response of the Bush Administration in 2003 to anti-war protests. When asked about it, I believe it was Bush who said that he thought it was wonderful that people could express themselves in a free society. (I don’t have an exact quote. It might have been Ari Fleischer or someone else.) Which is true, I suppose, unless you believe that God handed down this and other rights as a gift that is the birthright of every human, but I digress... The point being that they were responding to criticism of the war by saying how great it was that people could say those things. They didn’t have to interact with the ideas and the point of free expression was apparently nothing other than free expression itself.

Are you surprised that you enjoyed the show because it was The Simpsons or because it was The Simpsons in 2010? The show has consistently been a source of brilliant humor and even commentary. It is also humanity’s greatest achievement. (I’m not willing to debate the previous point.) While it certainly is not as good as it was in say 1993, I do not believe that it has declined as much as is the conventional wisdom. This was a good episode IMHO. The Michael Scioscia was a reference to a 1992 episode where he was one of several Major Leaguers brought in as ringers on the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant softball team.

As for your point about consumerism, the difficult thing is that not buying the Beanie Baby or Pez container is not going to change the situation much. That’s true of individuals as well as of the broader society.

At October 12, 2010 9:29 AM, Blogger micah holmquist said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At October 12, 2010 2:08 PM, Blogger Mimi said...

Micah, I guess I'm surprised I liked The S.'s because I watch little t.v. and haven't seen this show for at least 5 years. Wouldn't dream of challenging you that it's mankind's greatest achievement--hey, it's certainly more interesting and creative than the bible, don't you think?


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