A beloved episode of The Simpsons is disappearing from the show’s online platform, syndication, and future physical media editions. The reason? It guest stars Michael Jackson, the late pop star whose legacy is undergoing a radical, negative reassessment in the wake of Leaving Neverland.
The HBO documentary features Wade Robson and James Safechuck describing in graphic detail the sexual abuse Jackson inflicted upon them as children. It’s led to heated debates on social media and to radio stations around the world banning Jackson’s music.
The Simpsons creator Matt Groening, showrunner Al Jean, and producer James L. Brooks all watched Leaving Neverland, and they all agreed: “Stark Raving Dad” had to be pulled.
“It feels clearly the only choice to make,” Brooks told The Wall Street Journal. “The guys I work with — where we spend our lives arguing over jokes — were of one mind on this.”
In the episode Homer meets a Leon Kompowsky, a man who believes he’s Michael Jackson in a mental institution. Jackson voiced Kompowsky’s imitation of his voice and wrote a song, “Happy Birthday Lisa,” that ends the episode.
This is a big deal. This isn’t some mid-season episode from late in the show’s run. It’s the season three premiere, a classic from the show’s golden age that is often included in lists of the best episodes.
It’s also one that Brooks is personally fond of.
“There are a lot of great memories we have wrapped up in that one,” he said, before stating that the documentary “certainly doesn’t allow them to remain.”
“I’m against book burning of any kind,” Brooks continued, “but this is our book, and we’re allowed to take out a chapter.”
It could take some time to remove the episode from syndication, but it’s already been removed from its former online home.