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3 February 2012

From cartoon hero/villian to The Simpsons

Julian Assange to become yellow Springfield avatar.

By Steven Baxter

Julian Assange, the silvery jackdaw of data, is going to be on the Simpsons. Should we be amused or appalled?

For a man who became a cartoon hero to some and cartoon villain to many others some time ago, it shouldn’t be too much of a leap to the land of the animated overbite. The grinning features of Assange’s yellow Springfield avatar are sympathetically drawn, with a splodge of Mr Whippy soft ice cream hair to represent his lustrous locks – the show’s makers are no fools, and won’t be making him involved in any controversial storylines.

It’s a well worn cliche that guest stars in the Simpsons are lazily shoehorned into the plot as the main family’s new next-door neighbours, so it’s refreshing to see that the show’s creative team have cleverly branched out with the Assange episode – deliberately ‘lampshading’ the cliche, in a tremendously postmodern way, by Assange as the Simpsons’ next-door neighbour. It’s a superlative manoeuvre that’s sure to silence any critics who feel the series has run out of steam in recent years.

For Assange, recording his part for the show probably came as a welcome relief from the torrent of daytime television he’s had to endure while under house arrest. But what of the choice to place such a divisive figure in the show at all? Is it really the right time to be sticking him in a family show as a comical character, even if you put aside all the accusations against him? Some might accuse the show of taking sides – but then again, Assange vigorously denies the charges against him, so has the right to be presumed innocent.

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And what does it mean, the appearance of free information’s white knight, as a yellow cartoon face? Does it mean we’ve reached an age when any kind of notoriety makes you celebrity enough to be put into the Simpsons? Is it symbolic of the way in which the Wikileaks movement has democratised information, or more indicative of the personality cult of the organisation, with Assange the figurehead? Or is it just that the Simpsons were running out of guest stars?

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I tend to go with the latter, but it remains to be seen if Assange’s cameo turns out to be a good idea or not. A once-revered institution, now crumbling and clinging on to the power it enjoyed – you could say the same about the Simpsons or Wikileaks, although I think I know which one’s going to stand the test of time.