Sunday’s highly anticipated “Panic on the Streets of Springfield” episode of The Simpsons depicted “complicated 8-year-old” Lisa Simpson stumbling upon the work of moody post-punk singer Quilloughby (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch, with parody music composed by Flight of the Conchords’ Bret McKenzie) through a streaming service called “Slapify.”
The discovery occurred after she clicked on a prompt that read, “If you hate everything, you might like this” — which directed her to a page for Quilloughby’s defunct band the Snuffs, who “dominated the ‘80s indie scene with their brand of literate, sardonic music that focused on Quilloughby's obsessions, especially his militant vegetarianism.” Lisa became so fascinated by the Snuffs’ discography that she ended up summoning the sulky Quilloughby to become her new imaginary friend, and hilarity ensued.
Although Simpsons scriptwriter and avowed post-punk fan Tim Long insisted ahead of Sunday’s broadcast that Quilloughby was a fictionalized composite of various ‘80s U.K. icons, including the Cure’s Robert Smith and Joy Division’s Ian Curtis, it was clear to any Gen X indie fan from the episode’s Queen Is Dead-stylized green and pink poster, or from comedy-song snippets like “Hamburger Homicide” (sample lyric: “The flesh that you cover with cheese is proof of your moral disease”), that Quilloughby was based on the Smiths’ “Meat Is Murder” frontman Morrissey.
Morrissey’s handlers themselves were apparently aware of the seeming homage, even posting a teaser of the episode on the singer’s official Facebook page. However, when the episode finally aired and turned out to be quite unflattering, Moz was none too pleased, according to a new statement posted on his Facebook, which is run by his management company, Deckstar.
“Poking fun at subjects is one thing. Other shows like SNL still do a great job at finding ways to inspire great satire. But when a show stoops so low to use harshly hateful tactics like showing the Morrissey character with his belly hanging out of his shirt (when he has never looked like that at any point in his career) makes you wonder who the real hurtful, racist group is here. Even worse — calling the Morrissey character out for being a racist, without pointing out any specific instances, offers nothing. It only serves to insult the artist. They should take that mirror and hold it up to themselves. Simpsons actor [and former voice of Indian character Apu] Hank Azaria's recent apology to the whole country of India for his role in upholding ‘structural racism’ says it all. By suggesting all of the above in this episode… the Simpsons’ hypocritical approach to their storyline says it all,” read the irate statement.
Sunday’s Simpsons episode climaxed with Lisa and the imaginary, frozen-in-time Quilloughby attending Springfield’s Bummershoot Festival to see the reunited Snuffs perform for the first time in more than 30 years. In the most damning scene, both Lisa and the young Quilloughby were horrified when the bloated, nasty, circa-2021 Quilloughby admitted onstage that the Snuffs’ reunion was just a “cash grab” because “I lost my fortune suing people for saying things about me… that were completely true,” followed by his denouncement of veganism because it “was invented by foreigners, of whom there are far too many on this planet!”
Quilloughby then shouted to the jeering crowd while firing off a meat-gun, “That's right, I hate the foreign! Coming to this country and taking our jobs! Sleeping with our men!” Eventually a riot broke out as Quilloughby performed a new track from his solo album, Refugees? Again?, while the young, imaginary Quilloughby cried out, “Is this what I turned into? I'm greedy, I'm hateful, and my face looks like a syphilitic moon!”
The above-mentioned jabs were clear references to, among other things, Morrissey’s libel suit against British music paper the NME over a 2007 profile that he claimed characterized him as racist, and the increasingly alarming xenophobic and anti-immigration comments he has made in the years since (much to the dismay of his liberal fanbase). It remains to be seen if Long’s liberties with the Quilloughby character, and Long’s denial that the character was entirely Morrissey-inspired, will prevent Moz from filing yet another lawsuit. Representatives for Fox or The Simpsons have not yet responded to Morrissey’s remarks.
The “Panic on the Streets of Springfield” episode of The Simpsons concluded with Lisa, already annoyed by the crabby Quilloughby’s constant “whinging” during their sunny Bummershoot excursion, calling the future Quilloughby a “huge racist” and bittersweetly severing their imaginary friendship. Quilloughby left Lisa with the following parting advice: “Lisa, dear, don't let him happen to you. Try not to sneer at everything. And listen to others, at least a bit, perhaps one out of five times — but I can't tell you which times.”
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