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Tuesday, 6 August, 2002, 12:40 GMT 13:40 UK
How Ned Flanders became a role model
Ned Flanders and lookalike
Ned (on the er, left), with lookalike Dave Parkins

Ned Flanders, the endlessly optimistic neighbour of Homer Simpson, has emerged as an unlikely icon for churchgoers, who say they are embracing their inner nerds.
They are growing bushy moustaches, ironing their pink shirts, and practising their "Okelydokelies".

Christians from all over the UK are getting ready to take part in a night of celebration for the most ridiculed yellow person ever to walk the streets of Springfield.

Ned Flanders chic has arrived.

Thousands of churchgoers attending the annual Greenbelt festival later this month are expected to turn up at the Ned Flanders night, many dressed as Ned lookalikes, to party to the sound of tribute band Ned Zeppelin.

Homer Simpson
Ned and Homer on being neighbours (AP picture)

Ned: They're not perfect, but the Lord says "Love thy neighbour."
Homer: Shut up, Flanders.

The band's favourite track, Whole Lotta Ned, segues from one familiar theme song (Top of the Pops) into another (The Simpsons).

The night, organised by webzine Ship of Fools, is an opportunity for the churchgoers to have a laugh at themselves. But there is a serious edge to the event, which is now in its second year.

There really is something about Ned, says organiser Steve Goddard. "Ned is an innocent abroad in a world of cynicism and compromise. We love him because we know what it's like to be classed as a nerd - and to come out smiling at the end of it.

"We do know what it's like to be ridiculed and abused by the ignorant Homers of this world. We know what it's like to try to live simply, faithfully, boringly - and not necessarily see the reward for it."

It is one of the most subtle pieces of propaganda in the cause of sense, humility and virtue

Dr Rowan Williams on The Simpsons
The magazine has made a speciality of the friction between popular culture and Christianity, and it sees Ned as a classic icon which symbolises that clash, he says.

"What we love about Ned is that he knows what he believes and sticks by it. He might be over the top, and in a sense we celebrate his bizarre excesses, but he's not guilty of the one thing that many people criticise Christians for - he's not a hypocrite."

Church links

Links between religion and the Simpsons appear to be growing all the time. After it was announced that Dr Rowan Williams was to be the next Archbishop of Canterbury, a newspaper presented him with a boxful of Simpsons merchandise - he is an avowed fan.

And next week, a ten-week Simpsons study guide is being launched in the US for Sunday Schools. It involves watching eight episodes and then talking about some of the moral dilemmas raised. Publication in the UK is planned for December.

Archbishop of Canterbury-elect Rowan Williams
Dr Rowan Williams: Self-declared fan
American writer Mark Pinsky, author of the Gospel According to The Simpsons - which analyses the moral messages behind the cartoon - says churchgoing students in US universities also seemed to consider Ned Flanders an icon.

"On the surface he's a doofus, a goody-two-shoes, but he's such a basically decent and good character that as often as Homer and others heap scorn on him and mock him, he returns it with love, which in my view is the essence of Christianity," he told BBC News Online.

"Christian college kids here in the US seem to have adopted him. It shows they have a sense of humour about themselves, that they are really in on the joke. I think that's one of the things that makes Ned so appealing."

Pinsky said the producers of The Simpsons were initially a bit cool towards his work.

"At first they were a little embarrassed, what with their reputation for being edgy, cynical and sarcastic. But I think after a while they thought it was nothing to be ashamed of, to give religion and faith and spirituality a fair go from time to time."

Your comments so far:

I am not sure that Ned Flanders isn't a hypocrite. One thing that the Bible makes a big point of is not setting out to display your piety, which Ned Flanders does all the time. I would say makes him even worse than a non-believer.
Graeme Phillips, UK

I find this story encouraging as it displays a symbiosis between popular culture and a major faith, which neither the faithful nor the programmers could have predicted. It is important for people to see themselves and their beliefs as other people see them, and the Simpsons does this, for both the Neds and the Homers of the world.
Christie Williamson, Scotland

Graeme - I don't think you're right about Ned displaying piety. It was more like Maude Flanders and the kids who were the worst offenders. Ned is far too much the innocent to act pious.
Jamie, UK

Halleluyah! Ned's a hero, a decent fantastic character! Luckily not all Christians are like him, but he sets a fine example, and shows that his geeky style is to be respected. Just a shame he doesn't get more funny lines.
Richard Smith, UK

As a Christian myself I find it a bit sad people are turning to ol' Neddie as an iconic figure. I can sympathise with their choice since I know exactly what it's like to be mocked by the ignorant and misinformed but in my opinion it shows the lack of true Christian role models there are in the UK today who set a really strong, public example of what it means to be a Christian.
Gordon McRae, Scotland

The point about Ned Flanders is not that he's a role model for Christian virtues, but that he's representative of Homer's aspirations. Ned lives the life that Homer unwittingly wants to lead, which is why Homer abhors him. He has a close-knit, tranquil family; a good job that he then gives up to start his own successful (and planned) business; enough time and money to take his family to ideal locations; a passive outlook on life. Homer meanwhile is the opposite of these things but is always striving towards them. He tries to build a loving family, is a committed church-goer, has numerous unsuccessful business ventures and wherever he goes on holiday, there's Ned. To be like Ned is to be the envy of someone who strives.
Philippe Parker, UK

In my view, Homer Simpson himself is a more useful, and more realistic role model. Whilst, like us all, he is perpetually tempted to transgress the moral line, so often he ends up doing the "right" thing. Infact, he often ends up helping Ned.
Jack Delawney, UK

All I know is that before the Simpsons I had no moustache and after the Simpsons I do. Flanders is a kind of social anti-hero, he does all the things that people believe are 'uncool' and ends up being loved for it (by everyone but Homer).
Stephen Allen, UK

I think they have some how missed the point. Ned is an example of the unquestioning blind follower of organised religion. Surely Lisa, with her huge inquisitiveness would be a better icon?
Andy C, UK

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