'The Simpsons' Exported to Middle East


Oct. 18, 2005 — -- After 17 seasons of entertaining U.S. audiences, "The Simpsons" can now be seen on Arab television. While U.S. foreign policy is not always a hit overseas, there is a huge audience for American popular culture.

So the Arab satellite network MBC is bringing the cartoon saga of Springfield to the heart of the Arab world. "The Simpsons" has been exported overseas and is now called "Al Shamshoon."

The new take on the cartoon classic debuted this month, just in time for the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, as first reported by The Wall Street Journal.

With Omar instead of Homer, and Badr substituting for Bart, MBC hopes to win coveted young viewers. After all, 60 percent of the Arab world is 20 years old or younger.

"I think 'The Simpsons' will open new horizons for us to the future by creating a new genre of programming that will appeal to young adults in the Middle East," said Michel Costandi, MBC's director of business development.

But with a show that is so disinctly American, Arab media experts say, it's not enough to just translate the language.

"Translating the show linguistically, as well as culturally, as well as socially so that it appeals to the audience that's watching it here, I think there's a lot of details that one has to pay attention to," said Nadia Rahman, a professor at the Zayed University Media Center in the United Arab Emirates. "How does the mother dress? How does the sister dress?"

So MBC is making some changes as the characters go from American to Arab. They will remove references to things forbidden by the Koran, such as bacon, beer and other references that might be construed as offensive.

Homer Simpson's ubiquitous Duff beer will now be soda in the Arab version of the show.

Hot dogs will become Egyptian beef sausages, and donuts will become popular Arab cookies called "kahk." Moe's Bar has been completely written out of "Al Shamshoon."

With characters who are Jewish (like Krusty the Clown), Hindu (like Kwik-E-Mart owner Apu) and Christian (like the family's pastor, Rev. Lovejoy), Al Jean -- "The Simpsons" executive producer -- says those changes mean they aren't "The Simpsons" anymore.

"If he doesn't drink and eat bacon and generally act like a pig -- which I guess is also against Islam -- then it's not Homer," Jean said.

Some on the Arab street agree. Many bloggers have also expressed discontent.

"It's different," one Arab viewer told ABC News. "We are a totally different culture, so you can't be talking about the same subject and in the same way."

One thing didn't change, according to Costandi. Omar Shamshoon still says "D'oh!"