October 07, 2008

Simpsons visit Machu Picchu

In the Lost Verizon episode of The Simpsons (airdate 10/5/08), Springfield's favorite family ends up in Peru.

The story involves Bart's new cellphone and its GPS "tracking chip." As a recap explains:When Lisa catches her parents spying on Bart, she informs him of the violation of his civil rights. To get revenge, Bart puts the tracking device on a bird. Believing he has runaway, the rest of the Simpson family tracks Bart using the family laptop. Lisa quickly realizes what’s up when she sees the bird outside of the Shelbyville bird sanctuary. After finding out the bird is flying south to Machu Picchu, a spot Lisa has always wanted to see, she opts to keep her mouth shut and enjoy the trip.

When the rest of Bart’s family reaches Machu Picchu, an exhausted Marge falls asleep sitting in front of a giant stone idol. She dreams it comes to life and relates to her a valuable lesson about letting future generations learn from the world and not walling them off from dangers which might actually end up teaching them something useful. When Marge awakens, they begin the 4,000 mile trek back to Springfield.
Comment:  There's more good than bad in the Simpsons' trip to Machu Picchu. Let's take a look.

Good:  The depiction of Machu Picchu looks surprisingly realistic. It blows away anything in The Emperor's New School.

Good:  Homer mentions the sun god Viracocha, although he calls him "Wirakocha the trickster god." I don't know if Viracocha had any trickster attributes, but at least the mention is respectful.

Bad:  The aforementioned stone idol resembles Viracocha. But the Inca didn't make stone idols, and I'm pretty sure there's no stone idol at Machu Picchu.

Good:  Marge has a dream in which the idol comes alive and tells her about Inca history. This involves an even more realistic depiction of traditional Inca life. These few seconds offer possibly the best depiction of the Inca ever in a cartoon.

Bad:  The idol starts his lecture with a falsehood. He claims the Inca built walls around their sites to keep their children safe--to protect them from danger and "knowledge."

Actually, I think the Inca generally did not build protective walls around their sites. I think the precariousness of Inca sites is one of the things that startled the Europeans who found them.

Good:  The idol's point is that the Inca were insular by nature and this led to their defeat by the conquistadors. I'm not sure how insular you can be if you rule a far-flung empire. But it's true the Inca were woefully unprepared for the Europeans' arrival. If they had had more foreign contacts, they might not have lost so easily.

So the idol's assessment of the Inca culture is negative but perhaps realistic. That's why I've tentatively deemed it good.

Bad:  As they depart, the Simpsons inadvertently leave Maggie behind. The final scene shows her standing on a monument, in Inca regalia, holding an axe. With torches flicking and drums beating, the Inca bow to her.

Although this is obviously meant to be a joke, the whole "Indians worship the white person as a god" thing is still a troubling stereotype.

All in all, this cartoon scenario is a better-than-average portrayal of Indians. As is often the case with The Simpsons, it's two steps forward and one step back.

Just plain silly

When they return, Marge says they've been gone two weeks and have driven 3,700 miles.

Let's assume the Simpsons have updated their shots and passports. And have enough money for gas, food, and lodging. These are both ridiculous assumptions for this inept family, but never mind.

If they drove 12 or more hours a day, they might be able to make it from the US to southern Peru in a week. But the round trip would be more like 10,000 than 3,700 miles.

In fact, the 3,700 figure is so far off that I wonder where the creators got it from. Did they mistakenly assume the Inca lived next door to the Maya?

Below:  Bart abuses Denis Leary's cellphone.


dmarks said...

Do you remember the Aztec Indian smoking chocolate from a very old Simpsons episode?

Anonymous said...

Marge said she just got back from 3,700 mile trip. I'm not sure she ment both ways, it could have just been from Machu Picchu to their house.

I'm curious to know what is 3,700 miles from Machu Picchu. Is there any Springfield town that distance?

Rob said...

Are you talking about the show titled "El Viaje Misterioso de Nuestro Jomer," Dmarks? The one in which Homer gets high on chili?

At this point I've seen pretty much all the Simpsons episodes, including that one. But I don't recall that particular bit.

Rob said...

Yes, Marge could've meant the trip was 3,700 miles each way, Stexe. But when you talk about a driving trip, you usually talk about the total mileage.

According to an online mileage calculator, the distance from Cuzco, Peru, to Springfield, Missouri, is 3,767 miles. This Springfield is near the geographic center of the US, so it's a good place to estimate from.

But that's the distance as the crow flies. Winding through jungles and mountains of Latin America, the one-way driving distance would be more like 5,000 miles. Hence my estimate that the whole trip would be something like 10,000 miles.

Anonymous said...

You could also figure she was confused and gave a wrong estimated mileage due to fatigue. My best bet would be the writers just came up with a random number that would not possibly work so they wouldn't give people an estimate of where they live.

Still, it was a fun episode, something that can't be said for most of the recent ones.

dmarks said...

How many miles is it from Brownsville, TX? Springfield could be there. Remember, Springfield is anywhere/everywhere USA... with its Rocky-style snow-capped mountains, its Civil War battlefields, its Western Desert canyons, and its oceanfront.


About the Aztec smoking chocolate, it was not the episode you named. I just now googled "troy mcclure" aztec and found it. It is Bart the Murderer.

From the page: "The scene at the chocolate factory where the kids are watching an old film narrated by Troy McClure, the Aztec who smokes the cocoa bean, mimics the Cleveland Indians’ mascot, Chief Wahoo."

I do remember that the Aztec looked a lot like Chief Wahoo.

I can't believe it. A stereotype-related Indian appearance in "The Simpsons" that you missed.

Rob said...

According to the mileage calculator at


it's 3,217 miles from Cuzco to Brownsville, Texas. Which means it's another 550 miles to Springfield, Missouri.

Now that I've seen the distance from Cuzco to Springfield, Mo., I wouldn't be surprised if the writers used it. My guess would be that they mistook the straight-line mileage for the road mileage and ignored the round-trip aspect.

I've seen Bart the Murderer, but not recently. Perhaps it aired before I thought of compiling the Indian appearances in The Simpsons. Or perhaps I didn't think it was significant enough to mention.

dmarks said...

It's the kind of thing you would notice and report on. I noticed it long before I started reading about stereotypes and all at "Newspaper Rock"