Recap / The Simpsons S 15 E 21 Bart Mangled Banner

The episode starts with Marge and Homer tricking the kids into getting flu shots, giving them cute kittens to distract them while they drive to the hospital. Bart, however, is too fast and escapes from Dr. Hibbert's office before he can inoculate him. The doctor then makes it his sworn duty to give the boy a jab of the needle, as shown in a montage where he tries to get him at his school, at a funfair, and by plane in a North By Northwest homage. He eventually gets him by getting town drunk Barney to dress up as him and then rip his face mask off while the doctor takes advantage of Bart's confusion by jabbing him when he's unprepared. Bart then suddenly goes deaf as a side effect of the shot, unfortunately the annual teacher vs. student school donkey basketball game is coming up.

Before the game, a deaf Bart plays a prank on one of the donkeys by waving a carrot repeatedly in front of his face, then puts it in the back of his shorts, all while the national anthem plays. The donkey gets revenge on Bart by chewing his shorts off from the back just as the flag comes down, giving the appearance that he is mooning the flag. School photographer Martin takes a snap and eventually the picture becomes popular, with newspapers and subsequently the townspeople jumping on the idea that the Simpsons hate America, making the family pariahs as a result. This goes on for days and eventually Homer gets the idea to go on a popular talk show to prove that they don't hate the country.

While on the show, the host Nash Castor repeatedly tries to get the family to say that they hate America. Marge sarcastically says that if all Americans are loudmouthed talk show hosts, then she does hate America. Everyone reacts in shock. She tries to defend her case by saying that she is very well-liked in Springfield, then Castor uses that as an excuse to say that Springfield hates America, which soon catches on worldwide. The town's reputation having been ruined, Mayor Quimby gets the idea to rename it to "Libertyville", where people wear flag-themed clothing and all food is on sale for $17.99. During a patriotism-themed church sermon Lisa points out that people are being forced to love America, which goes against the foundation of the country. The family are then promptly arrested and put on Alcatraz for violation of the "Government Knows Best Act".

After days stuck in a small, lonely jail cell, a strange old man who touts himself as "the last registered Democrat" offers to help the family escape during a prison talent show where they sing an ultra-patriotic show. The audience are so distracted by the act that they miss the family escaping through a trap door below the stage. They dig up through the tunnel where they're being hunted in, and discover that the prison they're in is indeed on an island in a middle of an ocean. The family have no choice but to jump into the sea, where they come across a barge ran by French sea-farers, who rescue the family as they believe they hate America, just like them. The family enjoy their new life in France, but eventually decide that there's no place like home and decide to come back to America pretending to be immigrants to avoid a witch hunt.

The episode was panned by some American fans for its mean-spirited humor, disjointed storyline and satirizing American patriotism and the American Republican Party in a very stingy way. It has routinely ranked highly in lists of worst Simpsons episodes ever made, finishing in the top spot in 2009 and 3rd in 2011, with only season 11's "Kill the Alligator and Run" and season 21's "The Greatest Story Ever D'ohed"note  above it, though somehow it's manages to be better (or worse) than "Homer vs. Dignity" and "Saddlesore Galactica".

This episode contains examples of:

  • Artistic License History: Alcatraz hasn't been used as an actual prison since 1963, and these days, is a tourist attraction, so The Simpsons (along with Elmo, The Dixie Chicks, and anyone who opposes George W. Bush) should not have been locked away there.
  • The Cat Came Back: Parodied with Dr. Hibbert's pursuit of Bart. It turns out they were several characters disguised as Hibbert.
  • Driven to Suicide: Homer mentions that Elmo hung himself in his cell.
  • Halfway Plot Switch and Random Events Plot: It started with Bart going deaf from a bad innoculation and then becomes a satire of post 9/11 Patriotism.
  • Kafka Komedy: The family become town pariahs after Bart accidentally moons the flag after a donkey rips his shorts off (although it did so as revenge for Bart torturing it with a carrot, which is pretty mean in the first place.)
  • My Country Tis of Thee That I Sting: The whole episode is a satire of post-9/11 American patriotism, taking specific potshots at the American Republican Party. Despite the fact that the show has often mocked the United States and both Democrats and Republicans some Americans were not amused. Which is odd, because near the end of the episode The Simpsons do migrate back to the USA, because they miss it, despite everything that happened.
  • No Indoor Voice: The conservative talk show host who brings the family on to frame them as anti-Americans. He even goes to commercial break promising to "talk even louder than this" when they return.
  • Noodle Incident: Elmo is in Alcatraz because he "went to wrong fundraiser".
  • The Old Convict: The last registered Democrat.
  • Patriotic Fervor: Mercilessly parodied, to the point that it came across as a heavy-handed Author Tract the likes of which would make Family Guy in its seventh season blush.
  • Political Correctness Gone Mad: The switch from Springfield to "Libertyville", including making everything themed with Patriotic Fervor to the point it's actually stupid and dangerous (like changing traffic lights to red, white and blue and apparently not keeping the red on the regular "stop" position, or changing all of the prices of items for sale in town to $17.76, which would only allow items like pizza slices to prosper).
  • Pompous Political Pundit: The talk show host who interviews the Simpsons. He tells the audience to tune in next time to hear him talk louder.
  • Rage Breaking Point: Marge can't tolerate the talk show host's constant instigation towards her family (he just asks them if they hate America and which part of it in specific, rather than allowing them to explain what happened with Bart which is the reason they were allegedly invited), so when she finally snaps she sarcastically says that she hates America and a lot of things in it, especially crappy talk show hosts. It puts her family in deeper water, eventually leading to them getting arrested.
  • Repeating so the Audience Can Hear
    Homer: Hello? Appear on your TV show? Tell our side of the story? You'll see us there? Goodbye? Dial tone?
  • Shout-Out: The Simpsons escaping fleeing military surveillance while singing in public? You would expect them to sing Edelweiss.
  • Take That!: At the overzealous patriotic attitudes of post-9/11 America during Bush's first term. The "Government Knows Best Act" is a jab at the controversial Patriot Act.
    • The prisoners at Alcatraz include various people known for their opposition to Bush's America, including filmmaker Michael Moore, the Dixie Chicks and (for some reason) Elmo.
  • Thought Crime: The "Government Knows Best" Act, which tosses the Simpsons in federal prison.