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Bill Barol Headshot

The Simpsons and Banksy Peel Back the Curtain

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Anybody who says The Simpsons has lost its bite wasn't watching last night, when the 21-year-old comedy bit its corporate parent, 20th Television, and I mean hard. That the opening was created by guerilla artist Banksy was only the beginning of the surprise. The real gut punch was in the "couch gag," which showed gaunt Korean child laborers finishing Simpsons cels in vats of toxic goo, kittens being shredded to make the stuffing of Simpsons figures, and a dying unicorn -- a dying unicorn -- used to punch the center holes in Simpsons DVDs. The thing made Dickens' London look like a Katy Perry video. Showrunner Al Jean voiced the obligatory disclaimer in a Q&A with the New York Times' Dave Itzkoff -- No, no, of COURSE we don't really exploit sickly, tubercular orphans in dimly-lit sweatshops (I'm paraphrasing) -- but there was no denying the ghastly ferocity of the piece, which ended with a shot of Fox HQ ringed with barbed wire in the middle distance, like some awful latter-day incarnation of Devil's Island.

The Simpsons has, as a business proposition, always been cheerful in its avaricious devotion to licensing and merchandising. Last night it flipped the script. You may never look at your Sunday Best Bart Simpson action figure quite the same way.

Update: Fox has slapped YouTube with a copyright claim, killing access to the clip for now. As of this writing, it's still viewable on the web site of Britain's Sky News.