When Banksy Soured The Simpsons

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

While the art world is still obsessing over Banksy’s new temporary theme park/anarchist’s day out, “Dismaland,” it’s worth remembering the last time the anonymous guerrilla street artist tackled a major animation institution. In 2010, Banksy was given free rein to design the opening credits to an episode of The Simpsons, titled “MoneyBart.” The resulting video is one of the bleakest, most overtly political moments in the show’s 26 seasons:

Initially, the only sign of Banksy’s involvement is his tag around town (on the walls of Springfield Elementary, on a billboard advertising Krusty-themed funerals), but when the five members of the family take their places on the living-room couch, they morph into an image on the wall of an Asian sweatshop. Identikit workers draw Simpsons cels in a drab gray room, monitored by guards. A child dips scenes in toxic chemicals before hanging them up to dry. Yet more children push heavy carts of Simpsons merchandise, shown being stuffed with the fur of dead kittens. There’s even a beleaguered panda bear pulling a cart, and a unicorn who collapses from exhaustion.

The sequence was seen as a pointed dig at Fox, which outsources much of the animation for The Simpsons to AKOM, a company based in South Korea. “I have to say it’s very fanciful, very far-fetched,” longtime showrunner Al Jean told The New York Times. “Obviously, the animation to do this was pricey. I couldn’t have just snuck it by Fox. 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.”