Moses Gets Animated

On South Park, Family Guy, The Simpsons, and Robot Chicken.

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Robot Chicken

Robot Chicken is an unusual animated series, done in claymation and stop-motion photography. There is no thematic thread among, or even within, the episodes, making it feel more like a twisted variety show than a typical animation. Each episode is often crude, violent, offensive, or just plain bizarre--surely points of pride for the creators.
Like on Family Guy, Moses on Robot Chicken is captured at the moment of bringing down and announcing the Ten Commandments. He is portrayed fairly stereotypically, perhaps by an actual "Moses" doll, and proudly declares to the people what he thinks are the commandments God has handed down. One anonymous young character at the foot of the mountain interrupts Moses, asking if there was “anything on there about not forcing your religion on other people.” When Moses replies with a forceful “no,” the character mutters, “Didn’t think so.”

Moses begins his recitation of the commandments, the first (and the only one he gets through, being “He who smelt it, dealt it.” There is an instant reaction from the group below, and a befuddled Moses wonders what’s going on as the segment reveals that this statement has no divine source, it was rather the work of “Dicks - With Time Machines.”

This sketch has a couple things to say to its viewers. First of all, it introduces a modern American value of the freedom of, and from, religion to this pivotal, deeply religious moment. The irreverent combination may simultaneously make the viewer laugh and stop to think about how much choice the band of Israelites actually had in accepting the commandments. Secondly, the sketch focuses on a scene that may feel familiar, when a spiritual leader makes everyone else laugh saying something he or she doesn’t realize is funny.

The Take-Away

When it comes right down to it, each of these episodes has little to do with the Bible. The shows are all aiming to illustrate larger points about human nature, and the familiar imagery of the Exodus is the perfect vehicle for making their respective points.

South Park invokes Moses not only to be goofy and satirical, but to take a jab at organized religion. Family Guy emphasizes that people never change. We whine, we complain, and we don't listen to directions. On top of that, no leader can really make us happy. Not even Moses Griffin.

The Simpsons criticizes people's willingness to take unexplainable phenomena at face value, demanding that we question our society and our education more often and more thoroughly. Robot Chicken reminds us that while in the Bible reverence seems to come naturally, today nothing is sacred, and an elevated state can easily be swept away with some juvenile humor.

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Miriam Brosseau

Miriam Brosseau is a musician and Jewish educator based in Chicago, IL. She and her husband, producer Alan Jay Sufrin, make up the "biblegum pop" duo Stereo Sinai.