Not Hanging Around…Ofcom whinges at a hanging scene in The Simpsons broadcast at 6pm

Posted: 25 December, 2015 in Ofcom TV Censor
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homer simpson noose The Simpsons Channel 4
7 October 2015, 18:00

The Simpsons is an irreverent animated comedy produced in the USA, appealing to a mixed audience of children and adults, and broadcast by Channel 4

Ofcom was alerted by a viewer to a sequence in which Homer Simpson was shown hanging by a noose from a tree. The viewer felt this was inappropriate for an early evening broadcast when families would be watching.

Ofcom viewed the programme. We noted that the storyline in this episode centred on the relationship between Homer Simpson and his son, Bart, and prominently featured strangulation. In summary, the key segments included:

  • A therapist sought to build trust between father and son through a series of outdoor activities, which Bart used to ridicule Homer. This culminated in a sequence in which Homer was shown standing on the branch of a tree with rope in a noose around his neck. The therapist persuaded Homer to jump, assuring him that Bart will cut you down . As Homer jumped from the branch, kicking and struggling against the tightened noose, Bart turned away to write a text message on his phone. The action then moved to a different location.

  • When Bart was shown again, Homer’s feet were visible in the background, still kicking in thin air. The therapist then strangled Bart in frustration at the boy’s callousness, while Homer — avoiding suffocation by holding the noose away from his neck with his hands — remarked You see? You see how that boy pushes your buttons! The therapist continued to strangle Bart, stating We’ll talk when he’s dead. Just break already . Bart reached to cut Homer down. After Homer fell to the ground he removed the therapist’s fingers from around Bart’s neck.

Ofcom considered Rule 1.3:

Children must…be protected by appropriate scheduling from material that is unsuitable for them.

Channel 4 apologised for any offence caused to viewers by this episode. Channel 4 said that it had reviewed and made edits to the instances of violence and potentially imitable behaviour in this episode before it was originally broadcast in December 2014, mainly to reduce the hanging scene. As a result of that broadcast, the Licensee said it had received two complaints about the content. In light of those complaints, Channel 4 said the episode was reviewed again with the result that the cumulative effect of the mock strangulation together with the hanging scene were deemed to be too strong for the scheduled time. Channel 4 said regrettably, due to human error, the edits which were considered necessary to correct this were not put into effect with the consequence that the episode was repeated without the further edits . Channel 4 said it would not repeat this episode before the watershed, and that it will be reviewing the specific compliance process for The Simpsons going forward .

Ofcom Decision: Breach of Rule 1.3

Although we were mindful of the comedic nature of the material, this episode focused on strangulation and contained a prolonged sequence showing a repeated physical attack on Homer who did not resist, and who clearly appeared to suffer as the assault was taking place. We considered that a sequence in which a well-known character was first encouraged to hang himself and was then shown doing so was uncomfortable and unexpected. We acknowledged that the comedic tone helped to limit the potential unsuitability of the material for child viewers. However, we considered that this was insufficient to counteract the overall effect of the separate and lengthy instances of physical harm shown. We therefore considered that the cumulative effect of these sequences made the material unsuitable for children.

Ofcom acknowledges that the inclusion of potentially harmful acts in an animated programme can distance viewers from their portrayal and can mitigate their potential unsuitability for child viewers to some extent. However, this does not mean that the portrayal of such acts does not need to be suitably limited in this type of programming. In this case, we considered that the scenes of strangulation and hanging were likely to have exceeded audience expectations for a programme shown at 18:00 on a public service channel.

We noted the decision by Channel 4 not to show this episode again in a pre-watershed slot and its apology for the broadcast of this material. Nevertheless, we concluded that this episode of The Simpsons was not appropriately scheduled and was therefore in breach of Rule 1.3.

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