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Jaundice or radiation? Inside the craziest fan theories about ‘The Simpsons’ having yellow skin

When Matt Groening first conceived The Simpsons while waiting in an office lobby for a pitch meeting, he had no way to predict the series changing the entire course of television, history, and culture. Up until 1966, Hanna-Barbera’s The Flintstones held the record when it came to the longest-running animated show on prime time. Focused on establishing an audience for adult-focused animation, however, The Simpsons quickly gripped viewers and redefined sitcoms as we once knew them.

Paving the way for more controversial shows like South Park and Family Guy, the entire concept of a nuclear, working class family—led by a simpleton whose hobbies involved eating doughnuts and getting sloshed—opened new possibilities for family-centric premises. Be it Bob’s Burgers or Rick and Morty, each of the iconic show’s successors are reincarnations of the same, wildly-successful formula.

As The Simpsons evolved into the wise grandfather of all animated sitcoms, several fan theories have propped up over time regarding the iconic family. While every event in the world would inevitably end up being compared to the series alongside claims like “The Simpsons predicted it first,” one of the most popular speculations to date surrounds the quirky skin colour of the characters. Let’s jump right in.

A gamble between jaundice and radiation

Now, a quick search on Reddit and Quora for the keywords ‘The Simpsons’ and ‘yellow’ would essentially tumble you down a head-scratching rabbithole that will also ultimately help you understand the nature of both platforms.

On the former, fans have argued that yellow skin essentially represents the “white people” of the show—while other ethnicities have more human-like skin tones. In their defence, some of the characters have previously made a few broken fourth wall jokes about the same. “Sometimes, they do things like having a character call someone ‘yellow trash’ when the real phrase is ‘white trash’, but other times they use the normal ‘white’ phrasing,” a user wrote in this regard.

Given the fact that The Simpsons is essentially a satirical depiction of dysfunctional families that parodies American culture and society, these claims wildly check out. What’s more is that, considering this theory, it’s also possible The Simpsons, Family Guy, Futurama, and possibly Bob’s Burgers all co-exist in the same animated universe.

“When The Simpsons had their Family Guy and Futurama crossovers, the visiting characters remained their normal colours. However, when they had their The Critic crossover, Jay Sherman was coloured yellow while maintaining his normal style,” a Redditor additionally pointed out. That being said, however, we’ve barely scratched the surface of the grand scheme of things.

A second theory goes on to claim that everyone in the fictional town of Springfield has hepatitis A due to their jaundiced (yellow) skin. The same cause wildly extends to the reason why they’ve all lost an average of one finger per hand. On these terms, several fans have also stated that the communicable disease is frequently spread by infected water supplies—a comment that is also addressed on the show. Meanwhile, others believe the evil can be traced back to the town’s fast-food restaurant chain, Krusty Burger.

A third theory revolves around the nuclear industry in the Simpsons universe. “The power company is seen stuffing barrels of plutonium into trees and dumping them into rivers. Eventually, it caused genetic pigment mutations in lighter-skinned people,” one fan commented.

Finally, the last theory about The Simpsons’ iconic yellow skin involves none other than Homer. Sure, the show has followed many characters during its runtime, but it’s safe to say that Homer is the protagonist—whose eyes are leveraged to present the entire series. “It’s been studied that some alcoholics, if drunk enough and with enough brain damage, have a very slightly warped vision,” a Redditor claimed.

Combining the low-level safety inspector’s history of alcoholism with ignorance, it would make perfect sense if the yellow skin is a result of Homer’s altered vision—when, in reality, all the characters actually have human-like tones.

Meanwhile, miscellaneous claims have also thrown suspicion about Groening scribbling Homer on a piece of paper in a rush to create a new character. According to these claims, the cartoonist only had a yellow marker to colour him with at the time.

The real reason why ‘The Simpsons’ have yellow skin

While most of the aforementioned fan theories are based on substantial evidence, Groening himself has previously confirmed the reason for the quirky choice of colours. In an interview with the BBC, the creator revealed that he wanted to make the cartoon unique—starting with a recognisable palette.

“An animator came up with the Simpsons’ yellow and as soon as she showed it to me I said: ‘This is the answer!’” he stated. “When you’re flicking through channels with your remote control, and a flash of yellow goes by, you’ll know you’re watching The Simpsons.”

In fact, if you take a look at some of the most iconic TV characters in history, you’ll notice that yellow is a popular choice of colour for cartoons. A major reason for this can be linked back to colour theory. You’re going to have to put on your thinking caps for this one, so bear with me.

Now, a TV essentially uses the red-green-blue (RGB) colour wheel rather than the standard red-yellow-blue model. With the RGB scale, yellow and blue are complementary colours. This is the reason why characters like Spongebob stand out so well against a blue background. Yellow is also the most visible colour in the entire visual spectrum because of how the cones in our eyes process light and the order in which the signals for red, green and blue light eventually reach our brains.

Additionally, the colour in question also works well from a psychological perspective. In this case, yellow is a warm colour that most often conveys joy and optimism. Think of a red or blue Spongebob crawling the depths of Bikini Bottom. Not so appealing now, eh?

3 ways ‘The Simpsons’ changed the world

The Simpsons’ first nine to ten seasons are widely regarded as the show’s “golden age.” While its later seasons have recorded a decline in critical buzz and awards, the series continues to grip generations alike. Even though Groening has been involved in other projects like Disenchantment, none of the successors seem to match the legacy of The Simpsons.

So, let me take this golden opportunity to acknowledge three ways in which the popular animated sitcom has changed the world following its conception:

1. Gifted humanity with countless catchphrases

“D’oh!” is probably one of the first phrases you’d think of when someone mentions Homer. In 2001, the phrase was added to the Oxford English Dictionary—making it an official word as part of the English language.

“Cromulent” and “Embiggen,” which were first used in Lisa the Iconoclast, have also since appeared on Dictionary.com, and The Guardian surprisingly brought the phrase “cheese-eating surrender monkeys” into journalistic light in a 2003 article about France’s opposition to invading Iraq. Heck, even gen Z’s obsession with “Meh” can be traced back to The Simpsons.

2. Helped kick sitcom’s affair with laugh tracks

If you ask me, one thing that makes Friends irritable is the sitcom’s unreasonable relationship with background laughter. The Simpsons was revolutionary in the sense that, despite its sitcom tones and narratives, it never resorted to using such gags and gimmicks. This way, the show left it up to the viewers to figure out what they find humorous rather than giving them not-so-subtle cues.

Following this strategy, many animated shows of the 90s made the decision to eliminate laugh tracks altogether, and several live-action shows followed suit.

3. The show’s postmodernist take on culture

In 2014, British cultural historian Christopher Cook equated The Simpsons to the Pop Art movement, adding that the series is “one of the very first postmodern TV shows developed for mainstream US TV.”

“Someone once defined postmodernism as an ‘aesthetic of quotations’, in other words, it collages material from pre-existing works in unlikely ways,” he continued. “And the ‘glue’ that holds the assemblage together is irony, knowing where the references come from and how they have been replaced. I see a lot of that on The Simpsons.” Like I said, legendary all the way!

Sexual awakening and culture wars: How Lola Bunny broke the internet one wet dream at a time

Up until the winter of 1996, humanity had been plagued with sexual boredom on the then-newly-introduced concept of internet 1.0. Being absolute noobs on the cyberspace, our species frequently looked up to graphical content doused in webcore graphics—until an anthropomorphic female basketball player quite literally waltzed into our lives decked in the most impractical sports gear we’d ever laid our eyes on.

Enter Lola Bunny, the wide-hipped, long-lashed, powder puff-tailed cartoon character from the sports fantasy film Space Jam wearing the croppiest crop top and bootiest booty shorts during basketball tryouts at the Looney Tunes’ Schlesinger Gym. Hosted by professional ‘3D’ player Michael Jordan, Lola’s jazzy entry leaves Bugs Bunny starstruck as his eye bulge and jaws drop. Heck, it even makes baby bird Tweety extinguish an imaginary fire and go: “Ooh, she’s hot.”

While Lola proceeds to showcase her proficiency on court, her skills are often overshadowed by her provocative appearance as she’s then depicted fixing her crop top to sultry music and blowing her pinned-up ears out of her face—leaving Bugs… visibly hardened. I mean, just look at this last image and tell me if Bugs’ gaze had any business being this sus for a kid’s entertainment film:

At the time, Lola was reportedly introduced to bring more “balance” to the male-heavy Looney Tunes cast with an additional objective of creating more lucrative merchandising opportunities. After Space Jam, the character spent years at a stretch appearing only in cameos—later surfacing as a tomboy lead in Baby Looney Tunes (voiced by Britt McKillip), a typical trainwreck gen Zer in The Looney Tunes Show (voiced by Kristen Wiig), an invisible potion-making perfumer in Looney Tunes: Rabbits Run (voiced by Rachel Ramras) and happy-go-lucky sidekick in New Looney Tunes (marking Space Jam’s original voice actress Kath Soucie’s return to the franchise).

Although Lola underwent huge personality overhauls in all of her appearances following Space Jam, each of the media mentioned above received its own share of criticisms from fans who were hung up on the character’s original eyelid-batting debut.

For many, Lola—dripped in an impractical basketball costume that “left very little to the imagination”—was the cartoon animal responsible for their sexual awakenings. With every other subreddit, Twitter and TikTok hashtag, NSFW furry art, GIF, Wattpad smut fanfiction, hentai edit, Etsy resin figurine, speedrun, Pornhub roleplay, YouTube Poop, video game skin and, of course, fursuit, making its much-awaited and questionably-warm-welcomed debut on the internet, horny fans of the characters continue to imagine themselves quite literally at it like rabbits with Lola even to this day in 2022. There goes another sentence I never thought I’d pen down in my entire life.

A wet history of ‘sexy’ cartoon characters

Now, it’s a known fact that women have been hypersexualised in the media for centuries—the animation industry is no different. The 1930s witnessed the rise of Betty Boop, a coy, garter-wearing flapper woman with a baby face who often falls prey to rule 34 of the internet (also known as if it exists, there is porn of it).

Then, in 1940, Disney introduced Cleo, the first—and hopefully the last—‘sexy’ pet goldfish with unrealistic ideals like doe eyes, curled lashes and an unquenchable thirst for kisses. The list also includes “cartoon bombshell” Jessica Rabbit, Roger Rabbit’s toon human wife who is reimagined as a sultry-but-moral actress and singer in the 1988 hybrid feature film, Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

“You don’t know how hard it is being a woman looking the way I do,” Jessica is heard saying in a scene as private investigator Eddie Valiant replies with a “You don’t know how hard it is being a man looking at a woman looking the way you do.” Peak 1980s energy… right?

Lola, Angelina Jolie’s hourglassed character from the 2004 family adventure movie Shark Tale, is yet another example, with her supposedly manipulative femme fatale features leveraged to render her personality as nothing more than shallow and superficial. Another noteworthy star on the bottomless list is Sandy Cheeks from SpongeBob SquarePants—who was designed with a single bra, whereas in reality, squirrels have around ten nipples. So if Sandy’s bikini was really essential to the kid’s entertainment series, she would have sported five bras in total.

Although intended for children below the age of 13, it can’t be denied that all of these characters were created from the male gaze, for the male gaze. That being said, however, it’s also worth noting how some of them, Betty Boop for example, have a liberative layer to their no-nonsense personalities—though this aspect is blatantly masked by stereotypical femininity aimed to, in turn, ease their journey into becoming sex symbols.

In Lola Bunny’s case, the cartoon basketball player’s initial debut came during the peak of the ‘sex bunny’ phenomenon that kicked off following Hugh Hefner’s inception of the Playboy Mansion and the concept of ‘Playmates’ in the mid-1950s. The trend then reportedly climaxed in the 1990s with the vibrating sex toy Rampant Rabbit’s popularisation by a viral episode of HBO’s Sex and the City.

Fast forward to 2022, the sex bunny phenomenon can either be manifested as cutthroat-expensive fursuits or free-to-use Snapchat filters. This effortless evolution of the phenomenon, however, has been significantly impacted by Lola Bunny’s 2021 makeover. Or should I say, makeunder.

The ‘desexualisation’ of Lola Bunny

It was Thursday 4 March 2021 that Lola’s fictosexual fanbois were first hit with the shocking news. Having waited for Space Jam: A New Legacy (the sequel of the 1996 hit film) since its official announcement in February 2014, much of the internet was anticipating the LeBron James-starrer which marked Lola’s busty return to the big screen.

But alas, when Entertainment Weekly published the first look of the upcoming movie, the set of promotional images featured a redesigned version of Lola.

Gone were her hourglass figure, thigh-riding shorts and midriff-baring crop top. Instead, Lola was reincarnated sans breasts—dressed in comparatively baggier and practical basketball gear, even going as far as wearing compression leggings under her track shorts.

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“Lola was very sexualised, like Betty Boop mixed with Jessica Rabbit,” director Malcolm D. Lee told Entertainment Weekly at the time, adding that her old design was “not politically correct” and “unnecessary.” He continued, “This is 2021. It’s important to reflect the authenticity of strong, capable female characters… So we reworked a lot of things, not only her look, like making sure she had an appropriate length on her shorts and was feminine without being objectified, but gave her a real voice. For us, it was, ‘Let’s ground her athletic prowess, her leadership skills, and make her as full a character as the others’.”

Simply put, in Space Jam: A New Legacy, Lola was intended to be more than just a marketing ploy. She was finding her own footing in the Tune Squad, away from Bugs’ iron-board-stiffening simping. And that’s exactly what hit a nerve with Lola’s, dare I say, horndog fans.

With comments like “Damn what have they done to our fury goddess?” “Communist China has won. Liberty is dead,” and “Oh great, they may as well just call this #WokeJam,” enthusiasts immediately took to social media platforms to start a culture war based on the latest visual hindrance to their wet dreams. They genuinely believed the left-wing had seized control over Warner Bros. and routinely blamed ‘cancel culture’ for drawing lines over a children’s film.

On the other end, the discourse also sparked opinions on what it means to be a “strong female character.” Did Lola really have to get her breasts sanded down to be perceived more seriously? Heck, did the animators have to remove her knees in the process too?

Many argued that Lola’s ‘desexualisation’ perpetuates yet another stereotype that women can’t be sexy and athletic at the same time. Proof of this can be traced back to a 2016 Vox article which mentioned how Serena Williams, during the 2015 French Open, was “compared to an animal, likened to a man, and deemed frightening and horrifyingly unattractive.”

In fact, animation director Tony Cervone once explained that Lola was originally intended to be more of a “tomboy,” but the production team feared that she would appear “too masculine” and chose to emphasise her “feminine attributes” instead. Way to go, team!

With trends like Lola Chungus (the viral Big Chungus edit of the character in question) nearly fizzling out as we speak, Lola Bunny’s controversial redesign is increasingly being buried under NSFW fanart and recreations of fresh characters like Judy Hopps from Disney’s 2016 animated feature film, Zootopia.

While the Space Jam series, at its core, is about teamwork, friendship, and the power of setting your mind on a goal and working hard to achieve the same, it has now become a case study on how its only female character fails to overpower its native depiction rooted in hypersexuality—as she firmly states “don’t ever call me ‘doll’,” while everyone continues to do just that.

A case study everyone fails to learn from even today, to be more specific.