Banksy’s Simpsons opening: a failed cultural critique?

0 Posted by - October 17, 2010 - Features, Reviews, Screen, Visual art

Like pretty much everyone on Twitter Sunday night, I was excited that Banksy had done an intro for The Simpsons. Given that the show has for the last few years struggled to regain any sense of current cultural legitimacy, involving Banksy — the noted British graffiti artist — seemed like a legitimately cool idea, even if it probably was a couple of years too late.

But then I saw it. And, frankly, I don’t get the hype.

I’ll clarify: It’s not the hype about Banksy I don’t get. I happen to think the guy has had some very notable flashes of brilliance in the past. This, however, was not one of them.

Naomi Klein wrote on Twitter yesterday: “I’ve seen Banksy’s Simpsons thing. It’s brilliant. Still, can’t help but despair at capitalism’s ability to absorb all critiques”

I’m not so sure of its brilliance, to be honest. It was funny in spots — the emaciated panda and unicorn got a chuckle out of — but for someone like Banksy, whose messages have actually been rather subversive for so long, it seemed more like a — dare I say — sell out than anything else.

Over at the Monkey See blog at NPR, Linda Holmes discusses the intro, calling it a “(Kind Of) Daring Opening”.

She writes:

The Simpsons has been animated partially in South Korea since its inception. That’s not new. But there have never been claims that it is produced in a sweatshop — and, in fact, Simpsons executive producer Al Jean was quick to clarify that “It’s a fantasy — none of it is true. That being said, it’s funny.”

So if it’s supposed to be an actual critique of The Simpsons, or of outsourcing, or of standards that people in first world nations accept, a significant part of its bite would seem to be reduced by the comforting reassurance to the audience that “it’s a fantasy.” In other words, you might need to think about outsourcing or sweatshops — but certainly not with regard to this show. Be uncomfortable, but not about us.

And that’s a pretty good point. What, in the end, are either the creators of The Simpsons or Banksy actually trying to say with this intro? It takes us back to Klein’s despair of “capitalism’s ability to absorb all critiques.” Not only has it absorbed the critique (whatever it was — one about sweatshops and outsourcing, apparently), but placed that critique so far beyond itself that even a show that purports to be a satire, armed with one of this generation’s most interesting and intelligent street artists, can’t actually come up with anything new to say about it.

In fact, it said so little, that apart from the appearance of a Banksy-esque rat near the beginning, none of the animation even looked like Banksy’s art. If subversion had actually been the point, maybe it should have. Say, for example, if it were Banksy’s art that had gone through the South Korean sweatshop illustration process and come out shiny and new Simpsons-esque art instead. Rather, it was an unfortunate case of actual street art being stripped down of all its intention and integrity, reduced to a corporate logo, bereft of all irony or nuance: Brand Banksy, brought to you by 20th Century Fox. That’s it.

Holmes ends her critique with a good question: “Has this bit led to more discussion of outsourcing and sweatshops, or more discussion of The Simpsons and Banksy?”

Obviously the answer is the latter.

Originally posted to Colin’s blog, Yesterday’s Weirdness.

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