Last week the producers of The Simpsons announced that they will be pulling the 1991 episode, ‘Stark Raving Dad’, which features the voice of Michael Jackson, from all streaming services, as well as future broadcasts.
The decision to axe the episode came in the wake of Leaving Neverland, the recently-released four-hour documentary that details accounts of two men who allege that Michael Jackson sexually assaulted them over several years from when they were young boys. Jackson’s estate has publicly denied these claims.
The accusations are extremely confronting and have prompted an international conversation about how we handle the Michael Jackson content that exists in the world.
For the team behind The Simpsons, axing the episode that features a character voiced by Jackson developing a friendship with the young Bart Simpson, was a decision with a theory behind it.
Showrunner Al Jean explained,
“It wasn’t something that makes me happy.” he said. “It’s something I agree with completely. What saddens me is, if you watch that documentary—which I did, and several of us here did—and you watch that episode, honestly, it looks like the episode was used by Michael Jackson for something other than what we’d intended it. It wasn’t just a comedy to him, it was something that was used as a tool. And I strongly believe that.”
‘I think it was part of what he used to groom boys. I really don’t know, and I should be very careful because this is not something I know personally, but as far as what I think, that’s what I think. And that makes me very, very sad.”
While Jean’s theory is speculation and based on allegations, the logic does check out. Bart Simpson was, and continues to be, an icon – one who appeals especially to young boys. So the things that Bart does, and the people he chooses to trust, have an impact.
Bart’s friendship with a character who is impersonating Michael Jackson, and voiced by the man himself, was like a stamp of approval. It makes sense why The Simpsons showrunner and team feel that the episode served to make Jackson seem trustworthy to a young audience.
The question remains whether axing a 28-year-old episode actually helps the situation, but if this is how the showrunner was personally affected by the documentary then it’s fair to act on that concern. Publicly condemning the kind of sexually abusive behaviour that Michael Jackson is accused of committing in the documentary is better than no action at all.