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4 Simpsons Controversies That Didn't End in Lawsuits

If you're a typical 21st century citizen, you've surely thought about suing The Simpsons for something. Maybe you're Tracy Ullman and you want some of the money you helped to spawn ("I breast-fed those little devils.")

Maybe you're a Russian father who sued a TV network for showing The Simpsons (and Family Guy)—you thought the shows were "morally degenerate" and were responsible for your son calling his mother a "toad."

Or maybe you're the Fox News Channel, threatening a suit after the show satirized your news crawls. Of course, if you're Fox News, you deny Matt Groening's claim about the threat, though Groening notes, "But now Fox has a new rule that we can't do those little fake news crawls on the bottom of the screen in a cartoon because it might confuse the viewers into thinking it's real news."

But it can't all be about money and lawsuits (especially since The Simpsons seems to win every time). So here are four Simpsons controversies that weren't settled in a courtroom (R.I.P., Mr. Hutz).

1. "I will not defame New Orleans"

Bart's Blackboard

Scholar Jonathan Gray argues that The Simpsons uses "hyper-stereotypes," which could get them in trouble. Not surprisingly, they've had to apologize a few times for perceived defamation. Some in Australia objected to "Bart vs. Australia" and many New Orleans residents did not like the first song in "Oh, Streetcar!"—the send-up of A Streetcar Named Desire—which indicated that the city was "home of pirates, drunks and whores . . . [and] tacky, overpriced souvenir stores." The writer, Jeff Martin, explained that the song was a parody of the opening number in Sweeney Todd, which paints London in a bad light. This particular problem resulted in an apology via chalkboard gag—"I will not defame New Orleans."

Brazil's rancor over being portrayed as home to thieves, kidnappers, and diseased monkeys in "Blame it on Lisa" did not rate the same mea culpa. The official tourism bureau almost sued, claiming that the episode would hurt tourism and undermine their $18 million dollar advertising campaign.

Perhaps the threat of a lawsuit is what led to producer James Brooks' strange apology: "We apologize to the lovely city and people of Rio de Janeiro, and if that doesn't settle the issue, Homer Simpson offers to take on the President of Brazil on Fox's Celebrity Boxing."

The Simpsons continued to agitate Brazil in later seasons, referring again to monkey infestations, indicating that a monkey was the head of tourism there, and calling Brazil "the most disgusting" place the family had ever visited.

2. The Simpsons: We've made some...changes

20th Century Fox Television

We watch the Super Bowl for the ads, and we watch The Simpsons for the Super Bowl ad parodies, right? In "Sunday, Cruddy Sunday," we see a scene familiar from an old ZZ Top video—sexy women coming out to do their job at a full-service gas station in the desert. The camera zooms onto one woman's cleavage, revealing her crucifix necklace. Cue voiceover: "The Catholic Church: We've made some . . . changes." Complaints (some organized) ensued, leading to the removal of "Catholic" in reruns of the show. The Catholic League noted in their 1999 Report on Anti-Catholicism: "One of the TV shows that used to bother [us], "˜The Simpsons,' no longer does."

3. The Simpsons vs. George H.W. Bush

20th Century Fox Television

The Simpsons has made fun of all recent Presidents (from Nixon on) and has taken a few shots at some of the famous and forgotten ones who came before, but they have a special relationship with Bush Sr. Surprisingly, this began with Barbara, who in a 1990 interview with People, said The Simpsons was "the dumbest thing [she] had ever seen." The writers at the show had Marge send off a letter defending her family (and implying that certainly Washington had some dumber people/things to see). Mrs. Bush wrote a prompt, polite response.

The next year, 1991, the Bushes were featured in "Mr. Lisa Goes to Washington." Barbara gave a private tour of her bathroom and George moved decisively to remove a corrupt congressman when he learned through the pipeline that "a little girl [was] losing faith in democracy."

The real controversy began January 27th, 1992, when Bush declared to a meeting of the National Religious Broadcasters: "We are going to keep on trying to strengthen the American family, to make American families a lot more like the Waltons and a lot less like the Simpsons." The Simpsons quickly wrote and animated a new sequence for "Stark Raving Dad," which would be rerun three days later. Bart and his family watch the clip of Bush's speech and Bart replies, "Hey, we're just like the Waltons. We're praying for an end of the depression, too."

It was not until four years later that The Simpsons got the final word—in "Two Bad Neighbors," George and Barbara move in across the street to the Simpsons. While George immediately takes a liking to Ned Flanders, he dislikes Bart, whom he sees as disrespectful.

Bush: You know, in my day, little boys didn't call their elders by their first names.

Bart: Yeah, well, welcome to the 20th century, George.

The episode casts Bart as Dennis the Menace and George as cranky Mr. Wilson until Bart accidentally destroys Bush's hand-typed memoirs, in which he claims, "And since I'd achieved all my goals as President in one term, there was no need for a second."

Bush spanks Bart and won't apologize for interfering with Homer's parenting. This leads to an escalation of tension and pranks until the inevitable fistfight in the sewer. The Bushes move away after Barbara forces Bush to apologize in front of Mikhail Gorbachev (after which Homer demands an apology "for the tax hike"). Homer gets along much better with his next neighbor, Gerald Ford.

4. Bart's Doodle

At the end of the "138th Episode Spectacular," host Troy McClure gives the audience a montage of what its always wanted: "hard-core nudity!" We were disappointed to see just a collection of the familiar bare backsides of our favorite characters. Hundreds of episodes later, the show rewarded our patience and our anti-prurience by giving us a full-frontal Bart in The Simpsons Movie. This almost earned the film an R rating (instead of the PG 13) and stirred up enough controversy to generate pre-movie buzz.
* * * * *
Dr. Karma Waltonen teaches writing at the University of California, Davis, where she also teaches a freshman seminar on The Simpsons. She is co-authoring a book on teaching The Simpsons. Although she's a card-carrying Simpsonologist, she also works on literature, television, film, and popular culture through the ages. If you want more of Dr. Karma, you can find her at dr-karma.com.

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D'oh! The Simpsons' Favorite Catchphrase, By the Numbers
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Fox

Between the iconic main characters and the dozens of offbeat supporting roles, the twisted citizens of Springfield have all given us plenty of quotable lines to use in our everyday lives over the years. But the most recognizable is also the shortest—Homer Simpson’s trademark “D’oh.” This three-letter utterance of annoyance became so universally beloved that it has made its way into both the Oxford English Dictionary and Merriam-Webster Dictionary, being defined as a word “used to express sudden recognition of a foolish blunder or an ironic turn of events.”

As The Simpsons celebrates 29 seasons on the air, the show continues to travel into uncharted waters for a comedy series. The folks over at TonerGiant—a company specializing in printing supplies—have decided to celebrate The Simpsons’s longevity by creating an infographic dedicated to all things “D’oh.” Here, you can learn how many times the catchphrase has been uttered, which episode it appears in most, and other assorted facts, including a bit on the show’s eerily accurate predictions for the future. Plus, if you’re looking to really become a student of Simpsons quotes, you can find out how much it would cost to print out every script from the show’s first 28 seasons.

So if you want to learn more about "D'oh," and some obscure Simpsons facts for your next trivia night, take a look at the infographic below:

Printing the classic Simpsons catchphrase
Provided by Toner Giant

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15 Facts About the First Episode of The Simpsons
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FOX

On December 17, 1989, The Simpsons premiered on FOX. Nearly 30 years later, the Simpson family and their fellow Springfield residents are still going strong. Let's look back at where it all started—"Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire."

1. IT WAS SUPPOSED TO PREMIERE IN SEPTEMBER.

The Simpsons was originally planned to premiere earlier in the fall of 1989, but because of animation problems, the series began on December 17 with "Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire." The original pilot, "Some Enchanted Evening," later aired as the season finale.

2. MARGE WAS SUPPOSED TO GET DRUNK.

According to Al Jean, the original premise of the episode was that "Homer was worried that Marge was going to get drunk at a party and get him in trouble at the office."

3. IT'S LACKING THE SERIES' NOW-FAMOUS OPENING SEQUENCE. 

The episode lacked the now-famous opening sequence, which was added in the second episode, "Bart the Genius," because creator Matt Groening thought a longer opening sequence would mean less animation.

4. GWEN STEFANI'S BROTHER PLAYED A KEY ROLE IN ITS CREATION.

One of the layout artists for "Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire" was Eric Stefani, brother of Gwen Stefani and a founding member of No Doubt.

5. BARNEY LOOKED A BIT DIFFERENT.

In the first episode, Barney had yellow hair, which was the same color as his skin. This was later changed because the people behind the show thought that only members of the Simpson family should have yellow hair.

6. LISA REALLY WANTED A PONY.

Lisa asks for a pony six times on her Christmas list (it's her first line in the series). She would later get her pony in the season 3 episode "Lisa's Pony."

7. PART OF IT WAS INSPIRED BY MATT GROENING'S SECOND GRADE SCHOOL REPORT.

According to the DVD commentary, the "Santas of many lands" portion of the Christmas pageant was inspired by a second grade report Matt Groening did on Christmas in Russia.

8. IT DIDN'T INVENT THE ALTERNATE VERSION OF "JINGLE BELLS."

Additionally, Groening claims that this episode has been incorrectly credited with creating the "alternate version" of "Jingle Bells." (Bart sings, "Jingle Bells/Batman Smells/Robin Laid an Egg...")

9. IT WAS ONLY THE SECOND ANIMATED SERIES TO AIR IN PRIMETIME SINCE THE FLINTSTONES.

The Simpsons was just the second animated show to air in primetime since The Flintstones went off the air 23 years earlier. (The other was Wait Till Your Father Gets Home, which aired from 1972-1974.)

10. THE IDEA WAS CONCEIVED UNDER THE INFLUENCE OF ALCOHOL.

According to executive producer James L. Brooks, "The Simpsons series began like many things begin: with an animator getting drunk at a Christmas party ... We were already doing Tracey Ullman, and David Silverman, who was with us then and would go on to direct The Simpsons Movie, cornered me and poured out his heart about what having a primetime Simpsons show would mean to animators."

11. LISA WAS SUPPOSED TO BE A "LITTLE HELL-RAISER."

The Simpsons in 'The Town'
Fox

According to Al Jean, in the original shorts, "Lisa was supposed to be this little hell-raiser like Bart, but their character differentiation was wider when we went to full series."

12. YEARDLEY SMITH AUDITIONED FOR BART.

Yeardley Smith, the voice of Lisa, originally auditioned for Bart. "That lasted a good eight or nine seconds," Smith recounts, "It was like: "Cut, cut, cut! You sound too much like a girl!"

13. A SECOND CITY PERFORMANCE GOT DAN CASTELLANETA AN AUDITION.

Dan Castellaneta was invited to read for Homer Simpson after Tracey Ullman saw him perform a sketch comedy bit about a blind, crippled comedian at Second City in Chicago.

14. IT WAS MILHOUSE'S FIRST APPEARANCE, BUT HE ALREADY EXISTED.

"Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire" is the first time Milhouse appeared on the show; however, he was featured in a Butterfinger commercial in 1988.

15. SANTA'S LITTLE HELPER WENT MISSING.

Because "Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire" was originally meant to be the eighth episode, Santa's Little Helper is mysteriously absent from the next episode ("Bart the Genius"). According to DVD commentary, the creators of the show received letters of praise for heightening the awareness of the abandonment of racing dogs even though they didn't know it was a real problem when they created the episode.

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