Iconic photos in the Simpsons

This photo of Abe Simpson in Woodstock started it all. As seen in D’oh-in In the Wind (Season 10, Episode 6). It is funny how they even had the butterfly and some spectators in similar poses.

Woodstock Couple

From August 15th to 17th 1969, the largest rock festival in US history was held in Bethel, New York, at which the leading rock groups performed to a crowd of half a million in what is now known as ‘Woodstock Festival’. The name was that of a nearby town, the original planned site (chosen because it was Bob Dylan’s home), where the organizers were denied a permit.

The above picture of a hippie couple wrapped in a tight embrace was the iconic picture not only of the festival but also of the generation. The couple, along with the people in the background are an archetype of the generation known for flower power and rock ‘n’ roll. Their embrace symbolizes this generation’s escape into various utopias. The blurred festival crowd on the farmer’s field in the background becomes an anonymous tangled mass.

The couple was Bobbi and Nick Ercoline, a couple who stayed only one night and never saw the stage because they were so far away. They remarried two years later. The NY Daily News asked the couple, who are still together, to recreate their adventure.

Woodstock was also the beginning of the commercialization of music on a large scale, driving the cost of live performances to unprecedented heights. A coolly calculated operation organized by Woodstock Ventures Inc., the festival attracted famous names (Crosby, Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix to name a few) and took care to professionally document the festival in sound and film, ensuring a steady stream of profits with ongoing marketing. In this milieu, the above picture was used (in both b/w and color), and reproduced on millions of record covers, setting the standards that market the festival to this day.

For that generation, Woodstock was a legend in which drugs, the yearning for a different and escapist lifestyle, and the search for a common American identity merged into one. Looking back today, forty years on, the allure has faded and the legend has to be relocated into the dustbin of history as the epitome of American extravagance and decadence.

Although Bart was leading Martin Prince in polls, on the election day only Prince and his friend Wendell bothered to vote, handling the class presidency to Prince by two votes. As seen in Lisa’s Substitute (Season 2, Episode 19). 

Dewey Defeats Truman

Many people have seen this photo, called ‘the most famous newspaper photo of the century’ and know the story behind, but few have seen it in its uncropped version. It is taken by W. Eugene Smith for Time Life Pictures on the election night 1948. In the biggest political upset in U.S. history, Harry S. Truman surprised everyone when he, and not Thomas E. Dewey, won the 1948 Presidential election. When Truman went to bed on November 2, he was losing the election. When he woke up the next morning he learnt. He traveled to back to Washington, D.C. that day by train, and on a short stop in St. Louis, he was confronted by a copy of Chicago Tribune. “This is one for the books,” quipped an elated President Truman as he held up the erroneous front page of Chicago Tribune.

In the picture is Truman’s famous ‘whistle-stop’ train–a special “Magellan” train chartered by the Democrats–which made 201 stops on the route to reenforce his image as people’s president. (In fact, both Dewey and Truman did their Presidential campaigning by train. This was the last Presidential election to use this form of transportation; since then Presidential candidates have used airplanes to travel.)

At the height of Boy Band craze in the 90s (oh, seems so long ago, ain’t it?), Bart, Nelson, Millhouse and Ralph Wiggum forms a band. This inevitable parody of Joe Rosenthal’s iconic photo was part of one of their music videos. (New Kids on the Blecch, Season 12, Episode 14).

In one of the more random gags, Homer buys the New Yorker magazine because it has Lenny’s photoshoot by Richard Avedon(!). As seen in The Sweetest Apu (Season 13, Episode 19).

The Simpsons family dog destroys Marge’s ancestral quilt, which has this Capa photo as one of the patterns. As seen in Bart’s Dog Gets an F (Season 2, Episode Sixteenth).

The Death of A Loyalist Militiaman

This picture of the Loyalist Militiaman is a photo taken by Robert Capa for the French magazine Vu. Although it is taken during the height of the Spanish Civil War, the photo is not about the Civil War itself. The vacant spaces make up the majority of the picture. The main focus is on the man-one Federico Borreli Garcia-but his identity or those of his executioners matter a little in this deeply impersonal photo . He is fighting against the forces he neither control nor see-a war that is so removed from his everyday life, and one that is so removed for the viewers too.

The picture is not about the war’s destructiveness-the face of the falling soldier is almost relieved. Even the ravaged countryside of Spain is not showing in the picture. The picture is not about the physical warfare-amazingly absent from the picture are mortars, armies or other accessories of war. The picture is about the void it creates, the catharsis it provides from life and especially its mysterious presence (or lack thereof). War is vilified in the picture, not through visual blood or gore, but through its absence and the silent and subtle nob to man’s nature to fear the Great Unknown.

Vu published it in September 1936, but both the photo and its author became international celebrated when Life magazine reprinted it in July 1937. Background of the photo is not clear, and there were accusations that Capa staged the photo. Philip Knightley wrote, “When and exactly where did Capa take it? The terrain in the photograph tells us nothing; it could be anywhere. Who is the man? His face is blurred, but there appears to be no trace of a wound, certainly not the explosion of the skull that a bullet in the head would cause. In fact, he is still wearing his cap. How did Capa come to be alongside him, camera aimed at him, lens reasonably in focus, just as the man was shot dead?”

Cornell Capa, Capa’s brother, maintained nothing had been said by his brother about the photo. Capa’s colleague David Seymour believed that Capa was in a trench, timidly raised his camera above the trench, took the photo without looking and was ashamed to admit the fact. O. D. Gallagher, who reported for the London Daily Express remembered that the action was sparse around the time Capa ‘took’ the picture, and was sure that Capa posed it. While sharing a room, Capa apparently taught Gallagher how to fake a good action shot too. Further adding to the debate was that no negatives or contact sheets for the picture was ever discovered.

When the photo first appeared in Vu, it was accompanied by one other similar photo, of another soldier in the moment of death on a slope. How he managed to take those decisive moments is a mystery the great photojournalist took to his premature grave in 1954.

Homer is more interested in catching this Nessie like catfish General Sherman than going to a Christian marriage counseling class. As seen in The War of the Simpsons (Season 2, Episode 20).

Loch Ness Monster

References to a creature in Loch Ness date back to St Columba’s biography in 565 AD, but the modern legends of ‘Nessie’ appeared in the press only during the 1930s with three photographs. The first photo, taken by Hugh Gray (a passer-by walking back from church) on November 12, 1933 was less famous than the surgeon’s photographs released a year later. Although only one of the pictures he took that day showed a blurred shape, it was enough for the believers. Skeptics, however, dismissed this above (above first) as a distorted image of a dog (perhaps Mr. Gray’s own) carrying a stick in its mouth as it swims through water.

In the next year came the “Surgeon’s photographs”, the photos that started a million-dollar industry and befuddled many scientists for generations. Like Gray’s picture, these pictures taken by Colonel Robert Kenneth Wilson–who was a respected London surgeon–clearly showed the slender neck of a “sea-serpent” rising out of the Loch. Two pictures (second, third above) were taken on April 19, 1934. Two days later, when Wilson returned to London (he was visiting his mistress secretly in Scotland), he sent the photos to the Daily Mail, which published the picture. Decades of frenzied speculation, costly underwater searches, and a million dollar tourism industry soon followed. Circus impresario Bertram Mills offered £20,000 to anyone who could capture the monster for his circus. One scientist tried to explain the phenomenon through floating and surfacing logs.

In 1994, a 90-year old Christian Spurling confessed involvement in a plot, that included the flamboyant moviemaker Marmaduke Wetherell and Colonel Wilson. It so happened that Hugh Gray’s photo caused a newspaper to hire Wetherell to track down the monster. Wetherell was humiliated when the supposed monster’s footprints he found were nothing but dried hippo footsteps, and asked his stepson to fashion a hoax monster out of plastic and toy submarine.

When Mr. Burns sells his nuclear power plant to the Germans, he leaves this photo for Smithers. As seen in Burns verkaufen der kraftwerk (Season 3, Episode 11).

Nixon meets Elvis

Of all the requests made each year to the National Archives for reproductions of photographs and documents, one item has been requested more than any other. It was neither the Bill of Rights or the Constitution of the United States, but the above photograph of Elvis Presley and Richard M. Nixon shaking hands on the occasion of Presley’s visit to the White House.

Although Richard Nixon abhorred modern art, and even forbade its presence in the White House, his advisors told him that publicly supporting the arts would boost his image. As a result, Nixon oversaw a six-fold increase in funding for the National Endowment for the Arts and the Public Broadcasting System (PBS). [To Nixon’s horror, these funds went to Erica Jong’s novel of sexual liberation, Fear of Flying.] Nixon was also known for his star-filled parties at his “Western White House” in San Clemente, California, and for his association with glamorous personalities like the Reagans and Frank Sinatra. However, it was not Nixon who initiated this meeting. On the morning of December 21, 1970, Elvis Presley paid a visit to the White House, with a six-page letter of introduction written by himself.

In the letter, he requested a meeting with the President and asked that he be made a “Federal Agent-at-Large” in the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. Presley also brought some gifts–a Colt 45 pistol and family photos. He was received at 12:30 pm, and received a thank-you note from the president, but the fictitious position of ‘Federal Agent-at-Large’ was not created for Presley, who himself would succumb to the influence of drugs less than seven years later.

Season 4, Episode 4, Lisa the Beauty Queen has the most references. Bart strikes a Betty Grable pose as he teaches his sister how to win a beauty contest. When the tournament winner was eventually incapacitated, Lisa was sworn in as Little Miss Springfield like Lyndon Johnson did after the JFK assassination. (Marge wears a similar dress Jackie Kennedy wore). Meanwhile, Barnie drives Duff Blimp and turns it into a Hindenberg. Kent Brockman was there to provide neccessary, “Oh, the Humanity!”

Betty Grable Pin-Up

Smiling coyly over her shoulder in swimsuit and pumps was the actress Betty Grable, whose iconic image above became the number-one pin-up of the World War II. It was a photographic masterpiece by Frank Powolny, who emphasized Grable’s beautiful legs. Hers were the ideal legs according to hosiery specialists of the era [thigh (18.5") calf (12"), and ankle (7.5")]. Grable was noted for having the most beautiful legs in Hollywood and studio publicity widely dispersed photos featuring them. They were insured for a million dollars at the Lloyds of London. (Throughout the 40s, Grable was the highest-paid female star in Hollywood, receiving $300,000 a year.)

One in every five American servicemen during the war owned this picture of Betty Grable. It was, as LIFE magazine acknowledged, one of the photos that changed the world–not least because among the rowdy servicemen who owned the picture was one Hugh Hefner, who would later cite the pin-up as his inspiration behind Playboy.

Johnson Sworn In

Taken on Air Force One just hours after JFK’s assassination by Kennedy’s official white house photographer, Cecil W. Stoughton, the photo clearly showed the absence of JFK in the intimate quarters of the Air Force One. Although LBJ is the focus of the ceremony, grief-stricken Jackie seems to be more the focus of the picture. Jackie Kennedy joined the ceremony last-minute and still had her husband’s blood stains on her skirt. Stoughton adjusted the frame to cut the stains out. The photo was released to the public very quickly to reassure the public that Johnson was in control of the situation, while the actual assassination photos weren’t out for a few days.

Hindenberg Disaster

7:25 p.m. May 6th 1937. Lakehurst, N.J. It was a routine assignment. Assembled as part of a massive PR campaign by the Hindenburg’s parent company in Germany, twenty-two still and newsreel photographers were on hand for the landing of 803-feet dirigible Hindenburg, the largest aircraft ever built. However, this publicity backfired when the airship burst into flames and exploded.

The event was widely reported by film, photographic, and radio media. It was one of the biggest disasters covered by the nascent non-print media. Herbert Morrison’s recorded, on-the-scene, eyewitness radio report (Oh, the Humanity!) became a media catchphrase. However, his recording was not broadcast until the next day. Parts of his report were later dubbed onto the newsreel footage, giving a false impression to many modern viewers that the words and film were recorded together. The print media was not lacking either: the New York Times dedicated 3-pages (below) which included Sam Shere’s above photo. LIFE magazine dedicated a 4-page tribute.

Although many similar photos were taken of the disaster, Sam Shere’s photo became known as “the most famous news photograph ever taken,” a description used by Beaumont Newhall in his The History of Photography. The book, one of the most significant photohistory books, has since become a classic photohistory textbook. Ironically, Shere was reluctant to take the assignment, which was to get shots of the celebrities leaving the airship. Shere recalled: “I had come to think of myself as a “hard news’ photographer, and sort of resented the assignment.” After waiting for over three hours in drizzling rain, Shere saw the explosion; he didn’t have time to put his camera to his eye–he shot the iconic image from the hip.

As with subsequent mass media events of the increasingly tech-savvy century, the Hindenburg disaster was culturally alluded to several times, the most obviously by the English rock band, Led Zeppelin. The group’s eponymous first album has a picture of the Hindenburg disaster on the front cover.

Other photographers who made iconic Hindenburg shots that day: Charles Hoff of the New York Daily News; Gus Pasquarella of the Philadelphia Bulletin; Bill Springfield of Acme-NEA; Jack Snyder of the Philadelphia Record; Murray Becker, of Associated Press. The World-Telegram carried twenty-one pictures of the flaming Hindenburg and its survivors. The New York Post ran the photographs over seven editions, the Daily Mirror, nine. The New York Sunday Mirror even ran full color shots in its 23 May issue, taken by Gerry Sheedy on 35 mm Kodachrome.

This is a couch gag from Season 14: The Dad Who Knew Too Little (Episode 8 ) and The Old Yeller Belly (Episode 19).

When Bart’s antics offend the whole of Australia, the family and the staff leave the U.S. embassy in a Saigonesque fashion. Bart vs. Australia (Season 6, Episode 16).

The Fall of Saigon

It was ironic that the picture that symbolized the American defeat in Vietnam was taken by a Dutchman, Hubert van Es. The picture showed chaos and panic among many South Vietnamese who were in the employ of the Americans. They are desperately trying to secure a seat on one of the last American helicopters shuttling between Saigon rooftops and US navy ships off the coast of Vietnam ahead of the arrival of the communist North-Vietnamese troops. The ladder leading up to the roof already has more people on it that can fit on the helicopter. However, the helipad was not, UPI’s Tokyo bureau wrongly attributed, on the roof of the US embassy. It was on the Pittman apartment complex which housed the CIA. The helicopters belonged to Air America, a CIA cover organization.

Van Es was one of the few Western journalists who stayed in Saigon to meet the Vietcong guerrillas and North-Vietnamese regular troops as they conquered the capital of South Vietnam. As Van Es filed his pictures, more and more people gathered to wait for more helicopters to show up. None did. As the enemy entered the city, Van Es himself put on a helmet with the words “Boa Chi Hoa Lan” (Dutch press) on it, hoping this would give him some protection. The young North-Vietnamese soldiers turned out to be quite friendly. Probably they were just as amazed as Van Es to be finally facing the enemy. Van Es himself later escaped the post-war chaos on board a cargo plane.

His one famous picture didn’t make Van Es rich: all the royalties went to UPI, which owned the copyright to his pictures. Van Es died on 16th May 2009.

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