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To Nuclear Energy Industry, ‘The Simpsons’ Was No Laughing Matter

Daily Beast piece on co-creator Sam Simon’s passing reminds us how quickly the show’s irreverent humor became a cultural force to be reckoned with.

Interesting piece about Sam Simon, The Simpson’s co-creator who passed away Sunday, in The Daily Beast. Under the tag “Going Nuclear,” the piece, Simpsons’ Co-Creator Sam Simon’s Battle Over Three-Eyed Fish, riffs both on Simon’s generosity as well as notoriously combative demeanor and ability to piss people off, highlighting, among other dustups, the show’s early run-in with leaders of the U.S. nuclear power industry.

An early and frequent series target, back in 1990 [see clip below], nuclear energy still represented America’s industrial might and technological prowess, a bright and shiny harbinger of a great future for all.  The recent “Chernobyl thing” was merely evidence of the Soviet Union’s inability to do anything of substance besides produce assault rifles and raging alcoholics. Season 2’s infamous Blinky, the three-eyed fish, was just one of many Simpsons radioactive frontal assaults, from the menacing evil of nuclear plant owner Mr. Burns to Homer’s unending idiocy as a bungling plant worker.

While I was never an encyclopediacal aficionado of the series, I can clearly remember its early impact – watch group protests of Bart’s fiendish, anti-establishment escapades were a common highlight of the broader backlash generated by the show. It’s almost laughable now how serious the perception was for many that the show was nothing less than an attack on the very moral fiber of our country.

Within that context, I chuckled as the article pointed out a 1990 Associated Press report that, “The nuclear industry is having a meltdown over ‘The Simpsons,’ and that The U.S. Council for Energy Awareness sent the show’s producers a letter “expressing their horror at watching plant workers painted as ‘bungling idiots.’” Thank god today we have Disqus and Twitter to help us target our societal outrage. Think how upset people’s upset would be if they had to express themselves with paper and pen. The sad irony is in today's seemingly radioactive climate of "artistic freedom," some have traded in their "submit buttons" for automatic weapons. But I digress.

Simon, according to the article, responded apologetically and eventually toured California’s San Onofre nuclear plant in San Clemente.  Subsequent to that tour, the producers declared they’d cut back on the “cheap shots” and ribbing of the industry. It should be noted that the San Onofre plant was shut down permanently in 2013 after recent modifications were deemed “unsafe and posed a danger to the eight million people living within 50 miles of the plant.

Ultimately, whatever place in history Simon and The Simpsons settle into, I'm just happy they're still tweaking society's nipples and kicking it in the shins. The following clip, from the third episode of Season 1, is a brilliant “industrial film” shown to Springfield students on their tour of the local nuclear power plant, a perfect example of the show’s edgy but topical humor. Enjoy.

Dan Sarto's picture

Dan Sarto is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Animation World Network.