Q: What do The Simpsons say about Mary?

A: The long-running animated comedy series from FOX frequently addresses various religious topics.  In this area, the perspective of their writers is generally positive though critical of various distortions and abuses.  A good deal has been written on this topic (e.g. Religion in The Simpsons [2000 ] by Dr. John Heeren and The Gospel According to The Simpsons [2001] by Mark F. Pinsky).

However, there have been relatively few references related to the Virgin Mary during the show's thirteen seasons.  I am aware of the following examples:

In "Take My Wife, Sleaze," episode # BABF05, the marquee outside the town church reads: "Today's Topic: There's Something About the Virgin Mary," an allusion to the then-popular comedy film, "There's Something about Mary."

In "Flaming Moe," episode # 8F08 about a popular new drink developed at the local tavern, customers request a "Virgin Moe," parodying a drink called a "virgin mary."

In "Separate Vocations," episode # 8F15, upon seeing a horde of toys confiscated from school children, Bart explains "Madre de Dios" [Mother of God], an allusion to the frequency with which Hispanics utter Marian ejaculatory prayers.

In "Duffless," episode # 9F14, imperiled while rolling down an incline, Police Chief Clancy Wiggum screams "Mother of Mercy," alluding to the frequency with which Irish utter Marian ejaculations, especially in times of danger.

In "Curse of the Flying Hellfish," episode # 3F19, a Madonna and Child painting is prominent among valuable art stolen during World War II.  The painting is misidentified as a Botticelli, but actually resembles a motif popular in the nineteenth-century called Our Lady of the Sacred Heart.

In "Miracle on Evergreen Terrace," episode # 5F07, at Christmas time, Bart demolishes the family's Nativity scene while recklessly playing with a toy truck.

In "Mr. Lisa Goes to Washington," episode # 8F01, Lisa delivers a speech garbed in a white dress with a blue sash [see right], perhaps suggesting descriptions of Our Lady of Lourdes [n. b. Lisa routinely wears a red dress].

In "Bart's Friend Falls in Love," episode # 8F22, nuns at a Catholic girls school are shown wearing rosaries.  Also, the penalty for kissing a boy is "fifty rosaries."

In opening sequence # BABF04, Bart writes on a blackboard "I will not create art from dung," referring to a recent controversial painting of Mary by Chris Ofili.

Though not used in any episode, a nativity scene designed by Tom Sachs made news in 1994.  He used images of Bart Simpson to depict the three kings and modeled his Virgin Mary on the pregnant leather-clad singer, Madonna.  This controversial display was ultimately yanked and the store, Barneys, issued a public apology.

None of these incidents played a significant role in any of the episodes.  In my opinion, each use envisions Mary solely as an artifact of popular culture, especially in regard to certain ethnic groups (e.g. Irish and Hispanic).  This tendency is not uncommon in other mass-media productions.

Other valuable insights were shared with me by Lance Wilder, an animator with Film Roman whose projects include The Simpsons.  He opined that the nativity scene in "Miracle on Evergreen Terrace" was an American cultural artifact in the same sense that brief Marian invocations are for certain other cultures.  He also noted that destroying the nativity scene in this episode emphasized Bart's dangerous irresponsibility better than destroying a neutral object like a lamp.  He believed the same principle was operative in showing a religious painting among the stolen art in the aforementioned episode  #3F19.  I've found that this technique of using Marian symbols as a comparative standard against which to measure the virtue or vice of a character has been common in the motion picture industry for some time.  

Finally, Mr. Wilder could neither confirm nor deny any special significance to Lisa's apparel in the aforementioned episode #8F01.  The mascot for Columbia Films dresses similarly and might also be the source of the reference.  If it is indeed a Marian allusion, it is noteworthy since Lisa delivers an important message to the public in this episode and could then be explicitly identified as a symbolic Marian figure.


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This page, maintained by The Marian Library/International Marian Research Institute, Dayton, Ohio 45469-1390, and created by Michael P. Duricy , was last modified Wednesday, 11/03/2010 11:11:39 EDT by Ramya Jairam . Please send any comments to jroten1@udayton.edu.