In season one, I criticised the muddled politics of an episode, and Ruck observed that surely a good story is more important than a coherent (or politically correct) message. I think this episode is the kind of thing he was talking about, because while the ‘message’ of the story is almost a half-hearted shrug, the story is a solid half-hour funny-line machine. After watching an episode of Itchy And Scratchy, Maggie is inspired to hit Homer on the head with a mallet. When Marge makes the connection between Maggie’s violent act and the violence on I&S, she begins a protest to cancel the show and remove the bad influence.
Clearly, this is in response to the controversies over season one of the show, in which children began imitating America’s bad boy, Bart. Really, this episode is the beginning of using Itchy And Scratchy as a stand-in for the show. What makes it work so well as an episode of television is how it never breaks the reality of the show – Marge isn’t a stand-in for any particular person, the controversy that breaks out is rooted in the kind of show Itchy And Scratchy actually is, and the outcome isn’t even close to what happened to The Simpsons in reality. It’s just a bunch of logical, yet ludicrous events playing out.
I actually really like this episode as a showcase for Marge as a comedic protagonist. She’s a straight-laced square, so it makes sense that she’d have no appreciation for Itchy & Scratchy, and it’s hilarious seeing her bounce of the cynicism of Roger Meyers Jr and the other members of the pro-cartoon camp (my favourite part being her suggestions for how to end a cartoon). But it also makes sense that she’d be in favour of Michaelangelo’s DaveDavid, and be forced to face up to the apparent contradiction in her thinking there.
The peek into the world of animating cartoons is really fun. We get to see an animator (based on Filmation animator Eddie Fitzgerald) get the idea for a cartoon when observing Marge, and see it go from a drawing to a full cartoon parodying the situation; we also see a few boardroom meetings with Roger Meyers Jr.
There’s also a satire of the outrage machine, with Marge, Meyers, Krusty (who ends up falling back onto clown habits with a camera on him), and Dr Marvin Munroe (who is sent to Vienna for almost no reason) all brought onto Smartline to have a discussion about cartoon violence, which ends up being a pointless argument that goes nowhere – the kind of “look at all points of view equally, no matter how moronic” journalistic style that arguably got America where it is today.
So, let’s look at the different situations presented to us. We have great violent cartoons, and we have kids inside watching them and picking up bad behaviour. We ban the kids from watching these cartoons, they just find another way to watch them. We make the great cartoons non-violent, they lose their greatness, and kids start playing outside in a utopia of childlike wonder, but we also lose great art, or more accurately we set people more irrational than us on great art. Marge publicly decides she’ll tolerate the existence of Itchy & Scratchy for the sake of Michelangelo’s David, which is apparently enough to restore the status quo.
The episode concludes with Marge and Homer seeing the statue of David (surprisingly, tackle out and all), with Marge upset that the kids will never come see it… until Homer delightedly points out the kids are being forced to see it by the school, which cheers her up. It’s kind of a half-assed observation that freedom of expression and art are good things, and that the ‘bad’ art is worth it for the ‘good’ art.
Chalkboard Gag: I will not pledge alliegence to Bart.
Couch Gag: The Simpsons run in to find the couch is missing.
This episode was written by John Swartzwelder and directed by Jim Reardon, who previous to this had only directed a student film violently parodying Peanuts, giving him a good basis for the episode. The scene where Maggie attacks Homer is a parody of Psycho. The montage of children playing was directed by Bob Anderson.
First Appearances: Roger Meyers Jr, Sideshow Mel