The Joy of Sect

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"The Joy of Sect"
The Simpsons episode
Episode no.Season 9
Episode 13
Directed by Steven Dean Moore
Written by Steve O'Donnell
Production code5F23
Original air dateFebruary 8, 1998 (1998-02-08) [1]
Episode features
Chalkboard gag Shooting paintballs is not an art form. [2]
Couch gag Tiny versions of the Simpsons climb on the couch, and a normal-sized Santa's Little Helper comes up to the couch, takes Homer in his mouth, and runs off with him. [3]
Commentary Matt Groening
David Mirkin
Steve O'Donnell
Yeardley Smith
Steven Dean Moore
Episode chronology
"Bart Carny"
"Das Bus"
The Simpsons (season 9)
List of The Simpsons episodes

"The Joy of Sect" is the thirteenth episode of The Simpsons ' ninth season. It originally aired on the Fox network in the United States on February 8, 1998. In the episode, a cult takes over Springfield, and the Simpson family become members.

<i>The Simpsons</i> American animated sitcom created by Matt Groening

The Simpsons is an American animated sitcom created by Matt Groening for the Fox Broadcasting Company. The series is a satirical depiction of working-class life, epitomized by the Simpson family, which consists of Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa, and Maggie. The show is set in the fictional town of Springfield and parodies American culture and society, television, and the human condition.

<i>The Simpsons</i> (season 9) Episode list for season of animated series

The Simpsons' ninth season originally aired on the Fox network between September 1997 and May 1998, beginning on Sunday, September 21, 1997, with "The City of New York vs. Homer Simpson". With Mike Scully as showrunner for the ninth production season, the aired season contained three episodes which were hold-over episodes from season eight, which Bill Oakley and Josh Weinstein ran. It also contained two episodes which were run by David Mirkin, and another two hold-over episodes which were run by Al Jean and Mike Reiss.

Fox Broadcasting Company American television network

The Fox Broadcasting Company is an American free-to-air television network that is a flagship property of the Fox Corporation. The network is headquartered at 1211 Avenue of the Americas in New York City, with additional offices at the Fox Broadcasting Center and at the Fox Television Center in Los Angeles.


David Mirkin conceived the initial idea for the episode, Steve O'Donnell was the lead writer, and Steven Dean Moore directed. The writers drew on many groups to develop the Movementarians, but were principally influenced by Scientology, Heaven's Gate, the Unification Church ("Moonies"), the Rajneesh movement, and Peoples Temple. The show contains many references to popular culture, including the title reference to The Joy of Sex and a gag involving Rover from the television program The Prisoner .

David Mirkin American film and television writer, director and producer

David Mirkin is an American feature film and television director, writer and producer. Mirkin grew up in Philadelphia and intended to become an electrical engineer, but abandoned this career path in favor of studying film at Loyola Marymount University. After graduating, he became a stand-up comedian, and then moved into television writing. He wrote for the sitcoms Three's Company, It's Garry Shandling's Show and The Larry Sanders Show and served as showrunner on the series Newhart. After an unsuccessful attempt to remake the British series The Young Ones, Mirkin created Get a Life in 1990. The series starred comedian Chris Elliott and ran for two seasons, despite a lack of support from many Fox network executives, who disliked the show's dark and surreal humor. He moved on to create the sketch show The Edge starring his then-partner, actress Julie Brown.

Steve ODonnell (writer) Television writer

Steve O'Donnell is an American television writer. His credits include Late Night with David Letterman, The Simpsons, Seinfeld, and The Chris Rock Show.

Steven Dean Moore is an American animation director. His credits include 65 episodes of the television series The Simpsons, as well as several episodes of the series Rugrats. Moore was also one of four sequence directors on The Simpsons Movie. He was nominated for an Emmy award in 2002.

"The Joy of Sect" was later analyzed from religious, philosophical, and psychological perspectives; books on The Simpsons compared the Movementarians to many of the same groups from which the writers had drawn influence. Both USA Today and The A.V. Club featured "The Joy of Sect" in lists of important episodes of The Simpsons.

Religion is a social-cultural system of designated behaviors and practices, morals, worldviews, texts, sanctified places, prophecies, ethics, or organizations, that relates humanity to supernatural, transcendental, or spiritual elements. However, there is no scholarly consensus over what precisely constitutes a religion.

Philosophy Study of general and fundamental questions

Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental questions about existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Such questions are often posed as problems to be studied or resolved. The term was probably coined by Pythagoras. Philosophical methods include questioning, critical discussion, rational argument, and systematic presentation. Classic philosophical questions include: Is it possible to know anything and to prove it? What is most real? Philosophers also pose more practical and concrete questions such as: Is there a best way to live? Is it better to be just or unjust? Do humans have free will?

Psychology is the science of behavior and mind. Psychology includes the study of conscious and unconscious phenomena, as well as feeling and thought. It is an academic discipline of immense scope. Psychologists seek an understanding of the emergent properties of brains, and all the variety of phenomena linked to those emergent properties, joining this way the broader neuroscientific group of researchers. As a social science it aims to understand individuals and groups by establishing general principles and researching specific cases.


At the airport, Bart and Homer meet recruiters for the new religious movement, Movementarianism. They invite Homer and many Springfield residents to watch an orientation film. The film explains that a mysterious man known as "The Leader" will guide Movementarians aboard a spaceship to the planet Blisstonia. The lengthy film brainwashes the attendees into worshipping The Leader.

New religious movement Religious community or spiritual group of modern origins

A new religious movement (NRM), also known as a new religion or alternative spirituality, is a religious or spiritual group that has modern origins and is peripheral to its society's dominant religious culture. NRMs can be novel in origin or part of a wider religion, in which case they are distinct from pre-existing denominations. Some NRMs deal with the challenges posed by the modernizing world by embracing individualism, whereas others seek tightly knit collective means. Scholars have estimated that NRMs now number in the tens of thousands worldwide, with most of their members living in Asia and Africa. Most have only a few members, some have thousands, and a few have more than a million members.

Springfield (<i>The Simpsons</i>) Fictional city in the United States from the Simpsons universe

Springfield is a fictional town in the American animated sitcom The Simpsons, which serves as its main setting. A mid-sized town in an undetermined state of the United States, Springfield acts as a complete universe in which characters can explore the issues faced by modern society. The geography of the town and its surroundings are flexible, changing to address whatever an episode's plot calls for.

After Homer joins the cult, he moves his family to the Movementarian compound. Though defiant at first, all the Simpson children are converted to Movementarianism. Marge is the only family member to resist, and escapes from the heavily guarded compound. Outside, she finds Reverend Lovejoy, Ned Flanders, and Groundskeeper Willie, who have all resisted the Movementarians, and with their help, she tricks her family into leaving the compound with her. At the Flanders' home, Marge deprograms her kids by baiting them with fake hoverbikes and then works on Homer with a glass of beer. However, as a drop of beer lands on his tongue, he is recaptured by the Movementarians' lawyers.

Ned Flanders Fictional character from The Simpsons franchise

Nedward Flanders Jr. is a recurring fictional character in the animated television series The Simpsons. He is voiced by Harry Shearer, and first appeared in the series premiere episode "Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire". He is the extremely religious, good-natured, cheery next-door neighbor to the Simpson family and is generally envied and loathed by Homer Simpson. A scrupulous and devout Evangelical Christian, he is among the friendliest and most compassionate of Springfield's residents and is generally considered a pillar of the Springfield community. Ned Flanders appearance is based on Great Britain's Stuart Parker.

Groundskeeper Willie Fictional character from The Simpsons franchise

Dr. William MacDougal, better known as Groundskeeper Willie, is a recurring character on The Simpsons, voiced by Dan Castellaneta. He is the head groundskeeper at Springfield Elementary School. Willie is almost feral in nature and is immensely proud of his Scottish origin. He is easily identifiable by his red hair and beard, as well as his aggressive temperament and thick, unrealistic Scottish accent.

Deprogramming refers to measures that claim to assist a person who holds a controversial belief system in changing those beliefs and abandoning allegiance to the religious, political, economic, or social group associated with the belief system. The dictionary definition of deprogramming is "to free" or "to retrain" someone from specific beliefs. Some controversial methods and practices of self-identified "deprogrammers" have involved kidnapping, false imprisonment, and coercion, which have sometimes resulted in criminal convictions of the deprogrammers. Some deprogramming regimens are designed for individuals taken against their will, which has led to controversies over freedom of religion, kidnapping, and civil rights, as well as the violence which is sometimes involved.

Back at the compound, Homer reveals to a crowd of Movementarians that he is no longer brainwashed and opens the doors of the Forbidden Barn to expose the cult as a fraud, but he and the crowd are surprised to find an actual spaceship. However, the crude spaceship disintegrates as it takes flight, revealing The Leader on a pedal-powered aircraft fleeing with everyone's money. He then crashes into Cletus Spuckler's front yard, where Cletus forces him to give over the money at gunpoint. The Simpsons return home to watch Fox television.

Cletus Delroy Spuckler, commonly called Cletus the Slack-Jawed Yokel is a recurring character in the Fox animated series The Simpsons, voiced by Hank Azaria. Cletus is Springfield's resident hillbilly stereotype, and speaks with a Southern United States accent. He is usually portrayed wearing a white sleeveless shirt and blue jeans.


David Mirkin, executive producer of "The Joy of Sect", pitched the episode's plot. Davidmirkin.jpg
David Mirkin, executive producer of "The Joy of Sect", pitched the episode's plot.

The episode was the second and last episode written by Steve O'Donnell and was based on an idea from David Mirkin. Mirkin had been the show runner during seasons five and six, but had been brought back to run two episodes during the ninth season. He said he was attracted to the notion of parodying cults because they are "comical, interesting and twisted". [4] He conceived the episode after hearing a radio show about the history of cults whilst driving home one night. [5] The main group of writers that worked on the episode were Mirkin, O'Donnell, Jace Richdale, and Kevin Curran. The episode's title "The Joy of Sect" was pitched by Richdale. [4] Steven Dean Moore directed the episode. [6]

Aspects of the Movementarians were inspired by different cults and religions, including Scientology, Jim Jones and the Peoples Temple, the Heaven's Gate group, the Unification Church, the Oneida Society, and Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. [4] In particular, the leader driving through the fields in a Rolls Royce was partly inspired by the Bhagwans, and the notion of holding people inside the camp against their will was a reference to Jim Jones. [4] The name "Movementarians" itself was simply chosen for its awkward sound. [4] The scene during the six-hour orientation video where those who get up to leave are induced to stay through peer pressure and groupthink was a reference to the Unification Church and EST Training. [7] The show's producers acknowledged that the ending scene of the episode was a poke at Fox as "being the evil mind controlling network". [4] The episode's script was written in 1997, at roughly the same time that the members of the Heaven's Gate cult committed mass suicide. The writers noticed strange parallels between Mirkin's first draft and Heaven's Gate, including the belief in the arrival of a spaceship and the group's members wearing matching clothes and odd sneakers. [4] Because of these coincidences, several elements of the episode were changed so that it would be more sensitive in the wake of the suicides. [7]


Chris Turner's book Planet Simpson: How a Cartoon Masterpiece Defined a Generation describes the Movementarians as a cross between the Church of Scientology and Raëlism, with lesser influences from Sun Myung Moon and Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. [8] Planet Simpson also notes the Simpsons' chant at the conclusion of the episode as evidence of a "true high-growth quasi-religious cult of our time", referring to television. [8] The book refers to a "Cult of Pop", which it describes as "a fast growing mutation ersatz religion that has filled the gaping hole in the West's social fabric where organized religion used to be". [8] Martin Hunt of FACTnet notes several similarities between the Movementarians and the Church of Scientology. "The Leader" physically resembles L. Ron Hubbard; the Movementarians' "trillion-year labor contract" alludes to the (Scientology) Sea Org's billion-year contract; and both groups make extensive use of litigation. [9] The A.V. Club analyzes the episode in a piece called "Springfield joins a cult", comparing the Movementarians' plans to travel to "Blisstonia" to Heaven's Gate's promises of bliss after traveling to the comet Hale–Bopp. However, it also notes that "The Joy of Sect" is a commentary on organized religion in general, quoting Bart as saying, "Church, cult, cult, church. So we get bored someplace else every Sunday." [10] Planet Simpson discusses The Simpsons' approach to deprogramming in the episode, noting groundskeeper Willie's conversion to the philosophy of the Movementarians after learning about it while attempting to deprogram Homer. [8] Author Chris Turner suggests that Marge should have instead gone with the "Conformco Brain Deprogrammers" used in the episode "Burns' Heir" to convince Bart to leave Mr. Burns and come back home. [8]

In The Simpsons and Philosophy: The D'oh! of Homer , the authors cite "escaping from a cult commune in 'The Joy of Sect'" as evidence of "Aristotle's virtuous personality traits in Marge." [11] As the title suggests, the book The Psychology of the Simpsons: D'oh! examines "The Joy of Sect" from a psychological point of view. It discusses the psychology of decision-making in the episode, noting, "Homer is becoming a full-blown member of the Movementarians not by a rational choice, ... but through the process of escalating behavioral commitments." [12] The Psychology of the Simpsons explains the key recruitment techniques used by the Movementarians, including the charismatic leader, established authority based on a religious entity or alien being (in this case "Blisstonia"), and the method of taking away free choice through acceptance of the Leader's greatness. [12] The book also analyzes the techniques used during the six-hour Movementarian recruitment film. In that scene, those who rise to leave are reminded that they are allowed to leave whenever they wish. They are, however, questioned in front of the group as to specifically why they wish to leave, and these individuals end up staying to finish watching the film. [12] The book describes this technique as "subtle pressure", in contrast to the "razor wire, landmines, angry dogs, crocodiles and evil mystery bubble Marge confronts to escape, while being reminded again that she is certainly free to leave". [12] The Psychology of the Simpsons writes that "the Leader" is seen as an authority figure, because "he has knowledge or abilities that others do not, but want". [12] Instead of traditional mathematics textbooks, the children on the compound learn from Arithmetic the Leader's Way and Science for Leader Lovers. [13]

In Pinsky's The Gospel According to the Simpsons, one of the show's writers recounted to the author that the producers of The Simpsons had vetoed a planned episode on Scientology in fear of the Church's "reputation for suing and harassing opponents". [14] Pinsky found it ironic that Matt Groening spoofed Scientology in spite of the fact that the voice of Bart Simpson, Nancy Cartwright, is a Scientologist, [14] [15] having joined in 1996. [16] Pinsky notes that Groening later "took a shot at Scientology" in Futurama with the fictional religion "Church of Robotology". [14] Groening said he received a call from the Church of Scientology concerned about the use of a similar name. [17]

Cultural references

The episode contains several references to popular culture. The title of the episode is a spoof of the book The Joy of Sex by Alex Comfort.[ original research? ] When Marge attempts to leave the compound, she is chased by the Rover guard "balloon" from the 1967 television program The Prisoner . [3] [18] Neal Hefti and Nelson Riddle's theme music to the 1960s Batman series is used in the episode to indoctrinate Homer, [3] while "I Love You, You Love Me" sung by Barney the Dinosaur on the Barney and Friends / Barney and the Backyard Gang series is used to brainwash babies. When Mr. Burns introduces his new religion, most of the sequence is a parody of the promotional video of Michael Jackson's 1995 album HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book I . [4] Willie scratching his nails along the church window to get Marge and Reverend Lovejoy's attention is a reference to the 1975 film Jaws , in which the character Quint performs a similar action. [2] The Springfield Airport contains the "Just Crichton and King Bookstore", referencing Michael Crichton and Stephen King, authors famous for their airport novels, carrying only their works. [2]


In its original broadcast, "The Joy of Sect" finished 27th in ratings for the week of February 2–8, 1998, with a Nielsen rating of 9.6, equivalent to approximately 9.4 million viewing households. It was the fourth highest-rated show on the Fox network that week, following The X-Files , King of the Hill , and Ally McBeal . [19]

In a 2006 article in USA Today , "The Joy of Sect" was highlighted among six other episodes of The Simpsons season 9, along with "Trash of the Titans", "The Last Temptation of Krust", "The Cartridge Family", "Dumbbell Indemnity", and "Das Bus". [20] The A.V. Club featured the episode in its analysis of "15 Simpsons Moments That Perfectly Captured Their Eras". [10] The Daily Mirror gave the episode positive mention in its review of the Season 9 DVD release, calling it "hilarious". [21] Isaac Mitchell-Frey of the Herald Sun cited the episode as the highlight of the season. [22] The Sunday Mail highlighted the episode for their "Family Choice" segment, commenting: "Normally, a show about religious cults would spell doom and gloom. Only Bart, of The Simpsons, could make a comedy out of it but then, he and his cartoon family are a cult in their own right anyway!" [23]

Jeff Shalda of The Simpsons Archive used the episode as an example of one of the "good qualities present in The Simpsons", while analyzing why some other aspects of The Simpsons make Christians upset. [24] The authors of the book I Can't Believe It's a Bigger and Better Updated Unofficial Simpsons Guide commented that the episode was "an odd one" with "a lot of good moments", and went on to state that it was "a nice twist to see Burns determined to be loved". However, the book also noted that "The Joy of Sect" is "another one where the central joke isn't strong enough to last the whole episode". [3] In a lesson plan for St Mary's College, Durham titled An Introduction to Philosophy: The Wit and Wisdom of Lisa Simpson, the episode is described in a section on "False Prophets" as applicable for "... studying the more outrageous manifestations of 'religion' or those simply alert to the teachings of Christ on the subject". [25]

See also

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Further reading