14 June 2013

The Long Halloween Vol. IV: Simpsons Edition - Flag Day

Well, it's Flag Day. That's right - Flag Day! Being the grand holiday that it is, it's time again for The Long Halloween - NMW's monthly examination of the greatest holiday specials out there. Now, since this was our fourth year doing such things, it's time to spice it up with the ALL SIMPSONS EDITION. Now, you may ask yourself, which episodes of The Simpsons have anything to do with Flag Day? Your mind may wander towards "Bart-Mangled Banner" (S15;E21) where Bart accidentally moons the flag. Or perhaps, "A Hunka Hunka Burns in Love: (S13;E4) in which Mr. Burns unwraps a fortune cookie that predicts he will find true love on Flag Day. We all wish to find true love on Flag Day, but for the best Simpsons Flag episode, we turned to "Much Apu About Nothing" (S7;E23) for its obscure bit about the American Flag surrounded by a hell of an episode.

The episode centers around Quimby's Proposition 24, which if passed, will boot out all the illegal immigrants in Springfield. This measure was pushed through, of course, because of a run of bear attacks. Er - bear attack. Homer is all for it and all for America until he realises that his good friend Apu will also be kicked out of the country.
"Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but someday."

The flag part comes in when Homer is attempting to educate Apu about our Great Nation in order for him to pass a citizenship test. He claims that the 13 stripes are for good luck, but there are only 47 stars on the flag. Apu notes that the flag, which Homer stole from the Library last year, was purchased during the brief time in 1912 after New Mexico became a state (January 6) but before Arizona did (February 14). We're dealing with some pretty obscure historical knowledge here, and it's fitting that Apu knows much more about the Land of the Free than Homer does. The earnest of their relationship is part of what makes this episode endearing, though. I'm not sure how the Simpson Family became so close to their local convenience store worker ("Homer and Apu" [S5;E13] I guess), but it works here. Apu ends up passing his test, but no one in Springfield learns anything about immigration. That sounds about right.

The episode is a little more joke-heavy in its opening that centers on a Bear wandering around Evergreen Terrace. From the ordeals the Flanders had to face ("It was horrible! We had to drink...toilet water!") to the terrors that bestowed the Simpson Family ("If I'm going to be trapped in here I need to go out and get some beer."), the panic surrounding this big doofy bear is simultaneously played up and acknowledged as unnecessary hysteria. There's also a nice visual gag where the Simpsons fridge only contains three boxes of baking soda. The scene is capped with the Bear being shot and taken away by the U.S. Forest Service while the same happens with Barney, who is hauled away by Moe's.

After the panic, Quimby institutes the Bear Patrol, which features round the clock armed vans and even a few Stealth Bombers (there's a rather insane bit in the Springfield Shopper later on that the Bear Patrol "stepped up their bombing campaign"). When the taxes are too high ("I pay the Homer Tax!" "That's the home owner tax."), the blame is shifted to illegal immigrants ("It's going to take real leadership to duck this issue!"). Moe, in a bit that ends up being ironic, seems to lead the charge against the immigrants with his barflies protesting the Kwik-E-Mart and regularly engaging in a rapid xenophobia ("Even when it was the bears I knew it was them!"). At the end though, it's revealed that Moe, too, is an illegal immigrant - and with a name like Momar Szyslak (Revealed in "The Springfield Connection" [S6;E23] and "Who Shot Mr. Burns? Part 1 [S6;E25], respectively), who wouldn't be? It seems that he passed the citizenship test along with Apu, though, as did Dr. Nick, who is seen at Apu's Party.

Among the people who didn't pass, though, was Willie, who is sent on his way at the episode's end. Of course, nothing in The Simpsons is all that permanent. There's also a nice Native American (like Homer...) vs. American Indian (like Apu...) bit at the party that goes on just as long as it needs to. This episode also has one of the most succinct descriptions of specious reasoning and the concept that correlation does not imply causation through the form of Lisa's Tiger Repelling Rock. She surmises that since there are no tigers around, her rock must be keeping them away. Homer, of course, buys her rock.

This episode not only contains a study of the classic Springfield mob mentality and a harsh critique of anti-immigration, but it's a deeper look at Apu. It's revealed that he may be something of a genius, having graduated first in his class of 7 million at Calcutta Technical Institute, and then completing his Ph.D. in nine years in what seems to be computer science. It's notable that he's studying under the brilliant Professor Frink, whose future predictions of computers may be a bit off, but there's also a sly joke that Apu studies at Springfield Heights Institute of Technology (or SHIT. Sounds like South Harmon). Yet, he still works at the Kwik-E-Mart.

"Who needs the infinite wisdom of Ganeesha when I have
Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman staring at me
from Entertainment Weekly with THEIR DEAD EYES!"
There are also some great moments getting his fake American I.D. From Fat Tony ("A cheap $2000 forgery!") A lot of this scene reminded me of Adam Sandler talking to Dan Aykroyd and Sinbad in Coneheads (1993). Yes, Coneheads. You know, looking back on Coneheads, that movie had one of the more expansive comedic casts in history - I mean, everyone from Sandler to Drew Carey, Ellen DeGeneres, and even half the principal cast of Senfield. Re-watching that thing is ridiculous today. Anyway, back to Apu, he loves this country because he loves "...this land, where I have the freedom to say and to think and to charge whatever I want." Such is the American Dream.

There is also a nice bit of foreshadowing with the first appearance of Manjula in a flashback, who would reappear in "The Two Mrs. Nahasapeemapetilons" (S9;E7) to fulfill the arranged marriage to Apu first hinted at here. On the topic of marriage, this is also a notable episode which reveals that sometime before now, Selma added a marriage to Lionel Hutz in addition to Sideshow Bob and Troy McClure. I also really like the "Listen, shut up for a second" bit that Homer pulls on the phone with her.

The only last joke I'll comment on that I continually love is when Wiggum nails the sign into the boardwalk and falls through. Lou's nonchalant delivery of "Sign's floating away, chief" as Wiggum ostensibly sinks to the bottom of the habour is just brilliant.

So, Happy Flag Day! Happy America! We are in the throes of Summer now - so go out there and kick those extra points!

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