Bart Simpson Mania
Okay well I have to tell you it. Initially how I even got involved in early. Nineteen eighty-nine Nancy. Overfilled was the head of marketing and special events for the Children's division of JC Penney To Twenty New York I was young and ignorant so I went into the building. Got In the elevator on my gosh just like how many hundreds of people can sit in one elevator at one time after it stopped looking about ten floors on one floor it. The doors opened and it's cost him characters. Hand came into the elevator to stop it right is it is almost closing which annoyed all of and then the hand came back and the door closed. I looked at the guy next to me and I said what in the world was that and he said. Oh it's Character Martin Bart and his family were still relatively unknown. The only appeared in short segments on the Tracey Ullman. Show a critically acclaimed but low rated variety series airing on the then new Fox network but ten months after Nancy overfilled sub Bart in an elevator. The Simpsons premiered in Primetime and the spiky-haired smart mouth. Bart was suddenly everywhere. Mr Burs did you get there. Literally sent veteran recalling for got to spam Simpson's was Fox's first real hit a ratings smash but it was also a merchandising machine. Do you have a sense of like like how? How much was the simpsons stuff selling? Oh my gosh journey heyday. I mean millions and millions of dollars. It was the biggest thing out there in one thousand nine hundred. An estimated fifteen million bart t shirts were sold shirts. That had bart saying things. Like don't have a cow man. I'm Bart Simpson. Who The hell are you? One in particular showed bar pointing a slingshot and whoever was looking at the. T. Shirt while he was standing underneath the word underachiever in quotes saying prayers of it. Man Things are going along fine then they come out with an underachiever teacher and it was amazing. I really hadn't fully experienced the wrath of customers. We've getting letters like what was letter on. My Gosh people tore up credit card. Jc Penney credit card. This grandmother called me to Tell me that I was killing kid. She explained to me that kids are going to do what Markson says and if he's an underachiever and huge sending that message they of course are not going to try in school which means they won't graduate which means they're going to turn to drugs and then they were overdosing. Guy Wow okay. They were outraged that we would bring in something that sent a negative message to kids. This is Dakota Ring. A show about cracking cultural mysteries. I'm willing pass. And every month. We take on a cultural question habit or idea crack it open and try to figure out what it means and why it matters in nineteen eighty nine came down with bar fever way more obnoxious badly behaved and oddly given that he was a four fingered cartoon more realistic. The Miss Smart Alex of Sitcoms Pass Bar over the youth of this nation me included. I was an elementary school in the simpsons. Premiered am I desperately wanted a bar chart not because I loved the show so much? I didn't even watch it. Because he was just that cool but not everybody liked bar or the simpsons provocative attitude quite so much it wasn't just JC Penney. That was getting phone. Calls from aggrieved grandmothers. The Simpsons Bart and his t shirts briefly became a chit in the culture wars banned in some schools and department stores and held up by the most powerful people in the country. As an example of America gone wrong thirty years later getting upset about Bart Simpson. His fresh language lackluster attitude and minor. Rebellions seems impossibly quaint. I mean if only we were fighting about whether it was appropriate to print h e double hockey sticks on a t shirt. But what's not so. Quaint is what's lurking underneath the bark. Panic a set of ideas anxieties in this case about pop culture prescriptive powers its ability to shape the world just by showing it to us so today on decoder ring a surprisingly complicated history who afraid of Bart Simpson. We are going to keep on trying to strengthen the American family to make American families a lot more like the waltons and a lot less like the simpsons. That's President George. H W Bush speaking at a rally at the Nineteen Ninety two Republican National Convention months before he would lose his bid for a second term to Bill Clinton at the time of the speech. The Simpsons have been on the air for three years. Averaging over twenty million viewers a week. It was Fox's first top ten show its first top thirty show. Even it had been on the cover of Newsweek time and rolling stone and already want a pair of Emmy's Bart Brilliantly voiced by Nancy Cartwright was the breakout star and he's old countless pieces of official and bootleg merchandise not just shirts but toothpaste pinball machines snow-boots butter fingers and talking bark dolls. Show was such a sensation that nine hundred ninety record called the simpsons sing the blues went to number three on the billboard charts led by do the Bartman which backup vocals by Michael Jackson? A fan of the show science she can do the Bart being everybody back though. The simpsons was boundary pushing irreverend. Which you like you say grace dear God we pay for all this stuff ourselves. So thanks for nothing was also a show about an intact churchgoing nuclear family where the father works. The MOM stays at home. Everyone eats dinner together. I mean they are trying to get their kids to say grace. Here was the president of the United States attacking it anyway as an example of degraded and degrading American family. Bush wasn't the only one William J Bennett. The national drugs are had walked into a rehab center seeing a poster of the simpsons and ad-libbed. You guys aren't watching the simpsons are you. That's not going to help you first. Lady Barbara Bush had called the show. The dumbest thing I've ever seen. There were stands had softened after March Timpson had written her a letter in response principles all over the country had banned Bart Simpson shirts for containing the word Hell and potentially making underachiever nece aspirational this. Time it is Bart's wise cracking t shirts that are in trouble. This one has been expelled from some schools for its profanity. Another underachiever and proud of it has been kicked out of classes from Orange California to Fremont Ohio reaction to the t. Shirt tempest is mixed cartoon. We won't act like Short Simpson. If you're underachieving Senate be proud of it and there were plenty of parents not conservative ones. Even who are a little wary of Bart's fresh mouth in my recollection and my mother does not corroborate this version of events. By the way I wasn't allowed to get the Bart t shirt. I wanted where he says. Eat my shorts and had to settle very disappointingly for one where he says Cowabunga Dude while hanging ten. I rarely wore it Bush and insulting the simpsons drawing on all of this the way the show had become in certain circles a short end for how popular culture was leading the American family astray to begin to understand how the simpsons now an American institution could ever have seemed like such an alarmingly bad influence. I'M GONNA I look at the network. It was airing on because the story of the Simpsons is also the story of Fox. The Fox Broadcasting Company Co founded by Rupert. Murdoch and Barry diller began airing its first primetime series on Sunday nights in April of nineteen eighty seven at the time. Abc CBS and NBC dominated. Television and previous attempts to create a fourth network had failed Fox at the start was operating at a deficit. It was only available in eighty percent of homes. It was never gonna be able to beat the big three networks who are richer and more established at their own game so decided to counter program long before cable and Net Flex Fox started out by trying to find a niche Fox when they launch a pretty bold interesting strategy up thinking that they're not going to be a big umbrella they're going to go after a very specific demographic. Jonathan Gray is professor of media and Cultural Studies at the University of Wisconsin Madison. And he wrote a book about the simpsons rather than just sort of gently going after that. They're going to actively exclude of capitalize upon the exclusion of other demographic. And what demographic is that like? What do you owe older boring? People are that's where they're excluding and what they're going after sort of younger folk. Who who get it? Who are sick and tired of the the big tent gentle humor? Who wants edge. It's really going after that group. And what that means. Is it sending clear messages that it just doesn't care about Parental group disdain for the parental group was very much on display. Fox's I two primetime series one of which was the Raunchy comedy married with children which thumbed its nose like crazy at the uplifting family. Sitcom the other was the Tracey Ullman. Show which featured short interstitial videos of a googly eyed jerkily drawn family called the simpsons well goodnight shun Dad What is the mind? Is it just a system of impulses or is it something tangible? Relax given how famous the characters are and how widely it style has been adopted. It's really hard to understand how new the simpsons was when it first premiered but one at arrived. It was unprecedented for one thing. It was a cartoon the last cartoon to Erin. Primetime had been the flintstones from nineteen sixty to nineteen sixty six which needless to say had a very different. The Simpsons in contrast was edgy adult referential satirical anti earnest. And it assumed that people watching at home could keep up Hari. Kondabolu is a comedian and he grew up loving the simpsons. There was one thing where episode where I remember like Lisa was talking about Poplin Arruda Pablo said laughter is the language of the so. I am familiar with the works. Pablo Naroda amidst just stuff like that like it was just so you felt cool kind of being on the inside the unit. You didn't know the references you want to know. The references made it okay to have an inside joke. It made you want to learn more. The show was also uniquely disrespectful on the Simpsons the powers that be could be stupid or worse. It was skeptical of everything. Dad's principles bosses religion and the TV Sitcom itself but I stumbled upon the most delicious British Sitcom shot APP into better yet loving family of soccer hooligans. If they're not having a go with a bird they're having a row with a winker. There was nothing like that on Primetime. Tv or late night. Tv Bill Oakley. A comedy writer became a staff writer on the simpsons in his third season and was co show runner of seasons. Seven and eight. One is very hard to remember. It mostly comes extremely corny and formulaic however was vet was not caring it all and it was all about really formulaic things about like. You know like your father in the family and not using profanity and there was an immense number. Rules nineteen eighties. Generally speaking was a time of cute. Middle Class. Family shows full of sage grownups. Adorable equipping kids and moral lessons. There were dozens of series like this full House. Growing pains family matters but the best example was the dominant. Sitcom of the Nineteen Eighty S. The cosby show starring the affluent. Genteel loving African American family. The huxtables instead of acting disappointment. Because I'm not like you. Maybe you can just accept why I am in love me anyway. Because I'm your son the simpsons along with married with children and Roseanne which began in one thousand nine hundred eighty eight on. Abc was a direct challenge to the idealized family show. You'll find that this will win you the respect of your family and friends respect the simpsons for one thing. We're not aspirated at all. In the fourth ever episode of the show Dufy Dad homework becomes so upset about his family's embarrassing bad behavior that he brings them to a therapist. The therapist after trying everything including having the family administer electric shocks to each other gives up. He can't fix them. They are unfixable. He eventually refunds their money. Which of course they used to buy a new TV. Excuse me dear. Shouldn't we be heading down to the pawnshop get our TV back that piece of Jong? Forget it we're going to get a new. Tv One one INCH SCREEN REALISTIC FLESH. Tones the conflict between the simpsons and the cosby show was made explicit at the start of the simpsons second season when Fox moved the show so it would air at exactly the same time as cosby. Where it bested it in the overnight ratings. The story was a very big deal at the time. Like such a big deal. I remember talking about it with my classmates. And that's not because we were ratings. Obsessed nine year olds because it was everywhere a business story but one freighted with meaning take down the cosby show. It was a moment folks for like it is almost like a social padded mark. Anthony Neal is a professor of African and African American studies at Duke. We gave you this. Wholesome version of American family and it was multicultural diverse. And instead you know we get Bart Simpson in the face off between the simpsons and the COSBY's neither was understood entirely as a fiction. They were symbols and stands for the American family. And here's the dysfunctional rude struggling. Simpson's a thorn in the side of phony American idealism toppling. The huxtables the pinnacle of highly functional. Domesticity theo could eat bart's shorts George. H W Bush's remarks about the simpsons would have been a lot more current if used the huxtables instead of the Waltons. He didn't because for a number of reasons. The huxtables didn't conjure the nostalgic vision of the American past. He was trying to apply his voters with the Waltons kind of did a period. Tv drama that aired in the nineteen seventies. The waltons was about a large close white family in Virginia in the Nineteen Thirties and forties. It did not represent exactly what Bush wanted to for one thing. Much of it was set during the depression and the Waltons went through lots of hard times. Bush was attributing to it a Sunnier. Nineteen fifties sensibility. No vibe you do get the most lasting thing about the series the sequence in which the Waltons say good night to one another. Mama not been that everyone tonight. Children Good Night Day Professor Jonathan Gray again I mean Bush is really trying to go to this sort of weird nostalgia for the fifties and I say weird because it's a an algae that's always kind of been based in fact upon sort of sitcoms and suggesting like believing that leave it to beaver actually is health things locked in the fifties which they didn't so yeah back in nineteen ninety two the president of the United States saying that America's future ought to be more like it's passed when the world looked a certain way families were still wholesome and respectful and Times. Were yes great when people talk about how the nation was great. It was great for all sorts of people and the lie. That was being told to us by a lot of these. Sitcoms is precisely what the simpsons are making fun of. And I think that's why the simpsons could be recognized as threatening because what the simpsons are saying is is not just that families don't look like this but they never looked like this if the simpsons it was a rebellious show on a rebellious network challenging the way things have been done. Oddly so was its merchandise. The Simpsons merchandising situation was not just robust it was unheard of. There have been some kids. Tv shows like teenage mutant Ninja Turtles that it sold a lot of merchandise but the simpsons sold more to different kinds of people from different places of different ages of different backgrounds and a big chunk of that merchandise wasn't even official product. I am each of the ladies early nineties when I'm in high school actually. Phillip Cunningham is an assistant professor of media studies at Quinnipiac University in. I am the owner at that time of several bootleg Bart Simpson t shirts at the height of Bart Mania Bootleg Bart Simpson. T shirts. Were everywhere the most common of these reimagined Bart Simpson. As a person of color blackbird. There were t shirts of Black Bart with Nelson Mandela of air. Simpson of Bart Marley Bart and Maggie in front of an outline of Africa. Under the heading. It's cool being black. The ones I can recall isn't a had one. They had some sort of just Lake Flavor. Flav of public enemy. So you ended the go chain with the clock on it I know had the sort of Roster Bart one was fairly popular in. That's the welcome ones I can remember. I'm sure ahead more. Did you have any like? Did you have any non absolutely have absolutely no legit? Simpson's none deliver black Bart t shirts which now sell for hundreds of dollars on ebay. Were so popular that Simpson Creator. Matt groening commented on the phenomenon. You have to have mixed feelings when you're getting ripped off. He said bar is like Santa Claus. No one really knows what color he is. What is it about Bart? That was appealing for example. The flattop hairstyle for example. I mean I don't want to overstate that. You know that the hairstyles and poor put. I had a very high flats up at that time so reading him as you know why at that time was so difficult because he wasn't right he was literally yellow So that was endearing but I also just the general rebelliousness. He's involved the skateboard culture. There's no affinity towards hip hop at that time. Certainly but he was into punk. You sort of get that again vibe. Rebellious listen that coalescence of course with the rise of really rebellious hip. Hop at the time there was a huge deficit and TV. Representations of people of color blackmail teams had to make do with the guys from different world. Theo huxtable and Steve Urkel Black Bart was to some extent about scarcity about making the best of very paltry options but Bart and the simpsons did really seem to understand that authority could be corrupt stupid punitive. The system could be merciless narrow minded enough to label a fourth grader and underachiever the talking back to all of that more than just being cool could be truth. Telling all of this. Which is why Bart was so threatening to the status quo in the first place is also. Why Bart looking like Flava Flav? On a t shirt made some sense. He also knew what time it was. This is the one time I got suspended from school. I drew sort of Bar Simpson. Oh my jeans and the public enemy's symbol and so that was being rebellious. It's I'm an easy to fit perfectly. So you got you got suspended because Bart and yes and public enemy my own my own my only suspicion ever so. You're like exactly what everyone's worried about. Parkinson's exactly exactly little. Social Panic actually pay though? He corrupted a poor Ohio industrial tomboy as bar himself. There was some hand wringing about Black Bart from within the black community articles about the phenomenon. All quote someone who is worried. That Black Bart like Bart is setting a bad example and some of the shirts. It should look pretty offensive. One of the variations of the Bart Marley shirts for example looks like a racist caricature. That wasn't true of most of the bootleg stuff though and black bar charts just like the official merchandise Cap Selling. Nothing ever got less cool for offending alarming concern. Grownups after all Fox was of two minds about the whole thing unofficial merchandise lost them money but it did keep the show on the cutting edge. It was a good and it was bad. We kept it relevant and an edgy. When we couldn't be that's Nancy over field again who are work on the simpsons with J. C. Penney ended up going to Fox very early in the simpsons. Ron where she oversaw. The show's licensing in Dan. How add to the phenomenon in fact Fox which was very canny about monetize? It's black audience over the coming years would program towards black audience is more directly incorporated elements of bootleg bar into the official Bart March. And actually we use that very very thing to determine what some of our big sellers were going to be and we actually use that information influence some of our design graphics and our Market Block Bart proved Bart was so popular he had slipped the bounds of TV of ownership of officially licensed merchandise. And he could belong to anyone and that included. The members of America's armed forces another popular subset of Bootleg Bart. Merch was a Persian Gulf Bart the Persian Gulf War which started in August of nineteen ninety and ended six months later overlapped. Exactly with Bart Mania Bart showed up on tanks. There are t shirts with him throttling. Saddam Hussein of him peeing on a map of Iraq of him standing in a green gas. Saying go ahead. Hussein have a cow bars rebellious streak. His distrust of authority of tyranny was here interpreted as Patriotic Jingoistic pluck a devil-may-care attitude and violent streak could be put into the service of the US. A Matt grading disliked all of this. He told reporters that Bart was quote very opposed to the war but Persian Gulf Bart. When all the way to the top anyway in February of Nineteen ninety-one President Bush posed with a Patriotic Bart Simpson figuring while sitting at his desk in the Oval Office. The bartle dressed in camouflage and holding an American flag had been sent to a staff sergeant working on a base in Saudi Arabia by his grandmother. Who wanted to cheer him up. He'd passed it onto then defense secretary. Dick Cheney who would promise to bring it to the president one came across this picture. I thought Eighteen months before Bush insulted the Simpsons at the RNC. Who's holding in his very hands. Proof that Bart had become so popular it could be used towards almost any political end including the president's own another. Kinda politician would have leaned into that Bush did not. So why didn't Bush make bar into his political ally? Why do you make them into an enemy? The answer in part is the religious right when I think of my youth as a child of the Eighties. I got the sense that everything was dangerous. Roth handler is a professor of sociology. At Grinnell College. You know heavy metal was gonNA turn us in the Satanists Dungeons and dragons was GONNA have. Us join a call. Music was going to spark violence. Video Games were either. GonNa Rod our brains or turn us in the violent thugs and so the whole Simpson show is coming out of this context where there's all these fears about youth and this sense that pop culture can somehow be dangerous for youth. The nineteen eighties was an anxious time. The overt chaos of the nineteen sixties and seventies the civil rights movement the feminist movement. The Vietnam War the Antiwar Movement Watergate had outwardly. Quieted down and Ronald Reagan had been elected president by promising kind of retrenchment returned to order too old fashioned. American values but despite it being morning in America there was so much darkness the AIDS crisis the continued threat of nuclear annihilation the crack epidemic a stagnant economy and the large-scale changes happening to the structure of the American family with the rise of no fault divorce working mothers and single parent households and so there are these kind of shifts going on in the Society. Both culturally economically the. Just make this feel like a kind of a a dangerous time for kids. And so what happens then is rather than really account for these changes and somehow enact new policy somehow pop culture is is to blame for all the social problems that people perceive panicking about pop. Culture's influence on children is not new in the nineteen fifties for example a widespread fear that comic books full of Horror Noir and violence were making kids antisocial resulted in congressional hearings and the Comic Book Industry Regulating itself with a comic book code but of stressing about pop. Culture impact on kids happened before the nineteen eighties. It also happened a lot in the nineteen eighties and nineties. It was an anxiety about what was happening to our children. We weren't them but they were watching or listening or playing with something else. Heavy Metal Prince lyrics ice tea songs two live crew married with children Marilyn Manson first person shooter games in the nineteen eighties fears about parenting commonly expressed in terms of latchkey. Kids kids who are coming home after school letting themselves into the House and being raised by the television the problem was uninvolved parents. This is in stark contrast to now or the concern is the opposite helicopter parents who don't give their kids any space at all. But ironically it was still easier for latchkey parents to see and comprehend whether kids were watching even if they caught it only in glimpses because it was for one network. Tv show and for the other playing on a big TV. The everybody could see media. Habits have changed so completely the kids can now watch. Greens anywhere and are often doing so alone. Whatever they're watching is probably pretty incomprehensible to the adults in their lives. Anyway and over popular it is compared to network days. It's totally niche not all about the parental anxiety in the nineteen eighties rose to the level of full blown moral panics as a satanic panic did some like the one woman crusade against married with children seem sillier than others like the congressional threat to defend at the National Endowment for the arts. Some of these concerns were bipartisan. Tipper Gore the wife of then Democratic Senator Al Gore who led the charge to get a parental advisory sticker put on albums with explicit lyrics. After she listened to Prince's Darling. Nikki was her daughter and math. Magsi reinforcing of this anxiety directly motivating and in some instances or just. Passively aligning with and others with a heightened alarm about mainstream popular culture. There was particular to evangelical Christians who Ronald Reagan had recently brought into the Republican fold. Reagan had won the presidency in nineteen eighty for broadening the conservative coalition to include evangelicals 's aligning himself with groups like Jerry Falwell's moral majority and James Dobson focus on the family throughout the nineteen eighties. Focus on the family which was founded by Dobson in one thousand nine hundred ninety seven became among other things. I watch dog. Organisation for Evangelical Families Looking for guidance about mainstream popular culture which the organization was extremely skeptical. Hollywood was This place where people were actively trying to indoctrinate your children with all of these terrible values of like disrespect for parents and wanting to swear you know smoke or something like that. Eliza Wilkinson is a film critic at Vox and she had an evangelical focus on the family kind of upbringing. I would have never occurred to me to ask to watch it because I just knew instinctively. That wasn't a thing we were GONNA do. People were worried that their kids were going to want to be like bar and I think another big one Was that homer is depicted as kind of a slobby. You know loser Guy And I remember personally as a child hearing a lot about how all dads on. Tv words depicted as stupid and as worthless you know. Isn't that discounting all the great dads who are out there you know. Don't we wish this world was more likely? If it's fever? And less like homer. Simpson the concerns that elicit is describing assume that TV is both very powerful and very malignant. Instead of influencing a person an unpredictable harmless ways forget about positive ones a very concrete bad outcome is assumed mental. Be disheartened by what they see on screen. Kids will do what they see onscreen to go back to something. I mentioned at the beginning of this episode. This is a deeply prescriptive idea about how popular culture works. Forget whether our show is realistic. Funny Clever whether it describes the world as it is what matters is the can make the world over in its image the simpsons being the simpsons actually addressed this exact thing in fact the show sometimes as a kind of jaded prescriptive as perspective itself one of the running jokes of the series after all is just how bad TV is for the simpsons not that anyone should do anything about it in an episode from the Second Season Marge. Simpson is inspired to protest. The ultraviolent kids cartoon itchy and scratchy after pacifier sucking Maggie attacks homer with a mallet because she saw it on itchy and scratchy show television responsible on won't be watching these cartoons anymore. Ever if you take cartoons away will grow up without a sense of humour and be robots really. We're kind of robot. The fear that pop culture it might inspire us to be our war selves in other words is not solely a belief of evangelical everyone who band or fretted about the Bart Simpson. Underachiever shirt was thinking along similar lines but evangelical specifically we're more preoccupied with mass culture dangerous impact and also were of more paramount concern to the Republican Party when George H W Bush insulted the Simpsons these voters in particular that he's trying to signal in fact the first time that he ever tried out the simpsons line wasn't at the RNC. It was six months earlier at the convention of National Religious. Broadcasters a professional organization that's members included Jerry Falwell and James Dobson's focus on the family. We need a nation closer to the Waltons than the simpsons an America. It's totally unclear from this line. Either time he delivered it. Bush has ever actually seen the simpsons or the Waltons for that matter. But it's relevant the actuality of the Simpsons is besides the point. They were just a symbol. Bush was using to demonstrate that he also prioritized old fashioned. Father knows best family values that he to understood mass culture to be reflexively perverting unless it was actively uplifting and he was willing to take on mainstream popular. Culture's immoral influence because he also knew to put it. In the language of the famous speech Pat Buchanan would give the same one thousand nine hundred. Rnc that America was engaged in a great culture. There is a religious war going on in this country. It is a cultural war. As critical to the kind of nation we shall be as the Cold War itself for this war is for the soul of America. That was the intention anyway. The Republican strategy of attacking symbolic pop culture targets in order to motivate the conservative Christian based. Didn't work as with Bush's Vice President Dan Quayle's near simultaneous attack on the TV character Murphy Brown in made the candidates trying to signal. How much disdain. Popular Culture look totally out of it when it came to popular culture meanwhile Bush's much younger opponent was playing the Sax on Arsenio and answering questions about his undies on. Mtv apart of pop culture not someone running against it in the battle between Bush and the simpsons the Simpsons One. Bush lost the presidential election and the argument. The Simpsons became such a part of mainstream American culture that it was eventually embraced by everyone even the cultural conservatives who had once despised at the week after the RNC. The Simpsons reworked the opening of the show to respond. Directly to Bush's remarks would drift on the fact that the Waltons was set during the one thousand nine hundred more like the waltons and a lot less like the simpsons. We'll just like the waltons. We're praying for an end to the depression. To actually felt he had never seen it and it was a stupid analogy to save waltons and Simpson's because the volumes weren't that happy you know. Algeria was a member of the simpsons original writing staff. He was a CO show. Runner seasons three and four and has been the show runner since season. Thirteen thirty one now. Maybe they were trying to score cultural points. Then and now I mean we were being called out and You know it's one thing if address is form that be in nearest satirist. You kind of cowardly. If you don't at least say something funny Bush's line. Instead of opening up a new front in the simpsons controversy ended it the show got the last word and really started to settle into establishment status homer and not Bart became the series focus. And the show got better. We're and more adult as a kid centered. Bark mania died down so do concerns about bar as a role model and hit US school. My daughter attended handbook. Said seems an APP for me to wear t shirts. Eg Bart Simpson in specific and not too many years later they were asking me for Simpson sales to raise money at the school. Ox So It was a pretty quick transfer or where the say perceived this as versa but we were so popular. We went from the counterculture to the culture. Helping matters was a string of provocative cartoon degenerates who inadvertently buffed Bart's reputation starting in one thousand nine hundred eighty three with a pair of mouth breathing masturbaters. Well there's something we could do banker monkeys dumb ass compared to MTV's Beavis and butthead to team dimwit twist their whole lives hang at the TV Bart. Simpson's critique of American culture was positively tame soon. There was American family king of the hill and South Park especially South Park that further recalibrated our tolerance provocation and that lends some credibility to the original concerns about Bart. These shows characters wouldn't have been possible or conceivable without Bartholomew J Simpson. He might not have been that bad but what has come since. He's been coarser wilder more violent a slippery slope that hasn't reached its bottom yet. Yeah right you better get back to school at. Oh boy in the fullness of time though it turns out it probably wasn't Bart who was the simpsons most original character anyway. It took decades for everyone to catch on but Bart Sister Lisa was the new challenging archetype. A smart moral feminist a social justice warrior in a good way while Bart was just another variation on the bad boy project force that maintains the status quo for the wealthy leaks. Does you think we ought to attack the root of social problems that have jamming people into overcrowded prisons. Though Lisa is the show's conscience. It was the initial Republican reaction to the show more than anything that helped frame it specifically liberal left wing as a show stopped being politicized to make fun of everything and it's more traditional setup could shine through eventually even van came around on it by two thousand one. There was a book called the Gospel. According to Bart Simpson that same year homers neighbor Ned Flanders landed on the cover of Christianity? Today with a cover line. Saint Flanders The simpsons. Ned Flanders is the most visible evangelical too many Americans and that's just Oakley Cowie and though it's true that in two thousand eighteen James Dobson could still start a parenting lecture like this. Have you ever seen those Bart Simpson t shirts around the one that says underachiever and proud of it in real life? Most focus on the family's pop culture assessment site plugged in reviews the show positively describing it as being in some ways counter. Culturally old fashioned. As all of this suggests the simpsons political signification has changed since it first started over the last thirty years. The Simpson's estate more or less the same but we've moved around it and the distance we've covered basically describes the transformation of the Republican Party thirty years ago. The Simpsons was a conservative Bete. Noire derided as a show about immoral degenerate. Trashy people today that same show is embraced by conservative politicians as being about a politically incorrect yet traditional white working class family a tweet from Texas Republican senator. Ted Cruz proudly claimed that all of the simpsons except for Lisa would've voted for trump. This tweet was roundly mocked by the simpsons writers who tend to be liberal leaning themselves but as silly as it is to assign political affiliations to cartoon characters is true that in recent years the most sustained critique of the simpsons as come not from the right but from the left the comedian Hari Kondabolu. Forty minute documentary the problem with Apu Critique the simpsons characterization and commitment to Apu the Indian immigrant quickie Mart owner who has been used to tease and stereotype South Asian American kids for decades and is voiced by Hank Zaria a white man doing a bad Indian accent. Thank you come again. I absolutely think they haven't really age with the Times. There's one thing to be said about the characters never aging but as a show that supposed to be relevant that aspect of it I think certainly lacking I mean they use these stereotypes. Kind of you know as props for these early characters. In that time it was kind of the only place where you had a diverse world. That was new irony. What other place can you imagine what other TV show had a world that diverse with so many different types of people? I think now we can talk for ourselves. People of Color gave me. We can talk for ourselves. The Simpsons writers have essentially stonewalled about appeal not wanting to change anything about him and defending his presence in a Meta episode about the controversy something that started decades ago. Alan was applauded. -fensive is now politically incorrect. What can you do feel kind of lazy in its stubborn? And you know it's it's really kind of status quo. The Simpsons is the status quo. That's what happens if you stay on the air for thirty years even as the world changes around you so when I started looking into the Bart Simpson panic. I was coming from a place of. Let's investigate a moment from not so long ago. Chronologically speaking that somehow feels like it could be from a bygone era. How can people have been truly concerned about Bart Simpson in my lifetime? That is crazy. I was thinking about it as a story about how much we've changed and it is that story but that's not all that it is. Yes getting up about Bart and the simpsons. Seems like a ludicrous overreaction now and yes the Republican Party that saw the show as an enemy of family values and decorum has itself transformed so completely unquestioned a family values and decorum as to make hating bar specifically a politically illegible position and yet so many of the intentions and ideas animating the original upset are still with us. Just you know thirty years more complicated thirty years further down the slippery slope so no one is getting upset about hell anymore but debates about what kind of language conveys entity ends appropriate to use in public on television and in places where polite language was once the norm. Yeah we're still having those sites. We are likely to get anxious about our kids well being when they watch a yellow cartoon character. We're just really anxious about what's happening to our kids when they're watching any screen at all and the idea of prescriptive as television has more adherents than ever before because it's been fully embraced by liberals when instead a fearing the TV might change the world. Hope that it will positive prescriptivism instead of doomsday. Once we want TV shows to beat descriptive represent the world as it actually is in all of its diversity. Then we're committed to the idea that diversity can make the world over in its image as a less bigoted less racist less homophobic more open minded placed but at the bar. Panic tells us anything is that it's very difficult to know at any. Cultural Product is doing to any of us in the moment thirty years later. It's pretty hard to credit the fears about the simpsons. The idea that what a kid would take from something so funny and complicated was only a monkey. See Monkey do kind of bad behavior. It seems so much more likely than instead of making kids. Rebellious Bart was an outlet for expressing their feelings of rebellion. Which doesn't mean he didn't personally popularized the phrase eat my shorts or make it a little cooler to be rude to your parents as the simpsons a show that is chronicled the hundreds of ways the TV can mess. People up knows as well as anyone if pop culture can do good things to us. It can do things to us too though. I like to think not exactly in equal measure against me. She says you're a bad influence. Influence my butt decoder ring. I'm willing pass. Can you can find me on twitter at Willow Paskhin and you have any cultural mysteries. You want us to code. You can email us at Dakota ring at slate dot com. If you haven't yet subscribed rate our feed and apple podcasts or ever you get your podcast and even better. Tell your friends. This podcast was written by Willa Paskhin and was produced and edited by Benjamin fresh who also does illustrations for every episode Cleo Levin is our research assistant thanks to James Poniewozik Isaac Butler Rebecca Onion Ruth. Graham Stephanie Manhind Derrick Johnson Crystals Uth Matthew to Flam Bill Wyman John Fed William Laura Nicholas gains and everyone else gave us help and feedback along the way you're listening.