I Tried to Get a ‘Simpsons’ Writer to Admit That the US and Fox Orchestrated the Arab Spring
Conspiracy theories about politics and the US are as big of a cultural staple in the Middle East as hummus and pita.
In Egypt, the news broadcasters served as Mubarak’s puppets until 2011 when independent news sources popped up after the uprising. State-run news still exists in Egypt, and censorship is far from gone. Journalists face imprisonment on charges for anything from defamation to terrorism if the network they’re associated with “disturbs the peace”—basically talks smack about the government. It’s not just journalists; a puppet was accused back in January for “sending coded messages of terrorism” in a Vodafone commercial.
Since Egyptians don’t know who to trust, their imaginations often run wild, conjuring their own ideas and stories about “what’s really happening” to make sense of the chaos that surrounds them. Stories usually involve Zionism, the US, and the Muslim Brotherhood in some diabolical and fantastical plan on the basis of zero logic.
A quick plot refresher: In this episode, Bart, Milhouse, Nelson, and Ralph form a boy band the Party Posse, make a hit song called “Drop Da Bomb,” and in the music video, they drop a bomb on what appears to be an unknown Arab country but the Syrian opposition flag is prominently displayed on the jeep. Since the flag didn’t exist and the Syrian opposition wasn’t a thing in 2001, the conspiracy theorists took to Facebook and claimed that the US has been behind the Arab Spring the whole time. The revolutionaries are either foreign-backed, no-good scum trying to destabilize the region OR they had responded to subliminal messages sent through American pop culture that would only be in syndication in the Arab world years later therefore the collapse of the region couldn’t be traced back to the US government. Pretty fucking clever.
Well, these devious US antics couldn’t possibly get past the people who gave the world beer and algebra. The theory quickly migrated from social media to the actual news on May 5, when Tahrir TV anchor, Rania Badwy, aired the music video segment of the episode. In her analysis she points out that the conspiracy started on Facebook but she ends with, “The episode was created in 2001 before the Syrian opposition even existed… This raises many question marks about the Arab Spring and about when this global conspiracy began.”
Who knows! Maybe the US actually mapped out the Syria uprising 13 years ago, and the hard evidence is this Simpsons episode. Did the US send subliminal messages to the Arab youth so they’d revolt against their leaders? My Egyptian blood might’ve been jonesing for a good conspiracy, but I needed validation. There was only one way to find out, so I called up Tim Long, the writer of the “New Kids on the Blecch” episode, and tried to get him to admit to me that the US actually orchestrated the Arab Spring.
VICE: I just want you to know that this is a safe space, and you can be honest with me. Did you know that the Free Syrian Army would exist 13 years ago when you wrote the episode?
Tim Long: I’ve been making a lot of jokes about how I totally knew and that was the secret reason I wrote it. I don’t want to make that joke in print, because people take these things very seriously. I will say to you that I did not know that.
So it wasn’t a subliminal message sent to the Arab youth to revolt against their leaders?
It so wasn’t and the whole thing is so headachey, because the thing about being a comedy writer is that you’re a coward and you’re not willing to take stand on anything, much less a conflict that I don’t even begin to understand. It’s hilarious. The ironic thing about this [episode] is that it’s about subliminal messages. The idea is the Bart and his friends are recruited to join a boy band, but it turns out that the guy who recruited them is using it as a recruitment tool for the US Navy. There are all sorts of backward sentences in the song; it’s not a small episode in terms of its scope. Crazy things happened, but we did not take into account that it would somehow fuel the Syrian uprising.