The Simpsons, Season Six, Episode Sixteen, “Bart Vs Australia”

Ordinarily, my Australianishnessism is something I lean into in these essays to mark myself as someone commenting on America from the outside; my conception of America largely comes from shows like The Simpsons, making me a true test of the show’s effectiveness as commentary. This episode is exciting because now the rubber band is on the other claw, and I can relate how real the show’s take on Australia feels. There are precisely two giant missteps: portraying Fosters as something Australians drink (aside from the fact I’ve been stacking beer in a pub for five years now and never seen it, every beer drinker I’ve spoken to has described it as battery acid cut with cat piss), and spilling the beans on our ancient game of knifey-spoony. Otherwise, I find the episode a surprisingly accurate parody of Australia. This is a major example of the show making up its own stereotypes for Laffs (“But every single Scottish person does it!”), and oddly enough that’s of a piece with the fact that telling Americans outrageous lies about our country is a fundamental part of Australian culture; even though “the Prime Minister floats nude in a pond” isn’t even an exaggeration of how Australians see our politicians (Aussie politicians wish we saw them as down-to-earth sons of the soil), it sounds like the kind of thing we would say with a straight face. I also particularly like the touch of the Aussies being surprised and offended when that short American fad for Down Under didn’t last forever; it’s always felt like my country as a whole has a love/hate relationship with the US of A, both resenting and desiring the US’ cultural supremacy.

(In this spirit, to my ear none of the actors hit the General Australian accent, whoever plays Tobias does the most accurate Broad Australian accent, and Harry Shearer has by far the worst attempt, sounding more British than anything. Strangely, none of them manage to pronounce “Australia” correctly, always pronouncing the ‘u’. The secret to the Australian accent is to say the fewest number of letters you can get away with)

Although I suspect that it’s more productive to look at this as a joke on how America sees the world, and how it thinks the world sees it. Bart isn’t just a kid, he’s the All-American Bad Boy. The plot is a parody of the case of Michael Fay, an American delinquent who was caned in Singapore, but the way Bart gets to Australia is all Bart: an old-fashioned phone prank. I think there’s an extent to which Americans see themselves as the bad boy of the world, the charming rogue that maybe goes too far sometimes but is funny and cool enough to get away with it. There is an extent to which that’s true, and there’s a much larger extent to which America is seen as an entitled bully with no sense of propriety. If Bart stands in for America, then the truth is about 25% on America’s side and 75% the rest of the world – he probably shouldn’t be kicked in the ass with a giant boot, but Bart is definitely getting away with basically fucking up a whole bunch of people’s day scot-free. When it comes to America, The Simpsons isn’t too far away from The Sopranos, American self-deprecation bordering on self-loathing. I suppose that’s why the show became a world-wide phenomenon.

And I absolutely love how for all my high-falutin’ philosophical pretentions here, this is a deeply silly half-hour. My favourite moment is the sheer whimsy of the various places Bart calls before he gets to Australia; it’s not Bart’s imagination but it’s definitely the kind of thing a kid imagines when they look at world numbers in the phone book, wondering if the toilets freeze up in Antarctica, wondering if they could call up Hitler entirely by chance. And on the flip-side, you have moments like Bart and Homer discovering you you can’t ride in the pouches of kangaroos, or Homer discovering that Marines aren’t like the Queen’s Guard and are in fact allowed to punch him in the face for being a dick (although in reality they probably wouldn’t hit him). Consistently the most startling thing to me is how this show can be so effortlessly easy to watch and yet give me so much to think about; that’s another part of its popularity, how it makes these big ideas so accessible. You can take it as a bunch of great gags, or you could take it as a bunch of great gags that make you think for a long time afterwards.

Chalkboard Gag: I will not hang donuts on my person.
Couch Gag: The family swim in.

This episode was written by Bill Oakley and Josh Weinstein and directed by Wes Archer. While they had a lot of fun completely making shit up, the animators went out of their way to accurately show Australian landscapes and buildings, as well as the US Embassy. The episode’s treatment of the coriolis effect is incorrect. It deals with weather patterns and does not have a noticeable effect on toilets or drains.

There are two really great character-based gags I love in this episode: Homer’s brain convincing him not to bring up the long distance calls because it can’t remember if he made those calls or not (“Just write a cheque and I’ll release some endorphins.”), and Marge’s typical Good Mother talk completely failing to land. Related to that is Marge trying to convince Lisa to buy a tacky hat (“It’s clever, just like you!”). It’s not a character gag but I also get a kick out of that obscure Hinduism joke. The time zones gag was great to someone who regularly has to work out when to schedule posts to go up in both Australia and America time.

As said, the main plot is a riff on the case of Michael Fay. Bart references the death of Azaria Chamberlain. The bullfrogs are a reference to the cane toad pest problem. “Knifey-spoony” is a reference to a famous line from Crocodile Dundee. Yahoo Serious is namedropped. A character from Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior is in the mob.

Iconic Moments: “Nine hundred dollarydoos?!” | “I know those words, but that sign makes no sense.” | “I see you played knifey-spoony before.” | “Disparaging the boot is a bootable offence!” | “I’da called ’em chuzzwozzers!”
Biggest Laugh: