Banksy does ‘The Simpsons’

If you haven’t heard, seminal artist and public anarchist, Banksy, has somehow been drafted in to direct the intro sequence to an episode of ‘The Simpsons’, which you can view below.

It features an extended ending sequence that depicts Fox’s animation studios as a sweatshop, which is something of a overt reference to claims that Fox outsource most of their animation to South Korea. Among other things, you’ll see a child playing with toxic waste, kittens being ground down to provide stuffing for Bart Simpson dolls, and a shackled unicorn being used to pierce holes in ‘The Simpsons’ DVDs. It’s quite a moving experience, really, and it’ll be nice to see how this sequence links to the rest of the episode.

While I was certainly moved when I first saw this video, it was an experience that my Facebook friends didn’t quite share. On the contrary, some were outraged, and accused Banksy of ‘selling out’; a horrible term that has been bandied around to the extent where it’s lost all meaning. Did Banksy sell out, in allowing Fox, the all-singing, all-dancing conglomeration of Capitalism to use his work, and possibly (quite likely) hire him for his services? Not really. Well, sort of, but in my honest opinion, not really.

Sure, Banksy is the voice of difference in a world overpopulated with stale media messages. He stands for everything some people are absolutely against, like homosexual police officers, kids saluting a Tesco bag on a pole, and groups of geriatric gangsters. Banksy is very much a social commentator, and pushes people to think hard about the country we live in, as well as to challenge our own preconceptions about society. I’d go as far as calling it ‘thought vandalism’.

What on earth, then, is the work of a man trying to liberate our minds from ‘our Capitalist overlords’, ‘Big Brother’, or whatever you want to call it, doing on ‘The Simpsons’? Simple. It’s all about context, and it’s all about reach.

According to the Broadcasters’ Audience Research Board, an average of 1.7 million viewers watched each episode of ‘The Simpsons’ on Channel 4, in the week ending October 3rd. Bear in mind that’s an average based on a working week of viewing figures, and that’s just for Channel 4. Sky 1’s viewing figures are nowhere to be found, but I’d say it’s safe to wager that ‘The Simpsons’ is pretty popular. The ‘Banksy’ episode of ‘The Simpsons’, titled MoneyBart, will debut in the UK on October 21st on Sky 1. This will eventually make its way to Channel 4, and will eventually be re-run on both networks. In short, a lot of people are going to see Banksy’s tongue-in-cheek homage to Fox. I’m guessing, as an artist (albeit a popular one), Banksy doesn’t usually have that kind of reach with his work. Sure, people crowd around his works, and dedicate websites to them, but I’d say he hasn’t yet had the opportunity to grab the attention of millions of people simultaneously.

Banksy’s works appear most prominently in London, although they have been discovered over the world. That would also restrict his reach, as well as the fact that local councils have been known to instantly brand anything Banksy as vandalism, and instantly destroy it. Sure, his works can still live on in picture form, on the internet, but as a graffiti artist and known vandal, it’s pretty difficult to discover any of Banksy’s work of your own accord. I live in London, and I’ve never seen a Banksy in the flesh, so to speak. If I do want to look at his work, I need to look for it, which instantly limits his audience.

In Banksy’s ‘Wall and Piece’, he writes, “We can’t do anything to change the world until capitalism crumbles.” Still, this may be Banksy’s biggest prank ever, using ‘the system’ to reach more people in under two minutes than he ever could have dreamed about. America have already had a taste of Banksy’s unique brand of humour. Our helping is yet to come, but in a way, it’s shocking to think how many people are going to be exposed to Banksy; people who have never heard of Banksy before. These people are going to go online, look for, and discover Banksy’s work, and then hopefully spread the word.

So, did Banksy ‘sell out’? It depends entirely on your definition of the term. If you mean he’s stooped to the level of his arch-nemesis, Capitalism, in using traditional broadcast media, and products of the Capitalist system to send out a message, then yes. If you consider, though, that in pandering to the needs of the audience of ‘The Simpsons’, he’s forced Fox into allowing this frankly horrific (from a corporate perspective) condemnation of Fox’s business practices to air, then it’s viable to see this as possibly the biggest practical joke ever.

I’m a fan, anyway. Rock on, Banksy. What do you all think? Is Banksy a sell-out, or is he just very smart? Let me know.

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4 Comments on “Banksy does ‘The Simpsons’”

  1. The whole idea of “selling out” annoys me somewhat, or at least people’s objections to it. I suppose that comes from my general ideology as a capitalist.

    It is from this point of view that I approach this idea – in offering his services to an entity so large as to reach a massive audience. I think that in doing this, he is being very smart, and the transition to the Korean animation sweat-shop definitely shocked me.

    However, while Banksy might be increasing his exposure, I don’t believe he is necessarily doing it to the correct audience. I would argue that the majority of Simpsons viewers are not used to such scathing satire. Futurama, perhaps, albeit there is a much smaller audience for that show.

    It seems to be a case of pearls before pigs, somewhat, as I doubt the majority of the audience will understand the references. I’d argue that most will reject and ignore it, rather than research, and it will not be added to the bank of most popular openings.

    • Aris says:

      I suppose you do have a point. Banksy’s fans, who will watch the episode just to see his intro, would already know about his work. Those who are nonchalantly caught unawares may not give it a second thought, but I’m not so sure. I’ve had many visits to this article through search engine queries for ‘Banksy Simpsons meaning’, and such similar phrases, so I do think that people are curious. Perhaps not all the people who saw the intro, which is understandable, but just enough. The curiosity and desire to find out more is definitely there.

      Was it worth it, though? That is the question.

      Thanks for your comment.

  2. sveta says:

    This commercial has cheapened Banky’s image. The appeal and value of his original work have been diminished. The intro wasn’t even that subversive, it was more cliche. I used to think Banksy was so conscious. What a shame.


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