Today's essay is about the 1995 Christmas episode "Marge Be Not Proud" from the animated series The Simpsons. This essay is written by Dominic Caruso, the editor/publisher of 1701 Press. I think editing three books about Christmas entertainment has made him a fan of the genre!
Although there are now numerous irreverent (and sometimes funny) animated shows on TV, for a long time The Simpsons was the only game in town. As far as I’m concerned, many of the episodes are among the funniest and most insightful shows ever aired on TV. What sets the The Simpsons apart is that it often goes beyond being funny to include a great sense of humanity. This is especially true of the 1995 Christmas episode, “Marge Be Not Proud,” from the show’s seventh season.
The premise of the episode is standard: the child (Bart) goes to great lengths to get the must-have toy of the Christmas season. In this case the toy is an ulta-violent video game called Bonestorm. The commercial that seduces Bart is hilarious and pretty apt--a Terminator-esque Santa fires the game cartridge into a game console with a bazooka. Footage of the game itself features muscle bound monsters with six arms pummeling each other amidst indiscriminate explosions and showers of blood.
|Bart and Lisa watch A Krusty Kinda Kristmas Christmas TV Special, with special guests Dallas Cowboys coach Tom Landry, and South American star Xoxchitla!|
But Bart goes too far in trying to acquire the coveted videogame, getting caught shoplifting from the local big box department store. When his mom, Marge, discovers Bart’s transgression as the family is trying to get their Christmas portrait taken at the same store, her image of Bart as an innocent, loving little boy is shattered. Eventually, Bart feels Marge’s sadness and disappointment in him more pointedly than any typical punishment. He comes to realize that he’s really hurt his mother and goes to great lengths to make things right again by doing something he considers uncool. He pays for a nice Christmas portrait of himself to give to Marge for Christmas.
|Bart wrestles with his conscience. Only golfer Lee Carvallo urges him not to take the videogame. “Don’t do it son. How’s that going to help your putting?”|
What I like about The Simpsons is the show’s ability to combine remarkably human family stories about love, trust, and forgiveness with consistently funny jokes, parodies, and even provocative satire. “Marge Be Not Proud” is an especially touching episode for me. I always connected with the story of how Bart hurts his mother by doing something that damages her belief in him as a good boy. I think his expression of regret once he realizes what he’s done is incredibly powerful--it’s something we don’t see on TV all that often, but it’s certainly a feeling we’ve all had. I also really like the resolution. Bart works hard to make up for what he’s done. He does some soul searching and makes a decision about what kind of kid he wants to go forward as, and what kind of relationship he wants to have with his mom. The story is a strong affirmation of the possibility of redemption at Christmas time, and that’s something that resonates for me.
|Bart’s present from Marge is revealed to be a less exciting videogame: “Lee Carvallo’s Putting Challenge,” but Bart is so happy to be back in his mom’s good graces that he pretends to like the gift.|
This episode also does a great job of capturing a moment that most families experience. Bart’s at the age when he chafes beneath Marge’s motherly affections for him. He’s too old for her mushy good-night ritual of tucking him in bed with a song and kisses. Later, he discovers that he needs his mother’s love and for her to believe in him as a good person.
Of course, like most Simpsons episodes, “Marge Be Not Proud” is filled with funny jokes. I love that Bart and Lisa watch “A Krusty Kinda Kristmas,” a parody of the kind of old-school Christmas specials in which a Hollywood star invites the viewing audience into their “home” for a Christmas celebration with special guest stars who visit. Krusty’s guests include football coach Tom Landry, and a South American performer whose name Krusty can’t pronounce. When Bart is caught shoplifting, the hardboiled store detective--voiced by equally hardboiled character actor Lawrence Tierney--asserts that young shoplifters grow up to be thieves who steal bigger things, like “stadiums and quarries.” Springfield bully Nelson Muntz has one of the funniest lines, referring to shoplifting as “a victimless crime, like punching someone in the dark!”
I also love Homer’s unwittingly hilarious lecture about the evils of shoplifting: “We live in a society of laws. Why do you think I took you to all those Police Academy movies? For fun? Well, I didn’t hear anybody laughing!”
For me, this episode has it all: a great sense of humor, and a message of family, hope, and redemption at Christmas that isn’t manufactured, but feels authentic and true to experience.