The Simpsons, Season Nine, Episode Six, “The Cartridge Family”

The Simpsons has always been better at capturing the foibles of everyday human thinking than taking on broad social trends, ideas, and policies, and this episode is a great demonstration of that. As a commentary on American gun culture, it’s pretty milquetoast and comes off as an attempt to not offend anybody in particular, which to me is just as insufferable as trying to offend everybody and avoids a lot of the real truth about the American relationship with guns. I think the thing that bothers me most is the presentation of the NRA; whatever you might think of an individual gun owner or gun laws, it’s an organisation that has actively harmed the US population and has at best chosen to destablise politics in the name of ideology and at worst is a money-making scheme playing off and exacerbating the fear of the American public. One of the most annoying things about talking about satire specifically and politics in general is the notion of ‘objectivity’, which people often take to mean as ‘everyone is equally right/wrong and the truth always lies in the middle’. It annoys me because it’s an attitude that assumes a position of superiority over people who believe in things – for two almost opposing examples, you have news that presents both sides out of fear of alienating any viewer, and you have the criticism South Park has gotten for a nihilistic refusal to take a stance on anything (which I would suggest can be an expression of a fear of taking a side only to discover it was the wrong one). To me, true objectivity comes from acknowledging all the facts, even the ones you don’t like, and from there you decide how you feel about them all and what you’re going to do next, and good satire can show you all the facts in a way that’s easier to process.

On the other hand, this episode is a fantastic dive into the mind of a particular kind of gun owner, which is to say a particular kind of American. It’s thematically appropriate for this episode to open with its gag about Springfield being enthralled by soccer only to literally riot in the face of the reality of it, because that’s pretty much what the main plot is; Homer is enthralled with the image of a gun in his hand and never once stops to consider the reality of the situation, making him dangerous and foolish. This is what I meant by showing all the facts; any responsible gun owner has surely met at least one Homer (he reminds me of those guys pointing loaded guns at their crotches, to the horror of the majority of gun owners aware of them). More importantly, this is something that’s recognisable across situations and interests and cultures; I’ve seen video game nerds, hopeless romantics, parents, chefs, and teachers who were all more amused by the idea of what they were playing with than what was actually happening in front of them. Homer has clearly wandered into Jerkass territory here, but it works for me because a) it’s funny and b) it’s true to life. 

Chalkboard Gag: Everyone is tired of that Richard Gere story.
Couch Gag: The couch is full of water. The family run in, their butts on fire, and sit in the couch, sighing with relief.

This episode was written by John Swartzwelder and directed by Pete Michels. The idea had been floating around since Sam Simon pitched it in the first few seasons, and Mike Scully pitched a variant in season seven; this is the first he was showrunner for. As I assumed, the staff didn’t want to come down on either side (although in this case it was because the staff were pretty fairly divided themselves), but I have to admit, Scully’s point that the episode’s ‘message’ is that Homer shouldn’t own a gun is pretty funny. The referee is a caricature of the janitor at Film Roman, who also supplied Michels with all the trivia he needed to accurately capture the game.

I could not count the amount of times I’ve ripped off Hank Azaria’s delivery of “Yeah, well, ya don’t.” The characters drop a reference to “Who Shot Mr Burns?”, including the alternate ending. The kids racing a vibrating bed is one of those great Kid moments. To my great amusement, the NRA complained about the negative representation their organisation received in the episode.

The chalkboard gag is a reference to the urban legend that Richard Gere shoved a gerbil up his ass for sexual gratification. The gun shop is a reference to the gun shop the LAPD went to during the North Hollywood 1997 shootout. The title is a reference to The Partridge Family.

Iconic Moments: 3. “Five days? But I’m mad now!” | “And that’s how with a few minor adjustments, you can turn a regular gun into five guns.” | “I felt this incredible surge of power, like God must feel when he’s holding a gun.” | The image of Homer’s imaginary scenario of robbing the Quik-E-Mart has been used for a lot of things.
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