The Simpsons, Season Seven, Episode Fourteen, “Scenes From The Class Struggle In Springfield”

I think there are very few Simpsons episodes where my reaction has so radically evolved over the years the way it has with this one. That’s the strange thing about art – you get older and change and it stays the same, like your own personal picture of Dorian Gray. I remember this being one of the hard ones to watch when I was a kid, and much of that can be rooted in the scene where Marge yells at Lisa while she’s trying to work; I was a sensitive child who did not much care for being yelled at in general, and I suspect the fact that Lisa was just generally being enthusiastic in a kid-like way made it more familiar and therefore much worse. In that respect, this is definitely one of the best Lisa/Marge episodes because it hits so many different notes within the idea of Lisa acting as Marge’s innocent source of inspiration. This whole story begins with Lisa doing her usual thing and encouraging her to make herself happy for a change; in the scene in which she yells at her, Lisa becomes the innocent victim of Marge’s increasing obsession; in one of the last scenes, Lisa pokes at the holes in Marge’s lie and, even better, is doing it for the same reason she pushed Marge into buying the original dress in the first place – because she loves her mother and is honestly proud of her.

But then, when I watched this while collecting the series on DVD in 2014, I found myself sympathising strongly with Marge. This was after years of studying feminist thought and reflecting on my own experiences with women; not that I was ever, like, against Marge, but it was easier to see things from her point of view and recognise how hard she worked and how rarely she ever takes anything she wants, and it seems unfair of the family to not at least try to rally behind her for a change. Fundamentally, all Marge has ever really wanted was to fit in; her life is an extreme example of that, where she’s trapped in a rut that makes nobody particularly happy and makes her into a tepid, (hilariously) boring dork. It’s hard not to sympathise with her finding a place that, cutting remarks aside, is willing to totally accept her, and to be frustrated at her family for not caring. But then, when I watched this time, a good (oh god help me) five years later, it became easier to see the serious mistakes Marge was making. There’s the obvious main moral of the story, “I wouldn’t want to be part of any club that would want this me a member.” I’ve aged enough and gone through enough friend groups to better recognise that old kids’ show moral of how much of yourself you’re willing to change for the sake of friends and a sense of fitting in; if one must spend either a lot of money or time on outfits to fit in, that group probably isn’t worth fitting into. Sadly, I think that’s something you have to experience, sometimes over and over, to really understand.

More importantly, though, is a greater understanding of class. This is where I admit I my personal limitations as a critic. I like to think I have a pretty solid grasp of, like, the politics of gender and sexuality; it’s always put into perspective when I watch people struggle with the meaning and usage of the word ‘cis’. But economics is something I struggle with; I can understand the general idea of economic unfairness and the way the rich make as much money as possible at the expense of the quality of life of everyone else while struggling with specific nuances and policies (specific example: I know universal healthcare is good but am completely unable to argue why beyond vaguely gesturing at America and vaguely gesturing at Sweden). But even I can grasp the way the country club plays into Marge’s insecurities and makes her associate money with quality of character, even in smaller, esoteric ways, and how the club members are actually pretty terrible people, the joke about their niceness at the end notwithstanding. It kind of plays into the character work in how these forces work in part because they play on everyday insecurities and the need to be accepted, and how personal happiness and morally positive economic structures can be tied in together. I suppose this is Marge’s version of “Homer And The Eighth Commandment” – a demonstration of how the personal and the political tie together.

Chalkboard Gag: N/A
Couch Gag: The family are glowing neon until Homer turns on the light.

This episode is written by Jennifer Crittenden and directed by Susie Dietter, making it the first to be written and directed by women. The script was much longer, and become much more serious when they tossed out a lot of throwaway gags. Tom Kite guest stars as himself, and he enjoyed himself, joking that he was worried about Homer’s swing being better than his own.

I enjoy the organic way Homer’s golf plot with Mr Burns grows out the plot, and even ties into it when Homer is driven by Marge’s interest in the club.

The title is a reference to Scenes From The Class Struggle In Beverly Hills. Marge’s outfit was a mixture of an actual Chanel suit and the dresses worn by Jackie Onassis. 

Iconic Moments: 3. “What’s the point of going out? We’re just gonna wind up back here anyway.” | “Mmm. Open-faced club sandwich.” | “For once maybe someone will call me sir without adding ‘you’re making a scene’.”
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