After causing controversy in Russia for what has always been aired, and in the UK region for one line that wasn’t, Fox animated series The Simpsons is now under fire in Turkey, after the European nation’s ‘Supreme Board of Radio and Television’ (RTUK), issued a fine to the the comedy series’ local broadcaster CNBC-e, though will at least reassure fans of the show that it can still be ‘edgy’ when it wants to be.
Aired on 20 September, the season 23 episode “Treehouse of Horror XXII” follows a traditional ‘three story’ format for the Halloween specials which are not considered part of the show’s continuity story-wise, leaving greater scope for wild and imaginative plots in the mini-episodes.
One segment of this episode, called “Dial D for Diddly”, is the focus of the complaints, focusing on the devout Christian character Ned Flanders believing that he is hearing the voice of God telling him to kill specific people, turning out to be Homer using Ned as a way to eliminate his enemies. Later in the episode, it is revealed that God is not actually able to undo the damage caused, as he admits that Satan is the ruler of the world, who he later brings coffee on request.
RTUK voiced their distaste as they explained their issues with the segment: “One of the characters is abusing another one’s religious beliefs to make him commit murders. The Bible is publicly burned in one scene and God and the Devil are shown in human bodies. [By airing the content, CNBC-e were] making fun of God, encouraging the young people to exercise violence by showing the murders as God’s orders.”
CNBC-e, whose main audience demographic is the ‘young middle-class’ (with imported entertainment content mainly aired as English with Turkish subtitles), claim that they will not counter the fine against them until it is revealed how much they would have to pay.
Turkey, a country of around 75m people, claim 96% of their population to be Muslim, though officially recognise other religions with equal rights.
The decision from RTUK is not the first religious-based controversy in recent times on the country’s TV schedule, though, as Turkey’s ‘devout’ Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan had personally waded in on a popular soap opera that he claimed represented a negative portrayal of the former Ottoman Empire. The Star TV series Magnificent Century (‘Muhtesem Yuzyil’), shows 16th-century ruler ’Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent’ as focusing more on ‘drinking alcohol and spending time with his harem’ than conquering nearby lands, a depiction which has seen the ratings-topper recieve over 70,000 complaints mostly from groups of ‘conservative Muslims’ who request the series to be banned.
While any portrayal of a historical figure around the world would have to go some way to challenge the ‘creative freedom’ that the likes of NBC seem to implement on some of their pilot projects, that American network’s Turkish cousin now has to deal with the fact that some organisations regulating The Simpsons don’t understand a joke, however controversial it appears…