When you’re the longest-running animated series in television history you’re bound to encounter a few scandals here and there and you’re almost guaranteed to offend some of the famous people you parody — just ask The Simpsons.
After facing controversy in the past few years for its portrayals of minority characters and casting white actors to voice BIPOC Springfield residents, the Matt Groening created series has now rubbed singer Morrissey the wrong way with a recent episode.
In Panic on the Streets of Springfield, music lover Lisa discovers an enigmatic new post-punk artist by the name of Quilloughby (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) thanks to a Spotify spoof named Slapify.
Intrigued by Quilloughby and his band The Snuffs who “dominated the ’80s indie scene with their brand of literate, sardonic music that focused on Quilloughby’s obsessions, especially his militant vegetarianism” — Lisa quickly finds her new favourite artist and becomes imaginary friends with the 80s star.
Later in the episode, 80s Quilloughby accompanies Lisa to Springfield’s Bummershoot Festival, to see the modern-day iteration of his band perform. The singer watches in dismay as his 2021 self declares that he only got the band back together for a “cash grab” as he lost his fortune “suing people for saying things about me… that were completely true” before writing veganism off as being “invented by foreigners, of whom there are far too many on this planet!”
“That’s right, I hate the foreign!” 2021 Morrisey says. “Coming to this country and taking our jobs! Sleeping with our men!”, before performing tracks from his solo record Refugees? Again?.
The satire might have been amusing to fans of the show, but one person who found the whole thing decidedly unfunny was Morrisey’s manager Peter Katsis, who criticised the animation for “trying to capitalise on cheap controversy and expounding on vicious rumours.”
Taking to Morrissey’s official Facebook page, Katsis wrote a lengthy statement in which he argued, “When a show stoops so low to use harshly hateful tactics like showing the Morrissey character with his belly hanging out of his shirt (when he has never looked like that at any point in his career) makes you wonder who the real hurtful, racist group is here.”
He continued, “Even worse – calling the Morrissey character out for being a racist, without pointing out any specific instances, offers nothing. It only serves to insult the artist … Unlike the character in the Simpsons’ ‘Panic’ episode……. Morrissey has never made a ‘cash grab,’ hasn’t sued any people for their attacks, has never stopped performing great shows, and is still a serious vegan and strong supporter for animal rights.”
He may be an animal lover, but Morrissey has certainly made some divisive comments in the past five years or so, including making derogatory remarks about Sadiq Khan, London’s first Muslim mayor and shadow secretary Diane Abbott, who is Black.
The singer has also made inflammatory comments in relation to the #MeToo movement, arguing that victims of convicted sex offender Harvey Weinstein “played along and then felt embarrassed or disliked” after the fact.
Meanwhile, Simpsons scriptwriter Tim Long told Stereogum before the episode aired that the Quilloughby character was not inspired by one musician, but was rather “Morrissey-esque, with maybe a small dash of Robert Smith from the Cure, Ian Curtis from Joy Division, and a bunch of other people.”
Additionally, Simpsons director Debbie Mahan shared an Instagram post about the episode, writing, “I’ve worked on this show for nearly 20 years. And this — BY FAR— is the most fun I’ve ever had working on an episode. My husband, who also works on the show, is an avid Smiths fan/collector, and was our resident Morrissey expert so it truly was a labour of love.”
She later updated her post to remind everyone, including Morrisey, that the episode was satire.
‘The characters are fictional. Many things were greatly exaggerated for comedic effect,” Mahan wrote. “The Simpsons were never anything if not irreverent.”
In his Facebook rant, Katsis also referenced “Hank Azaria’s recent apology to the whole country of India for his role in upholding “structural racism.”
Azaria, who voiced Kwik-E-Mart owner Apu Nahasapeemapetilon among others, recently revealed that he’s still grappling with the character’s potentially damaging legacy.
Speaking recently on Dax Shepard’s podcast Armchair Expert, Azaria said, “I was speaking at my son’s school, I was talking to the Indian kids there because I wanted to get their input.”
“A 17-year-old … he’s never even seen The Simpsons but knows what Apu means. It’s practically a slur at this point. All he knows is that is how his people are thought of and represented to many people in this country.”
“Part of me feels like I need to go to every single Indian person in this country and personally apologize,” Azaria told Shepard.
“And sometimes I do.”