“Bart Vs. Australia” (season 6, episode 16, originally aired 2/19/1995)
Much as the brief Australian boom of the 80s—Crocodile Dundee, Men At Work and the like, as referenced in this episode—defined the country to one generation of Americans, “Bart Vs. Australia” did for another. I’m aware that Australia is a healthy, vibrant country with all kind of money and culture and fancy opera houses and the like. But whenever I read an article that mentions its Prime Minister, I can’t help but think of the scene in this episode that demonstrates the political chain of command in Simpsons-Australia.
“Bart Vs. Australia,” written by Bill Oakley and Josh Weinstein, is an early example of what would become a template episode in The Simpsons’ later, crappier seasons—the family visits a country for some reason, and a bunch of ethnic stereotypes, some familiar, most of them basically invented, are poked at for gentle humor. “Bart Vs. Australia” did not go over too well in Australia, or so says Wikipedia, although I’m sure many of its citizens took it in good humor. There’s references to it being a nation founded by convicts, and Bart’s accidental introduction of the bullfrog is based on the problems the country had with the cane toad, but most everything else is just ludicrous silliness.
There’s the necessary Crocodile Dundee spoof, with a Paul Hogan type whipping out a spoon and proclaiming it a knife, and there’s references to beer and dingoes and didgeridoos. But the overall conception of Australia is intentionally ludicrous, a gentle spoofing of what Americans must think most of the outside world is like, a backwater one-horse country where a member of Parliament is also a pig farmer and the Prime Minister sits naked in an inner tube drinking beer on a lake all day.
In the episode, Bart places a $900 collect call to Australia (after some earlier calls to the South Pole, Burkina Faso and others) in an effort to prove that Lisa is incorrect about the Coriolis effect and water draining clockwise in the southern hemisphere. His inability to pay the bill and generally shoddy treatment of the Australian farm family that answered the phone causes a mild diplomatic incident, and Bart must report to Australia to apologize and (unbeknownst to him) get kicked in the butt with a giant boot to resolve the problem.
Even when I first watched this episode at the age of nine, I think I had enough common sense to understand that the Australian Prime Minister didn’t actually go around kicking people with a giant boot as a way of meting out justice. But everything else, including the general sense that Australians are drunken louts in all aspects of life, sunk into my consciousness and has never fully left me, to this day. I understand that The Simpsons is mocking the very idea of mocking a whole country with a few cheap stereotypes. At the same time, its mockery was more effective than it could have possibly realized.
Anyway, “Bart Vs. Australia” gets away with everything because it’s very, very funny. It has a rare role for Phil Hartman, playing neither Lionel Hutz nor Troy McClure, as Evan Conover, the American diplomat charged with smoothing things over with Australia (and possibly assassinating Fidel Castro, although we never get to that). Hartman is always a vital voice presence on the show and it’s an underrated little part for him—his finest moment is taking the phone back from Marge after she makes an impassioned speech on behalf of her son and agreeing that she won’t get the phone again.
Homer gets to be in full-on vulgar American mode, mostly irritating the Marine Corps guard who stands at the gate of the American embassy. Compared to later Simpsons episodes that spend time in other countries, there’s a lot of build-up before they even get to Australia, but once they’re there the episode becomes a series of silly sketches.
Bart’s ultimate triumph is an utterly American one. He refuses the regular booting, but submits to a regular-shoe booting through the gate of the embassy. Then, he rejects even that, taunting the Prime Minister with “DON’T TREAD ON ME” written on his butt, which means the country has to fly the family out by helicopter under extremely adverse conditions. It’s essentially implied by the end of the episode that a state of war exists between our country and theirs (okay, maybe I’m exaggerating, but whatever).
To put it simply, no one is happy with the Simpson family at the end of “Bart Vs. Australia,” certainly not the diplomatic corps, but they have to indulge their childishness and bring them home on the taxpayer’s dime, because that’s their right and privilege as Americans. In an episode that pokes fun at the stereotype of the ugly American abroad, it’s a fitting conclusion.
- Bart looks at his globe and thinks Rand McNally is a country. “In Rand McNally, they wear hats on their feet and hamburgers eat people!” Lisa offers.
- The farmer is alarmed that a plumbing expert called the house. “Oh my God! There’s nothing wrong with the bidet, is there?”
- “I’m being indicted for fraud in Australia.” “That’s no reason to block the TV!”
- Australia’s first offer is to imprison Bart for five years. “That’s tough but fair! Bart, go with the man,” Homer says.
- Evan knows the ins and outs of Australian diplomacy. “Disparaging the boot is a bootable offense!”