Banksy directs the opening sequence to the 2010 episode of The Simpsons, MoneyBart (Season 22, Episode3).


Arguably the world’s most famous street artists, Banksy storyboarded and directed this opening scene, which I first read about on the Wooster Collective in October 2010 (you see, we don’t get The Simpsons episodes for another 10,000 years after they first air in the USA). The shot opens with one of the show’s recurring symbols, a three-eyed raven, carrying a rat in its beak. The raven is an ominous representation of the seedy side of Springfield, specifically the radioactive waste from Mr Burns’ Nuclear Power Plant polluting the town’s wildlife. The rat is a symbol of anarchy that Banksy often uses in his art and which often signifies his artistic signature.


Banksy’s tag can be seen on the billboard and wall outside Springfield Elementary School. Bart is seen scrawling on the blackboard as he does at the beginning of every episode. He writes ‘I must not write all over the walls’, another tongue-in-cheek reference to Banksy’s graffiti. Following the iconic final frame of the opening credits, where the Simpsons are seated together on the couch, we see a darkly-lit and dingy factory where rows of identical-looking women work on animation frames while a severe-looking man dressed in a military-style uniform watches over them. The women are tired, drab and sullen. A little boy takes one of the frames, dips it into hazardous liquid and hangs it out to dry. We see a pile of bones in the corner.


The camera pans down into a lower level of the factory, where the only colourful objects are rows of Simpsons t-shirts being produced and handled by young children. A chorus of melancholic, religiously-themed music plays in the background, as we see white kittens thrown into a wood-chipper-styled machine. White fur comes out in tuffs on the other side, which a woman stuffs quickly into Bart Simpson plush toys. The cart of toys is guided away by a man and pushed along by a down-trodden panda that is chained to the cart by its neck. Another man seals up boxes labelled ‘The Simpsons’ (using the tongue from a dolphin’s head stuck on stick). Another man packs CD cases, perforating the hole in the centre of the CDs on the tip of an emaciated unicorn’s horn. The unicorn is chained to the wall. It falls to the ground from exhaustion as the 20th Century Fox logo looms large across the screen. The camera pans out as the logo appears on the Simpsons’ TV set and the familiar Simpsons theme music plays in the background, drowning out the gloomy music from the previous scene.


Darkly humorous and thought-provoking, this opening sequence offers a political comment on the nefarious machinations of animation production. The use of women and children denotes the labourers who are exploited in order to create this highly successful show. The panda implies the scene is set in China. The juxtaposition of the enslaved unicorn and the 20th Century logo represents the ugly reality of Hollywood fantasy, as unicorns are a recurring feature of beauty and magic in children’s cartoons.

I see this video as a clever postmodern critique of pop culture, as well as a neo-Marxist comment on the mass production of art. Banksy has reached a level of notoriety and relative success that has contributed to the elevated cultural legitimacy of street art. As far as pop cultural animation institutions go, The Simpsons cannot be surpassed. The Simpsons is the longest running scripted television show, showing in at least 60 countries as of 2002. Over the past 21 years, the show has retained a core audience of dedicated viewers. The show maintains its cultural significance in large part by embedding cult and pop references as well as celebrity appearances into its weekly series. Banksy fits all of these categories. By becoming part of The Simpsons legacy, Banksy manages to simultaneously integrate his personal anti-establishment ethos (a critique of the animation production process) whilst seeding street art into mainstream pop culture.

Judith Butler explains ‘gender performativity’, a term that refers to the ways in which gender norms are established, policed and resisted. While her academic writing is dense, Butler has a wonderful and engaging way of talking. Below is the transcript.

Question: What does it mean that gender is performative?

Judith Butler: It’s one thing to say that gender is performed and that is a little different from saying gender is performative.  When we say gender is performed we usually mean that we’ve taken on a role or we’re acting in some way and that our acting or our role playing is crucial to the gender that we are and the gender that we present to the world.  To say that gender is performative is a little different because for something to be performative means that it produces a series of effects. We act and walk and speak and talk in ways that consolidate an impression of being a man or being a woman.

I was walking down the street in Berkeley when I first arrived several years ago and a young woman who was I think in high school leaned out of her window and she yelled, “Are you a lesbian?”, and she was looking to harass me or maybe she was just freaked out or she thought I looked like I probably was one or wanted to know and I thought to myself well I could feel harassed or stigmatized, but instead I just turned around and I said yes I am and that really shocked her.

We act as if that being of a man or that being of a women is actually an internal reality or something that is simply true about us, a fact about us, but actually it’s a phenomenon that is being produced all the time and reproduced all the time, so to say gender is performative is to say that nobody really is a gender from the start.  I know it’s controversial, but that’s my claim.

Question: How should this notion of gender performativity change the way we look at gender?

Judith Butler: Think about how difficult it is for sissy boys or how difficult it is for tomboys to function socially without being bullied or without being teased or without sometimes suffering threats of violence or without their parents intervening to say maybe you need a psychiatrist or why can’t you be normal. So there are institutional powers like psychiatric normalization and there are informal kinds of practices like bullying which try to keep us in our gendered place.

I think there is a real question for me about how such gender norms get established and policed and what the best way is to disrupt them and to overcome the police function. It’s my view that gender is culturally formed, but it’s also a domain of agency or freedom and that it is most important to resist the violence that is imposed by ideal gender norms, especially against those who are gender different, who are nonconforming in their gender presentation. 

Recorded January 13, 2011
Interviewed by Max Miller
Directed by Jonathan Fowler
Produced by Elizabeth Rodd

Via Big Think.

How do you like your rappers? Aged two and super deliciously cute? Here you go. 

Cuteness aside, Valerie Chepp provides a very useful postmodernist sociological analysis of this clip. This discourse analysis shows how the social dynamics of learning language, such as emulating patterns of speech, gestures and inflections of emotion, can occur prior to learning the meaning of words. 

This home video of 2-year-old Khaliyl Iloyi rapping with his father can be used to illustrate Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure’s (1857-1913) concepts of langue and parole which, for Saussure, comprise a larger system of signs he calls language. Langue entails the total system of possibilities; it is the abstract set of structured rules that a given speech community internalizes. Parole, on the other hand, consists of individual speech acts and the message contained within them. Saussure argues that individuals don’t pick and choose what belongs to langue or parole; rather, langue is social (in that it operates according to a set of rules that are in place before and after our existence) and parole is individual. Another way Saussure understood this distinction was that langue is a static, synchronic system while parole is diachronic and contingent. This video clip illustrates how, even at age two, Khaliyl understands the basic underlying structure of language (langue), even if he has yet to master the meaning of individual speech acts (parole). He is engaging in the social enterprise of langue in that he has internalized the abstract rules of language for his speech community, even though a meaningful message has yet to be put into practice (parole). 

Essentially, Chepp points out that learning how to act our speech patterns is just as critical as knowing how to speak. The way humans exchange verbal and non-verbal signs is central to the transmission of culture and belonging. The child in the video, Khaliyl Iloyi, comes from a musical family. He has learned how to mimic the behaviourisms of his rapper father even though he cannot speak. These non-verbal cues - what Bourdieu calls habitus, are part of the embodiment of culture and history. We learn how to act out our culture before we really understand verbal meaning. This is why the way we behave as adults seems natural and normal - because we’ve internalised how we are supposed to behave as infants, and we learn to take this for granted. 

Maria Popova talks through the idea of “combinatorial creativity”, which drives Brainpickings:

But even before I knew what that was, I always believed that creativity is just, sort of, our ability to take these interesting pieces of stuff that we carry and accumulate over the course of our lives—knowledge and insight and inspiration and other work and other skills—and then recombine them into new things. That’s how innovation happens, and that’s how ideas are born. So, when I started Brain Pickings, the idea of five diverse, multidisciplinary items in one email, that was the fundamental vision for it: that you enrich people with creative resources, and over time, these Lego bricks that end up in their heads eventually build this enormous, incredible castle.

Via: Mother Jones.