The Literary Salon

A free salon wherein patrons and passers-by may view or contribute ideas on literary and generally intellectual matters. The blog will strive to maintain its commitment to wit, humour and perspicuous analysis.

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Location: Toronto, now Ottawa, Ont, Canada

Friday, May 23, 2008

Simpsons Stole Some Serious Stuff

The Simpsons is well known, among other things, for its countless allusions to other cultural productions (movies, celebrities, literature, etc, etc). The show has also become a source of allusions itself, and has entered the cultural vocabulary.

However, I discovered today that the Simpsons, for the first time, as far as I know, plagiarized a joke from another show.

I was watching an episode of Saved By the Bell: The College Years ("The Rave") today (please don't ask me why), and at one point Zack Morris complains that a warehouse he thought abandoned had suddenly become not so abandoned. After relating this anecdote, he mutters, "Stupid economic recovery!"

Most of you will probably recognzie this line from the far more popular Simpsons. In the episode in which Homer fakes kidnapping Larry Burns, C.M. Burns's son, an identical scene occurs: while evading the law, they both run into what appears to be an abandoned warehouse. However, as they enter it, they are alarmed to discover that the warehouse is full and bustling with employees and machines, to which Homer exclaims, "D'oh! Stupid economic recovery".

Just to set the record straight, the Saved By the Bell episode aired in early 1994, whereas the Simpsons episode aired in November of 1996, over two years later. Given the quality of the writing on the Simpsons, I had originally assumed that the joke originated with that show, but the dates clearly don't check out.

It is quite possible that this joke was taken from yet another cultural production (show, book, article, etc), that I'm not aware of. Any ideas?

This raises a legal question: are (very brief) jokes copyrighted? I seem to recall another even more manifest example of this phenomenon when I saw a B or C list comic (possibly Carlos Mencia, but I'm not sure) copy verbatim a fairly lengthy joke Bill Cosby made famous about 25 years earlier. So far as I know, no legal action was taken.


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