Banksy directs the opening sequence to the 2010 episode of The Simpsons, MoneyBart (Season 22, Episode3).
Arguably the world’s most famous street artists, Banksy storyboarded and directed this opening scene, which I first read about on the Wooster Collective in October 2010 (you see, we don’t get The Simpsons episodes for another 10,000 years after they first air in the USA). The shot opens with one of the show’s recurring symbols, a three-eyed raven, carrying a rat in its beak. The raven is an ominous representation of the seedy side of Springfield, specifically the radioactive waste from Mr Burns’ Nuclear Power Plant polluting the town’s wildlife. The rat is a symbol of anarchy that Banksy often uses in his art and which often signifies his artistic signature.
Banksy’s tag can be seen on the billboard and wall outside Springfield Elementary School. Bart is seen scrawling on the blackboard as he does at the beginning of every episode. He writes ‘I must not write all over the walls’, another tongue-in-cheek reference to Banksy’s graffiti. Following the iconic final frame of the opening credits, where the Simpsons are seated together on the couch, we see a darkly-lit and dingy factory where rows of identical-looking women work on animation frames while a severe-looking man dressed in a military-style uniform watches over them. The women are tired, drab and sullen. A little boy takes one of the frames, dips it into hazardous liquid and hangs it out to dry. We see a pile of bones in the corner.
The camera pans down into a lower level of the factory, where the only colourful objects are rows of Simpsons t-shirts being produced and handled by young children. A chorus of melancholic, religiously-themed music plays in the background, as we see white kittens thrown into a wood-chipper-styled machine. White fur comes out in tuffs on the other side, which a woman stuffs quickly into Bart Simpson plush toys. The cart of toys is guided away by a man and pushed along by a down-trodden panda that is chained to the cart by its neck. Another man seals up boxes labelled ‘The Simpsons’ (using the tongue from a dolphin’s head stuck on stick). Another man packs CD cases, perforating the hole in the centre of the CDs on the tip of an emaciated unicorn’s horn. The unicorn is chained to the wall. It falls to the ground from exhaustion as the 20th Century Fox logo looms large across the screen. The camera pans out as the logo appears on the Simpsons’ TV set and the familiar Simpsons theme music plays in the background, drowning out the gloomy music from the previous scene.
Darkly humorous and thought-provoking, this opening sequence offers a political comment on the nefarious machinations of animation production. The use of women and children denotes the labourers who are exploited in order to create this highly successful show. The panda implies the scene is set in China. The juxtaposition of the enslaved unicorn and the 20th Century logo represents the ugly reality of Hollywood fantasy, as unicorns are a recurring feature of beauty and magic in children’s cartoons.
I see this video as a clever postmodern critique of pop culture, as well as a neo-Marxist comment on the mass production of art. Banksy has reached a level of notoriety and relative success that has contributed to the elevated cultural legitimacy of street art. As far as pop cultural animation institutions go, The Simpsons cannot be surpassed. The Simpsons is the longest running scripted television show, showing in at least 60 countries as of 2002. Over the past 21 years, the show has retained a core audience of dedicated viewers. The show maintains its cultural significance in large part by embedding cult and pop references as well as celebrity appearances into its weekly series. Banksy fits all of these categories. By becoming part of The Simpsons legacy, Banksy manages to simultaneously integrate his personal anti-establishment ethos (a critique of the animation production process) whilst seeding street art into mainstream pop culture.