The conservative and often controversial right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh has died aged following a long battle with lung cancer.
Although admired by many members of the US conservative movement, including Donald Trump, Limbaugh has a long history of divisive statements on women, race and LGBTQ+ rights which made him rife for ridicule and parody, the most notable example of which comes from The Simpsons.
The obscure but recurring character, named Birch Barlow (some Simpsons experts believe the name is a reference to the right-wing advocacy group, the John Birch Society) had a vague resemblance to Limbaugh, but it was the rhetoric that he would spew on his fictional radio show which made many draw the comparisons to Limbaugh.
The character – who wrote books such as Only Turkeys Have Left Wings and would introduce himself as “the fourth branch of government” and “the 51st state” – has only ever appeared in 12 episodes and only one of those was a significant part. That being said, following Limbaugh’s death there were many references to Barlow on social media in reaction to the news.
The last time he appeared was back in 2013 so it remains to be seen if the character will be retired for good. But in the meantime, here are five of Barlow’s most notable moments.
“Springfield’s Favourite Conservative”
Barlow’s most famous episode is the season six, episode five classic ‘Sideshow Bob Roberts’ where the evil Sideshow Bob attempts to become mayor of Springfield. Barlow is introduced in the first few moments of the episode on his radio show where he refers to his listeners as ‘freedom likers.’
His views don’t sit well with Homer’s work colleagues Lenny and Carl, but chime with Homer who considers people who vote to be “a bit fruity.” In this scene, Barlow introduces his plan to topple Mayor Quimby, a parody of the Kennedy family.
Barlow rounds the scene off by claiming that Springfield is "under the stranglehold of a few tie-dyed tree huggers who would rather play hacky sack than lock up the homeless." It’s a sinister but amusing introduction for the character and an almost pitch-perfect parody of many conservative figures in the US media.
Birch Barlow, a character introduced in 1994's "Sideshow Bob Roberts" (S06E05), was based heavily on Rush Limbaugh,… https://t.co/uyzcKVC6OO
— On This Day in Simpsons History (@On This Day in Simpsons History)
“Another intelligent conservative here, railroaded by our liberal justice system”
As we continue to listen to Barlow's radio show, he receives a call from none other than Sideshow Bob who complains about being locked up in prison for attempted murder.
Barlow's reaction to this is one of the most underrated lines in all of The Simpsons and hits the nail on the head when it comes to the type of language that we come to expect from US conservatives. He says, "My friends, isn’t this just typical? Another intelligent conservative here, railroaded by our liberal justice system."
He goes on to compare Bob to "Colonel Oliver North, officer Stacey Koon, and cigarette spokesperson Joe Camel." North is a former marine corps lieutenant turned political commentator, Koon is one of the four officers involved in the shocking Rodney King incident and Joe Camel is a cartoon camel who appears on packs of cigarettes with who Barlow has a photograph with.
The Springfield Republican Party
The third clip from the same episode is an almost perfect piece of Simpsons surrealism and mockery. Although Barlow doesn’t do much in the scene it is full of ridicule for the Republicans, with the Springfield branch of the GOP meeting with at a Transylvania-like castle and members greeting each other in an occult language. It’s comically evil.
Those in attendance include series villain Mr Burns, his own personal lawyer, Rainer Wolfcastle (an Arnold Schwarzenegger parody), a literal vampire and of course, Barlow who reveals his plan to make Sideshow Bob the mayor.
Councilman Les Wynan
The final scene from this episode worth highlighting is classic name pun, a gag which never got old on The Simpsons. In the scene, which is taking place at a debate between Bob and Quimby, Barlow asks his man a soft ball question about a Councilman called Les Wynan, aka “less whining”.
He follows this up with a bizarre and long-winded question for Quimby about the budget which starts off on a wild tangent. This type of move is indicative of the double standards that both sides of the US media like to project on to their opponents by getting them all tied-up in knots.
“Sure he’s a little green, but so was George W. Bush”
Beyond the Sideshow Bob episode, Barlow has only made a handful of appearances in The Simpsons and was mostly reduced to background cameo appearances.
Perhaps his next most notable appearance in the show was in episode 10 of season one, called E.Pluribus Wiggum. In typical Simpsons fashion, the residents of Springfield deem that they are better than everyone else and decide that they aren't interested in being represented by the Democrats or the Republicans and instead decide to plumb for eight-year-old Ralph Wiggum for president.
Ralph proves to be popular with the town, causing a power grab by the Democrats and the Republicans who want Ralph to join them. This takes us back to the Republicans’ scary castle where Barlow is present as they debate whether they should try and recruit Ralph.
Some argue that he's a little too 'green' but Barlow – rather unsuccessfully – compares him to George W Bush: "Sure he's a little green, but, uh, you know, so was George W Bush, and look how great, uh, he-he... um...," before running out of steam.
Bush was still president when the episode aired (January 2008) and was starting to see his approval ratings drop.
The clincher of this scene is Mr Burns' reply. The nuclear power plant owner quips: "But at least he won! The second time... assuming they don't find those ballot boxes in Ohio."
Hmmm... election fraud claims and Republicans. Where have we heard that before?