When "The Simpsons" stunned viewers Sunday night with an opening titles sequence created by the elusive, infamous Bansky, it was the unlikeliest pairing of pop culture, art and cultural criticism until the Kim Kardashian-Barbara Kruger cover of W magazine hit newsstands two days later.
The clip, easily one of the darkest, most despairing piece of animation to come down the pike since "Grave of the Fireflies," kicks off with a bird carrying a dead rodent through the Springfield skies – and then it turns grim. Sure, the theme music and the sequence of events stays true to the show's familiar themes – Bart cheekily writes "I must not write all over the walls" on the chalkboard, a Krusty billboard gets a little Banksied – but as the family takes its place on the couch, the action pulls away to an Asian animation sweatshop. How hellish is Banksy's vision of how "The Simpsons" gets made? It makes a real sweatshop look like Club Med. Children dip animation cels in toxic waste while rats carry off human bones. Birds are wood-chippered into Bart Simpson dolls, hauled off by tragic pandas. And do you even want to know how they put the holes in your DVDs? Chained up unicorns.
It's a stunning indictment of harsh international working conditions and animal cruelty, a provocative statement on the show's reputed practice of outsourcing its animation to South Korea, and the most effective ad for Klonopin ever created. That the sequence would go viral faster than a case of mono on a Flava Flav-themed reality show was never in doubt. And sure enough, by Monday, if you didn't have a friend who had forwarded you the clip, you likely just didn't have a friend.
The Simpsons, of course, airs on Fox--the broadcast network. And I'm fairly certain this opening sequence was a better piece of reporting on the realities of offshore, sweatshop labor than anything the corporate shills at sister cable network Fox News Channel have ever produced.
Still, though, if you want to make a real statement, Mr. Groening, stop outsourcing your animation and do the damn job here.