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November 27 2011

The 10 best moustaches - in pictures

As men everywhere fuzz up for Movember, we celebrate some notable moustache wearers past and present

July 11 2011

Rupert Murdoch: a real-life Mr Burns?

As a portrait of power unfettered, The Simpsons' Monty Burns is as much cartoon villain as Rupert Murdoch, the show's owner

Rupert Murdoch has done one thing that enriches modern life – but it does not involve publishing a newspaper. Amid the boa constrictor of shame that has engulfed and engorged his British tabloid the News of the World, let's recognise the most wonderful – and totally incongruous – pearl of his global media empire: The Simpsons.

It makes no apparent sense that Murdoch ever allowed this left-of-centre cartoon to be made by Fox. The reason is presumably that it is popular and a good investment. The bottom line is that when the funniest American family's creator Matt Groening created his science-fiction parody Futurama for Fox, less astronomical ratings led Fox to cancel it, although cult status later won it a reprieve. So it is success and not charity that keeps The Simpsons as such an immortal fixture of Murdoch's TV stations.

There has never been any attempt by the makers to disguise their political views. In a compilation of early highlights, actor Troy McClure revealed that Groening plants hidden rightwing messages in the show. The joke, of course, was that he does the opposite and that its sceptical view of capitalist life is not hidden at all. Springfield, the town where the Simpsons live, is dominated by tycoon Monty Burns, owner of the local nuclear power station. Rapacious, heartless Mr Burns is a caricature tycoon right off a 1930s Monopoly board, yet his wealth constantly interferes with the well-being of Springfield. In his darkest hour he even blots out the town's sunlight.

Is Burns a portrait of Murdoch? Not as such. Rather he is a portrait of the power of money unfettered, which may amount to the same thing. Murdoch himself has appeared on the programme, introducing himself as follows: "I'm Rupert Murdoch, the billionaire tyrant." Groening said he performed the line enthusiastically. But does the fact that The Simpsons is part of his business undermine its radical spirit?

Some would say the radicalism really only belonged to the show's classic early years. In the 1990s, nothing in contemporary pop culture was so brilliant and hilarious. And it was – it is – a Murdoch property. We owe the most widely criticised business empire of the age this much gratitude: it gave us the finest and funniest piece of modern televisual pop art. Murdoch's current travails resemble one of the periodic disasters that hit Mr Burns, such as the time the nuclear power station owner ran for political office and was forced to eat Blinky, the three-eyed fish, live on television. "The old man's finished," say his spin doctors after he spits out the nuclear-mutated fish. "It was over when the fish hit the floor." And they leave as he cries out: "You can't do this to me – I'm Charles Montgomery Murdoch!" Sorry, that should read Burns. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

October 11 2010

Banksy's satire on The Simpsons

Banksy's opening sequence for The Simpsons is very funny – but what does it tell us about the show?

The first ever episode of The Simpsons showed a family plunged into poverty by the vagaries of capitalism. When Mr Burns cancels the Christmas bonus, Homer has no idea how to get presents for his children in Simpsons Roasting Over an Open Fire. That set the political tone of the series, so forgive me for not being amazed by the courage of Banksy in satirising the ethics of the now-venerable Simpsons in its own opening credits. The British street artist has created a very funny opening sequence in which we glimpse a hellish underworld where oppressed Koreans labour to put together the programme and its merchandise.

Banksy is supposedly responding to "reports" that the makers of The Simpsons use far-eastern sweatshop labour to help churn out its episodes. I don't know about "reports", but I do know that the makers of the show have joked about the same subject. As for Banksy's portrayal of the Fox logo surrounded by military searchlights and barbed wire, that too is of a piece with the programme's persistent biting of the hand that feeds it, including caricaturing Rupert Murdoch. This is a cartoon about blue-collar Americans that always makes it clear who their oppressors are – not foreign terrorists, but big business and the Republican party (which has been shown scheming in a secret Dracula-like lair).

Liberal-seeming, Apple-style capitalism has also been a favourite target. When Homer gets a job in an ideal community, the only drawback is that non-hierarchical, sustainable-businessman Hank Scorpio is a supervillain who doesn't want to be called boss – he just wants to rule the world. So Banksy's joke may be that in turn, the cartoon has itself become part of the cosy modern consensus, still broadly leftish in its views but no longer looking at the world – or itself – with the honesty of youth. Then again, he got his sequence made. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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