Type: animated television series introduction (1 minute 44 seconds)
Producer: Matt Groening
Production company: 20th Century Fox
Availability: free online (Youtube)
Page reference: Davies, W., Edwards, T., Englert, J., Henshall, C., Osbaldeston, J., Parkin, J., Swann, M. & Waller, A. (2011) Simpson’s couch gag (series 22, episode 3). followthethings.com (www.followthethings.com/simpsonscouchgag.shtml last accessed <insert date here>)
Click the photo to see what happens next.
Banksy is a British street-artist and political activist known for both for his satirical and subversive style. Last night’s episode of The Simpsons featured an opening title sequence that was guest-directed and storyboarded by the street artist in what was a jaw-dropping critique of global corporate licensing, worker exploitation and over-the-top dreariness of how western media companies (in this case, 20th Century Fox) takes advantage of outsourced labor in developing countries. A pretty searing indictment of Fox Broadcasting (except of course, it was broadcast on Fox) (Source: Hall 2010 link).
It is the first time an artist has been invited to storyboard part of the show. The extended sequence was apparently inspired by reports the show outsources the bulk of their animation to a company in South Korea (Source: Anon 2010a link).
The video opens with the usual “The Simpsons” cloud animation, but this time featuring a bird flying by carrying one of Banksy’s signature rats in its mouth (Source: Jill 2010 link).
His tag is scrawled across a poster of Krusty the Klown, while the traditional ‘blackboard gag’ sees Bart writing “I must not write all over the walls” – which is written all over the walls. But it is after the cartoon family settle down on the sofa to watch TV that the intro takes a sinister turn (Source: Scott 2010 link).
The lights flicker, and the animation zooms out, and you see that the Simpsons are actually on a screen overlooking a sweatshop where dozens of female Asian workers are making Simpsons animation panels. The panels are handed off to a little barefoot boy in shabby clothes, who dips them in toxic chemicals before hanging them up to dry. Near the vat of toxic chemicals are stacks of human bones, being picked at by rats. Downstairs there are more workers pushing Simpson’s t-shirts around on racks, and below that there are even more workers throwing small animals (kittens? birds?) into some sort of shredder that expels stuffing, which is then put inside of Bart Simpson dolls, which are in turn placed into a wheelbarrow being hauled by a tired-looking panda bear. Next to the panda is a man boxing up the Simpsons merchandise in “Simpsons” boxes, sealing them by having the tongue of a dead dolphin lick the tape. The scene then shifts to a unicorn chained to the wall, its horn used to punch holes in Simpsons DVDs. It collapses from exhaustion (Source: Jill 2010 link).
The titles end with the altered logo of 20th Century Fox, where the bright font has been replaced by the same depressing shade of blue-ish gray. The logo also includes now a watchtower, searchlights and a barbed wire fence, to render the message that whoever is unlucky enough to land in the Simpsons sweatshop doesn’t stand a chance of walking out alive (Source: Gordon 2010 link).
These scenes are the artist’s view on the ugliness of consumer culture. Illustrating sweatshop conditions and the abuse of human workers, the exploitation of animals and the environmental-degradation that can come with the mass-commercialization of cheap consumer goods, Banksy attempts to show the ugly side of consumerism (Source: Tackett 2010 link).
Not one to shy away from beef, the artist used the unprecedented opportunity to take a swipe at the show’s parent corporation, 20th Century Fox, and the media giant’s practice of outsourcing animation work to South Korea (Source: Trunell 2010 link).
Welcome to today’s world of culture jamming. Culture jamming is the delicate art of subverting mainstream aspects of pop culture, using the original medium as a weapon against itself. The tactic is delicate because — when done right — the result is subtle but disarmingly effective (Source: Kim 2010 link).
BANKSY is generally regarded as the best street artist in the world. His stencils, paste-ups and installations are powerfully imagined, subversive and witty. UK-based, he has managed to maintain his anonymity yet become more famous… Some urban artists consider Banksy to be a “sell-out”. Conscious of this, he has made a film that demonstrates what he’s about, but also expresses his dissatisfaction with the commercial art world – all the while revealing little about himself. Banksy wants to mock the commercialisation of street art using his former assistant as a whipping boy. Exit Through the Gift Shop [trailer here] is an irreverent introduction to the world of street art that raises questions about authenticity and the art market. It’s absorbing, so long as you don’t mind the feeling the joke might be on you (Source: Dent 2010, p.10).
Banksy’s Simpsons segment was possibly a dig at the fact that the show’s animation is partially subcontracted to production companies in South Korea — a cost cutting measure taken by 20th Century Fox. But his satire also goes deeper and darker than that. There is a chance that Banksy has seen Santa’s Workshop: Inside China’s Slave Labor Toy Factories (link), a 2004 documentary depicting the horrific conditions under which Chinese laborers produce the toys we enjoy in the West (Source: Keehn 2010 link).
The Bristol artist has already created his own take on The Simpsons in his work, showing a boy writing lines of “I must not copy what I see on The Simpsons” on a blackboard in one outdoor mural (Source: Koch 2010a link).
Now Matt Groening and the gang have repaid the compliment (Source: Lawson 2010 link).
The executive producer of The Simpsons asked for Banksy to be tracked down after watching the graffiti artist’s debut film, Exit Through The Gift Shop. Al Jean told his casting director to get in touch with Bristol’s mystery man because he wanted him to create a title sequence for the world-famous cartoon (Source: Koch 2010b).
Q [to Al Jean, Simpsons Executive Producer]: How did you find Banksy to do this, and now that it’s done, how much trouble are you in? A: Well, I haven’t been fired yet, so that’s a good sign. I saw the film Banksy directed, “Exit Through the Gift Shop,” and I thought, oh, we should see if he would do a main title for the show, a couch gag. So I asked Bonnie Pietila, our casting director, if she could locate him, because she had previously located people like Thomas Pynchon. And she did it through the producers of that film. We didn’t have any agenda. We said, “We’d like to see if you would do a couch gag.” So he sent back boards for pretty much what you saw ... Q: One of the things Banksy is known for is disguising his identity. How can you be sure that you were dealing with the real him? A: The original boards that we got from him were in his style and were certainly by an extremely proficient artist. We were dealing with the person that represented him making the movie. I haven’t met him, I don’t even know what he looks like, except what the Internet suggests. And he’s taken credit for it now so I’m pretty sure it’s him. We went through the people that made the movie so I assume they would know how to get to the real him (Source: Itzkoff 2010 link).
Obviously, Matt Groening has pretty much full creative control of his content and as far as Fox is concerned, they can probably do little to touch him. Groening has earned his right after years of consistently high ratings that’s meant the show has generated advertising revenue in the billions for Fox. Also, turning a blind eye and siting creative control, probably doesn’t exactly harm the ratings (Source: Cotton 2010 link).
The Simpsons has already shown itself being made by downtrodden animators in a sweat shop. Banksy is said to have been inspired by reports that Simpsons characters are animated in Seoul, South Korea. “REPORTS”? Did he think the names in the end credits were anagrams. The Korean animators and animation companies are named at the end of Simpsons episodes” (Source: CheekiMinky 2010 link).
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” (Source: Holmes 2010 link).
I can’t believe that people think that The Simpsons is made in sweat shops, and that all of Korea is destitute! The Simpsons is animated by Nelson Shin in S. Korea in a respected studio. S. Korea is a pleasant place, and we have a similar government to theirs. They have a 26th position on the Human Development Index, keep it in mind that the United States’ rank is 13th. People, try reading an encyclopedia article about S. Korea instead of getting your information from an episode of The Simpsons (Source: magmaishot 2010 link).
The fact is, this is an extreme, satirical examination of the fact that The Simpsons is outsourced to South Korea. But nevertheless, most of the most popular US animated shows (including Futurama, King of the Hill and Family Guy) are made there for a reason: you can get away with paying people a lot less than they would in the US. Korean animators are doing a very skilled job for low wages. Before The Simpsons (which is often perceived as a left leaning show) was produced there, it was made by the animation firm Klasky Csupo (Source: Jack 2010 link).
[The Simpsons is animated by] Akom Production company run by the famous animator, Nelson Shin, who seems like a pretty nice boss. He was also diplomatic in his thoughts about putting together this particular sketch which suggests he’s running a sweatshop (Source: ben 2010 link).
Shin was disappointed. The satire, he and other animators have since argued, gave the impression that Asian artists slave away in subpar sweatshops when, in fact, they animate much of The Simpsons every week in high-tech workshops in downtown Seoul. “Most of the content was about degrading people from Korea, China, Mexico and Vietnam,” Shin fumed. “If Banksy wants to criticize these things … I suggest that he learn more about it first.” It’s no secret that the animation work for many American and European cartoons is doled out to low-wage studios in developing nations. At its height in the 1980s and ’90s, South Korea was known for its work-for-hire agreements in which artists animated the storyboards that foreign clients sent to them. But even though South Korea’s wealth keeps wages high by regional standards, the country’s animators still make one-third the salaries of their American counterparts – earning the South Korean industry a reputation for pumping out episodes on tight deadlines at reasonable prices. When working on The Simpsons, Shin receives storyboards, coloring instructions and voice tracks from Film Roman, the show’s California-based studio, and then churns them into an episode, typically within three months. Other Korean companies have followed his lead, especially in the 1990s: Rough Draft Korea, based in Seoul, helped with Beavis and Butt-head and SpongeBob SquarePants, Yeson Corp has worked on King of the Hill, and Sunwoo Entertainment helped animate Captain Planet. But Shin is credited with being an industry leader, having been called a “godfather” of South Korean animation since he founded Akom in 1985. Before that, he created the Star Wars lightsaber blade and worked in Hollywood on shows such as The Pink Panther and the Scooby-Doo franchise in the 1970s. It’s understandable, then, that he and other South Korean animators felt Banksy’s montage wasn’t fair to their cosmopolitan industry. Soon after the episode aired in the U.S. on Oct. 10 and in the U.K. on Oct. 21, YouTube videos of the sequence went viral online, prompting debate among bloggers. ... But in Seoul, 41-year-old Lee Hee-yang, a former colorist for The Simpsons during the 1990s, when wages were even lower and cartoons were crafted monotonously by hand, says she doesn’t understand the sweatshop fuss. “Sometimes it was stressful. We worked until 2 a.m. on deadline days, but on most days it was a normal job,” she says. Banksy declined to comment to TIME on the intended meaning of the couch gag. ... After first seeing the storyboard in mid-August, Shin says, he complained to Film Roman in California, arguing that the content was “excessive and offending.” After some lobbying, the sequence was lightened – though, he says, not nearly as much as he had pushed for. He says the original storyboards, for example, showed animators wearing pointed Vietnamese hats, which were later replaced with more generic caps resembling those of postal workers. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Simpsons executive producer Al Jean claimed the sweatshop portrayal wasn’t meant to be taken seriously. “I can tell you as a fact, there are no unicorns working in our DVD-production plant,” he joked. Film Roman didn’t respond to multiple inquiries for comment. Enslaved unicorns aside, some argue that the Banksy sequence’s gray and forlorn atmosphere more accurately depicts the sweatshop-like conditions in the neighboring hermit state, North Korea. In the capital of Pyongyang, a state-run animation studio, SEK Studio, has been grinding away at many European and Chinese cartoons since 1997, when the group was founded. Guy Delisle, a French cartoonist, depicted its conditions in grim fashion in his 2004 graphic novel Pyongyang, telling the story of his work as a liaison between the North Korean contractor and a French animation studio (source: Tarihi 2010 link).
Q [to Al Jean, Simpsons Executive Producer]: Were you concerned that what he sent you could get the show into hot water? A: I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think about it for a little bit. Certainly, Fox has been very gracious about us biting the hand that feeds us, but I showed it to Matt Groening, and he said, no, we should go for it and try to do it pretty much as close as we can to his original intention. So we did. Like we always do, every show is submitted to broadcast standards, and they had a couple of [changes] which I agreed with, for taste. But 95 percent of it is just the way he wanted. Q: Can you say what got cut out? A: I’ll just say, it was even a little sadder. But I would have to say almost all of it stayed in. We were thrilled (Source: Itzkoff 2010 link).
The first ever episode of The Simpsons showed a family plunged into poverty by the vagaries of capitalism. When Mr Burns cancels the Christmas bonus, Homer has no idea how to get presents for his children in Simpsons Roasting Over an Open Fire. That set the political tone of the series, so forgive me for not being amazed by the courage of Banksy in satirising the ethics of the now-venerable Simpsons in its own opening credits (Source: Jones 2010 link).
While they’re not punching the holes into their CDs with sickly unicorns, Fox certainly mass-produces their fair share of merchandise, and most big box stores are no different. Whether it’s a Simpsons DVD or a t-shirt from Wal Mart, chances are what you’re purchasing was produced in a factory. There’s also a good chance that it came from a sweat shop (Source: Striepe 2010 link).
The message isn’t about a specific country. Its a social message regarding the conditions in countries where western world gets almost all their products from, as long as making a comment on animal abuses in those countries (Source: Kash358 2010 link).
That it is also possibly includes China and Japan in the western world commentary. China, due to the fact the Panda is being used as a slave worker as it is China’s pride and Japan with the Dolphin head in response to “The Cove” and the idea of killing dolphins to increase fishing populations as well as capture for show pieces (Source: Chrismcro 2010 link).
This is depressing in general, but it’s even more depressing knowing that it’s actually happening!! (Source: Iwannapetpenguin 2010 link).
It’s a sequence that conjures up several emotions and reactions. There are a plethora of facial expressions that might occur from watching it: possibly an incredulous eyebrow raise, perhaps squinting coupled with a slightly dropped jaw or maybe even an awkward chuckle (Source: Kim 2010 link).
I love that the Simpson’s have enough of a self-deprecating sense of humor to make fun of themselves. Banksy displays his usual wit, humor, and social commentary. It’s nice to see a return of potent irreverence on the Simpson’s and for Banksy to find exposure through a mainstream program (Source: Shepard 2010 link).
This is a portrayal of a sweatshop, folks; it’s not going to be pretty. What is pretty, however, is the satisfying symmetry in the merger between these two engines of satire, Banksy and The Simpsons. Both sides aim to lay bare often-bleak sociopolitical realities by employing great big doses of comedy, whimsy and idea play (Source: Hagood 2010 link).
I see the satire (there are no unicorns, and stuffed animal stuffing is not made up from ground animals) but it still is a critique on brands being created by the poor and consumed by the middle class. I would have enjoyed some commodity fetishism such as showing where all the bart dolls ended up, like comic book guys collectible simpsons room (there are people who have entire rooms full of simpsons collectibles) or maybe showing auctions featuring simpsons collectibles. Maybe all it needed was a little bit of collaboration to go over the top, but i’m sure the pay wasn’t enough for sharing. Either way I thought it was one of the better simpsons openings (Source: Horgan 2010a link).
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 (Source: Holmes in Horgan 2010a link).
The couch gag doesn’t really go after Fox per se. It’s metaphorically true about the whole process of producing stuff for Americans to consume, which does not depend on which network you watch (Source: Ralph 2010 link).
It seems that this was a safe place for Bansky to make a general point about exploiting cheap labor elsewhere, and it’s easy for the Simpson’s to play along because (at least for their animation) this is obviously not true (Source: ben 2010 link).
I’m sure Banksy’s feeling warm and fuzzy as he cashes his check from FOX but in my opinion this ‘political statement’ does just about as much good as carving the words “don’t be cruel to animals” into the side of a dolphin (Source: Aaron 2010 link).
If it weren’t done by a rabidly anti-capitalist activist artist, I think that would be a brilliant spin on it. The sequence really DOES seem like a parody of liberal self-loathing anti-consumerism. Right down to the severed dolphin head tape dispenser, it’s almost exactly what the hippies would have you think asian factories are like. But maybe I’m not giving Banksy enough credit, he seems overly fascinated with criticizing his own bias as well as everyone elses, so maybe that’s what he intended. Either way, i think the sequence fails on almost every level. It’s too dark and controversial for a comedy show opening. It’s like white guy telling racist jokes at the Apollo theater. Wrong time, wrong place (Source: Smackup 2010 link).
It was a clever piece of publicity cloaked in social commentary (Source: Dina 2010 link).
The clear statement is pure exploitation, but not necessarily the exploitation of human capital and nonrenewable resources. The detached hyperbole and pop cynicism render toothless any sort of scathing critique of material fetishism. Instead, what we see is an ironic caricature of sweatshops, exploiting and negating the message of those who fight for social and environmental justice. Were we to see the actually deplorable conditions of those enslaved by the Simpsons empire, maybe then we could have a workable critique. Reality hurts; irony perpetuates (Source: Jus’ Sayin’ 2010 link).
MTV’s Marlow Riley praises the “ballsy critique of outsourcing, ‘The Simpsons,’ and the standards and human rights conditions that people in first world nations accept.” Riley calls Banksy’s contribution “uncomfortable and dark, and not what’s expected from the modern ‘Simpsons,’ which mainly consists of ‘Homer hurts himself’ jokes … It might even be possible that ‘The Simpsons’ has caught a second wind by finding its dark side” (Source: Eichler 2010 link).
But, of course, it is Fox that has the last laugh. The network doesn’t need to censor content like Banksy’s couch gag because Fox is ‘the man.’ Fox is the place viewers go to get a dose of the show’s subversive humor, and where other viewers go to get Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly and pundits that reinforce the very institutions and systems that bring us the vast inequities that ‘The Simpsons’ reviles (Source: Fairbrother 2010 link).
That the sequence caused some ruffled feathers is no surprise. But maybe it was worth the tumult. The judges at Gawker, the New York-based gossip site, found Sunday’s episode refreshing and funny in the best tradition of the long-running programme, which some feel has gone a little off the boil of late. “Like most Banksy art-things, it was ‘political’,” they offered. “But it was also funnier than anything that’s been on The Simpsons in a long time” (Source: Usborne 2010 link).
Consumers worldwide spent more than $750 million on Simpsons-related licensed merchandise last year, about half of that coming from the U.S., Fox says. In addition, advertisers spent $314.8 million last year on the prime-time show on Fox and rerun that local stations air, according to research firm TNS Media Intelligence. That’s down 16.8% vs. 2007 (Source: Lieberman 2009 link).
Utterly brilliant satire that delivers on every level. The idea that this work is ‘too dark’ for a comedy show is nonsense as Banksy’s art is ALWAYS ‘out of place’ by it’s very nature (satirical graffiti, going into Disneyland and with Guantanamo Bay mannequins etc). It’s intended to shock and confuse. If he dumbed it down to fit in with the ‘normal’ couch gags then it wouldn’t have any impact and no one would be talking about it. A lot of his work is extremely dark satire like the Vietnamese girl napalmed by American troops walking hand-in-hand with Mickey Mouse and Ronald McDonald (Source: Trippy 2010 link)
Thousands of people are occupied by an issue and start to argue about it. I would say an artist reached his goal! This is awesome. There are so many symbols in this few seconds of animated cartoon to discuss. But at the end it has the same effect like good books. It makes the silly ones sillier, the smart ones smarter and all the rest don’t give a f*±k. I hope it will change the world a little bit at least (Source: Sirgalahad83 2010 link).
Rich countries use all the cheap workforce from poor countries to increase profits, no matter their conditions of work (even working children ). I guess it causes unemployment in USA. They close a factory in USA and re-open it in Bangladesh, then they import the product back to USA. It´s better pay less for a product made in a poor country, than pay more for a product made by an american? If a factory do this, you should stop buying their products, even it´s cheaper than those made in USA (Source: KlarissaMendez 2010 link).
The new opening credit of ‘The Simpsons’ by artiste Banksy which takes pot shots at outsourcing by depicting deplorable working conditions in Asian countries, has been pulled out. Fox has begun pulling out the YouTube videos of ‘The Simpsons’ latest opening credit. The animated series made a headline right after the airing of October 10 episode when it replaced the iconic opening credit with the one created by street artist Banksy (Source: Anon 2010b, np).
In case you haven’t been reading Twitter at all in the past day or so, last night “Banksy” was both the sixth search term on Google Trends and the number six trending topic on Twitter (where it remains to this morning), all because of the elusive street artist’s unbelievably dark and meta storyboarding of the animated series’ infamous intro, which Fox just removed from YouTube for copyright violations. Before Fox pulled it down, the YouTube video had currently amassed 42,305 views, and it’d be safe to say that almost none of us actually watched it on TV, to the point that there was even quickly dispelled speculation as to whether or not the segment had actually aired (source: Tsotsis 2010 link).
If the producers were hoping for something out of the ordinary, they ended up worrying they had bitten off more than they could chew. “I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think about it for a little bit,” said Al Jean, executive producer of The Simpsons, of fears that the sequence would land him in hot water. “I haven’t been fired yet, so that’s a good sign.” So acerbic is Banksy’s satire of the show’s production that the animators tasked with putting his vision into action threatened to walk out before rendering it for broadcast. “This is what you get when you outsource,” joked Jean…. (Source: Usbourne 2010 link).
Yes, the Simpsons is produced in Korea, that’s no secret. But apparently when the original asian-sweatshop gag was done, the cartoonists almost refused to do the work, on the grounds that it did not reflect their working conditions (Source: Potter 2010 link).
(and) … entailed so much extra work (Source: Cairns 2010 link).
Q [to Al Jean, Simpsons Executive Producer]: Has Banksy’s criticism made you reconsider any of the ways you do things at “The Simpsons” in terms of producing the show or its merchandise? A: I have to say, it’s very fanciful, far-fetched. None of the things he depicts are true. That statement should be self-evident, but I will emphatically state it (Source: Itzkoff 2010 link).
It was internally controversial of course but unexpectedly it was the creatives who apparently took issue, not the top brass. Executive producer Al Jean has said there was a threatened walkout by animators upset by the work. Banksy is a genuine subversive, regardless of his latter crossover to mainstream success. If anyone can get through the minefield of selling their art via corporate business it’s Banksy. Yet it is troubling that this is now even possible, that the background noise is so fundamentally co-opted by big business that a piece of satire as strong as this can arrive by permission, rather than from the outside. Somehow it feels like a defeat snatched from the jaws of victory, we’re just tasting the extent of the over-arching control – expression being so entirely owned that no censorship is even needed (Source: T-T 2010 np).
[Facebook Campaign for Banksy to write & direct a whole episode of The Simpsons] So we’ve all seen the wonderfully dark couch gag Banksy created for The Simpsons, who thinks that he should be commissioned to write and direct/storyboard a whole episode? (source: Stu The Who 2010 link).
There continues to be a growing movement to take labor abuses and slavery out of the supply chain of the products we use. Last month, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger passed SB 657, which calls for all businesses that sell products in California and make over $100 million globally to discloses what they are voluntarily doing to ensure that their products are slavery free. In July, a measure to reveal the existence of conflict minerals in the supply chain of U.S. products was bundled into the Wall Street Reform Act. And last week, Change.org launched a petition in response to the news that children’s clothing manufacturer Gymboree has refused to ensure that Uzbek child labor is taken out of their cotton supply chain. We are closing in on the Christmas season. Don’t continue to make Banksy’s Simpsons satire a reality. Demand that the products you enjoy are slavery free. Start by telling Gymboree to stop using child labor to produce children’s clothing (source: Keehn 2010 link).
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Compiled by Will Davies, Thomas Edwards, Joseph Englert, Chris Henshall, James Osbaldeston, Jack Parkin, Michael Swann and Aidan Waller, edited by Ian Cook (last updated July 2013). Page created as part of the ‘Geographies of material culture’ module at Exeter University. Legoing by Jack Parkin.