The Black Bart phenomenon took hold through the 1990s producing a lot of spin-off merch and a whole culture of reappropriation. The licensed t-shirts were cool enough, but Black Bart had a different cultural currency. Bart was taken on as a “surrogate black man” within the African-American community. Public Enemy's publicist Harry Allen, said in a 1990 interview: “I think the Bart character is appealing because — I don’t want to say he’s kind of black. I don’t mean that. He’s just got some very unusual characteristics, from his haircut to his use of the word ‘homeboy’ infrequently, to even his general sassiness". Taking on personas like Bart Marley and wearing Air Jordans, the Black Bart craze showed that cartoon characters can have a very flexible cultural currency.
Even Matt Groening, although possible with his tongue firmly in his cheek, said people “know the secret truth that Bart is black himself... I know the character better than anybody, and I know that Bart likes hip-hop”. As Bart and Milhouse hang out with Snoop Dogg in the modern design pictured above (by New York designers Mishka) we can see how this craze hasn't just been relegated to 90s nostalgia. Their Bart Obama shirt really brought the bootleggin' bang up to date.
Bart was the original sk8er boi, so this bootleg doesn't seem like such a stretch. It simultaneously creates an assault on the eyes and sears the image of a freakily four-fingered Bart into the brain (all the characters in the Simpsons have three, except God & Jesus). Continuing on the uncanny valley theme, boy does sk8er Bart have some seriously toned knees.
Bart Simpson might be more connected to the sacred sport of skateboarding but according to the bootleggers he's also a dab hand with his balls. Not in that way. Despite not really being known for his sporting ability (he even got beaten by bookworm Lisa when they played for rival hockey teams). D'oh. From shooting hoops to scoring goals, Bart has been co-opted into supporting so many teams it's difficult to believe he really cares at all. Ultimately, though, Bart is obviously the perfect team mascot to brand on a homemade Leeds football t-shirt - although the sentiments such as 'Who The Hell Are Man Utd' might lend the baseball bat he's holding a more sinister intent.
It's just as well Bart is a sporting hero though, otherwise the future doesn't look too bright:
Yes! Black Bart also tackled the world of hip-hop and luckily his rapping days aren't just limited to a Biggie Smalls reference. The 1990's album The Simpsons Sing the Blues featured a rap by B-Simp about his woes whilst mowing the lawn. Far from being a cringe attempt at 'that hip hop thing the kids are listening too' (like that painful Wham! rap) the lyrics and beat actually work: "Alarm was buzzin', I was snoozin'/ Supposed to get up now, but I was refusin'/ To let reality become an intrusion". Deep.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Simpson
This bootlegger has thrown his lot in. Mixing up the (by now well-established) Black Bart motif with two heroes in hard-shells and a pizza t-shirt means that a whole load of demographics are going to be catered for. Imagine if Bart had joined Leonardo, Michelangelo, Raphael and Donatello and with them trained alongside the anthropomorphic rat sensei in the art of ninjutsu. No really, just imagine!
Ay Carumba! Either this designer really is afraid of copyright infringement or this is the laziest Bart re-imagining of the lot. A casual nod to the trademark spiky hair is visually the only clue to who this yellow fellow might be.
We can see though that Bart really is an everyman, a radical dude who everyone can relate to. His catchphrases have been translated into many languages and his actions copied by children around the globe. Adding to this the explicit Mexican references (oh, a poncho and possibly some hot sauce - must be Tijuana time!) the bootlegger doesn't give the audience much credit. But don't have a cow, man - at least Bart has been given the ability to crush snakes with his sandals.