SSR #22: “Itchy & Scratchy & Marge”

Introduction:
Are cartoons really that violent? I mean, the last episode I looked at was the episode where Homer plummeted down Springfield Gorge twice and ended up bloodied and in a full-body cast. Aside from that though, I’d say The Simpsons is a pretty tame show. We can also take a look at shows like Looney Tunes where the bad guy gets endlessly tormented by the evasive good guy, but even those shows haven’t felt incredibly violent either. However, when it comes to The Simpsons version of Looney Tunes; Itchy & Scratchy…I can start to see where some parents, much like Marge Simpson, might have some issues. And today, we are going to see what her issues are in the episode; “Itchy & Scratchy & Marge.”

“Itchy & Scratchy & Marge” is the ninth episode of Season 2 to be written and aired, and it was first shown on December 20th, 1990, making it the last episode to air in 1990. The chalkboard gag for this episode is “I will not pledge allegiance to Bart,” something I feel like a lot of kids during this day and age were doing on a regular basis. The couch gag features the entire family coming into the living room with no couch in sight as the entire family looks around in confusion for where the piece of furniture ended up.

“Keep her away from me, Marge! She’s got that crazy look in her eyes again!”
~Homer Simpson

Plot:
After admiring his wife’s skill at cooking pork chops, Homer decides to do something nice for Marge and build her a spice rack, so she can more easily keep track of all of her ingredients. However, as Homer is finishing his task, Maggie sneaks up behind Homer in the garage and strikes him on the head with a mallet, injuring him. While trying to figure out what prompted Maggie to attack her father in such a violent fashion, Marge notices that Maggie is emulating a lot of the same violent tendencies being shown on the “Itchy & Scratchy” television show. This prompts Marge into forbidding Bart and Lisa from watching Itchy & Scratchy and puts herself on a personal quest to find out how violent these cartoons actually are.

After some research, Marge decides to write letters to all the television hosts and producers, asking them to stop showing these violent cartoons, or at the very least, stop making them so violent. Most of the recipients ignore Marge’s requests, but Roger Meyers Jr., the current producer of Itchy & Scratchy, decides to respond back with his refusal, claiming that not a single person can make that much of a difference, no matter how big of screwball they may be. This angers Marge and leads her into protesting against cartoon violence; forming a new protest group known as S.N.U.H (Springfieldians for Nonviolence, Understanding and Helping).

Marge’s efforts start gaining support and her protests continue to get bigger over time. However, Bart and Lisa still manage to find ways to watch their cartoons and Roger Meyers and the other cartoonists are not backing down either. Both Marge and Roger Meyers are invited to appear on Smartline, a late night talk show program. During the broadcast, despite being interrupted constantly and featuring a number of other panelists who aren’t against cartoon violence whatsoever, Marge makes a plea to the viewers and asks that anyone against cartoon violence to write in and show their disapproval at the violent cartoon shorts. Like clockwork, Itchy & Scratchy Studios are swarmed with thousands and thousands of angry letters and Meyers is stunned at Marge’s results.

With help from Marge, Meyers and the rest of the Itchy & Scratchy team create a new version of Itchy & Scratchy, one that is less violent and teaches children about sharing and being kind to others. This new era falls flat with the cartoon’s core audience and none of the kids want to watch the show anymore. This leads to all of the children going outside, getting more exercise, participating in more wholesome activities, and in general, becoming more well-mannered, resourceful and helpful. In other words, even though Marge has completely ruined Itchy & Scratchy, it seems as if her efforts did some good after all in making the world a better place for children.

Meanwhile, in Italy (no, I am not joking when I say that), the curators for Michelangelo’s David decide to take the statue on a nationwide tour of the United States, stopping by Springfield as one of their tour locations. This gets the members of S.N.U.H. up in arms about the statue due to its graphic nudity, but Marge has no interest in protesting the statue because she thinks it is a masterpiece and thinks everybody should see the statue for it’s impact in the world of art. She is invited back on Smartline again to talk about the issue, but she continues to speak in favor of and in support of the statue being shown in public. Dr. Marvin Monroe, the other panelist, remarks on the hypocrisy of Marge, wondering how she can be in favor of censoring cartoon violence in such an aggressive manner, but also be against the censoring of the naked work of art. This leads Marge to realize that while she has proven that one person can make a difference in the world, it’s probably best that they shouldn’t, because of situations of this nature.

As a result of this development, Michelangelo’s David is allowed to be shown in Springfield, but violent cartoons are also put back on the air. Children stop playing outside and return to their living rooms to watch the violent cartoons, and all of Marge’s progress has been undone. While going to see the statue with Homer, Marge laments on how none of the children are going to be able to see the masterpiece that is Michelangelo’s David. However, Homer reminds Marge that every kid who goes to Springfield Elementary will end up seeing the statue anyway because they will likely force them into seeing it on their next field trip, which makes Marge happy and ends the episode on a rather sweet and humorous note.

S.N.U.H’s Protest Rally
(Moe’s sign: “Bring back Wagon Train”)

Personal History:
This was strangely another episode of the show that didn’t appear on my Simpsons VHS tape. I find this strange because it’s right in the middle of several episodes that were on my VHS tape, so it makes me wonder how the heck it wasn’t included. I guess my parents just forgot to record the episode or something? I have no idea. Either way, I have to say, although there was an interest to see what exactly this episode would consist of, I wouldn’t say I was as invested as I was in seeing other episodes that were missing from my Simpsons viewing experience. Just from the title alone, I had a pretty strong feeling on what the episode would be about as I’ve seen numerous episodes from other shows that featured this very same subject matter. In fact, I can draw a lot of parallels between this episode and an early episode of South Park where Kyle’s mom tried to get Terrance & Phillip off the air because of how crude the humor was. So because of this, I had a pretty good idea of what to expect; just with less of the crude South Park humor, obviously. And because of that, when I eventually got the season 2 DVD, this was an episode I found myself skipping on a pretty regular basis. For better or for worse? We’ll get to that in just a minute.

Meyers: “That screwball Marge Simpson, we’ve got to stop her. But how?”
Man #1: “Drop an anvil on her?”
Man #2: “Hit her on the head with a piano.”
Woman: “Stuff her full of TNT, then throw a match down her throat and run?
Meyers: “All your fancy degrees and that’s the best you can do? You make me sick!”

Favorite/Memorable Moments:
When it comes to the first act, honestly I think my favorite parts are just watching how intent Maggie is in trying to bring harm onto Homer. I can see it being kind of creepy to some, but to me, I just find it fascinating that after seeing something violent on television, Homer is the first person Maggie turns her attention to. Even later on in the episode when the cartoons are no longer violent, Maggie brings a glass of lemonade to Homer, in which he first reacts in fear just due to what she has done to him prior in the episode. It’s a pretty funny gag and something I always enjoy when I watch this episode. Just the fact that Maggie’s last scene in this episode is her firing a suction-cup toy dart-gun at a picture of Homer was just the most perfect way to end the storyline.

I wouldn’t say the second, or heck, even the third act, bring as much humor as the first act, and even then, I wouldn’t say the first act screams hilarity either. This was an episode that I think wanted to spend more time on its story and message as opposed to cramming in joke after joke after joke, and I think this episode does a pretty good job with that. And even then, I wouldn’t say there is nothing to laugh about or nothing to be entertained by here; the funny just comes at specific points to remind you that you are still watching a nonfictional cartoon show. Whether it’s Homer laughing at a cartoon squirrel being decapitated, unaware that the character in question was supposed to represent his wife, or Krusty the Clown during the Smartline interview, where he’s just so prone to acting and doing his clown routine in front of a live camera, so much that he can’t focus on the discussion that’s going on, there are definitely some humorous moments here. In a way, it’s kind of brilliant that the episode creates these funny moments when there is actually a pretty relevant and interesting topic of discussion in play, but at the same time, the humor isn’t downplaying the issue either. It’s a very good balance.

In the final act, it’s actually pretty humorous to see how bad the new Itchy & Scratchy cartoons are. Sure, they teach children about sharing and caring, but the voices of the characters are just so monotone, the animation is incredibly boring, and the entire production is just so laughably bad that I get a chuckle just from seeing how that, of all things, is what they ultimately determined was good enough to put on the air for children to watch. At the same time though, that was most definitely the point the writers were going for and I think it worked very well in its execution. Cartoons, and television in general for that matter, always seem to be the easy target for the whole “corruption of youth” debate, and while I do think there are some aspects of television that could be cleaned up a bit for younger viewers, I don’t think making everything generically clean and statically boring is a solution to that problem and is something that the Marge Simpsons of the world don’t quite understand. There is nothing wrong with a child having a sense of humor about something and sometimes the silly, slapstick antics of Looney Tunes and other cartoon shows for that matter, can be quite entertaining, and believe it or not, just because kids find it funny, doesn’t necessarily mean they want to go outside and drop a 500-ton anvil on someone else’s head. If they do, I have a hard time finding fault with cartoons when perhaps maybe the parental figures should feel responsible for not imparting a level of reality or common sense to their own children.

Also, in regards to Marge, since this is very much a Marge episode; I have to say I think this was a very well-tailored episode to her character. You see the aspects of Marge that you would normally expect; the mother trying to protect her kids from the evils of the world, when in reality she might be a bit too overprotective, and the do-good housewife who just wants to see everyone get along. However, you also see some sides to Marge that are actually kind of fresh and interesting. For one, I love seeing Marge angry in this episode. Let’s be real, Marge’s demands in this episode are a bit too out there and unreasonable, however, when Roger Meyers Jr. starts mocking her because of her demands, you can tell that Marge doesn’t exactly appreciate that and it only seems to push her harder into wanting to accomplish her ultimate goal. I think that’s incredibly admirable of her and, agree with her or not, shows that she is not one to be underestimated or mocked in that fashion, so more power to her in those respects. Also, although it will not be outright stated until a future episode of this season, I do like how this episode touched on Marge’s fascination with art in regards to her appreciation of Michelangelo’s David. We’ll find out more about this passion in a future Season 2 episode, “Brush with Greatness,” but it’s fun taking a look at this episode and seeing that connection made early.

I also just really like the statement Marge makes near the end of the episode; “I guess one person can make a difference, but most of the time they probably shouldn’t.” I don’t know why, but that statement as always stood out to me as a wise piece of advice, which is strange, because on first read, it almost seems like it’s implying that people shouldn’t try to change the world. However, I think it’s less about people making a difference to make the world a better place, and more about how people shouldn’t really have the sole authority or power to make that call on their own volition.  I mean, take a look at American government for example (or at the very least, the theory for how the American government works, as to not start discussion in regards to current American politics). The president, although he is seen as the most powerful man in the country, doesn’t have the sole power to make all the decisions himself. The other branches of government have the power to keep the executive branch in check so that one person doesn’t have the power to do whatever the hell he or she wants. That’s the reason for why this system was made and I think it’s a very good system when it works. Getting back to the episode, while I do agree that some cartoons could be less violent for kids, completely removing or eliminating the concept of cartoon violence is an incredibly short-sighted call that I don’t think Marge had any right to make, even if her concern is justifiable. Then, when the cartoons were cleaned up, the other members of S.N.U.H. just logically assumed Marge was the voice against media indecency and figured that she would also protest against Michelangelo’s piece, when in reality that was a completely different situation that Marge had no problem with. This is where her hypocrisy started to set in; although I personally wouldn’t call it hypocrisy, more of just a difference of opinion. However, because she was in that leadership role, many other Springfieldians saw it as Marge having her cake and eating it too, which is why the cartoon violence crusade ended up being reversed. So yeah, in matters of personal opinion, I think there is a lot of value to that quote. You may not like something or you may have a strong opinion against something, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that your thoughts are the only thoughts that matter, so that has always stuck with me as a piece of advice worth remembering for the future, when I first saw this episode.

Homer: “Pretty soon, every boy and girl in Springfield Elementary School is going to come and see this thing.”
Marge: “Really? Why?”
Homer: “They’re forcing ’em! (laughter)”

My Review:
While I wasn’t too crazy about this episode when I first saw it, it has kind of grown on me in a lot of ways and I do think it’s a pretty solid Marge storyline, especially this early on the series. Although I don’t necessarily agree with her motives or methods, you do see glimpses of the type of world Marge wants to create, and all things considered, that world of hers is actually kind of nice and you feel bad for her that it gets taken away at the very end. As I’ve explained already, I also think the episode has some pretty strong messages. For one, kids being influenced by cartoon violence is a very dangerous thing. Homer had that bandage over his head for the entire episode not just for show; he got legitimately and physically hurt in this episode and I wouldn’t put it past young and impressionable kids to think that level of violence is fine; after all, it gets laughs, right? Second, while there is value to trying to make the world a better place, it should probably be done through charity or generous action as opposed to pushing your own agenda based on your own opinions or viewpoints. After all, I’m not a drinker, and I do think alcohol consumption can be dangerous if not done in moderation or not done in a controlled environment, but I’m not going to push for the ban of alcohol just because I don’t want to drink. That’s not fair to those who do enjoy drinking and who do have a handle on it. I do not and should not have that power, much like Marge doesn’t and shouldn’t have the power of what should be censored in media.

I don’t think it’s the best episode of Season 2, but I have to say, I am pleasantly surprised to be saying that I do think it’s on the higher tiers of Season 2. And let’s not forget, this is coming from someone who, on occasion, skipped this episode on season re-watches. This episode really caught me off-guard when I really started analyzing it and realized there was a lot going on here that I never really gave it credit for. It’s not the funniest episode or the most emotionally-driven episode, but it’s pretty brilliant in what it tries to accomplish here and I had a lot of fun going back to it and taking a deeper look inside. Some could argue that needing to take such a detailed look is not really a great advantage, because not everybody views or watches television shows in that way. That is a very fair point, and something to consider as well. Again, that’s why I emphasize that while I do think it’s a clever episode, doesn’t mean I think it’s an amazing episode; it’s just written in a very smart way.

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My apologies for how long this episode took to get out there. I had a very busy holiday season and as soon as the new year started, I went straight to AGDQ 2019 for an entire week, so safe to say I’ve been too occupied with time to watch any Simpsons episodes. However, with AGDQ over and my new Youtube schedule being implemented, that should give me some more time to work on this, so hopefully my initially-planned weekly updates can continue from here. Next time, I’ll be looking at the episode, “Bart Gets Hit by a Car.” I wonder what’s going to happen in that episode…

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