October 19, 2007

Review of Bart to the Future

Bart to the Future is another Simpsons episode with a significant Indian presence. Here's what it's about:"Bart to the Future" is the 17th episode of the eleventh season of The Simpsons. The title of the episode is a reference to Back to the Future. It is the second of three future-themed Simpsons episodes (along with "Lisa's Wedding" and "Future-Drama"). The episode is listed as the worst Simpsons episode of all time by the February 7, 2003 issue of Entertainment Weekly. It aired exactly five years after "Lisa's Wedding," which also depicted the Simpsons' universe in the future.


The Simpsons are going to a park, but when they arrive, they find that mosquitos have gone crazy and have taken over. While driving back, they find an Indian casino and stop by. Bart tries to sneak in, but is caught by the casino's manager. To teach Bart a lesson, he gives Bart a glimpse of himself in the year 2030 (although it is never referred to as "2030" during the episode, only that it is thirty years in the future).
Quotes and Scene Summary
  • Homer and Bart run off to join the casino floor's frenzied excitement. A bouncer stops Bart at the door.

  • BOUNCER:  No minors.

    BART:  Yeah, but I really want--

    HOMER:  Sorry, son. Although they seem strange to us, we must respect the ways of the Indian.

  • Casino security men quickly capture Bart and take him to the manager's office.

  • MANAGER:  [on phone] Your linen service has broken many promises to us. Laundry bill soar like eagle.

    [hangs up] Jerk.

    [walks over to Bart] So, you like to sneak into casinos?

    BART:  I wasn't going to gamble. I just wanted a Bloody Mary.

    MANAGER:  Listen to me. Unless you change your deceitful ways. I foresee a life bitterness and failure for you, Bart Simpson.

    BART:  How'd you know my name?

    MANAGER:  [holds up a legal document] Your father just took out a second mortgage downstairs. You're listed as collateral.

    BART:  Oh. I thought that maybe you were some kind of Indian mystic who could tell the future?

    MANAGER:  Who says I'm not?

  • A fire flares up from a hearth in the office's center, startling Bart.

  • MANAGER:  If you want to see the future, throw a treasured personal item onto the fire.

    [Bart tosses a small object, which explodes with a bang]

    MANAGER:  Not a firecracker!

    BART:  Hey, I bought it from a guy on your reservation.

    MANAGER:  That's Crazy Talk.

    BART:  No, it's true.

    MANAGER:  No, I know, that's my brother, Crazy Talk. We're all a little worried about him.

  • In his future vision, Bart talks to Billy Carter's ghost before the vision fades:

  • BART:  I guess I am an embarrassment.

    BILLY CARTER:  You sure are. And hey, there's an embarrassment of riches at the Caesar's Pow Wow Indian Casino. You can bet on it! [winks and fans a deck of cards]

    [cut to the present]

    BART:  You put an ad in my vision?

    MANAGER:  Yeah, Crazy Talk came up with that. He got idea from Dances With Focus Groups.
    Rob's review:  As usual in this kind of show--a comedy that aspires to satire--the Native bits were mixed. Some used stereotypes to comment on our skewed perception of Indians. Some simply used stereotypes, period.

    The good

  • Other than the sign out front, the casino has the bland architecture often found in modest Indian casinos.

  • The name "Caesar's Pow-Wow" seems a plausible one for an Indian casino.

  • The interior looks like a typical Indian casino: lot of slot machines with Indian accents on the walls.

  • The policy of not letting minors in is strictly enforced, as it is in reality.

  • The depiction of a dinner club with a stage for shows is reasonably accurate. Many casinos have such spaces for entertainment.

  • The bad

  • The Indian casino's sign has a Chief Wahoo-style brave shooting a cowboy in the back from behind a tipi. (No Indian casino makes any kind of political or historical statement on its signage.)

  • The waitresses wear Pocahontas-style buckskin mini-skirts. (No Indian casino has service people wearing stereotypical Indian costumes.)

  • The manager's office is decorated with drums, blankets, dreamcatchers, and other Indian bric-a-brac. (I suspect most Indian casino managers' offices have your standard business accouterments.)

  • The manager has his long hair in braids and wears a fringed vest.

  • The manager sometimes lapses into a slow, halting, Tonto style of speaking.

  • The ugly

  • The whole vision thing is phony, of course. Even medicine men don't conjure visions by throwing magic dust into a fire. And casino managers aren't medicine men. This bit perpetuates the stereotype that all Indians have mystical powers.

  • Conclusion:  "Bart to the Future" wasn't the worst Simpsons episode ever, but it was average at best. But it sure beats the South Park episode on Indian gaming.

    Like most TV shows, The Simpsons is willing to tackle Indian gaming and satirize Indians. Like most shows, it's unwilling to do the same for blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Jews, and other minorities. Only Indians are fair game, it seems.

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