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The Simpsons' Popularity In China And Egypt Is A Shockingly Deep Lesson In Global Unity
the simpsons and the world
Pop Culture

The Simpsons' Popularity In China And Egypt Is A Shockingly Deep Lesson In Global Unity

The Simpsons' popularity was overwhelming in its home country, but the international market has encountered similar phenomena with the show.

The Simpsons is currently the longest running American animated television series of all time, in addition to being one of the most impactful works of American pop culture in the last three decades.

The series is heavily associated with the “renaissance” era of animation in the 1990s, and is particularly credited for the rise of television animation that targets an older audience. The impulsive creation of underground cartoonist Matt Groening is as famous for provoking the pearl clutching moral guardians of the era as it is infamous for dropping in quality after the first eight or so seasons.

Despite its struggles with stagnation, which have only been amplified as of recently, The Simpsons remains an icon of American culture. Despite the countless references to the country’s art, politics, history, and society that inspire the show’s jokes, stories, and characters, the impact of The Simpsons is not just prevalent in the United States.

It is not uncommon for successful American cultural works to become popular abroad, of course, especially due to Hollywood’s dominance in the global entertainment industry, but The Simpsons’ success created something different. It was not just a quirky show from the States for many non-Americans. It was successfully integrated into these people’s lives, just like their own culture.

Why Do The Simpsons’ Have Such A Strong International Reach?

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The first aspect of The Simpsons’ global success is its relevance in countries that are not the United States. This alone doesn't make it stand apart from other popular works, though. What makes The Simpsons unique in comparison to, say, Star Wars, is how the show’s distribution in over 70 different countries was handled.

The series was inevitably dubbed for non-English speaking audiences, but the dubs went beyond merely translating the original scripts. The dialogue was retooled to fit the local culture. These dubs were as much of an adaptation as they were translations.

English-speaking countries are the notable exception to this phenomenon for obvious reasons, but even they have particular connections to The Simpsons, if only linguistically. For example, Canada is officially an English and French-speaking country, and the francophone population got its own dub instead of importing the dub from France, using stereotypical “joual” accents and inserting Quebec-related inside jokes. This led to The Simpsons becoming incredibly popular in both of Canada’s main linguistic communities.

Developed nations outside of the Anglosphere, especially in Western Europe, have also developed a fondness for The Simpsons due to the similarly meticulous dubbing process, if they did not resort to subtitles.

In addition to simply adapting the episodes’ context through the translations, the dubs’ voice actors aim for a similar range and delivery as the lines in the original English version. This contributes to the universality of the show. The depiction of the characters’ attitudes and reactions remains the same, but they accommodate the cultural familiarities of the dubs’ target audience.

Latin American countries have also become fond of The Simpsons. The titular family’s personalities, although reflective of archetypes found in American sitcoms, also coincidentally mirror the people in the lives of many Latin Americans. Homer is especially prone to becoming a relatable icon.

Guadalupe Loaeza, a columnist from Mexico, has written about the Simpson patriarch is reminiscent of her husband’s own habits. Meanwhile, in Argentina, the Buenos Aires newspaper Clarin sponsored “Argentine Homer” content, encouraging men similar to Homer to write about their lives.

The Simpsons In China, Japan And The Muslim World

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The Simpsons’ impact on the world goes beyond the Anglosphere, or even Western countries. China is another example of the show finding a devoted foreign fandom, but the country’s relationship with The Simpsons is not as straightforward as other neighboring countries. Japan, for example, never fully embraced The Simpsons phenomenon, mainly due to the designs clashing with Japanese culture’s vision of cute, appealing cartoon characters.

As for China, the country was only properly introduced to The Simpsons in the early 2000s, over a decade after the series premiered on American television. Just like most of the world, a Chinese audience quickly formed. Initially, The Simpsons aired in China for the same reason as other American cartoons like SpongeBob SquarePants: there was a market for it.

Despite the Chinese government banning the show from 2006 to 2014 and the series being neglected in favor of local cartoons, Simpsons street art is still present in Shanghai and Beijing. The aforementioned cities also allowed the first Simpsons megastores to open in their premises, indicating a love for the series even among citizens of the United States’ geopolitical rivals. 

Egypt is also a notable non-Western country with a prominent history with The Simpsons. Similar to China, the show lacked a proper dub in Egyptian Arabic, forcing fans from the country to watch the original version. Presumably out of fear of Western, and specifically American, hegemony, an Islamized dub of The Simpsons was made for the network MBC. Notable omissions include Moe’s Tavern, the character Smithers, and Ned Flanders’ famously devout Christianity. Homer was also renamed Omar and rewritten as a faithful Muslim.

This dub, called Al Shamshoon, was cancelled after 32 episodes, making it the outlier of the show’s dubs. Its decision to get rid of The Simpsons’ satirical and comedic elements arguably contributed to its demise. Egypt’s relationship with the show demonstrates that successful Simpsons dubs, such as the ones for French and Spanish speakers, naturally incorporated local components while preserving the show’s integrity. It also proves that subtitles can provide a viewing experience as enjoyable as any competent dub.

The Simpsons is still popular across the globe to this day. Its legacy has been permanently cemented, and not just in America. The show thrives in its homeland and elsewhere through its ability to combine hilarity with relatability, regardless of the language spoken by the eponymous family. Very few works have transcended cultural barriers like this show has. People’s love for it might as well be one of the few true examples of global unity.  


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