Bart Simpson, the beleaguered "underachiever--and proud of it" cartoon character, has been revered among kids and reviled among some educators. But at Serrano Elementary School, Bart Simpson, antihero, is about to become Bart Simpson, anti-drug hero, man.
As part of this week's countywide Just Say No activities, Bart's googly eyed likeness will peer out from a button reading "Don't Use Drugs . . . Or Else" at Serrano Elementary starting today.
The button, which holds a magic-marker drawing of the star character of Fox Television's "The Simpsons" on a blue background, was designed by fifth-grader Alex Graham, 11, as part of an anti-drug button contest. School Principal Joseph Fortier, who approved the use of Bart's image, said 400 Bart buttons will be distributed to dudes and dudettes in the school.
"Even though Bart Simpson is a recalcitrant little boy, we knew Bart would support a 'Don't Use Drugs' message because they're bad," Fortier said.
Alex agreed. He said he believed that Bart would be against drug use "because it's stupid."
"He is stupid, but he's not that stupid," Alex said of the cartoon character that he watches "every week."
Antonia Coffman, a publicist for "The Simpsons," said Alex's portrait of Bart is technically a violation of copyright and trademark laws and thus illegal. But she added that in this instance, it is unlikely that the show's producers would ask the trademark police to raid the school.
"I'm sure they (the producers) are not objecting to it," Coffman said. "As for the principle of the thing, they're not going to object to it."
Alex's drawing was the winning entry for grades four to six at Serrano. Third-grader Kelly Switzler won the school contest for the lower grades with a button showing a broken heart emblazoned with the slogan, "Be Smart--Don't Start."
Fortier's approval of the Bart buttons was a sharp contrast to recent actions taken at nearby schools, where Bart's usual advice in the face of adversity--"Don't have a cow, man"--went unheeded by principals upset over Bart's rebellious rabble-rousing.
At Cambridge Elementary School in Orange, Principal Jamie Brown banished Bart after kids began showing up at school wearing T-shirts with Bart proclaiming, "Underachiever and proud of it" and "Hi, I'm Bart Simpson. Who the hell are you?" A similar action was ordered by La Habra City School District Supt. Richard Hermann.
Hermann could not be reached for comment. Brown said that his school's ban on Bart T-shirts stems from a school policy prohibiting offensive language and not from an anti-Bart bias.
"Nobody's on a campaign around here," he said.
Fortier said he agreed with the actions at Cambridge and in the La Habra district to some degree but added that he doesn't support a total ban on Bart. The "Who the hell are you?" shirts are not welcome on the Serrano campus, he said, but T-shirts simply bearing Bart's snarling face without messages that are "derogatory in nature" are cool, man.
As for the "underachiever" shirts, Fortier said: "That one I haven't decided on yet. I haven't seen anybody wearing one here. I would probably ask them to turn it inside out and not wear it again. It's promoting that underachieving is cool, and that's not what we're about."