A scene from The Simpsons in which Homer was shown hanging by a noose from a tree has been found to be in breach of Ofcom’s rules on protecting children from unsuitable material.
Channel 4 has apologised for failing to properly edit the edition of the Fox comedy and has promised to review all its episodes of The Simpsons going forward.
The regulator was alerted after a viewer complained about the scene from the episode Love is a Many Strangled Thing which aired on C4 on 7th October 2015.
The programme opened with Marge signing Homer up to ‘Fresh Start’ fatherhood classes at which he revealed that he regularly strangled Bart to discipline him.
To help Homer understand “what it feels like to be young, small and terrified”, the therapist in the fatherhood classes enlists former American basketball star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to strangle Homer repeatedly in a sequence lasting approximately one minute.
As the therapy has the effect of making Homer scared of Bart, the therapist then seeks to build trust between father and son through a series of outdoor activities, which Bart uses to ridicule Homer.
This culminates in a sequence in which Homer is shown standing on the branch of a tree with a noose around his neck. The therapist persuades Homer to jump, assuring him that “Bart will cut you down”. As Homer jumps from the branch, kicking and struggling against the tightened noose, Bart turns away to write a text message on his phone. The action then moves to a different location.
When Bart is next shown, Homer’s feet are visible in the background, still kicking in thin air. The therapist then strangles Bart in frustration while Homer – avoiding suffocation by holding the noose away from his neck with his hands – remarks “You see? You see how that boy pushes your buttons!” The therapist continues to strangle Bart, stating “We’ll talk when he’s dead”. Bart reaches to cut Homer down. After Homer falls to the ground he removes the therapist’s fingers from around Bart’s neck.
The regulator ruled that the scenes breached its rule 1.3 which aims to protect children from “unsuitable” material.
It said: “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.
“We went on to assess whether the content was appropriately scheduled. Appropriate scheduling is judged according to all the relevant factors. These include such points as: the nature of the content; the likely number and age range of children in the audience; and, the nature of the channel.”
Channel 4 apologised for any offence caused to viewers by this episode – number 17 in season 22 – and emphasised that it took its responsibilities over complying with Ofcom rules seriously.
In its defence, Channel 4 said that it had broadcast 22 seasons of The Simpsons since 2004 and added that “the vast majority of episodes [of The Simpsons] contain an amount of non-realistic and slapstick animated violence” often involving Homer and Bart. Consequently, images of Homer strangling Bart were “long-established” and “very familiar to audiences”.
However the broadcaster admitted that the episode had been 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”.