Why Chavez banned “The Simpsons”

| April 11, 2008

As you may or may not be aware, Hugo Chavez, strong man of Venezuela, recently banned “The Simpsons” from Venezuelan TV, replacing it with — wait for it — “Baywatch Hawaii.” Shawn Macomber, over at the American Spectator blog, likewise pointed out that during his recent visit to Venezuela, episodes of the shows “Men in Trees” and “Everwood” were being repeated on TV several times a day. So why ban “The Simpsons”?

Simple: Chavez is less worried about (sexual) morals than he is about subversion and mocking of authority.

The Devil, that proud spirit, cannot endure to be mocked.

— Sir Thomas More

My own Latin America experience is a bit dated — I spent two years in Central America (Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama) in 1972-74, doing missionary work for the LDS Church. But even then I was a bit startled by the, ah, graphic nature (though mild in today’s terms) of the ubiquitous and highly popular fotonovelas — think soap operas in comic book form, but using photographs instead of drawings. Sex and infidelity were the pervasive themes. Likewise, the local newspapers tended to be pretty free in their photographs of both dead bodies and scantily clad women. I’m not in a position to comment on Venezuelan society personally, but I suspect the media aspects aren’t that different from the Central American countries where I served.

A possibly relevant insight, however, does come from my time in Nicaragua. At that time (late 73 – early 74), Anastasio (“Tachito”) Somoza was the country’s strong-arm ruler. He was not technically President right then, but as head of the National Guard, he was the real power, since the country was still under martial law in the aftermath of the December 1972 earthquake. Somoza’s family had ruled Nicaragua pretty much continually since the late 1930s (first his father, then his brother, then him), and the major newspaper in Managua was quite vocal in printing stories about Somoza’s corruption and heavy-handedness.

That apparent freedom of the press surprised me a bit, until I brought it up with a retired American journalist living there in Managua. He explained that the literacy rate in Nicaragua was only about 30%; the other 70% could not read, but most of them did listen to the radio faithfully. And Somoza controlled all the radio stations, or at least their content. So he was content to let the newspapers rail at him, believing they would have little effect. (I’m not sure if he still felt that had been a good move when he fled Nicaragua in 1979, one step ahead of the Sandinistas.)

OK, now, Venezuelans have an excellent literacy rate (>90%), which is why Chavez (unlike Somoza) has sought to curb freedom of the press. But people still watch TV shows — and what’s the single most subversive, anti-authoritarian, yet very funny TV show of the last 20 years? Ta-da! That is, I believe, the real reason why Chavez has banned “The Simpsons” — not because he’s concerned about ‘family values’ but because he doesn’t want to face a generation of Bart Simpsons. Hence he decided it was “unsuitable for children” (much less grown-ups).

Oh, and don’t expect Venezuelan TV to pick up “South Park” anytime soon, either. ..bruce w..

Be Sociable, Share!

Category: Geopolitics, Main, Media, Television

About the Author ()

Webster is Principal and Founder at Bruce F. Webster & Associates, as well as an Adjunct Professor of Computer Science at Brigham Young University. He works with organizations to help them with troubled or failed information technology (IT) projects. He has also worked in several dozen legal cases as a consultant and as a testifying expert, both in the United States and Japan. He can be reached at bwebster@bfwa.com, or you can follow him on Twitter as @bfwebster.

Comments (1)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. loscielos says:

    I served a mission in Venezuela and in defense of the many families there who taught me so much about Christianity by the way they lived, who gave me of their food when they barely had anything to eat themselves, earning a dollar a day, I must say that for many of them would consider both Baywatch and The Simpsons unfit for human consumption in the first place. Arguing over which one is better is missing the point.

    We were conscious that we were, in a sense, giving an impression of what being an American means. I was also conscious of the fact that two Americans walking down hot dusty streets day in and day out sharing a message of repentance that brought love and peace back to families while wearing white shirts and ties could not always compete with the Hollywood version of American family life that people got on TV.

    I had an interesting experience at a Venezuelan bank during a period of rapid inflation. The banks would close for lunch and then re-open, with a queue forming of about 100 people outside waiting in line for when they would open. As soon as they opened the doors, everyone rushed to be the first in line (since another line would form inside the building for the various tellers). I remember one of the people at the bank during this great rush of people telling people to slow down, not panic, be polite and everything would go faster, saying “look at the way you are behaving in front of these Americans, you should be ashamed of yourselves.” Everyone kind of hushed down and started behaving themselves at that point, my companion and I were actually quite embarrassed, but the point was made to me in a special way that maintaining civility really is important.

    I had another interesting experience where I gave a poor man a book of hymns. For him, it was the greatest collection of poetry ever assembled, he would read the hymns and cherish them. When he prayed it was literally like he could somehow bring heaven down to the humble little shack he lived in, it was out of this world. How many of us take our hymn books for granted? I haven’t after that experience.

    So you get to thinking about what civility ISNT and you start realizing that yes, there are people in Venezuela like drunkard borrachos who would would yell obscenities at our women missionaries as they were walking down the street. There were profane stickers of Bart Simpson and others with vulgar grosserias. There were women who would compete with each other over their immodesty, ignorant of the fact they were making it hard for men to stay pure in their thoughts, by seeing who of them could get away with the walking down the street in the skimpiest outfit. There were adults who would encourage youth to emulate Venezuelan beauty models instead of teaching them that they were daughters of God with a special virtue and inner beauty that could never be taken away from them if they would only cherish and guard it, and beautify the world with their enthusiasm for charitable acts of kindness and love.

    But in the midst of a wild west type of culture, civility was there. We went door to door and we found it. It taught me more about life than I ever thought I’d know. Like how good women, including our own sister missionaries, to their everlasting credit, ignored the vile men of the street and brought a special type of love into homes of honorable men who DIDNT waste their time watching shows like Baywatch and snickering about it. Fathers and mothers who gave their children better activities than watching the Simpsons, like teaching them how to play chess or doing neighborhood soccer games, who loved gathering with friends and neighbors and sitting out on their front porch in the shade in a hammock or in their back yard under palm trees contemplating passages of the Bible that brought peace even in troubled times.

    There are still good people in that country. It is not hopeless. And as one recent exile from Venezuela told me a year or so ago, it’s not just Chav├ęz, it’s the people as a whole. We can’t be too narrow. Even here in the US, simply replacing the president will not instantly solve all of the problems we face. It will certainly change some things, but freedom, once lost, doesn’t just come back for free like that.

    Their national anthem when I was there said “Gloria al Bravo Pueblo” and talks about how they threw off the yoke of oppression. I don’t know if the words have been changed now or not, like their Constitution has been changed, but that national anthem has already meant something to me at a very deep level.

    More than the television churn, I would be interested to know how easy it is in 2008 for an average Venezuelan citizen to own their own copy of the Bible. And what their literacy rate is now. I had an evangelical pastor once come up to me in the depths of humility asking us for help in getting him copies of the Bible from the US to their congregation because he couldn’t find places to purchase them in sufficient quantity and the government was making it difficult. He thought maybe we could help him import. We had our own challenges there too. I have a special place in my heart for many of the older Venezuelan women I know who cherished their dog-eared scriptures that had been read daily for longer than I had been alive like the most valuable possession they had. That was so much more important to them and their spirituality than what was on television.

    Only the truth will make people free. And I guess I would have to agree with the gist of this post in that what’s going on and restricting freedom of speech in Venezuela is not good. Restricting people to an intellectual diet of even the best fictional sludge from Hollywood will not give them the nutrition they need to be strong and free.