The Iranian government’s new ban on dolls of the animated characters from the television show The Simpsons should not surprise us. “We do not want to promote this cartoon by importing the toys,” Mohammad Hossein Farjoo, secretary of policymaking at the Institute for the Intellectual Development of Children and Young Adults, told the Shargh newspaper in Tehran recently, adding that Spider-Man and Superman were authorized for sale because “they help oppressed people and they have a positive stance.”
One suspects that Farjoo is missing a trick here; he is not being discerning enough in his blanket ban on all Simpsons characters. Lisa Simpson, a feminist vegetarian and social activist, works tirelessly for oppressed people and has a very positive stance. Similarly, her mother, Marge, and the comedian Krusty the Klown both do philanthropic work, although admittedly the Retired Jewish Clowns charity headed by Krusty, who is a rabbi’s son, is unlikely to commend itself to the ideologists of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Meanwhile, Homer Simpson himself works as a safety inspector in Springfield’s nuclear-power plant—indeed he was Toxic Waste Handler of the Month back in October 1990—and that might appeal to Farjoo as his ultimate boss, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, farcically attempts to convince the world of his pursuit of nuclear power for simply peaceful purposes. Even the magnificently sinister-but-lovable owner of the Springfield plant, C. Montgomery Burns, is not pursuing world domination (so far as we can tell).
If Farjoo wanted to undermine the Iranian liberal opposition’s attraction toward Western society and democracy—and with a title like “secretary of policymaking at the Institute for the Intellectual Development of Children and Young Adults” that must be part of his job spec—then he ought to be flooding Iran, a country where a quarter of the 75 million population is under 15, with Simpsons dolls. The corrupt JFK-sound-alike politician Mayor Quimby; the alcoholic Barney Gumble; the incompetent cop Clancy Wiggum; the pathetic headmaster Principal Skinner; the incredibly violent TV cartoon show, The Itchy & Scratchy Show; the crooked lawyer Lionel Hutz—all satirize important aspects of American public life in a way that Farjoo should approve. Almost the sole gay in Springfield, Mr. Burns’s amanuensis, Waylon Smithers, leads a sad life teetering on the verge of coming out but never quite doing so. (Of course he would be treated far better in Springfield than in Iran, which hanged three homosexual men last September “for acts against the Sharia law and bad deeds.”)
Although Islam doesn’t feature much in Springfield—Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, who runs the Kwik-E-Mart, is Hindu—Bart Simpson did throw a “Pardon My Intolerance” party in the seventh episode of the 20th season after he mistook the family of his Muslim acquaintance, Bashir, for a terrorist cell intent on blowing up the Springfield Mall. When the families are having dinner, Bart tells Homer to not fear Bashir’s family “just because they have a different religion, different views, and their last name is bin Laden.” (When Krusty the Klown dined with the Simpsons, he gave the blessing in Hebrew: “Baruch atah adonai, eloheinu, melech ha’olam hamotzi lechem min ha’aretz.” Homer’s reaction: “Heehee! He’s talking funny talk!”)
It is in the depiction of American Christianity that Farjoo can take most solace, and indeed should reverse his ban. Homer and Marge’s neighbor, Ned Flanders, is a born-again Christian whose wife, Maude, actually went away to church camp to learn to be more judgmental, but came back saying: “I don’t judge Homer and Marge. That’s for a vengeful God to do.” The Rev. Timothy Lovejoy of the First Church of Springfield is similarly judgmental and humorless, preaching long, dull, irrelevant sermons to an unconvinced Homer, who states in one episode: “I love God; he’s my favorite fictional character.” Bart is, for all intents and purposes, a pagan, who sold his soul to his friend Milhouse for $5, getting more than Homer in another episode, who sold his to Satan for a donut. “Dear Lord,” the genuinely pious Marge prays in one episode, “if you spare this town from becoming a smoking hole in the ground, I’ll try to be a better Christian. I don’t know what I can do... Mmm... Oh, the next time there’s a canned-food drive, I’ll give the poor something they’ll actually like, instead of old lima beans and pumpkin mix.” Yet at least she takes part; what did Spider-Man or Superman ever donate to a canned-food drive?
For someone who makes policy at the Institute for the Intellectual Development of Children and Young Adults, Farjoo will enjoy the episode in which Bart fires a series of questions at his Sunday-school teacher, including “Wouldn’t you get used to Hell, like in a hot tub? Will there be pirates in Hell? Will an amputated leg be reattached in Heaven? Will there be animals in Heaven? What about cavemen?” All the teacher can reply is: “I don’t know! All the questions! Is a little blind faith too much to ask?”
Of course if Farjoo were to approve the Simpsons dolls, the next step would be for him to have to adjudicate on those of Family Guy, the far more aggressive, hard-hitting, and funnier satirical animated sitcom. One suspects that Farjoo would have to ban the sinister, weird-looking, sexually ambiguous toddler Stewie Griffin, whose declared ambition is to unleash genocide in an attempt at world domination, for being just too suspiciously similar to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Safer to stop the rot at The Simpsons.