Cultural Industries, and “Banksy” on “The Simpsons”
The concept of cultural industries embraces industries that combine the creation, production, and commercialization of creative content, which can have the form of a good or a service (Tettegah, 2016). The term was presented as critical vocabulary in the chapter "The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception", of the 1947 book “Dialectic of Enlightenment” from critical theorists Theodor Adorno (1903–69) and Max Horkheimer (1895–1973) at The Frankfurt School in Germany. They maintained that mass media had negative effects on people (Adorno & Horkheimer, 1947).
In Dialectic of Enlightenment, Horkheimer and Adorno go on to explore the theory that “Culture today is infecting everything with sameness. Film, radio and magazines form a system. Each branch of culture is unanimous with itself and all are unanimous together” (Adorno & Horkheimer, 1947). In the 2010 episode of “The Simpsons” titled “MoneyBart” (Season 12, Episode, 19), celebrated UK street artist ‘Banksy’ guest-wrote the opening sequence, which is a commentary on the Culture Industries (Halliday, 2010). He explores many of the negative facets theorised by Adorno and Horkheimer, in particular that the sole goal of the culture industry is to make money. This is through what they refer to as “Mass-Culture”, which aims to please as many people as possible, as much of the time as possible, mainly through creating films, music, books etc. (Nicholas, 2020). Whilst Adorno and Horkheimer argue that mass-culture robs people of their imagination and individuality, Banksy takes this further by exploring mass-production and the means of which this mass-culture is produced (Nicholas, 2020).
The sequence shows a cut to an Asian sweatshop as cells are being mass-produced by animators as sombre, depressive music plays. I interpret this as a commentary on the under-paid, over-worked life of the everyday artist, or in this more specific-case animator. We then see child labour working to mass produce the clothing, and kittens being thrown through a grinder and used as stuffing in Bart Simpson dolls. This prompts the audience to consider what really goes on behind-the-scenes in to the making of ‘fashionable’ items or merchandise.
The sequence goes on to show a unicorn and its horn being used to pop the holes in DVD’s, another portrayal of animal cruelty in the lines of mass-production (much like the kittens). In response to negative feedback of the clip and the contributions of Banksy, The Simpsons Executive Producer Al Jean helped reinforce the theories in the clip, with the tongue-in-cheek comment "This is what you get when you outsource."( GIlbert, 2015). When asked if the criticism towards Fox would get them in trouble with their network, Jean noted” I’ll just say it’s a place where edgy comedy can really thrive, as long as it’s funny, which I think this was.” (The New York Times, 2010). The over-dramatisation of these conditions however is an example of art needing to be bold and to the extreme to get attention in a watered-down medium full of sensationalism. Hopefully a sequence (and episode) such as this, can help the audience to assess their own values and want for commercial merchandise and how they seek their short-term pleasure. For if this helps individuals to become more aware of what they consume and how it is produced, then perhaps factors portrayed in this opening sequence such as animal cruelty, child labour and mass-commercialisation can cease in the hopes for a better world.
Adorno, Theodor W.. The Culture Industry : Selected Essays on Mass Culture, edited by J. M. Bernstein, Taylor & Francis Group, 1991. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/sae/detail.action?docID=242323.
Adorno, T & Horkheimer, M. (1947). ;The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception’ Dialectic of enlightenment. New York: Continuum.
Gilbert, S. (2015, August 28). When Banksy Soured The Simpsons—The Atlantic. Retrieved July 28, 2020, from https://www.theatlantic.com/notes/2015/08/when-banksy-soured-the-simpsons-tk/402098/
Halliday, J. (2010, October 11). Banksy takes Simpsons into sweatshop. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/media/2010/oct/11/banksy-the-simpsons-bart
Nicholas.T (2019, May 22) The Frankfurt School: WTF? Horkheimer, Adorno and Critical Theory Explained | (Youtube Video) Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6g5_tuXwOUg
Tettagah, S (2016, July 20) Emotions, Technology, and Social Media (First Edition) Published by: Academic Press; 1 edition.
The New York Times (2010, Oct 11): “The Simpsons” Explains Its Button-Pushing Banksy Opening.. Hypebeast.. Retrieved July 28, 2020, from https://hypebeast.com/2010/10/the-new-york-times-the-simpsons-explains-its-button-pushing-banksy-opening