Sunday, 28 July 2019

Walton Earth?

Here is a Simpsons story you may be familiar with. In a speech on 27 January 1992, then-President of the United States George H.W. Bush mentions The Simpsons unflatteringly, stating American families should try to be "a lot more like the Waltons and a lot less like the Simpsons". These remarks - or something very similar to them - are repeated during his speech at the 1992 Republican National Convention in August of that year. (Some sources claim that Bush's second use of the Waltons/Simpsons comparison was during his State of the Union address on 28 January, but that does not seem to be the case.)

The producers of The Simpsons quickly rush out a response, using redubbed animation (taken from the start of "Simpson and Delilah") and live-action footage of the speech, aired as a pre-titles sequence before a repeat of "Stark Raving Dad" on the 30th January, which you can see here. (Apologies for linking to a DVD extra someone's stuck on YouTube, but it is absolutely necessary to illustrate this article.)

So, the question here: What the bloody hell is this? Why would there be two different versions of the scene (especially given it was only ever broadcast once), using a different version of the speech (presumably one version is from the 27th January, and one is from the RNC address)? I was very puzzled by this for a while (not helped by the erroneous claim that the comments were used at the State of the Union address), until I thought to check the episode's capsule on The Simpsons Archive. That capsule's scene summary states that the Bush line seen when this special scene was broadcast on Fox was "We need a nation closer to the Waltons than the Simpsons" (i.e. what is seen in the second video), but the version on the DVD extra (which is called "Bush vs Simpsons" and can be found on disc 1 of Season 4) uses a longer piece of dialogue from Bush: " make American families a lot more like the Waltons and a lot less like the Simpsons".

So, this was only guesswork on my part, but my initial theory was: when they were putting together the featurette for the DVD, were they unable to find a copy of the scene, and decided to remake it using the recycled animation and voice clips, but accidentally used a different version of the speech compared to the broadcast version - specifically, the convention version, even though that one happened several months after the first speech and the subsequent response? Hence, the second one linked to above is actually what was broadcast, and the version that can actually be seen on DVD is not, even though we all thought it was for the last 15 years?

This is a flawed theory, I admit, as the lip sync and animation in both versions appear to be identical - if they didn't have a copy of the original scene, would they really be able to remake the animated part so exactly? Bart's line appears to be the same in both versions, as opposed to having been re-recorded, although they did manage to drag out some old audio for the early DVDs - see, for example, the Albert Brooks outtakes on the Season 1 DVD - so I don't think it's that unlikely that they would have the original line to hand but not the scene itself.

But what is perhaps more likely is that they did have a copy of the original scene, but felt the longer clip, with the line about American families, worked better for the DVD's featurette, or even just preferred it because it was the more famous version, and decided to edit it in. I am not hugely bothered either way, but I am more or less certain (especially after I, er, eventually thought to watch the 20 seconds of the featurette before the clip, having previously been very confused by the myth that the alternate version of the remarks came from the State of the Union address) that the second video linked to here is what US viewers actually saw on the 30th January 1992, and the version on the DVD is an edited version with the "wrong" speech - something that, apparently, nobody noticed until now.

Quite late in the day, however, this story took another twist. In 1996, to mark the arrival of The Simpsons on their channel, the BBC commissioned a special documentary on the show, which was not known to survive until a copy surfaced on YouTube quite recently. The Bush controversy was also covered in that documentary, as you can see here... and it also features the response clip, with the 'wrong' speech as seen on the DVD! So did they make the edit then, for the purposes of that documentary, or could it have been even earlier than that? And is it intention or error that the 'wrong' speech was subsequently used on the DVD?

Isn't that completely pointless? And yet, at the same time, somehow leave you really curious as to what exactly the truth is?

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