Banksy's Asian Sweatshop on The Simpsons

October 11, 2010

My Facebook was ablaze last night with the Simpsons opening sequence as reimagined by UK street artist, Banksy. At the time of this posting, Fox has already shut down all the versions on YouTube, but in case you got out of bed really late today, I'll quote you an entire play-by-play from Feministe:

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. The animation overlooks the nuclear facility, and centers on two town hooligans cutting the head off of a statue of Springfield’s founder; the head lands on Ralph Wiggum, who drops his ice cream cone. The animation pans upward, past the “Lard Land Donuts” boy, to Springfield Elementary School where Bart Simpson is writing “I must not write all over the walls” all over the walls. Then it’s to the nuclear facility, where Homer walks out beneath the “Three Days Without an Accident” sign with radioactive material stuck to his uniform, and then arrives home to the Simpson abode. The usual mishaps (Bart skateboarding by, Lisa biking, Marge pulling the car into the garage -- except this time she hits Homer) get the Simpson family onto the couch. Then 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, and the scene zooms out to the “20th Century Fox” logo rising above the prison-like sweatshop buildings.

I have to agree with Angry Asian Man here. I normally love the subversive nature of Banksy's work, and it's hard for me to say I don't like this. It's dark, and ridiculous. But I'm a little confused on the message.

The sequence takes place in an Asian sweatshop, and was apparently inspired by reports that the show outsources the bulk of their animation to animators in Seoul. I'm inclined to believe he's poking fun at our understanding of what goes on behind the scenes and I'm stretching to give him a pass on the animal cruelty stereotypes. (Come on, that dead dolphin head was so bad it was funny.)

But the creators of the Simpsons and Fox were obviously in on "the joke" here. So is it supposed to be funny, in a "Ha ha, we use cheap labor and exploit workers in Asian countries, isn't that hilarious" kind of way? Your thoughts?


Theresa Celebran Jones


Theresa Celebran Jones was born and raised in Connecticut and has moved cross-country four times. She currently lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two young daughters. She works full-time as a technical writer and is an MFA dropout. Her only other hobbies are reading, taking pictures, scrapbooking, and listening to hip hop. Clearly she has no social life.



i actually thought this was hilarious XD i am korean-american & i enjoyed this simpson intro. ... i guess it just depends on how the audience views banksy's message :P
So from what we've seen in the past, Groaning and Banksy have two things in common - they negotiate full creative licenses from whomever they sign up with.  Groaning negotiated a deal with Fox long, long ago, meaning Fox can't do jack crap about what goes on in the Simpsons.  Thus, the constant FOX bashing. Banksy also usually gets free reign to do whatever he pleases, and usually won't sign on if he doesn't.  So Fox was probably not in on "the joke."  The majority of animation is outsourced nowadays.  Animators in the States probably do the key frames, but most of what is known as the "in-betweens" is done overseas.  I'm not quite sure of what the confusion is - Banksy was out to slam the current trend of outsourcing animation, pure and simple.
i didn't actually find it hilarious at all, nor do I think it was meant to be. Banksy is an avowed anti-capitalist political artist. So I read the segment accordingly—as a rather subversive statement about capitalism and art. The role of the creators is less clear, however....  
For the reasons stated. I consider it more relevant to the idea of being aware of worker exploitation than any particular issue with The Simpsons itself.