15 April 2008

Juan Domingo Perón according to The Simpsons

The Simpsons - Carl: I'd really like a dictatorship...There's an outrage here over the 10th episode of the 19th season of The Simpsons. It seems Homer's friend and drinking buddy at Moe's, Carl Carlson, thinks Juan Perón was a military dictator and his government "disappeared" people. So far the episode has aired only in the original English version in the United States, but already a Peronist representative wants it censored in Argentina. Clarín (posing as anti-government these days) throws an oblique dart at Peronism, misleadingly titling their coverage of this news "They want to ban The Simpsons", which was probably intended to match the censorship request with what Venezuela did (banning the whole series, and replacing it with the moronic Baywatch). The 30-second video segment was posted by Perfil.com on YouTube, but it was promptly removed as a copyright violation.

I think this is all very stupid, though I can understand the concern. Just to clarify the debate, Juan Domingo Perón was democratically elected president on three occasions. True, the second time he ran for re-election after having the constitution reformed specifically for that purpose by a fanatically loyal Congress, but it was all legal. And it's also true he wasn't really a fan of tolerance or a champion of free speech, and he was a fan of Mussolini's administration, and didn't show any great dislike for the German Nazis until they lost the war.

Under Perón, dissidents were harassed, intellectuals were forced to exile, and people lost their jobs if they were outspoken in their opposition. The media were censored. The government's bullies were free to manage the streets. Nothing unusual in that time and age, or even today in many places.

And, as far as we know, Perón's administration didn't have people abducted and nullified. Harassed, beaten, incarcerated, even incidentally tortured, but not in great numbers, not by explicit orders from the top, not systematically. Comparing Perón with even the "softer" dictatorial governments we've had in Argentina is misleading, and suggesting a similarity with the latest (and internationally best known) dictatorship is a gross exaggeration.

Still, what's the problem here? Americans are notorious for their ignorance of international issues, and the history of their neighbours in Latin America is just one of those issues, even when the U.S. helped shape it by their constant interference. The Simpsons only reflect that real fact. After Carl displays his crude ignorance of Argentine history by commenting on the "disappeared" of Perón's time, Lenny tops it off noting that, besides that, Perón's wife was Madonna! And Carl and Lenny are two drunks, for Jeebus' sake! Two ignorant drunks in an animated series that mocks American culture. Remember the episode when Carl and Lenny are Buddhists, Richard Gere is meditating with them, and Lenny doesn't know who the Dalai Lama is, or indeed, who Buddha himself is?

Censoring the Perón episode would be ridiculous. If Peronists don't want the name of their leader smeared, let them fight for education, so that children learn unbiased history from books and not from TV series. It's not like Perón had a terrific record on that respect — when he was president, textbooks were filled with hagiographic views of him and his wife, and nothing else could reach the public. When he was toppled by the military, this cult of personality was abolished and even the possession of pictures of Perón and Evita was forbidden.

Censorship of any kind is wrong, and ridiculous: it didn't stop Perón from falling, and didn't stop the military from being toppled in turn. Our representatives should be doing much more important things than watching The Simpsons for historical accuracy.


  1. Anonymous13:44

    Your daily post about the censorship was posted in a famous forum for teenagers in the US. The link of your blog was left as well. Greetings.

  2. Rule #1 – Don’t argue with cartoon characters. They always have the last word/laugh.

    When the Rio tourism board threatened to sue The Simpsons over Blame it on Lisa, the writers made a running gag of it in future episodes. The producer, James Brooks, even offered to settle the issue by having Homer offer to take on the President of Brazil on Fox Celebrity Boxing.

    At least the Brazilians who commented on the episode, for the most part thought it was hilarious.

    I’ve always been surprised at the popularity of The Simpsons outside the US, particularly where it is dubbed. There is such a density of Americana in every episode, not only in the dialog, but also in the visuals and soundtrack. Maybe many of the viewers who aren’t intimately familiar with the US miss much of the intense mocking of American culture.

    Last year I was at a lecture given by Joel Cohen, one of the writers and an associate producer of the cartoon. He explained how every episode is carefully crafted word by word. Everything is intentional. It wasn’t that the writers didn’t know of the history of Argentina, it was a dead giveaway that the Perón comment was suspect because of the following comment about Madonna.

    There is only one greater achievement than being mocked on The Simpsons – being mocked on South Park, where the humor is a little more biting shall we say.



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