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Irreverent 'Simpsons' aren't welcome in South America

Many Argentines offended by Peron dialogue

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Monte Reel
Washington Post / April 18, 2008

BUENOS AIRES - If Homer Simpson and his family are planning any South American vacations in the near future, they might want to come up with a backup plan.

The television show "The Simpsons" is nothing short of a cultural phenomenon in many parts of the continent, but it also has become very good at exposing the region's rawest nerves, then clawing them sore.

In the same week that Venezuela's government threatened to punish a television station for exposing children to the show, a snippet of dialogue from a recent installment is kicking up controversy in Argentina.

During the episode, Homer and his friends gathered at Moe's Tavern and grumbled about their choices of political candidates. The conversation seemed innocent enough, until Homer's buddy Carl Carlson opened his mouth.

"I'd really go for some kind of military dictator, like Juan Peron," Carl said, mentioning the general who was elected president by Argentines three times. "When he 'disappeared' you, you stayed disappeared."

Carl's friend Lenny then delivered a coup de grace: "Plus, his wife was Madonna."

Most Argentines don't consider Peron a dictator, and they certainly don't blame him for the fact that up to 30,000 dissidents went missing during the country's "dirty war." Those disappearances are attributed to a military dictatorship that ruled from 1976 to 1983, after Peron's death.

"This type of program causes great harm, because the disappearances are still an open wound here," former congressman Lorenzo Pepe, who now heads the Juan Domingo Peron Institute, said of the episode. "This is highly offensive to Argentines."

The reference to Madonna also riled Peronistas. Peron's second wife, Eva, is so beloved here that her ardent backers launched protests after the pop star was cast to portray her in the 1996 movie "Evita."

"The part about Madonna - that was too much," Pepe said.

The offenses might have gone unnoticed had it been any other program. The show, after all, hasn't even aired yet in Argentina. (It's popular on YouTube.com) But in much of South America, "Los Simpson" are even more popular than they are in the United States. When "The Simpsons Movie" debuted last year, it broke box office records for an opening weekend in Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, and Colombia.

Despite the popularity, Venezuela's telecommunications commission this week threatened to punish a television station that aired "The Simpsons" during the daytime. Earlier this year, the government agency had declared that the program was unsuitable for children. The station replaced it with another program presumably considered more edifying to the development of the country's youth: "Baywatch Hawaii."

In the continent's largest country, Brazil, the show inflamed mass anger when the Simpson family visited Rio de Janeiro during a 2002 episode. The storyline featured Homer being kidnapped by a taxi driver. Then he and Bart were mugged by a gang of children. Bart, in his hotel room, watched a racy television show for children, called "Teleboobies." On Copacabana beach, Bart was attacked by a monkey.

The current controversy touches upon the far more delicate issue of state-sponsored murder, however, and it comes at a time when some here are revisiting Peron's place in its painful past.

On Monday, as thousands here consulted YouTube to view the clip of the "Simpsons" episode, Isabel Peron - Juan Peron's third wife - appeared in a Spanish court to fight a request for her extradition to face charges of human rights abuses. She was Peron's vice president and took over as president when her husband died in 1974.

Prosecutors say that a government anticommunist squad during her presidency was responsible for 1,500 deaths or disappearances. Some believe that group is responsible for initiating the violence that would mushroom under the military government that seized power from Isabel Peron in a 1976 coup.

Joseph Page, the author of a biography of Juan Peron, said that he believes it is unfair to label Peron a dictator, much less the architect of the disappearances. Still, he said, the response to the show seems like an overreaction.

"Argentines in general place an inordinate stock on how they are depicted abroad, and they're extremely sensitive about their image," said Page.

"But I think the controversy that erupted around the Brazil episode proves that the Simpsons are equal-opportunity offenders."

That sentiment was seconded by Al Jean, the executive producer of the Simpsons, when contacted about the controversy.

"At 'The Simpsons,' we won't rest until we've aggravated every country on Earth," he said.

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