Disney+ and the Commercialisation of ‘The Simpsons’

“I’m the mascot of an evil corporation!”

This is a phrase said by Bart in The Simpsons Movie while wearing a black bra on his head to look like Mickey Mouse, and one that rang in my head when I watched the video announcing that The Simpsons will now be releasing exclusively on Disney+, a new streaming service set to rival Netflix. While it did upset me that a show so obviously dead set against this monopolising force has now been absorbed into it, I can’t say I was particularly surprised.

Once upon a time, The Simpsons was one of the more subversive and controversial shows to air on American television – enough to generate a comment from then President George H. W. Bush that he wanted American families to be ‘more like The Waltons and a lot less like The Simpsons’. I’m willing to bet that a fair number of you who read this article in 2019 have very little concept of who The Waltons are, and in a way this helps to prove the importance of The Simpsons; the two respectively stand as the depiction of a specific ideal from a specific time, versus the dysfunction and struggles of any kind of family at any time. Homer’s carelessness, Lisa’s malaise (presented beautifully in the criminally underrated episode ‘Moaning Lisa’), and Bart’s desperation for attention ring true for most people in the early episodes even today, even if the situations are comedically exaggerated.

To me, none of this really meshes well with Disney’s particular brand of perfection and magic, well-established over the past nine decades of the company’s existence. I struggle to think of another entertainment conglomerate more obsessed with the feel of their content – ask most people what they think of when you say Disney, and their answer will likely involve fun, princesses, happy endings and wholesome, family-friendly content. I take no issue with this per se, but the fact that Disney now runs 27% of the film industry makes me concerned that this kind of spineless entertainment will become the only mainstream entertainment available if we’re not careful.

Any self-respecting Simpsons fan will tell you that the show has become increasingly sanitised and sad over the past two decades. Guest stars that dominate whole episodes (‘Lisa Goes Gaga’, anyone?) and desperately hopping onto the latest trend for relevance are two problems that plague the more recent series, but the previously controversial content itself hasn’t necessarily changed. Bart still gets strangled, Marge and Homer have regular sex and alcoholism runs rampant among many Springfieldians. But at this point, The Simpsons is a familiar enough concept that these once-shocking character traits are now just kooky quirks, Flanderised into meaninglessness. I, like many, believe that the show should have stopped long ago to let another trailblazer have the spotlight.

This brings me to the quote from the start of this article. When The Simpsons Movie was released, the quality had been dipping steadily for years but the show hadn’t become entirely toothless yet. Taking a shot at Disney, albeit not in the most insightful way, indicated that the creators still had some kind of rebellious streak – a willingness to at least question the wider mainstream system that it had become a large part of. Now, watching Homer weakly poke fun at Disney in a video where they essentially admit defeat and surrender to Walt’s unholy creation is deeply depressing. They ended their dissent long before this announcement was made, but continue to self-delude that these wise-cracks have any real connection to the show The Simpsons once was.

So I doubt that The Simpsons will change for being on Disney+. The startling show we once knew has grown stale and predictable enough that no one has been threatened or challenged by an episode in years – why would Disney have any reason to be concerned about The Simpsons damaging their image? The addition of it to this streaming service is emblematic of an issue that has plagued the show for years: it is a spineless, half-dead creature on life support that should have been put out of its misery and left as happy memories back in the early 2000s. There won’t be a Disneyfication of The Simpsons – they did that to themselves a long time ago.