The Simpsons' 500th Episode, Starring Julian Assange: A Look Back at a One of America's Most Politically Relevant Shows
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Assange’s spot came about after Simpsons creator Matt Groening heard that Assange wanted to appear. The plotline, according to early accounts: the Simpsons discover the town of Springfield is secretly planning to kick them out, so they embark on a self-imposed exile to a shadowy place where they discover Assange is their Ned Flanders-esque neighbor. Executive producer Al Jean told TVsomniac, “He invites them over for a home movie and it’s an Afghan wedding being bombed.”
This scene seems to exemplify what “The Simpsons” does best: uses the guise of humor to illuminate some dark, horrific truth about America’s cultural and political situation—not the other way around. The fact that this episode -- the 500th -- will probably be one of the most-watched and that it illuminates the ongoing and pressing issue of drone strikes and intracountry terrorism in relation to the Afghan war is precisely why the show has remained relevant for such an unlikely length of time. “The Simpsons” is a vibrant program, but it would be impossible without its inherent touch of cynicism. The Assange scene also underscores why Wikileaks is important—how would we know of such heinous crimes without whistleblowers?—and it will reportedly not touch on what producers call his “legal situation," but the underlying point is made.
Of all the celebrity guest appearances on "The Simpsons," the closest in tone and honesty to Assange’s upcoming spot is likely that of Michael Moore. In 2003’s “The President Wore Pearls,” Moore’s character (as himself) joins a school union strike in solidarity with Lisa Simpson. Then, in 2004’s “Bart-Mangled Banner,” Moore was wrongly imprisoned at the “Ronald Reagan Reeducation Center”—a spoof of Guantanamo, in a plotline modeled after the provisions of the PATRIOT Act. In those episodes, some of their best, "Simpsons" writers used an outspoken and strong political figure as a lens with which to view our present.
“The Simpsons” spoofs and inverts a flawed nation, where doughnut-craving dolts runs nuclear plants, bratty prankster kids are allowed to run free, and evil, wart-afflicted imperialists are omniscient and all-powerful. And yet, a wry eye can tear it down and see the essence of it. As Homer Simpson once eloquently put it, “Facts are useless. You can use facts to prove anything that’s even remotely true.”
Julianne Escobedo Shepherd is an associate editor at AlterNet and a Brooklyn-based freelance writer and editor. Formerly the executive editor of The FADER, her work has appeared in VIBE, SPIN, New York Times and various other magazines and websites.