“Dad, chew with your mouth closed. You’re losing your mystique.” – Lisa Simpson
“Lisa, all great artists love free food. Check out Jasper Johns.” – Homer Simpson
“You squeal on me, I’ll kill you.” – Jasper Johns
Zombie Simpsons’ remarkable inability to parody things beyond changing around a few letters has been brought up around here before. Ditto their lame celebrity guest policy of having people voice themselves in what usually amount to barely concealed brag statements about how awesome they are in real life. With “Exit Through the Kwik-E-Mart”, Zombie Simpsons managed to pull both of those tired old rabbits out of their threadbare bag of tricks.
“Swapper Jack’s”, the latest in the long line of renamed brands that Zombie Simpsons mistook for satire, is so unbelievably lazy that I feel like a bit of a rube for even giving it this much consideration. I’ll give them credit for some decent sign gags on the outside of the store, though. “Grass-Fed Lettuce” is kinda funny, as is the idea of meat so pampered that’s its sung to sleep. But those are generalities, there’s nothing about them that’s inherently linked to Trader Joe’s/Swapper Jack’s. There are, after all, a lot of stores that cater to foodies with disposable income.
Not bad, Zombie Simpsons. Too bad you had to go inside the store.
Once they walk through the doors though, any attempt at broad satire is instantly dropped in favor of bland, semi-complimentary one liners for this particular store. Like “Cinnabun” a couple of months ago, “Swapper Jack’s” isn’t so much a parody as it is an advertisement. Little tweaks to the decor and having jelly that even Lisa hasn’t heard of are the kind of half-clever, self-congratulatory ideas you’d normally expect to find in a company newsletter.
Contrast that gentle fluffing with the unlimited contempt poured into the Monstromart in “Homer and Apu”. The establishing shot lets us know that this place, partly Costco, partly Wal-Mart, partly the rest of those giant warehouse stores, is not going to come out of this well.
It looks like the headquarters of some Eastern European secret police agency.
The entire time Marge and Apu are at the store, hilarious and terrible things are happening. The place only sells nutmeg in sizes that would last for years, and their mania for bulk allows Barney to accidentally trigger a cranberry juice tidal wave by asking a giant syrup container where the lampshades are. Then there’s the wonderfully disingenuous (and successful) declaration of corporate love via loudspeaker, the kind of cheap, commercial chicanery The Simpsons lived to mock. Nothing about the place, from the “1000 Items or Less” express aisle to the parade of “pathetic, single men”, would ever make you want to shop there or any place like it. Monstromart wasn’t born out of a love of big box stores the way “Swapper Jack’s” was born out of someone wandering into their favorite Trader Joe’s and taking notes. Monstromart is mean.
But their love of Trader Joe’s wasn’t the only thing Zombie Simpsons wanted to promote this week, there was also Shepard Fairey and his lesser known comrades in paint. The real tipoff that this is more about “these guys seem cool, let’s put them on TV” than it is “hey, let’s make fun of street art” is the fact that there are four of them, and three of them don’t do anything but be themselves. Kenny Scharf, Robbie Conal, and Ron English are all artists of at least some renown, but none of them are famous the same way Shepard Fairey is famous. (To take the simplest measure of modern influence, Fairey’s Wikipedia page is more than three times bigger than all of theirs combined.) To have them do nothing but recite their names and mumble a few lines about street art is a complete waste. Consider:
Milhouse: Who are you guys?
Kenny Scharf: Kenny Scharf, Robbie Conal.
Shepard Fairey: I’m Shepard Fairey.
That’s followed shortly by this:
Shepard Fairey: We’re not bullies. We’re artists, and so are you. Urban vandalism is now the hottest art form there is.
When you have your most famous guest star say who he is, what he does, and why its popular, something has gone terribly wrong. It’s not funny, or even trying to be funny. Instead, it’s like what you’d hear at a museum if you spend the ten bucks to rent the headphones.
When I call your name, you say ‘present’ or ‘here’. No, say ‘present’.
That’s weak sauce by any measure, but especially when you compare it to Jasper Johns appearance in “Mom and Pop Art”. Johns isn’t a household name either (I’d never heard of him before I saw that episode), but he is a serious professional artist whose work has sold for millions of dollars. Which is why having him pilfer light bulbs and generally act like a jerk is so great. He was pushing seventy when that episode was written, but it has him scrambling up ladders and stealing motorboats. In just a few moments of screen time, it’s patently clear – even to people who don’t know who he is – that while he’s voicing himself, he isn’t playing himself.
The Jasper Johns in “Mom and Pop Art” is no more representative of the real guy than the Hugh Hefner who has a bunny staffed research facility or the Mickey Rooney who flies in by helicopter to play child roles. Those guys were voicing themselves, but they weren’t just being themselves. If they were, there’d be no point. The Simpsons understood that, Zombie Simpsons doesn’t. It thinks the guest stars are the point.
That’s why they drag in four different street artists despite having barely enough lines for one of them. For Zombie Simpsons, the cachet of having the guys on is more important than giving them something funny to say or do. It’s the same thinking that leads them to make thinly veiled advertisements for Trader Joe’s and Cinnabon and then pat themselves on the back for being clever. The Simpsons didn’t bring on Jasper Johns as a way of saying, “This guy’s awesome”, they brought him on to make fun of art and pretend to be a kleptomaniac dickcheese. And they certainly didn’t create Monstromart to gently tweak the foibles of understaffed stores that make shopping a baffling ordeal.
Zombie Simpsons shops at trendy stores and hangs out with cool people. The Simpsons laughs at things like that.