An episode that once deeply offended me is now one of my favourites in a long line of classics from The Simpsons. Here are my comments on Bart vs Australia from my honours thesis.
it is worth noting that there are occasions where audiences, broadcasters and governments in countries like Australia, Brazil and Japan have reacted negatively to episodes portraying their peoples and places1. The Simpsons’ creator Matt Groening is also conscious that depictions of particular nations can spark strong reactions, even apologising to a journalist for the episode Bart vs. Australia2.
The stereotypes of nation are self-conscious and deliberate. They are also the product of a certain mischievous nonchalance by the writers and other staff. Though the stereotypes are presented in this vein, Dobson argues that they still cause distress, drawing mostly on reactions to the episodes Blame it on Lisa, which was set in Brazil, and Bart vs. Australia as his evidence: “television audiences are sensitive to the national stereotypes portrayed in a seemingly innocuous animated comedy”3.
When The Simpsons visit Australia (in Bart vs. Australia), the parody of Australian culture and people is very strong but it is Bart’s ignorance (and arguably America’s ignorance) that causes the real conflict. Bart has never heard about the Southern Hemisphere, let alone any of the countries in it, until Lisa shows him a globe. The apparently insular nature of America is on display, and though it might seem negative, Bart and Homer are comfortable with their ignorance. American dominance is assured because Americans have no desire to look beyond their borders. When the Simpsons leave Australia at the end of the episode, they observe with delight that Bart’s bullfrogs are destroying crops. The lone koala clinging to the undercarriage of the helicopter seems sinister, but is unlikely to actually do any damage to the United States. Beard describes the practice: “While America’s insularity is often parodied… anything ‘foreign’ is thus relegated to the status of stereotype or caricature in order for this parody to function”4. The simplification takes place in order to assure the US of discursive dominance.
- Dobson, H. (2006). Mister Sparkle Meets the Yakuza: Depictions of Japan in The Simpsons. Journal of Popular Culture, 39(1), 44–68. doi:10.1111/j.1540-5931.2006.00203.x [↩]
- Idato, M. (2000, July 18). Matt Groening’s family values. The Age. Melbourne. Retrieved from http://www.snpp.com/other/interviews/groening00a.html [↩]
- Dobson, H. (2006). Mister Sparkle Meets the Yakuza: Depictions of Japan in The Simpsons. Journal of Popular Culture, 39(1), 44–68. doi:10.1111/j.1540-5931.2006.00203.x, p.48 [↩]
- Beard, D. (2004). Local Satire with a Global Reach: Ethnic Stereotyping and Cross-Cultural Conflicts in The Simpsons. In J. Alberti (Ed.), Leaving Springfield: The Simpsons and the Possibility of Oppositional Culture (pp. 273–291). Detroit: Wayne State University Press, p.286 [↩]