Teenage Mutant Ninja Bart, Air Simpson Bart, RastaBart — meet the many faces of Bart Simpson. In recent months, the Fox network’s audacious animated antihero has appeared on bootlegged T-shirts in cities across the country. Along with all the authorized Simpsons merchandise — an estimated $200 million worth of coffee mugs, posters, sweatshirts, and other paraphernalia — America’s top toon has spawned an entire underground industry, a multimillion-dollar marketplace specializing in ersatz Bart fashions.
The shirts come in dozens of styles, from patriotic (Bart as the Statue of Liberty) to partisan (”Bart Simpson for President”). Most, though, seem aimed at blacks: Bart with Nelson Mandela (”The dude’s my hero,” Bart says), Bart as Chicago Bulls star Michael Jordan (shattering a backboard with a slam dunk), Bart as rap star M.C. Hammer (”You can’t this, Homeboy,” the shirt reads).
”Rampant copyright infringement is the sincerest form of flattery,” quipped Simpsons creator Matt Groening at a recent Los Angeles press conference. ”Some are funny, some of them are pure theft.” But not everyone’s amused: Several New York City vendors said Fox had sent lawyers to tell them to stop selling the shirts or face legal action. ”We don’t condone the sale of bootleg T-shirts,” a Fox spokesman declared. Some vendors are complying; others are offering a typical Bart-esque response: ”Don’t have a cow, man!”