Skip to main content

The Simpsons Gets Political - SE01 E08 - The Telltale Head

The Simpsons Gets Political - SE01 E08 - The Telltale Head

Bart looking' shook.
Script synopsis: As the episode opens we see Bart and Homer being chased through the street by an angry mob and ultimately cornered next to the headless statue of the Springfield town founder, Jebediah Springfield. Bart pleads with the townspeople not to rip him and his father limb from limb, at least not until they've heard the story of how he came to have the head of Jebediah in his rucksack. Telling them it would take 23 minutes 5 seconds - to cries of "That's too long!"

We then cut to a week earlier in the Simpsons house with the family preparing for church. Maggie and Lisa are inspected by Marge and told they look very nice. Bart is told to assume the position, in the subsequent search Marge discovers a slingshot, dice and a Radioactive Man comic book. After admonishing Bart, Marge asks where his father is. The scene cuts to reveal Homer watching a football game - which is not going the way he wants it to, it being revealed that this is because he has $50 riding on the outcome of the game.

Whilst in church Homer listens to the game on a walkman that Marge had confiscated from Bart - missing a sermon about the evils of gambling and professional football. As the children learn in Sunday school amongst other things that the ventriloquist goes to heaven but the dummy doesn't.

After church, Bart asks for money to go and see the new space mutants movie. On the way to the theatre he bumps into Jimbo, Kearney and Dolf who he sneaks into the theatre with. After being kicked out the gang go and look at clouds. Bart remarks that one of them looks like the town founder Jebediah Springfield, minus a head. The gang talks about how it would be cool if someone did cut off the statues head. Bart disagrees but is shouted down by the group. He then leaves.

After asking Homer how important it is to be popular, and being told it is the most important thing in the world. Bart goes and decapitates the statue.

The next day the entire town is horrified at the appalling crime - and to make it worse as are the bullies that Bart was trying to impress. He does not show them the statues head and instead racked by guilt goes home and attempts to bury it in the garden. As the guilt becomes to much Bart confesses to his parents and the episode loops back to the beginning scene.

Bart tells the mob that his act has actually brought the town closer together, to which the mob agrees. The head is returned to the statue and everyone forgives Homer and Bart for their actions. Homer and Bart then leave peacefully, with the former reminding the latter that "not all lynch mobs are this nice."

Issue raised: The point of prisons and criminal justice.

How many children(1) do you think are imprisoned in the UK every year? Still how many more are caught up in the criminal justice system in some way? Now ask yourself, if the answer were one - would this not be one to many? Now ask yourself, what is the purpose of the criminal justice system? Do we wish to stop people from reoffending, or do we wish to punish people for what they have done?

Now, whilst these two aims are not mutually exclusive, most criminal justice systems that exists prioritise one or the other. In the United Kingdom at least, we have a mix of the two, although increasingly due to budget cuts to our prison service, prisons and the criminal justice system is becoming much more punishing, brutal and is acutely affected by the social problems that plague our society - as well as not being able to do the job we ask it to do due to intense budget pressures.

The contention in this post is that we should not seek to punish those who have engaged in criminal behaviour, but to reform them and empower them to reform. The more astute amongst you will notice that two types of argument will be employed to argue this position; an argument from morality, claiming that it is inhumane to simply wish to mete out retribution to people we deem to have wronged us, especially when it is the case that a large portion of criminality arises out of social problems, mental illness or a heady cocktail of both.

The second type of argument that will be deployed is the empirical argument, or to put it in plain English, an argument from evidence. The claim that will be made is that if our aim is to reduce crime and criminality then retribution does not work, and is even counterproductive. That we must seek to empower people who have been involved in criminality to reform.

But alas, to begin;

As the episode opens we see two conflicting influences on the family from the parental figures, Homer and Marge. As Marge prepares the children for church, Homer is seen in the other room gambling on the outcome of a football match.

The correlation between parental gambling problems(2) and youth criminality is not as well explored an area as the link between parental substance abuse and youth criminality. It is known however, that it puts significant psychological strain on the child, and can lead the child to act out in ways that they likely would not otherwise(3). Which may go some way to explaining Bart's behaviour in the episode.

Whilst in the church the family is treated to a sermon entitled "Gambling: The Eighth Deadly Sin" - setting up the best visual gag of the early season as the family walk past a board advertising the churches week of gambling events.

Irony 101.

The events of the episode all seem to arise from Bart's desire to be accepted in the three bullies social group. In the course of the episode prior to decapitating Jebediah, Bart does not actually join in with the worst aspects of the gangs criminality - such as shoplifting from the Kwik-E- Mart. The seriousness of the actual act of cutting off the statues head does not seem to be apparent to Bart. Who is under the impression that it will be treated as a bit of light fun, hence his shock at the bereft reactions of his family and the wider townspeople.

Which highlights an issue which is instructive. If a child of ten years old commits a crime, is it fair to say that they are fully responsible for what they have done - given their inability to conceptualise the gravity of what they have done? Or conceptualise, why something is a crime or the likely impact that it will have on the victims of a crime. To what extent is crime a mechanical act ie. Murder is murder when we kill someone, and to what extent is a crime a function of a mental act? Or murder is murder when we kill someone and intend to kill them in the full understanding of what that means.

The contention here is that certainly, a ten year old is not capable of conceptualising the full implications of what they have done when they commit a crime, and therefore they need to be educated so as they do not do it again. A second, likely more controversial contention, is that the same is true of a great deal of people who are caught up in the criminal justice system in general.

According to the Prison Reform Trust(4) personality disorders are extremely prevalent among people in prison. 62% of male and 57% of female sentenced prisoners have a personality disorder. The amount of people suffering from anxiety or depression is around double that of the general population. There is an firmly established link between head injury and rates of involvement in the criminal justice system and the rate of other social problems such as addiction or functional illiteracy amongst the prison population is shockingly high, when compared to the general public.

A great deal of the time what the prison system is doing is imprisoning people who should be receiving treatment for a mental health issue, training so as not to have to be involved in criminality, or assistance from society to help them to help themselves. The rest of the time what it is doing, at great expense to the taxpayer, a cost of £35,182 per year per inmate, is keeping people in overcrowded, violent and dehumanising conditions with no actual utility in terms of cutting crime rates, or reoffending rates(5). Meaning that apart from prison being unjust - it does not even work on its own terms.

If we think of this in terms of Bart's situation - the monologue he delivers at the end of the episode clearly convinces the mob that he understands and regrets the gravity of what he has done and the harm he has caused and is convinced not to do it again. If this is the case, what would be the point in punishing him via the criminal justice system? If it where here, we would though'.

To work from analogy to IRL(5), given the amount it costs to imprison a person - would this money not be better spent treating the underlying causes of offending behaviours? Whether this be mental health issues, substance misuse, or even a particularly antisocial outlook.

Is it beyond the ken of man to come up with a more humane version of a criminal justice system that does not attempt to use 18th century penal methods to address 21st century social problems? Or to invent a criminal justice system that does not see an 80% increase in the number of inmates over the a thirty year period in which crime has fallen?

In the case of Bart, let's be thankful that the people of Springfield are far more enlightened on this than we clearly are. As none of this seems set to change any time soon.



(1) I'm defining children for the purpose of this article as people under the age of eighteen. I think that's fair, there is evidence to suggest that as the brain does not finish developing until a person is in their mid-twenties this is even to early to cast someone as fully responsible for their actions.

(2) Homer does display traits of "problem gambling" ie. Gambling money he cannot afford to lose. But does not display the traits of a gambling addict - which would be compulsively gambling, or being unable to stop himself from gambling. To use the analogy of drink, a problem drinker gets too drunk and regrets what they have done, an alcoholic has a compulsion to drink.



(5) I'm down with the kids.


Popular posts from this blog

The Simpsons Gets Political - SE01 E05 - Bart The General

The Simpsons Gets Political - SE01 E05 - Bart The General

Script synopsis: After defending Lisa from school bully Nelson Muntz, Bart becomes Nelson's latest school bullying target. Sick of the harassment and torment, Bart, Grandpa Simpson, and Herman (a slightly deranged military antique store dealer with a missing arm) rally the town's children into fighting back against Nelson and his cronies. Ultimately forcing Nelson to sign an armistice treaty recognising Bart's right to exist and relinquishing any official power and agreeing to never again raise his fists in anger - only remaining a figure of menace in the neighbourhood.
Issue raised: Just War Theory - which claims that war, whilst generally undesirable, is not always the worst option. Furthermore, certain things can justify going to war and sets certain criteria which must be met in order to claim a war as just.
Traditional just war theory sets certain parameters with which to justify the act of declaring war (Jus ad …

On The Propaganda Model Theory of the Mass Media

Straight away my first post breaks one(1) of my rules of writing, given that the impetus for writing this comes from something I read from that denizen of rigour Nick Cohen(2). The focus of the article however will be a sympathetic reconstruction of Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky's 'Propaganda Model of Mass Media'. Something which admittedly, I wish had a less tin-foil hat sounding name.

As context is necessary I am going to quote from the article that prompted me to write this and briefly have a bit of a go at Nick Cohen, mainly because I sat through his book Waiting for the Etonians and want my time/money back. Alas, I am forced to settle for having a pop at him on the internet.

The rest should hopefully be transgression free, at least in so far as dem rulezzz' go(3).

I will quote in full the paragraphs I take issue with you to save you from reading the article(4). But first to head something off before it begins. I sympathise with Cohen's broader point in th…

On Folk Politics: Or why the left can't win.

On folk politics - Or, why the left can't win.
"This for the ones who said "Onwards! Comrades! Til' our deaths!" With ruin on their breath, and the weight of centuries on their tongues. Loading failed manifesto's in their guns, as if defeat repeated often enough could some day mean that they had won." 

- Pat "The bunny" Schneeweis

Where did the future go? At this point it is disturbingly clear which side of the political spectrum has successfully staked its claim in the social imaginary to notions of progress, modernisation and technology. So what is to be done?

I'll begin this as is trendy in the style of a man relating to his reader, as if he didn't hold them in the deepest contempt;

For my part I can't even join in the standard lament to be found in pieces like this one that prior to the collapse of authoritarian communism in the Eastern Bloc, at least there existed an alternative to really existing capitalism that could be used …