Nfld. & Labrador

The Simpsons taking fire over seal-clubbing, 'stupid Newfie' scene

The Simpsons aired an episode that featured digs at Canadian people and symbols, but it's a scene showing character Ralph Wiggum bashing a plush seal while saying "I'm a Newfie" that has some people saying the show went offside.

Ralph Wiggum bashes a plush seal after exclaiming, 'I'm a Newfie'

The Simpsons is in its 30th season. On the weekend, an episode set in Canada drew some ire. (20th Century Fox)

It has been five years since The Simpsons co-creator Sam Simon came to Newfoundland and Labrador and offered sealers a collective $1 million to give up their livelihoods and renounce the hunt.

Simon died in 2015, but reaction to the latest episode shows feelings of ill will still linger towards the cartoon in Canada's most easterly province.

On Sunday, The Simpsons aired an episode set in Canada that featured digs at people, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

But it's a scene about Newfoundland and Labrador that has some people saying the show went offside.

"I'm sure you treat all peoples equally," says Lisa Simpson near a group of Canadians holding curling brooms.

"Except the Québécois," one replied. "And the Newfies. Stupid Newfies."

That led to Ralph Wiggum exclaiming, "I'm a Newfie!" and clubbing the head off a stuffed, seal pup.

Sealskin retailer not pleased 

Darren Halloran, whose Always in Vogue store in St. John's sells clothing made from sealskin, is one of those who was annoyed at the reference.

"It's false information that is being portrayed," he said. "We would like people to have the proper information, you don't have to like the seal industry but know the information."

Always in Vogue owner Darren Halloran says the episode promoted false information. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC)

According to Halloran, when a seal is killed, the entire animal body is used. "I don't know many other animals in the world where you can say you utilize the full [animal]."

Halloran is even using the controversial segment as a marketing gimmick at his store with a sale during May.

"We are not going to let a show like The Simpsons scare us away from doing what we do."

Seal skin coats hangs on racks in the store. Some of the jackets can range up to $3,500. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC)

Media critics were also not impressed. 

Globe and Mail television writer John Doyle panned the episode as tired and filled with Canadian cliches.

In response to the Ralph Wiggum scene, Doyle wrote that "no context makes the jab funny or allows it to transcend low-level bigotry and spite."

Easy shot, says editor

"It's the lowest possible hanging fruit," said Drew Brown, editor of online provincial news outlet The Independent. 

"They probably went and Googled, 'Newfoundland joke,' right? Seal hunt is probably — it's probably the only thing people familiar with the island from international media would know."

Brown said he considers the joke fine, though he hasn't watched The Simpsons in about 15 years.

"They had to make a tradeoff probably, between a joke that actually said something intelligent and cutting, and a joke that people would recognize as a joke, so I guess that's probably what they went with," he said. 

The episode was written by Tim Long, a staff writer with The Simpsons who grew up in Ontario.

'Newfie' a no-no for many Newfoundlanders

While some people took outright offence to the joke, others, like Brown, passed it off as a trite jab.

"Newfie" is considered by many to be a derogatory label in Newfoundland and Labrador, and the seal hunt has long been staunchly defended in the province against outsiders who oppose the practice.

The protests often take aim at the killing of seal pups, even though it has been illegal in Newfoundland and Labrador for decades.

Simon's visit in 2013 drew ire. He appeared alongside actor Canadian entertainer Pamela Anderson, holding a cheque for $1 million. Anderson was quoted as saying, "A million dollars is a lot of money in Newfoundland."

That led to comedian Mark Critch offering her $1 million to give up acting.

Monica Lewinsky jokes

Mike Hammond, a St. John's comedian, said he's offended by the joke more as a comedian rather than a Newfoundlander.

"It wasn't a great joke to begin with — it was just kind of preachy and pandering," he said.

"If you have been on air for 30 years, you should be able to do something more relevant than a stigma from the Nineties .… That's kind of like me breaking out in Monica Lewinsky jokes."

Sunday evening's episode also made jabs at upstate New York, prompting a spokesperson for Gov. Andrew Cuomo to call it "dumb cheap shots."

Brown says in the fuller context of the joke the show is ribbing on the idea that Canadians are nice to everybody, which isn't necessarily the case. 

"If we're trying to be generous, I think it's a pretty good shot across the port for everybody," he said. 

Meanwhile, he has advice for anyone wanting to take a dig at the province, or the people living in it. 

"If you want a good Newfie joke done properly, you need to hire a Newfoundlander to tell it."

Read more stories from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.