Much A-D’oh! About Nothing?: Banksy’s opening for The Simpsons

By Arturo R. García

Most of the stories we’ve read about the now-infamous opening sequence prepared for The Simpsons by artist and documentary subject Banksy include a sentence along the lines of:

The extended sequence was apparently inspired by reports the show outsources the bulk of their animation to a company in South Korea, according to the BBC.

Not exactly breaking news; the show’s Wikipedia tells us its’ creators has been employing South Korean studios since its’ very first season, starting with AKOM Studios’ work on “Some Enchanted Evening.”

What is interesting is an allegation in the Asia Times by Chinese-based businessman Jing Kim that animation duties for many outsourced U.S. projects is actually outsourced again, to North Korea:

On one occasion, for example, North Korean animators employed by Shin came to Beijing from Pyongyang to work exclusively on several US animation movies, staying there for months, according to Kim.

When asked whether any of the movies were actually broadcast in the US, Kim said, “Oh, a lot, a lot. The ones that I participated in were as many as seven.”

But Kim declined to name the US films, citing the sanctions imposed on North Korea. “If the names of the US companies are known, they will be screwed,” said Kim.

Kim said “many people will be hurt” if he went into details, adding, “We worked very carefully.”

When asked whether the US film companies involved actually knew that their cartoons had been made by North Koreans, Kim said: “They don’t want to know. If they knew, it wouldn’t be fun. After they make contracts with the South Koreans, they just assume that it is made there. They only care about the delivery [of the products] and their quality. It is too much for them to ask where they were actually made. We don’t have the obligation to tell them, either. The only thing they claim is the copyright.”

Though The Simpsons isn’t directly named or implicated in the story, shifting the sequence’s focus to North Korea – already the target of economic sanctions – sharpens the intended satire; in the Asia Times story, Kim further alleges that animators in the country are denied medical insurance, welfare and overtime while they work “without complaint.”

Unfortunately for the audience, Banksy leaves himself some comedic “outs” that aren’t terribly original. Anybody else remember Clerks: The Animated Series?

No lie, I laughed at the unicorn sequence for the same reason I laughed at the British version of The Office: it’s gallows humor. But it doesn’t go far enough in its’ muckraking, no matter what MTV might say. How much leeway Banksy and the show’s creative team actually had is hard to gauge – after all, Fox will probably take only so much rattling of its’ cage. But in the end, the biggest winner in this whole affair won’t be whatever animator is or isn’t toiling under inhumane conditions, but the network itself. Because let’s be honest, when was the last time we had a good reason to talk about The Simpsons?