In the nineteenth episode of the thirty-second season of Matt Groening’s The Simpsons, “Panic on the Streets of Springfield,” which aired on Sunday, April 18th, 2021, Lisa becomes enamored with the British musician Quilloughby (Benedict Cumberbatch), frontman of the band “The Snuffs.” But controversy has arisen from the episode, which has invoked the ire of Morrissey, frontman of the band The Smiths.
“Panic on the Streets of Springfield”
The action begins when Lisa Simpson (Yeardley Smith) discovers The Snuffs because Slapify recommends their music (based on the fact that her “discriminating taste” leads her to hate everything else the service offers). Soon, she’s taken with frontman Quilloughby’s militant vegetarianism… and his acerbic tongue has a serious effect on her personal interactions with the other residents of Springfield.
Eventually, Lisa obtains tickets to see the reclusive Quilloughby in concert, but when he takes the stage, she discovers that the reality of the man is somewhat removed from the imaginary version she had been conversing with throughout the episode. Confronted with the unpleasant (and, as Lisa observes, racist) reality, the imaginary version of Quilloughby loses his appeal, and the status quo is restored (this is an episode of The Simpsons, after all).
However, Morrissey took to his website to make a statement about the episode, stating that he was aware the episode had “enraged many people” and going on to lament that there were not laws to protect him.
Morrissey: “obviously a taunting lawsuit”
In his statement, Morrissey lamented that “in a world obsessed with Hate Laws” [sic], he had no personal recourse, since he states that it would require more money than he possesses in order to fund a lawsuit.
Meanwhile, in the episode, the older version of Quilloughby laments that he’s only performing because he “lost his fortune suing people for saying things about [him] that were completely true.”
Morrissey’s statement says that it is “hopefully his last” comment on the episode, and he assures readers that he’s used to such treatment, having been subjected to enough “horror” to “kill off a herd of bison.” Morrissey goes on to imply that working as a writer for The Simpsons “requires only complete ignorance,” and specifically addresses the racist element of the satirical depiction:
False theories of race are now the most common (and boring) aspect of all criticism, and will continue to be so until accusations of racism are in themselves illicit.
Controversy in Springfield?!
A public figure being satirized by The Simpsons – we never thought we’d see the day! But in another, more accurate way, this is far from the first time The Simpsons has garnered controversy.
In September 1990, just before the premiere of the second season of The Simpsons, First Lady Barbara Bush said the series was “the dumbest thing [she’d] ever seen.”
More recently, the show has come under fire for casting white actors in roles depicting people of color, perhaps most notably in the 2017 documentary The Problem with Apu, written by Hari Kondabolu. Initially, The Simpsons did not respond well to this criticism, with a scene at the end of the fifteenth episode of the twenty-ninth season, “No Good Read Goes Unpunished” (2018), suggesting that the depiction of Apu would be “addressed later, if at all.”
However, actor Hank Azaria stepped down from voicing Apu in January 2020, and recently apologized for the depiction. The character of Apu has been largely absent from The Simpsons in the meantime, although he has occasionally appeared in the background, with no lines.
Meanwhile, other characters on The Simpsons have been recast, with Alex Désert taking over for Azaria as Carl Carlson and Kevin Michael Richardson stepping into the role of Dr. Hibbert, a character previously voiced by Harry Shearer.
Morrissey vs The Simpsons Season 32
The most recent episode is another strong entry in what has been an overall excellent season. While many of the episodes focus on characters other than those who make their residence at 742 Evergreen Terrace, the broader focus on Springfield as a whole has delivered many unconventional and innovative stories.
But if you only watch one episode of The Simpsons this season, consider “Panic on the Streets of Springfield.” Not only does it afford a fascinating glimpse of the logical conclusion of celebrities who refuse to engage in self-reflection, but it gives you a chance to listen to Dr. Freakin’ Strange mope-croon his heart out. The episode is currently available for streaming on Hulu, and honestly… who could resist?