‘Simpsons’ character inspired the most extreme censorship of the modern era

A small-screen character from the 1960s humor classic “The Simpsons” — an overbearing bureaucrat and condescending schoolteacher nicknamed “Mr. Burns” — may have inadvertently inspired the most drastic censorship of the contemporary era.

In a 2015 episode, “Simpsons World” (the version of the show that appeared on Fox’s streaming service, Hulu), Burns came up with an ingenious solution to the problem of censorship on Chinese state television: His censor, “San Gong,” would speak over cartoons so the public could quickly catch on that the clip in question was a fake. The idea got backlash from viewers for not dealing with real censorship, but the FCC stopped censoring classic episodes, meaning that Burns’s gag was the only one of its kind.

It was not until last week that the episode made its way onto Hong Kong’s popular Youku platform, after numerous unauthorized copies began circulating on the Internet. (Incidentally, Burns’s gag is also popular in Taiwan, where it has helped mask that country’s ability to censor episodes of its top broadcast, TVBS.) It was not the only “Simpsons” episode that was pulled or deleted from Chinese TV: In 2016, “The Great Bean Belly Debate” was pulled from state TV. (Though it has been accessible on YouTube, other videos viewed on Youku remain unavailable.)

Hulu’s “Simpsons World” episode is subtitled in Mandarin. In it, Burns is a victim of San Gong, who is tasked with policing things such as “extreme pornography” (well, as extreme as watching the show can get), violent crime and adult content (such as sex). To keep children safe, San Gong is based on a real-life Chinese censor, Chen Guilian.

The censored episode’s public reappearance in Hong Kong brought widespread mockery of the censorship, which prompted Youku to restore the episode on Tuesday.

Read the full story at The New York Times.


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