[By Tara Ariano of Yahoo! TV Blog] It takes some effort for a TV series to inspire shock, amazement, and controversy in its 22nd season, but last night's episode of "The Simpsons" accomplished this seemingly impossible feat.
The episode, "MoneyBART," opens with an extended "couch gag" — the opening sequence in which the Simpson family takes its place on their sofa — created by British street artist Banksy. The artist's dark vision gives viewers a horrifying look at how he imagines the hit show and its lucrative merchandise are made: sweatshop conditions for its animators; unsafe conditions for producers of its apparel; boxes sealed with the tongue of a disembodied dolphin head; the center holes popped out of its DVDs with the horn of a shackled, emaciated unicorn. Really.
According to the Guardian, Banksy's involvement marks the first time "The Simpsons" has solicited the work of an artist unconnected to the show. And though "Simpsons" executive producer Al Jean's comment on the disturbing sequence was, "This is what you get when you outsource," he and his colleagues had to have known that Banksy couldn't help delivering something subversive. Banksy — who recently reached a wider audience with last summer's documentary "Exit Through the Gift Shop" — is known for making controversial statements with his work, which most frequently involves stenciling public buildings all over the world. (Indeed, the very medium in which he works is hotly debated, with some critics regarding it as vandalism.) Banksy even once infiltrated the Louvre to hang one of his paintings, which mimicked the "Mona Lisa" with a yellow smiley face in place of the original visage. (TheDailyWh.at blog also notes that this is not the first time Banksy has addressed "The Simpsons" in his work, recalling a mural he created in New Orleans in 2008.)
The opening also joins a long tradition of "Simpsons" producers mocking their corporate masters. There have been countless jokes over the years about the moral bankruptcy of Fox programming and the evil genius of Rupert Murdoch, founder of Fox parent company News Corp. However, this instance pushed the show's self-mockery to a new level: BBC News reports that, according to Banksy, "His storyboard led to delays, disputes over broadcast standards and a threatened walk out by the animation department."
[Photos: More of Banksy's Shocking Work]
Were the show's creators trying to draw attention to the unethical business practices an animated series must engage in to remain competitive? Are viewers meant to draw conclusions about our own complicity as we consumers indirectly fund companies that enslave people overseas? Or was the sequence merely a stunt calculated to bring attention — negative or not — on an aging, fading series?
Finally, if someone at Fox signed off on the gag, how "subversive" could it really be?
The rest of "MoneyBART" was nothing especially out of the ordinary — it involved Lisa managing Bart's Little League team with a rigid devotion to Sabremetrics — and bore no relation to its pessimistic credits sequence. You can see the full episode on Hulu, but the only part anyone will be talking about is below.