Channel 4, the UK market’s secondary rights holders to popular Fox animated series The Simpsons (behind satellite channel Sky1), has come under fire this week for their decision to censor the word ‘gay’ from an airing of a classic episode last weekend, which the channel themselves have since admitted to be ‘an overly cautious move’.
The episode in question from season 5 of the show (‘Homer Loves Flanders’) was first broadcast in 1994, and features the characters of Homer Simpson and Ned Flanders in an unlikely role reversal as Homer becomes an obsessive friend of his usually tolerant but increasingly frustrated religious neighbor.
The scene in question follows the pair’s friendship-forming experience at an American football game, where driving home, Homer announces from Ned’s car: “I want everyone to know that this is Ned Flanders… my friend!”
This is overheard by Homer’s friends Lenny and Carl, as Lenny remarks: “What’d he say?,” and Carl replies: “I dunno. Somethin’ about being gay.”
The Channel 4 broadcast (shown on Sunday at 12:55pm), however, cut Carl’s line, edited to instead head directly for an ad break after Lenny speaks.
While they are a presumably lot more liberal than the Russian government personalities who called for an outright banning of The Simpsons recently on the channel 4 x 4, the UK region’s Channel 4 claim that they still need to check all episodes of the animated comedy that air before 6pm to block out potentially ‘unsuitable’ content.
However, the terrestrial channel admitted that they were over-the-top with their responsibilities this time around, and admitted their overzealous error by stating: “We always carefully consider the context in which language is used in our programming. However in this instance the episode was edited in error as neither the word nor the context was unsuitable.”
Media regulators Ofcom, meanwhile, took the time to clarify that the word ‘gay’ did not need to be censored in that situation, claiming the word only becomes offensive when the context it is used in “…results in a negative portrayal of homosexual men and women.”
While the show is probably considered the most ‘lightweight’ and family-friendly animated comedy that isn’t on a children’s network in America, The Simpsons is still the ‘original offender’ when it comes to setting such trends for the genre, but is such a throwaway line really worthy of any scrutiny by censors?