I shouldn’t bother to write about this, but it’s either a Marge Simpson gets naked for Playboy post or a Miss Farrell doesn’t get naked on Mad Men post, and my brother Luke Mannion has already warned me I write too much about Mad Men.
The idea that beneath her tubular dresses Marge Simpson is concealing the body of a centerfold is like the idea that if you removed the crayon from his brain Homer would revert to his true self, his mother’s son, a heroic and altruistic genius---it’s a joke behind the joke, not funny in itself but it gives a twist to conceits that might have grown tired without that twist. The crayon explains everything about Homer. Whenever he takes his cheerfully clueless and utterly destructive idiocy to a new level or whenever the opposite happens and he says or does something intelligent, noble, and moral, we know that the crayon has shifted.
In The Simpsons Movie, asked what fool thing he’s up to this time, Homer replies, “Risking my life for people hate for reasons I don’t quite understand.” But we understand. The real Homer Simpson, hero-at-large, is leaking out around the powder blue Crayola.
Everything about Marge Simpson as a woman would seem to be summed up in that stovepipe hairdo. Marge, apparently tall and rigid, perpendicular to the extreme, can be seen as literally the straight woman to Homer’s doughy, well-rounded, squishily undefined blob of rolling appetite and id. Homer has no boundaries. He expands to fill whatever space he’s given. Marge is as straight and plumb and as unbudgeable as a bar on a cell door. She is the line that Homer should never cross.
But what if that hair isn’t a continuation of the stove pipe? What if it’s the smoke rising up from the hot oven blazing away inside?
What if the joke isn’t how it looks but how she thinks it looks? What if Marge sees her hair as what I’m suggesting it symbolizes, an expression of her sexiness?
Sex is one of the few aspects of human life The Simpsons generally shies away from. I haven’t watched every single episode so I’ve probably missed a few that undermine my point, but based on what I have seen, I think the writers know better. They know their own creation. They know they can’t approach sex unless they do it in the same Rabelaisian spirit with which they tackle everything else. The fundamental premise of the humor on The Simpsons is that Homer is not an aberration or a monster or mutant or even an original. He is just everybody else in Springfield writ large. People are funny because they are like Homer, foolish, stupid, greedy, gluttonous, and, well, kind of disgusting.
This is fine if the joke about a character stuffing himself with donuts or guzzling beer. It’s fine if the joke is about the excretory bodily functions. It’s fine if the point of the joke is to puncture egos, reveal vanities, deflate the pompous, and make fools of the pretentious and self-deluded. It can be good to be reminded that people are at their most basic herds of dumb animals blundering from one water hole to the next, driven by appetites and needs more than by anything resembling real thought, let alone idealism or noble dreams.
But it’s not the way a liberal and enlightened audience wants to see sex.
We don’t mind seeing ourselves being made to look like hypocritical or superstitious fools at prayer. But we don’t want to see ourselves being made to look foolish in bed.
We can tolerate the suggestion that we’re disgusting to watch when we’re eating spaghetti or slurping soup. We would recoil in horror to have to see ourselves portrayed as ugly and ridiculous, as no sexier or soulful or romantic than rutting pigs, when we’re naked and in a lover’s embrace.
I’m not saying this isn’t or shouldn’t ever be done. It’s pretty much the rule on Family Guy where all sex is treated as ridiculous and as basically an expression of insanity to the point that the idea that Brian, the family dog, and Lois Griffin could become romantically involved is passed off as a reason to sympathize with Brian. The poor dog is carrying a torch for his mistress and the only reason his love goes unrequited is that Lois is foolishly loyal to her undeserving human husband.
Sex with Brian is out for Lois because it would be adulterous. She appears to have no qualms about bestiality, and why should she, considering the way the show portrays all its human male characters?
But on The Simpsons, sex isn’t disgusting and can’t be, because, as foolish, selfish, stupid, and amoral as Homer and Bart and other characters can be, they all have one redeeming quality. They can and do love.
I don’t want to make this post an exercise in compare and contrast between The Simpsons and Family Guy, but on Family Guy love exists as a device either to start a plot or wrap it up. But really at the heart of show, to the degree that it has a heart, hate and contempt hold far more sway. Such love as exists is twisted by jealousy and lust. Stewie hates his mother. Brain hates Peter. Chris hates Meg. And Meg hates everybody, herself included and most of all. The Simpsons, however, truly love each other, a fact that often surprises, dismays, and upsets Bart and Lisa. On Family Guy, Lois holds the family together by being the object of everybody’s desire. Well, maybe Meg is immune, which would explain why she’s the one who’s always odd-person out. Marge, however, holds her family together by loving them all and demanding that they love each other.
Which brings us to the question of Marge’s hidden sexuality.
The Simpsons routinely hints---hints, hell. It regularly shows---that Marge and Homer were and, when they get the chance, still are a very frisky couple. Together they are hot stuff. But their hotness isn’t due to Homer’s being a secret stud or to Marge’s having the body of a nineteen year old swimsuit model. They’re hot together because they want to be together. They love each other. Theirs isn’t one of the great love stories of our time, but it is a love story.
It doesn’t matter what Marge looks like naked. What matters is what Homer sees when he looks at her, however she is dressed or undressed, and that’s the girl of his dreams.
Not our dreams.
And certainly not the dreams of the readers of Playboy, who won’t look at Marge’s “photos” anyway, because they only read Playboy for the articles.
The fact is that Marge can’t look like a centerfold. Because she can’t look human.
The Simpsons live on their own alien planet and are drawn accordingly. The characters are not even caricatures of human beings, even the ones who are caricatures of the guest stars providing their voices. The animators have created beings that are anthropoid-like but not exactly humanoid. They don’t have heads, faces, hands, hair, skin or muscle structures like ours, so the females among them probably don’t have tits and asses like Playboy Playmates.
To put it another way, they’re cartoons. Cartoons aren’t sexy.
Ok, I know that there are people who enjoy looking at pornographic images of their cartoon favorites. There are whole websites devoted to this peculiar taste, and before you sneer, remember that there are intellectuals, college professors even, who fantasize about Mr Darcy and write “stories” about their favorite characters on Lost. Judge not, yada yada yada. If you really want to see Marge Simpson naked you don’t need to shell out the bucks to buy Playboy. Google her up. And what you’ll find is that Marge Simpson naked doesn’t look like Marge Simpson.
Yes, I’ve looked. What do you think, I spend all my time on the web reading economics blogs and following the links from Atrios?
Looking at drawings of Marge Simpson with upturned breasts that float and a round rear end so firm you can crack an egg on it will actually make you go blind. That is, your eyes will not be able to make sense of the images and will have no choice but to reject them. They’ll try to take it in, but they’ll think, What the hell is this? It can’t be a drawing of an actual human female, not with that hairdo, that face, and that skin color, but it can’t be Marge Simpson, not with those breasts, that ass, and those legs, and not posed like that! Since it can’t be one or the other, it must be neither and what’s neither is nothing but lines and colors and not worth resolving, let’s look at something else.
Meanwhile, pornographic images of Lois Griffin and the other characters from Family Guy can look like actual out-takes from the show to the point that you might ask yourself just which episode had Lois and Meg doing that? That’s because Family Guy is in spirit and style borderline pornographic itself and most of the characters have been depicted naked at one time or another, but also because the drawing style is more of a mish-mash than The Simpsons and caricatures of real human beings appear often and those caricatures are not too much of a departure from the style in which the regular characters are drawn with the result that the regular characters pass for caricatures of real human beings too and Lois Griffin naked can look like herself and like the lingerie model she’s worked as sometimes.
Now! I’m not confessing to having erotic thoughts about Lois Griffin. I will admit to having erotic thoughts about fortysomething wives who don’t mind being photographed in their underwear, and that’s the point here. Lois Griffin is drawn in a way meant to remind us of a real human being. As a drawing she isn’t sexy, but if you could bring her to life the human being that resembled her would be. Bring Marge Simpson to life and you’d have…a cartoon character walking around. You’d feel like Bob Hoskins in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? as opposed to Marge becoming like Kim Bassinger in Cool World or Amy Adams in Enchanted.
And by the way I don’t mean you’d feel like Bob Hoskins around Jessica Rabbit. I mean like Bob Hoskins trying to ride in the cartoon taxi or taking the elevator in Toontown.
Ok, this has been a long way to go to say that I don’t think I’ll bother to pick up the November issue of Playboy. But I won’t think less of you if you do. I’ll just assume you’re a Simpson fan who got curious.
Not that I think there’s anything wrong with you if you’re looking for something else from Marge’s photo spread. Personally, I don’t get a thrill out of looking at naked pictures of cartoon characters, but that’s a matter of taste. Paintings and drawings of nudes can be very erotic, even more erotic than photographs, but they aren’t any more real than cartoons. Their effect is in how effectively they remind you of a real human body. I can’t help wondering about the artist’s model, and since there are probably no actual models behind most cartoons that particular erotic charge is missing for me.
But if Betty Rubble reminds you of your tenth grade English teacher or Kim Possible looks to you like the girl you would have taken to the prom if only that guy who looked like Race Bannon hadn’t asked her first…well…
Ok, I’ll play if you will. Betty, but not Vernoica, unless it’s with Betty. Jimmy Newtron’s mom. Jane and Judy Jetson, but not together because that’s just sick. Raven, but not Starfire. Starfire’s sister, though. Maybe Dapne, because she’s a redhead, and definitely Velma, because who knows what lush delights await under that turtleneck? And, of course, Mrs Incredible!
Related even though nobody gets naked: At the New Republic, John McWhorter doesn’t find much funny in the Family Guy spin-off, The Cleveland Show.