The Simpsons have predicted so much within our society that the phrase "Simpsons did it" is something you could blindly scream out into the void about any world event and chances are you'd be right. It's not that the show's writers are prophets or time travelers. They're just great satirists, and great satire is a reflection, albeit sometimes an exaggerated one, of society.
So when we say that Chief Wiggum, the bumbling cartoon police chief from The Simpsons, is the most realistic portrayal of modern policing, it really shouldn't be that bold a claim. But it's still striking just how many things we once laughed at as hyperbolic cartoon goofs that aren't really that hyperbolic. Let us count the ways.
A No-Knock Raid
Chief Wiggum and his team conduct a fully militarized no-knock raid only to discover that it is the wrong house. You can see it play out after the "Bad Cops" song intro.
The scene is reminiscent of the death of Breonna Taylor, in which three police officers executed a no-knock search warrant into Breonna Taylor's home on a suspicion of drugs and ultimately killed her after firing twenty rounds into the residence during a shootout with Breonna Taylor's boyfriend. Taylor's boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, believed intruders were breaking into his home and understandably so considering the police had gotten the wrong house.
In fact, the difference here, besides that Wiggum's force showed more restraint, is that the Springfield Police Department was off by one house whereas the Lousiville Metro Police department who killed Breonna Taylor was off by ten miles. Again, Wiggum's no-knock raid follows a music sequence titled "Bad Cops," which means the Simpson's writers were trying to say "you know how Chief Wiggum is normally a caricature of a shitty police officer? Well, here's an even more heightened version of that." And still, in what is supposed to be a double heightened version of reality, real-life swoops in to win the shit-bag prize.
Unnecessary Use Of Force
A running gag on the Simpsons is how quick Chief Wiggum is to employ non-lethal weaponry in response to any perceived slight. For example, in the season 5 episode "Homer's Barbershop Quartet," it is revealed that Homer was once part of a barbershop quartet that also included Chief Wiggum. However, Wiggum was later removed from the group and, upon seeing his replacement sing beautifully, Chief Wiggum tells Lou to "get the tear gas."
While using tear gas is technically "non-lethal," its effects are considered so painful that it will immediately induce vomiting and can sometimes permanently blind you. The joke, i.e., the subtext, is that using tear gas and even pepper spray is outrageously excessive for anything other than self-defense. However, we have now seen cops do this very thing time and time again.
Holy shit, if that were animated, it would be a clip from The Simpsons. That cop tried to pepper spray gravity. The only way that moment could get more cartoony is if the asphalt started coughing and gave him Covid-19. Here's another clip that is decidedly less amusing.
In this video, a police officer tasers someone who is inside of their own car. There is no chance of escape, and if you watch the video, you'll see there is no reason to think they are dangerous. They are completely at the mercy of the police officer, but they are tased anyway because today's police are hardwired to respond to confusion with cruelty. It'd be like if you tasered someone who was stuck on their roof. Wait, where have we seen that before?
Our officers know that Chief Wiggum isn't supposed to be a role model, right? Our reality is a cartoon, except when we wake up from getting tasered by the police, we don't have scorch marks on our clothes, but instead years of psychological trauma to deal with.
Perhaps the most blatant parallel though, connecting our real-world cops to the Springfield PD, is their love of arresting subjects without cause. Many police officers seemingly get into the profession because there's a tiny little voice inside of their head, screaming, "no one will respect me unless I have a gun and a badge." The moment they realize you still don't respect them, even with their gun and badge, it causes their self-esteem to plummet into pre-pubescent levels. Here's one such example:
There's no penis small enough to explain why someone would treat another human being that way. This man was arrested for chipping away at the ego of a police officer, which should be a horrible violation of ethics, but is not without Simpsons precedent:
Chief Wiggum wants to get Homer's license and registration after being mocked by Homer at a Baseball game, which at the time of this airing felt like an absurd overreach, but in our current moment feels like the type of thing you'd see in a Twitter clip. Here's one last video of Wiggum being a dick.
It's Wiggum at his meanest as he smashes out Homer's taillight as an excuse to pull him over. Again, this is not without a real-world equivalent, but you'll notice here, in a Simpsons writer's wildest imaginations of a bad cop, Wiggum is still less awful than the clips we're seeing of modern police officers. My favorite part of this video is at the end when Homer tells Wiggum that someday the people will rise up against bad cops, and then Wiggum hears this information and is genuine shock and fear. It is a thought that has never occurred to him, and you can't help but wonder if it's a similar thought occurring to police all over the country for the first time. Perhaps this is the "Simpsons did it" moment where that signals the end of police overreach. Or, perhaps, the United States police continue on acting like four-fingered caricatures.
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Top Image: 20th Television