Last time on Escape From Springfield, we looked at the fraught parent/child relationships The Simpsons employs, and how the stories often arise from the subversion of “father knows best.” However, one topic I didn’t speak as much about was the gender dynamics of the show’s first season, and whose stories were being told. Today, as in Season 2, we rectify that.
Despite being a subversion of family sitcoms in some ways, with its approach, the show is often remarkably traditional. Within each episodic format, we have a beginning, middle, and end, typically with an A plot focused on the trials and tribulations of one particular character (usually in Season 1, Bart or Homer). Season 2 has its fair share of these two as leads as well, but with additional room made for Marge and Lisa.
The character designs of each Simpson, from a writing perspective, each follow a classic, archetypal form. One familiar archetype, the four humours, is an ancient method of understanding personalities and temperaments. Though based in pseudoscience, the humours can help to build a rounded cast of varied personalities. In the four humours, the archetypes which manifest are melancholic (sad), phlegmatic (fluid), sanguine (hysterical), and choleric (chaotic). Each of these matches closely to one of the family members: Lisa as melancholic, Marge as phlegmatic, Homer as sanguine, and Bart, oh Bart, as choleric.
Basing the early episodes around Homer and Bart leads to Season 1 of The Simpsons often feeling a bit surreally unmoored, given to flights of fancy from indulging in our most chaotic and most melodramatic. By Season 2, the additional focus on the dramatic/melancholic (and by that token the receptive/phlegmatic), with additional Lisa and Marge storylines helps the show start feeling more cohesive than the sum of parts approach of Season 1, despite how damn fun it was.
Last time, we focused on “Krusty Gets Busted,” and the negative influence of the show within the show, Krusty the Clown. However, Season 2’s Krusty the Clown-focused episode proves interesting on a character level rather than a merely metatextual one. In the episode, Marge becomes disturbed by “Itchy and Scratchy,” the show within Krusty the Clown (another funny meta-textual way for the show to self-examine). Marge’s reaction to Itchy and Scratchy comes after Maggie hits Homer over the head with a mallet, injuring him more than previously shown in the show. Marge crusades for nonviolence in children’s programming, leading to children around Springfield abandoning T.V. As the town gets more pro-censorship, Marge pushes back against the idea of censoring the statue of Michaelangelo’s David, causing the town to call her out as a hypocrite. Marge ultimately folds into the no-censorship camp, but really the fact she was willing to revise her perspective in the first place is indicative of her phlegmatic nature. She fluidly transitions from one position on the ethics of censorship to the other, not because she gives in to the pressure of her family, but because she is able to intake and comprehend alternative philosophies, and work to synthesize new positions from her thesis and antithesis. The show’s willingness to walk such a path is indicative of the staff learning and growing, and starting one of the most popular runs of TV history. But as the finale so succinctly states,
“Perhaps there is no moral.”
“Exactly! Just stuff that happened.”
“But it was a memorable few days.”
“Amen to that!”
Ben Shahon is a writer whose work has appeared in various literary journals both online and in print, including Taco Bell Quarterly, Neuro Logical, and here at The Daily Drunk. He is a graduate of ASU in English and Philosophy, and holds an MFA from Emerson College. Ben currently lives and works in the Boston area. Ben wakes up in the morning, and pours coffee in his mug.