Category: The Desk of Gabriel Morton

It’s not a real desk.

Itchy and Scratchy and Marge

Itchy and Scratchy and Marge

My Recollection

Maggie bashing Homer in the head. Marge episode. The frightening wide-eyed stare of “nice” Itchy and Scratchy.

My neighbour in Goodna was a kid called Steven. His father was a stunted wookie with an 80 IQ called Devlin and his mother was a garbage bag full of cottage cheese. He was so skinny he could fit behind the gas bottles behind the house and the one time I used the toilet there the paper was a school exercise book. The only time he got a good Christmas present, a working 50cc peewee motorbike, his dad insisted on using it first and his huge ass blew out both tires while Steven watched. His relationship with his father was tense.

Feral families don’t have pets so much as they just cohabitate with animals. I’ve seen two kids sharing a room because one of the rooms was the dog’s and the fact that I was never sure whether that arrangement was the dog’s idea or not pretty much answered the question. Sometimes they are fun animals, like a friendly dog with its own room who only occasionally tries to rape you. Sometimes they are insanely dangerous things hemmed in by 7 foot high chicken wire that turn the back yard and rear door into absolute no-go areas. Sometimes they’re a savage duck that only likes Devlin.

Most animals are just kind of there. They react to things and that’s about it. Any negative experience you have with them — being bitten, chased, or what have you — are side-effects of natural systems that aren’t really about you at all. Then there’s birds. Birds are smart and can fly. This means they aren’t besieged with the kind of minute-to-minute mortal terror that occupies the mind of something like a mouse. They can sit up on a pole, far from any threat, and get fucking bored. Birds are one of the few animals that will look at something that is neither food, foe, or mate, and decide to interfere in its existence purely for the chuckles. This has always given their misbehaviour the tangy aftertaste of thoughtful malice you just don’t get with anything else.

I don’t remember the duck ever being a duckling and with that goes the only explanation I could ever have for why a duck liked Devlin. Nothing liked Devlin. Trees instinctively fell on him. I spite of this reality, he and the duck got along. I subscribe to the theory Steven advanced, that Devlin and the duck were exactly the same type of asshole, because Steven’s relationship with the duck was tense. I’ve had relatives who had birds as pets and it’s left me with a negative to confused view of the idea. In retrospect, having a corner of a room you can no longer access because a sulphur crested cockatoo will go berserk is strange. Can I pet it? No, it will screech and bite you. Can I feed it? No, it will screech, bite you, and eat the food once you’ve run away screaming. Does it fill the house with pleasant music? No, it sounds like Gilbert Gottfried stabbing another Gilbert Gottfried. Even with this as my baseline understanding of bird pets, the duck was a bad pet.

Stealth sections aren’t a fun addition to most games and they’re even less fun when a psychotic bird imposes one on your house. I found this out by taking a normal step for a small male child of about 11 and being told that it was too loud. Too loud for what? It turns out there’s nothing in the human fear instinct pile that corresponds to hateful quacking so I stood there wondering what the fuck that sound was until it had chased me out of the house. Don’t step too loudly. Don’t make eye contact with it. Don’t speak above a whisper. These were the rules a child had to live by because of a duck. Steven had a tense relationship with his father. Steven had a tense relationship with the duck. This was one tension too many.

A critical state is, broadly, a point at which a system can change. Think of sand in an hourglass and the way it doesn’t just pile up forever. Critical states are whole circumstance before collapse, not the individual cause. Because sometimes, particularly in large or baflfingly complicated systems, the catalyst is an impossible variable to know. It might be the very first grain has been on an odd angle this whole time. It might be a particularly fat grain about to tumbled down on top of the pile. I cannot remember what started the fight because it ultimately doesn’t matter. Steven, Devlin, and the duck were a critical state. Then there was a collapse.

A broken human is an amazingly capable thing because when you’ve nothing left to fear you suddenly find yourself without any limits.

When Steven broke, he did the last thing I expected him to do and picked up the duck. Among the list of things the duck didn’t like — Steven, being touched by Steven, and being picked up by Steven —  it was most certainly not prepared for all three to happen at once. It went into an apoplectic fit of beaks and feathers. At the sight of this, Devlin entered a similar state but struggled to get out of the semi-collapsed yard couch he was aggressively gesticulating from.

To throw something is to toss it with the intent of being caught. To peg something is to throw a thing with the intent of it fucking caning whatever you’ve pegged the thing at. Steven pegged a furious duck into his hollering father’s face and the following explosion of feathers, toothless hillbilly, and mindless rage was something to behold.

Animals react to things like being pegged at a face and having something pegged at their face with a near equal level of directionless hostility so it wasn’t too surprising that what started as a fight between Steven and Devlin became a kind of brawl between Devlin’s face and the duck. The duck didn’t fucking care what it was doing, like a slightly vexed Donald, it was just thrashing whatever was nearest. Devlin seemed to want a peaceful resolution to this but couldn’t decide whether he wanted his arms to wobble him up to a standing position or deal with the bitey ducknado assaulting him so neither happened. Devlin’s face was furious at both these problems but could do nothing but endure an horrendous pinching until the duck tired and waddled back to its corner of the yard.

The cottage cheese, disturbed from playing Centipede on an Atari, wandered into the back yard and began a quick assessment of which party she could give away with the least effort. Steven didn’t have to stealth level around his own home anymore and I eventually got to watch Devlin get regularly bitten by his own dog.

The Episode.

There’s a moment in the commentary track for Itchy and Scratchy and Marge where they argue the episode isn’t trying to make a point. This is a variant of the Idiot Defence. Letterman used the Idiot Defence a lot. He’d argue some point, sometimes quite articulately, but because he has to speak to a broad audience that would contain the exact morons he had contempt for, he’d finish his piece by grumbling that he was an idiot and struggled with these ideas. It’s called the Idiot Defence because only an idiot could fall for it. This episode’s makers don’t want you to think they have a point, lest they upset any idiots, but they do and its existence creates a very strong episode.

There’s a tension between comedy and narrative. For a comedy to work, it needs to make you laugh so this prioritises jokes over everything else and is what generally separates it from a drama that’s funny. Shows like The Simpsons (and other animated sitcoms), 30 Rock, and Community will often run multiple plot threads, ones that typically shorten and weaken other dramatic elements, as they need the surface area for more jokes. This is why you see a lot of multi-thread storytelling, something that makes sense in hour long programs, jammed into 22 minute comedies. It mostly works because the comic characters tend to be more archetypal and require less fleshing out to feel appropriate for their worlds, but the current era, and its easy to binge/catch up distribution methods, has spoiled us with serialisation to make up for the shortfall. The Simpsons has always played loose with its serialised elements. They’re definitely there, think of the character growth and life changes for Apu, but it is often hard to tell which bit of what episode is going to be blessed with absorption into the canon. Its unreliable nature, and relative scarcity besides, means the show typically relies on the multi-thread approach as enough good jokes easily drown out the bad ones.

It’s easy to look at a broken lamp surrounded by rotting foodstuffs and forget that it’s also garbage. It’s similarly easy to look at Marge as the suffering angel surrounded by pigs. The glimpses we get of her in most other episodes lean into the archetypal and non-serialised, housewife generally and cop episode for example, and these tend to obfuscate her more than develop her. So we’re left with a woman in the shadow of Homer, a chaotic monstrosity, in which she will only ever look a saint. What flaws that get their own episodes, gambling addiction for instance, are always treated as problems Marge is a victim of. She is seldom overtly treated as bad so you can only catch glimpses of real faults in the corners of focused episodes like this one.

We get to see a lot of Marge here, it’s her story and her quest. The obvious things part of the not-message this episode has, like the hypocrisy of some crusading nitwit demanding an end to only the art she doesn’t like, are depicted as only the overzealous result of a core positive trait. But with time and focus we see more.

Marge is not a good mother. Loving to the point of anxiety, sure, but fretting and parenting are different things. Marge dumps her child in front of the TV and this child immediately imitates what she sees as though there’s no other competition in its developing mind for behavioural role-models. What does Marge do all day that this is Maggie’s reaction to violent imagery? Lisa doesn’t do this sort of thing at all. Even Bart, gob of novelty malice as he’s frequently depicted, doesn’t just bash Homer over the head. Marge spends all her time with Maggie and yet it’s like she’s not there at all.

Marge is present in her children’s lives as a being but not as a parent. She cares a lot, but it is a care mutated by domestic stagnation and garden variety ignorance. She is bored by her children, so rather than spend time with her youngest, she reaches out for the broader recognition she craves and becomes an activist, guaranteeing her less time with her child. We never see her address this problem in her own child at all. The most she interacts with Maggie after this is to say, “Bad baby” before abandoning her to campaign against Itchy and Scratchy. This is like starting a letter writing campaign to change leash laws while the dog is still mauling your child.

And all of this is excellent.

Archetypes are easy but will inevitably skew dull, particularly when they are the actual Nuclear Family. The other characters developed softening and hardening traits that gave cookie-cutter beings depth. Marge has always been a tough one to do this to as narrative balance requires a straight-man and the resulting victim status makes polluting her with genuine awfulness dangerously close to punishing viewer sympathy. There are other instances (I don’t count her getting drunk in season one as being on-character though so I exclude it) of this throughout the good years and I’ll bring them up as we go. They’re often, and by comparison, surprisingly brief but they add depth to a woman whose character is often little more than an archetype draped in baubles. This episode’s focus gives her the time and narrative developments to be whole and it’s a pleasant change. Remember, a bad character isn’t the same as bad characterisation.

Beyond a better look at Marge, the episode’s singular focus makes it a structural feat, albeit one aided by the setting. Crafting a structurally cohesive ensemble comedy, or anything really, is tricky when you’ve broad character variety. Coming up with reasons for all the characters to be together or a story that naturally involves all of them can be hard and many shows struggle with this. Archer particularly resorts to lazy contrivances it then obnoxiously plays of with self-awareness. The core narrative of this episode is a godsend for being naturally imbued with things for everyone to be doing and the story fills these gaps well. The result, like a lot of focused Simpsons episodes, is a story where even the absurd detours feel necessary to the story. The musical interlude where the children return to the idyllic hobbies and manners of a never real yesteryear is silly, but it’s a silliness that narrative impetus casts as a brief detour from the norm with the promise of a return to normality functioning as a stabilising agent.

It would be easy for Itchy and Scratchy and Marge to be a real drag of an episode. Its core plot point is identical to last week’s Bart the Daredevil. It’s a Marge episode. And it’s about something as fundamentally stupid as a crusading ninny whining about cartoon violence. I said at the start that the directors commentary tried to fob off any point and I called them liars but now I’ll meet them halfway. There is a point, but each character’s individual ones are treated as it while they’re on screen. This focus of theme, plot, and character lets side characters operate in ways that are minor but still meaningful, resulting in an episode that stands out as one of season two’s betters.

Yours in going to Janey’s to watch cartoons, Gabriel.

 

Jokes, lines, and stray thoughts

Marge is actually a good cook here, with a wide variety of spices and MSG. This is pretty much ditched for a later characterisation of her being a boring cook who doesn’t even know what oregano is.

The whole scene of Homer being bashed is a quite accurate parody of Psycho made easier by it arriving on VHS around when this was written. Homer’s tongue waggling scream and the brief but focal shot of him being bashed in the head are great visual gags.

 

Things like the multi-threading for more joke potential aren’t hard rules, but they are rules. Reducing the number of active points in your work puts more weight on the ones that are there. If that focal story you have winds up weak, then that’s going to basically collapse your whole thing. It’s not impossible, just much harder and often not worth the risk. Later series, like the aforementioned 30 Rock and Community, use serialisation and the ability to target more sophisticated audiences to craft densely layered narratives and meta-narratives which gives them access to the best of both worlds.

The joke of Marge being in an Itchy and Scratchy episode about cartoon violence while herself in a cartoon about cartoon violence is a level of meta made fun by its depth and, for its time, freshness. Homer laughing his ass off at the obvious parallel, to Marge’s frustration, is a great example of a joke that works to use and build character as opposed from taking away from it. Many shows use absurd reality levels of similarly ridiculous premises, South Park and American Dad come to mind, to do both but getting it to work within a dryer, realer setting is real skill.

“Dogs Tricked” on Marge’s list of violent events is amusingly incongruous and I’m a sucker for a basic list gag.

Roger Meyer’s reply is great and I wish more creators would reply to loud morons in similar fashion.

“There’s peas everywhere”

One of the last appearances by Marvin Monroe. He was making fun of the early wave of bullshit TV psychiatrists, pre Dr Phil, and his list of  topics, “women who love to much, fear of winning, and sex-aholism” were the clickbait of checkout aisle rags.

Krusty’s character in these early seasons was refined but quite different from the one that ended up taking over. His naivety and illiteracy were dumped for the more fertile ground of bitter comedy legend that a bunch of comedy nerds would know intimately.

The banality of the Marge-approved Itchy and Scratchy is an exaggerated but not by much prod at the awful “positive” children’s programming you’d see around and still sometimes do. Nickelodeon’s 1991 run of madness, while not the first or only, fucking set a tone for children’s animation actually being deep and interesting. Prior to that it was almost universally awful. Go watch an actual episode of He-Man, it’s on Netflix, I dare you to sit through a whole episode. Now imagine everything was that.

The great fiction of this episode is a moral crusader relenting after being confronted with a basic hypocrisy.

There’s a moment when Marge is dragged back on Smartline to discuss the statue of David and the animators gave her angry eyes by mistake. She’s not mad, she’s smiling and her tone of voice isn’t negative, and it fixes itself after a few seconds but dammit it’s a funny shot.

Maggie is seen here getting the idea of how to shoot from an episode of I&S which I’m taking as a long term setup for her eventually gunning Mr Burns down.

A semi-lucid review of the Walnut Creek Wendy’s

A semi-lucid review of the Walnut Creek Wendy’s

The first thing you need to know about the Walnut Place Wendy’s is that I don’t fit on a plane. I’m a unit, not absolute but certainly large enough to occupy more than a single seat. Nothing in the euphemistically named economy class is built for me and the guy next to me smelled like throat. I shifted from one uncomfortable position to another until I finally realised that the whole concept of sleep was a prank. ABSOLUTE LUCIDITY elevated me to a trancended state and this new state of being required nourishment. Il’krit, the being of cosmic energy who was now driving me, demanded we go to a Wendy’s.

The Decor

Australian fast food chains were designed by disgraced MKULTRA scientists to beat the human forebrain into submission. Pursuant to this dark cause, the walls are a shifting kaleidoscope of food imagery and slogans that would make your local fascist jealous. Copyrighted fonts, humans market researched to be inoffensively attractive, and extreme close ups of impossibly perfect versions of the garbage you’re about to eat rile your lizard brain into a feed or fuck frenzy. The lunch rush will provide the forward thinking man with both.

By comparison, the Walnut Cove Wendy’s is an exercise in surreal minimalism. The experience stunned this diner with a case of agoraphobia, I was a cave dweller stepping outside and thinking the great blue up would eat me and my simple kin. The entire place felt like the generic “soda” version of a fast food restaurant you’d see in a sitcom. The only area with visible branding was the service counter and it made the whole thing feel like the Wendy’s was only here for a few days until things turned around.

If you put on the glasses from They Live in here, the entire place would look the same. Perfect! Nobody was going to fuck me so I settled for eating.

The Process

The first thing I noticed was that my server’s name was Ariel. Yes, just like The Little Mermaid if that movie were about a chunky latino who would probably get upet with me for the comparison. He was nice enough not to point out the ancient energy being steering me about by the ears and took my order.

The cost it ended up costing was more than the sign and till said it would. It was 9.46, so I got out two American 5 FREEDOMBUX. He said 10 dollars something and I looked at him like we were both retarded. It turns out the tax is added at the very end, like a fun surprise only awful and stupid.

A clawing sensation in my stomach can only mean one thing: I’m embarassing myself socially or I ate too many claws. I gazed at Ariel like we were both retarded but he gazed back at me like only I was retarded. Like when someone pulls another draw 2 in Uno, I had to accept that I was a double retard and handed him a twenty while muttering about numbers being harder than shapes.

The Food

I came to this mad capitalist fiefdom to do two things: observe a wedding and eat crimes. I’d already purchased aerosol cheese but, high on freedom and sinister cheese alchemy, I was mad with lust for more. I wanted a burger. I got a Dave.

I’m unfamiliar with the greater Wendy’s lore so I have no idea who Dave is. Is he Wendy’s father? Lover? Victim? Or some combination of the three? I had no idea and the only other reference to him I could find were on the vaguely described Wendy’s Soda so I remain ignorant to this day.

I got the biggest quantity of Dave possible, the triple, thanked Ariel, and wandered to my table with fries and a small bucket of coke. The largest beverage size in Australia is the smallest here. You’re vile pig-monsters but you grill a good Dave.

The burgers are square but the buns are round. This discordant theming continued with the meat itself: it smelled awful but tasted fine. The odour was not something I was expecting either in presence or familiarity. It reminded me of the feral kids who coudn’t wipe their arses properly. A shit but not-quite-shit stink of a parent who wipes their child with their own lavender body spray. Lavender, asshole, and Dave all wound together to taste like bland beef. Almost an accomplishment.

The fries weren’t peeled, probably in some naive attempt to appear like more than twigs of fat and sodium, but were otherwise fair fare. Coke is coke. Acidic black hatred successfully peddled to us via marketing voodoo and the fundamental human need to self-destruct.

I ignored the uncanny smell of neglected 11 year old butthole and wolfed down my Triple Dave and upsized sides. I forgot the experience the second I’d finished it.

Most places peddle their wares around some kind of identity marker. Special sauce. 11 herbs and spices. Wombat meat. The Wendy’s of Walnut Point doesn’t have any of this. There’s meat, lettuce, tomato, and sauce. The burgers are square but until this place’s sinful geometrists work out how to bind flavour to physical shape, it’s just a novelty that one won’t notice. I’m eating at Wendy’s, I hate myself and summon a countering survival instinct by engaging in horrifying self-mutilating behaviours, I’m only noticing your burger shape because I’m smell checking it for skidmarks.

I left feeling like garbage and enjoyed the experience immensely.

Overall

The modern human experience is one of overwhelming sensory stimulus and it is a kindness that Wendy’s in Walnut Lakes eschews this for the screaming nihilism of empty spaces and featureless latino service balls. The food is the kind of stuff you’d find perfectly laid out under a videogame barrel. It has [FLAVOUR], [TEXTURE], and the faint scent of lower socioeconomic tragedy. If you are after food, I wouldn’t recommend it. But if you want an experience that will palate clense your Zen, resetting you to a screaming primate driven by sensation so you can pursue the joys of evolution over again, the Walnut Bush Wendy’s gets my highest recommendation.

♧/£

By Hungry Gabe

Bart the Daredevil

Bart the Daredevil

My Recollection

The fucking cliff fall. The kids running away when Bart hurt himself trying to ramp the car. Truckasaurus.

Growing up, the neglected kids were a lot more fun than the abused kids. The latter were twitchy and while they could occasionally flip out in an entertaining way, it would usually last well beyond funny and get deeply into disturbing before an adult subdued them. Neglected kids weren’t traumatised by some esoteric combination of Poppers and the theme to Lift Off so they were a lot more fun. Neglected kids just wanted the attention, any attention, they didn’t get at home. I like to laugh at absurd, dangerous behaviour I’ve too much sense to engage in myself and they liked to see a human face smile at them so we got along well.

A ten year old boy is a collision of evolutionary forces demanding it survive while daring it to attempt the mortally dangerous to improve its social standing. This is an amazing balance you could watch play out in the backyard haggling over precisely what constituted a feat of bravery. The higher the better: jumping off a roof is cooler than a fence. More objects, more better: jumping off a roof in a fridge box is cooler than without. Flips were like hundred dollar notes. You’d heard of them, some even claimed to have seen them, but nobody ever brought one out when you were there.

But there exists a tipping point.

A dare can’t be blatantly lethal. “Headbutt that oncoming car” isn’t a dare, it’s what you say to someone you don’t like. Anything deemed absurd will be shunned by the group as it throws the precarious balance out. The dares have to escalate. Overshoot and you hand power back to the victim who’ll always opt for something boring like climbing the big tree.

A common feat, but still a feat, was going down a hill on a skateboard. Skateboards were everywhere in spite of the fact that not a single child in my neighbourhood could actually ride one as intended. So all we did was sit on them and let gravity or siblings we’d bullied into being engines do the rest. Going down the steep hill on an actual skateboard was daring, but those things were like sitting in an SUV. The banana boards, slivers of used soap with wheels attached, were not.

These things were everywhere in spite of nobody ever admitting to buying one, the coat-hangers of child possessions. I had one. I don’t know why. I never asked for one and certainly never indicated an interest in skateboards, but, nonetheless, I had one. They existed about the suburbs like they were manifestations of the town’s desire to see injured children. It got its wish.

Malice driven design philosophy is not something you see often and, in spite of several personal injuries, my natural ability to appreciate all arts forces me to admit that these were marvels at what they did. They were absurdly fast, could never quite accommodate both buttocks, and taunted you with good steering that a low height meant would shred your knuckles if you dared entertain the idea of not careening in a straight line. Like biological weapons, they were deemed unfair and inhumane, then stricken from the list of sane dares.

But then there were the neglected kids. The neglected kids were the cryptocurrencies of the volatile childhood dare marketplace, daft things most never really understood aside from their unusual ability to escalate beyond all of your careful modelling. They had to be carefully managed because even the adults knew they had no wills of their own which meant an event would be traced to the source of the idea, me, before anyone got yelled at. There was a Goldilocks Zone to keep them in, but it was one so beyond what we were used to that it became prized.

Neglected kids ate the banana boards up. At their house, going for a ride down a hill meant being tied to a barrel and hurled at a cousin. A board and wheels? Luxury. This disruptive innovation blew the dare economy wide open. When dreams become realities you race like mad to keep your fantasies ahead of the curve. So we came to an equally omnipresent wheeled menace of trash suburbs: the abandoned trolley.

Trolleys and the ending of Labyrinth were some of the first lessons a kid from my generation could have about how sometimes things don’t work the way they look like they should. Something that moves like an Escher drawing looks didn’t require experimentation to be out of bounds any more than one would wonder what a lion’s fang tastes like. It just was through an innate sense of the screamingly dangerous. Gravity had rules. Wasp’s nests had rules. The hill had optimal routes. But the trolley was alien logic, even thinking about it left you missing time and covered in scratches.

The neglected kids operate on a kind of zen logic that beats the non-euclidean torment fields of rickety wheeled suicide cages by simply not caring. If [attention] then [do], was as deep as the process got. With that, Alan got into one at the top of the steep hill beside Goodna State School.

I refused to even hold the trolley. I wanted my hands clean, by any measure, and I was not certain I wasn’t about to witness a death. Everyone else was simply too excited to care. This was it, the definitive it, we were actually going to see it. A bit like the arcane rules of No Homo that bros use to fuck each other without having to accept unpleasant realities, dares often had weird little caveats that meant nothing but provided the dareee with a sense of control over their doom. “Okay, I’ll jump off a roof but only after 3pm”, that sort of thing. Alan’s was that the trolley had to be released, not pushed. In a way, I kind of understand. He was here to be sacrificed to the judgement of the gods, not to be jester for some base mortals. And so he was released.

If you were to ride a trolley down a hill, what kind of trolley would you choose? The shambolic piece of crap or the shiny new one? Like most dungeon riddles, this is counter-intuitive. A shitty wreck would either seize up and go nowhere or run a near 90 degree turn before stopping in a gutter. This newer one’s functional wheels meant it went straight for quite some time and, in the process, gathered quite some speed. The anticipation was at a level that we were hugging, gouging, and hitting each other just to relieve some of the tension.

I’d like to tell you that he got to the bottom of the hill unharmed, defying both his own sad fate and our cruel need to see someone else suffer. People like the happy lower class stories. I like the happy lower class stories. But they’re the exceptions that, in a way, enforce the rule.

Alan was on his butt in the trolley, riding in the reclined-but-not-quite fashion of an F1 racer, and his vehicle ran true for longer than any of us expected. But the iron law of the underclasses is that the only time something works properly is when it’s setting you up to suffer. Trolley logic asserted itself and Alan’s racer began to turn. 10 degrees. 15 degrees. We could see the demon’s eyes, it was here for Alan, some of the tension broke and the joy chilled. 20 degrees. Near the bottom, though, so maybe he’ll be fine?

30 degrees.

40 degrees.

50.

60.

A pebble hit the front right wheel of the trolley and suddenly 90. The safety cage that is the trolley sides, and that was how one of the better salesmen among us described them to Alan as, mean little when your momentum and your trolley’s momentum differ on a few key points. The trolley rolled. Alan was launched. The launch threw Alan out of the safety cage and the roll brought the other side of it down on his back, slamming him into the bitumen with a kind of meaty wet THACK sound familiar only to wrestlers, butchers, and the bored poor.

It’s okay to abandon your friends to the kinds of injuries that will bring down adult wrath but only if the whole thing was their idea. You get it into your head to show off and all that shit’s on you, chum. But we were part of this. We boosted spirits. We hushed doubts. We looked at each other and waited for him to move. Screaming began.

That he got away with only a sprained arm and some general scratching\bruising is a testament to the durability of your average little shit. There was a good solid minute there, though, where I was already forming a believable story about how I’d happened upon all this after it had already transpired because it legit looked like he’d been totally fucking killed. We did learn an important lesson from all of this: the bar had been raised. Trolleys were possible, but part of a newly established tier of dare most weren’t expected to attempt. Later challengers would come to learn why.

Look, shit was boring before the internet.

 

The Episode.

Homer is a well-meaning buffoon. A malicious, insecure imbecile. A loving father too lazy to manifest that fact in any real parenting. Bart is a mischievous ten year old boy, America’s bad boy. He’s a selfish piece of shit too stupid to ever be a real sociopath. Father and son are a lot alike it’s just the age difference that separates them. Homer is an idiot with responsibilities so he has mentally checked out. Planning for anything better requires a painful amount of hope so he can only cravenly grab at any small positive that wanders into his field of view. Bart’s skilful conniving makes him look cleverer than his father, but the difference exists only because he’s still stupid enough to think his life is a game he has a chance of winning. Typically, their conflicts are an uncaring force meeting an apathetic object but this episode uses all its available tools to explore the connection that keeps their relationship from truly devolving.

Narratives, in all their forms and with all their accompanying component parts, are structures that are as predictable as any mechanism. This is true of most domains. Consider the way an illustrator can look at a reference image, deconstruct it into component shapes, and then turn a few basic lines into a complex new structure. I can’t draw for shit, so to me that process looks like magic. I don’t see animation in the same way an artist does because a lot of the constructive elements are part of that magic. Narrative is the same and, at least until very recently, this has limited what a broadcast sitcom could do.

The finite resource of narrative is time. Whether you’re asking someone to commit a lot of it to experiencing your story or whether network and advertiser conditions limit you to a 22 minute runtime, your character and plot developments are going to be fighting each other for space. The more familiar you are with a subject the less one has to say to explain an element of it. If I say that Mulvey’s treating Freud like a hard science makes her conclusions questionable at best, this will require a lot of explaining to mean anything to anyone who doesn’t already have some opinion on that matter. When a narrative can assume, or is confident enough to demand, a complex existing knowledge in its audience, it can use brief references for large things which frees up time for other stuff.

This episode is about the relationship between Homer and Bart but its emphasis is on their relationship of father and son, and not the more antagonistic one derived from their comic roles of modern Tom and Jerry. This is a more complex game to play, and requires the kinds of time that the nature of the show would otherwise thwart. Signalling a character over comic focus, scenes establishing the more realistic roles of father and son, and building the core conflict are all things that eat precious time. Bart vs Thanksgiving gave the drama its due time and sacrificed all else, creating an episode that’s neither funny nor, due to the limited possible character growth, dramatically satisfying. Bart the Daredevil uses a mix of clever structuring and exploitation of mass popularity to assume higher audience familiarity to be another early example of the kind of layered experience the series came to be known for.

The mirrored opening scenes are an excellent example of how to do several things at once. By separating Homer and Bart in space but making their scenes flow together like they’re one (something Archer does a lot), the episode shows a fundamental connection between the two, that is, one that exists in absence of any other contexts. The only way they’re being the same here is that, on some level, they are the same. There’s a few other scenes with similar outcomes, but few that manage it in so sophisticated and honest a way as they are typically tied to other plot functions. As the conflict between the two is so ripe with plot and humour, it’s the frequently used trope, and the actual connection between father and son is typically only ever seen as the brief moments before their clash or in the resolution. Making it the “happily ever after” or inevitable conflict point of a plot makes it a function or cliche which overshadows its other meanings. This scene can exist comfortably as the conflict point doesn’t come until later in the episode, meaning that it can exist free of these problems and provide a much needed reminder of how much the pair have in common.

Caddyshack is an atrocious mess of independently funny scenes without a lick of coherent point until somewhere around the end of the film when Harold Ramis remembered it wasn’t a sketch show. To fix this, they added a kind of scaffolding narrative drive to give the movie the impression of focal impetus, the fucking gopher. They literally added the gopher after principle photography was finished because there was barely a story without it. There still isn’t a story, the gopher doesn’t relate to anything else, but it’s enough to drape Bill Murray in fine improvisational form on so it’s got that going for it. Normally, adding the point of a piece at the halfway point runs the serious risk of making everything prior to it a bit of a piss-fart about, possibly funny but otherwise useless to structures you need if you want to do anything else (this is something later Simpsons does all the goddamn time). Unlike the bare strand of Gopher in Caddyshack, the mirrored scenes of this episode establish a theme, how Homer and Bart relate as father and son, and a point, their underlying similarity, to create a through-line that later narrative structures actually meaningfully connect to.

In addition to all this, it also has some good jokes. Most at the expense of people who enjoy wrestling, one sly one from Lisa about how the changing attitudes of history resemble the face/heel dynamic of wrestling, and more about how Homer is perhaps a bit too much like his ten year old son. So the scene uses a basic structural trick, mirroring, to build a theme and point while running a general funny Simpsons scene over the top of it. This is one good example of how this episode has its cake and eats it in terms of time spent on drama or comedy without delving into anything too complicated. A recognition that scenes and ideas can play into the plot in indirect fashions and this continues in the next sequence.

The goal of the story appears to have been set, Truckasaurus, and naturally, a potential conflict appears in Lisa’s recital taking place on the same night. Deflecting from this as the narrative conflict, and stalling the presentation of the actual one, can build a tension that’s difficult to deal with. The higher the tension the more stress is applied on the conflict as a structural hinge. It’s real easy for this tension to go too far and be irreconcilable (think of any big mystery show with an underwhelming finale), so the sequence is played more for laughs and character, but character that feeds this episode’s Gopher. Of particular note is how the music from the recital, normally things Homer has absolutely zero interest in, gets stuck in his head as they speed toward Truckasaurus. Lisa notes it herself which serves to emphasise the point to the audience but also as an understandable thing for her to openly appreciate given her own strained relationship with her father. This scene, seemingly vestigial as it looks like a come-and-gone conflict, adds to the episode the idea that Homer cares about his children, and is influenced by them, on levels that even he isn’t aware of.

Fusion of absurd comedy and deep drama is very possible, just tricky. Shows that manage well, like Rick and Morty exploit both a deranged core premise and expectation of genre trope knowledge that would have made it an impossible pitch prior to the current era. Having a giant truck dinosaur try to eat the family car is the kind of thing that can completely blow the real drama of a family sitcom from the early 90s, but this episode’s layout has craftily prevented that. Broadcast TV was big on tone signalling, shows would tell you whether it was a funny one or a “very special episode” very early so the broad audience of viewers wouldn’t get annoyed at anything confusing. Signal absurd or dramatic and you can get up to mischief with the break between episodes functioning as a reset.

In this moment, The Simpsons essentially plays all the cards available to it and manages to have a giant robot truck dinosaur not throw the episode’s realism out of balance. Firstly, the carefully layered earlier sequences have been ambiguous enough to leave the tone undeclared, meaning the audience won’t have any stifling expectations built up yet. Secondly, the primary conflict hasn’t presented itself yet, meaning Truckasaurus exists in the kind of separate narrative preamble later series would come to obnoxiously exploit. Thirdly, by season two the show is hugely popular, and has a track record of both real family drama and cartoon ridiculousness. It exploits this, at the time, rare commodity to expect its audience to accept that this universe has both the real and the absurd at the same time, and not just every other week. A final touch is having the Truckasaurus scene followed by a deliberately mundane one of Marge talking to Truckasaurus’ owner about restitution, immediately eliminating the event as relevant to the narrative, and having the family then sit down for the show as promised.

Now the episode finally gets to its premise: Bart wanting to emulate the daredevil Lance Murdoch and Homer’s attempts at talking him out of it. This is a rare form of conflict between the pair because it’s one of the only times that Homer is objectively right and, in a way, so is Bart. Jumping Springfield Gorge will kill Bart. Homer can’t keep an eye on him 24/7. Homer even tries to genuinely communicate with his son, seeing through the sitcom routine of “phoney-baloney” promises. This isn’t the lazy Homer playing the role of Father, his directly addressing the routine he and Bart have breaks that fourth wall, this is a man trying to leverage a genuine connection with his son for their own good. And he believes he is successful.

But Bart is Bart.

Homer’s jumping Springfield Gorge is fucking ridiculous. The whole sequence is a combination of jarring factors that keep the viewer from finding a reality for it. Homer and Bart have resolved their tension so the jump is not necessary, just the intent was. Midway through, Homer celebrates as he thinks he’ll make it, which would be a funny twist, but then he drops like a stone. The basic concept is Road Runner level absurdity, but its execution is, particularly for the era, realistically graphic. A part of keeping comic violence comic is in avoiding naturalistic scarring, but Homer is shown, several times, severely beaten by the fall. It’s so gratuitous that later episodes edited out his second fall and replaced it with another shot of the kids watching from the cliff. A normal person would be dead, a cartoon character wouldn’t be covered in realistic bruises. It’s touching, absurd, brutal, and funny side by side, The Simpsons has announced its reality.

Later, beloved episodes feature ridiculous bullshit as either major jokes or plot cores. Homer goes to fucking space. He causes a meltdown in a test truck. The list goes on. The kinds of absurd reality The Simpsons uses here and in the Golden Era are fairly tame by today’s standards but they were groundbreaking at the time. Other episodes have had glimpses of the mix but this one makes it the complete point. Absurd as it is, it’s the logical conclusion of the established elements of the episode. Homer cares, he subconsciously absorbs lessons from his children, and Bart is just like his father.  Tonally, the episode has kept both strands running, using structural methods to keep either absurd or serious from dominating. When it brings these threads together, it doesn’t decide that one is now and so always was the dominant or “real” story, it concludes the only logical way: by leaving them together but separate. By making the ridiculous the logical conclusion, the ridiculous becomes a comfortable component of Simpsons logic and the rubber band becomes a little more flexible.

Homer’s final line, “try raising my kids” and the hard cut to the credits has a way of making the whole episode look like a shaggy dog story but it’s the kind of necessary direct statement that, “everything’s okay” 90s TV was fairly bound to. The cliff fall itself is a large part of Simpsons history but that’s the kind of “great person” focus that tends to obscure the more interesting parts of the story. Jumping Springfield Gorge is just the end result of an episode that ran a fascinatingly new kind of game with its audience. A game that has a legacy, not just with The Simpsons but with any modern show that blends comedy and drama.

 

Yours in always spelling “Braun” with a “W”, Gabriel.

 

Jokes, lines, and stray thoughts.

There’s a lot of little jabs at wrestling as the show starts. The line “Live, from the Springfield Centre for the Performing Arts” is a good line with a few interpretations: Springfield is so culturally backward that they hold wrestling in their performing arts centre or that wrestling is a performing art. Naturally, Homer and Bart are dumb for enjoying pro-wrestling, and nobody who doesn’t watch wrestling will ever fail to point out that it’s fake, so Lisa does. That said, her line about historical forces changing The Mad Russian to The Friendly Russian, this episode came a year before the full collapse of the Soviet Union, is fun.

Those Truckasaurus things were around a bit in the 90s, though not to that degree of sophistication. I saw one billed as a Transformer which I needed to see because fucking Transformers. It was less a Transformer and more of a Go-Bot but it was still fun. Homer and Bart’s genuine connection over it, and the fact that the trip there itself isn’t a conflict point, is a real touching moment and one that you don’t actually see much in the series.

I don’t know why 1812 Overture was at the end of Schubert’s Symphony No. 8.

As the show matured and Springfield became a more defined character, the population became more predictable. There were eventually pocket characters to fill nearly every role so one-offs like Leo G. Clark, inventor, owner and operator of Truckasaurus and his weird line about how Truckasaurus himself is sorry for the event, are a thing of the past.

His apology gift of a half bottle of domestic champagne is one of those good escalation jokes. It’s torn open already. People have been drinking it. But it’s sorta breezed by so, a bit like Call of The Simpsons’ joke with Marge organising squirrels, it doesn’t outlast its welcome.

Bart watching Homer getting pulled out of the wrecked car and shouting, “Pull, you dogs!” to the struggling staff is a goodun. It’s one of those jokes that works for the audience but also makes sense to be funny within the show’s universe. A real pet peeve of mine, and a thing now gladly fading, was the sitcom habit of filming all these people doing and saying funny things without having anyone in the world acknowledge that they were funny. Makes the thing feel like a dry Powerpoint about jokes as opposed to a stand-up comedian.

Lance Murdoch is an hilarious glimpse into the past. I’m sure these carny monstrosities still roam some carnivals and fairs but a combination of motocross events and Jackass really fucked the old Daredevil game hard. The absurdity of his pool of death is a very modern Simpsons joke and the image of him being dragged back into the water by a lion is a funny one.

Later Simpsons basically outlawed anyone having hair like Bart and Lisa, but in these early episodes you can still see some abominations. This thing in the audience looks like that photoshop of Mr Burns’ face on Lisa.

The kids scattering after Bart brains himself is a great shot and a funny slice of life. It’s not that we don’t care a friend of ours got hurt, it’s just if he did it doing something he shouldn’t have been, we don’t want to get into trouble. There tends to be a directly proportional relationship between the amount of damage a child has visited upon itself and the amount of trouble the bystanders get in.

Doctor Hibbert makes his first appearance in this episode! I’ve heard he’s getting retired because he’s based on notorious rapist Bill Cosby. An odd choice if true because I doubt many modern viewers would even be aware of that.

Lance being an absolute fuckknuckle and egging Bart on is true to the carny way and a funny twist on old sitcom expectations.

Otto humming a riff on the bus intercom and his remark about it being for “emergencies only” when Bart wants to use it is a solid double up.

Stuntman or bootleg Jackass is one of the few things Bart seems to be actually good at.

The final run of jokes as Homer is brought up out of the gorge is a solid one. His head is bashed on the cliff, the ambulance drives straight into a tree, Homer falls out the back, nobody tries to stop anything, Homer goes over the edge again, and finally, Wendell about to throw up.

Okay, now, the cliff fall. The 90s were an era where your video game characters could gut each other ONLY IF their blood was green. That was the weird, meaningless concession the hordes of conservative mothers gave us and it was the one we took. Showing red blood, even today, is still a big fucking deal for only stupid reasons. Most shows get around this by having their aliens bleed black or blue or whatever. So for The Simpsons to show Homer bleeding actual red blood was a big deal. That they’d spend this coin on this scene is a fucking mystery to me.

FUNNY!

 

NOT FUNNY!

I find the mere existence of this moment so fucking absurd that it transcends itself and becomes fucking hilarious but I’m a mutant.

The episode I have, the episodes that get broadcast in syndication, and (interestingly) The Frinkiac’s archived version all censor the second fall. Since it doubles down on something already ridiculous, it’s very fucking funny, so here it is in GIF form.

american_healthcare.gif

 

Dead Putting Society

Dead Putting Society

My Recollection.

Hey, putt-putt, which is what mini golf was called in Brisbane for some reason. Brisbane’s smaller population means any novelty ideas like putt-putt come and go as they lack the constant numbers to survive. The only one I can think of that still operates in the Brisbane area is a windmill-free one at the local driving range. I actually quite enjoy it. “MY WIFE’S SUNDAY DRESS” was oddly specific to me as I’ve never been to church. A focus on the Flandereses.

There are two main spider archetypes: web and active. The prototypical latter is the Huntsman spider. It’s the one you’ll find in, or often under, Australian houses and makes up for a lack of core bulk with more hairy leg than a body positive book club. They’re otherwise harmless ghastly horrors who can move faster than you blink. The web ones shit a small house in the corner of yours and then just sorta hang out. The indoorsy ones are largely tiny and typically helpful in dealing with mosquitoes and flies, but the outdoorsy ones… Those are something else. Brisbane’s most common of these is the Golden Orb Weaver. I know them from when I used to live in Ashgrove.

The curb of Ashgrove road is lined with leafy trees. The houses that line Ashgrove road have front yards and these yards also feature leafy trees. The result is a footpath that’s little more than a concrete whisper of suburban safety drowned out by screaming green madness. At night, the street lights that were meant to provide a sense of daylight safety just acted as bait to lure you through the deciduous dark. And in that dark lurked the Orb Weavers.

You’d never see them. You’d only ever, were you the fortunate one walking a few steps behind, see the spasmodic panic karate of a human trying to simultaneously get out of a spiderweb while trying to figure out if the spider is still in it. The way you can tell the difference between a cockroach and a spider crawling on you is in the way they step. There’s a slow deliberateness to a web dwelling spider’s that typifies it from the mad scramble of the common roach. You will always tell yourself it was a cockroach, though, as the alternative invites the terrible idea that it could still be on you somewhere. Waiting, some say biding.

The local driving range was open at all hours because apparently golf people are fucking lunatics. I don’t know what sort of problems someone needs to have to see them whacking balls at 4:30 in the morning but by the looks of things I’ll stick to my poor person hassles. One thing I’ve noticed about the properly wealthy is that anything that affects them personally is an injustice they won’t stand for so the driving range, and by extension the putt-putt course, were licensed to serve booze from 5am which was about when we’d be finishing work. Our discovery of this would eventually ruin it for everybody but until then we’d roll up sometimes and get wankered while playing putt-putt. Surrounding the course were leafy trees and equally enthusiastic shrubs.

Sometimes, it was about the game. Other times, it was about the drinking. I was with a beanstalk glassy, and a giant manager who I’d already tapped out with a triangle lock on the 7th hole. Today was about the drinking. Frustration boiled over on the dastardly 15th and my manager whacked his ball off into deepest, darkest buttfuck, a cluster of bushes woven together by crisscrossing succulent protuberances, and he barrelled off after it. Another thing about the Golden Orb Weaver is that they cohabitate. Dozens will share a web that can span several meters and be thick enough not to see through from one angle yet be invisible from another. From my vantage, a hole ahead, I could see the unnervingly cumlike streak of sticky white nightmare. My manager couldn’t.

I first felt the difference between the speed of thought and the speed of consciousness when I saw my brother about to step on a huge dog turd but failed to warn him. The pieces are all there, but you only realise you knew them in retrospect. My manager pushed his way into the bush and the crew of my mind desperately screamed at a deaf captain. My first coherent thought, “fuuuuuuuuck” came when I saw a big dent hit the massive spider web and tear an otherwise patiently aloof coterie of now annoyed Golden Orbs away. To this day, I’ve never seen anyone else do anything like that. It’s nuts, a rule unwritten because it is so innate, like how you don’t expect to have to warn someone not to kiss a shark’s eye socket.

The bushes rustled.

I don’t think a written language exists that could render the sound I heard phonetically, I can only describe it as a terror yodel. A shrieking mound burst onto the green. This mound was a living combination of haphazard bush components and hollering drunkard held together with erstwhile spider palace and furious inhabitants. The screaming manbush hopped about slapping himself and screaming, “ORBS! FUCKING ORBS, CUNT!”

Had this scene occurred a few hundred years ago the event would have marked the birth of a new mythical forest imp or cryptid. Beware Tangled Bevan, children, he upset the Spider house and they cursed him to dance in town squares at night. His hooting draws people but should any touch him they become stuck and he dances them back to the Spider Queen to pay his debts. His sticky hooting can be heard on warm evenings in the towne of Bris’ Bane.

“Ooooooooooooooooooooooooorbs… Cuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuunnnt”

I witnessed it myself and I’m still not sure.

The Episode

This story is a fantastic journey into the cosmic nightmare that is Homer’s existence. It’s him at his worst, but his worst in a way that lets us see into the motivations of his actions and those of his ilk. It’s the tragic flipside to his comic persona, something that can never truly grow so it manages the only change it’s capable of: inversion.

Homer is a buffoon.

The dramatic parallel of the buffoon is the oaf. An oaf is large, strong, dumb, and, above all, insecure. Their size or positions of power can never be enough because they are just smart enough to know they’re stupid or incapable of advancing and that makes them lash out with what creativity they do have, cruelty.

A buffoon may be as large and stupid, he may even cause the same amount of damage, but his well meaning imbecile stare and lack of basic agency rob any of his actions of cruelty. This is mostly Homer’s role, both because the show is a comedy but also because the utility of a loser to laugh at is thwarted if his alienating degree of stupidity is overcome by empathy for his ultimately miserable position. The audience has to identify with parts of him but the whole needs to remain closed off behind a wall of exaggerated traits. Season one dabbled in Homer as a person and the results were astonishingly bleak. As the series wore on, he nestled deeper into the buffoon role. Anything else will either veer into raw misery or become a character change that the series eternal status quo cannot allow, so his only other alternative is the oaf. This episode is a journey into the grotesque depths of pathetic insecurity of that oaf.

The amazing thing about an idiot as a character is that you can make them inconsistent and it won’t break the story world because the character’s stupid inability to understand their own inconsistencies is perfectly consistent. So Homer can be both a hardworking, caring father who’d do anything for his kids and a lazy thug who bullies them into competitions to fulfil his own selfish need to win something. What makes Homer a tragic character of near epic quality is that he’s just verging on smart enough to realise this. It is the kind of grim existential suffering one would expect as punishment from a particularly angry classical god. It also gives the audience a window into sympathy for the oaf, which is actually pretty rare.

Most narratives construct themselves thematically around punishing socially reviled traits and rewarding positive ones for a few reasons. Structurally, the themes have to parallel the narrative so there needs to be a sense of change with closure and this lends itself to moral conclusions. People look to fiction, its easy solutions and caught criminals, for a sense of justice that doesn’t exist in the real world and this necessitates the punishment of bad behaviour. And, ultimately, because audiences are dense pieces of shit who don’t like to be challenged. Neither of the first two rules are set in stone in any way, but the test audiences will hate anything else because open ended, ambivalent fiction, or anything where the bad guy just wins because it’s a cruel existence and fuck you, is essentially antithetical to the reasons people watch shit in the first place. If we wanted a cruel pile of unrelated events with no purpose we could just live our lives.

Homer is jealous of Flanders. This is a bad thing so he has to be humiliated. In order for his humiliation to be just and not unpleasantly cruel he can’t be sympathetically jealous so he has to be a villainous oaf. Because he’s a main character and needs to be able to shift back, he’s given moments where we can see into the oaf and experience a little sympathy for a bully. Homer’s complex nature, that of a spinning coin in a changeless void, give him the one thing an oaf never really has access to: introspection. Oafs (oaves?) can gain insight, but it is typically a one way character development from oafism to some form of redemption. Homer cannot be redeemed so we are left with his Idiot Zen existing as both Idiot and Zen, interacting but separate.

The line,

“Because sometimes the only way you can feel good about yourself is by making someone else look bad. And I’m tired of making other people feel good about themselves.”

is both a comic treat of wordplay and a level of insight that’s usually toxic to an oaf. When you’re a shit person who makes other people’s lives hard, insight becomes impossible as the thing you see hurts you. The oaf is trapped in a prison of being a loathsome cunt where the key to its freedom is so hot it’s burns to touch. This line is like someone punching you in the face while saying, “sorry, I had a difficult childhood”. It’s a level of insight that should at least begin to confront the behaviour. The, “admitting you have a problem” part of the journey of the self. It’s Zen answering a question Marge asked the Idiot, but they pass each other like strangers.

One time I visited one of my bullies’ homes and their couch was the back seat of a Toyota. It was just there in the lounge room. The back seat of a car. An axle with cardboard was the coffee table. Now that I think of it, I get the feeling the entire place was, in some way, furnished by a wrecked car. When you’re dumb and miserable, happy people are living claws in your soul, and you can’t make yourself happy but you can make them feel bad or, better yet, look worse. The tragedy is the unspoken, and funny, part of the word play. “I’m tired of making feel people feel good about themselves” is a passive plea whereas any form of “I want to feel good” would be an active demand. It’s the Toyota car seat, the note of sadness that explains everything. Homer feels bad all the time and he’s just smart enough to know he’s basically the “there” in everyone else’s “there but for the grace of god go I”. All he wants is to feel what he sees everyone else feel.

Humans can live in unbelievably shitty circumstances without complaint provided they don’t see, or are otherwise distanced from, a possible alternative. Monkeys given asymmetric reward treats are fine until the poor loser getting stiffed is shown he’s missing out and then he goes batshit. This sense of exclusion is strong and ignores reason. FMRI scans show these areas light up with pain whether your exclusion comes from people you like, people you hate, or from people being rewarded for work you didn’t do. Flanders and his family are the perfect knife to twist into Homer. Throughout the series, he can cope with a lot. But Flanders always gets to him.

I got punched in the face for using faggot words by a person whose home was furnished like we were already in Mad Max. In this, you can understand Homer’s outburst at Flanders. He’s still a giant, barely sapient cunt, but far too often the behaviour of people is dismissed as the unfathomable mania of the underclasses. There’s reasons to all of it. Even Homer’s embarrassed by his outburst. Under questioning from his wife, the logical part of his brain can’t find the reasons his feelings had.

His brief glimpse of how shitty he is is just more torture so he becomes desperate for any relief, Bart’s apparent talent for mini-golf is that relief. When you spend most of your time drowning in your own stupidity, any moment when your head is above water is a blessing. Homer’s Idiot Zen is less a coherent worldview and more a messy coping mechanism given form by the boundaries of his universe. His dreams are seconds on dessert because he’s taught himself that anything more is foolish hope. Hope is the most important part of suffering, it’s the reprieve that keeps you from acclimatising, and it’s something so alien to him that when a realistic one appears it intoxicates him.

His fear of losing his one guilty hope is present in his entire approach to the competition. Aggression and hate are the only things it even occurs to Homer to impart to Bart. Hate the picture. Think of the putter as a gun. Win or you’re out of the family. The mania of a cornered animal. The oaf lashing out. And the oaf must be punished.

Wrapping Bart up in this is a good split of the tension. If Bart wins, the oaf is rewarded. If the oaf is punished, then so is the otherwise innocent Bart. This along with the incredibly in character line, “The father of the boy who doesn’t win” sets up for a good finale and lesson on the self. Bart and Todd eschew the shiny rewards of competition for inner peace. Homer demands his punishment, but his shame and rage make him the only one who suffers as Flanders relaxes into the spectacle. The oaf’s socially reviled traits are punished and the vector of that punishment is entirely his inability to let go of hate and fear. This lends it a cosmic justice that a simple loss would have lacked.

On the secondary characters, Lisa and Flanders both get a fair look in with Bart having a few moments in spite of being a pawn and Todd having probably the most actual story he’s ever had.

Flanders’ happy life is the perfect counterpoint, and torture, for Homer but it’s a fundamentally false happiness. There is little to Flanders, even in these early stages, that is his and not the result of his faith. His calm comes from an external structure that he has abdicated his own mind to. Like most of the religious, it’s not even his God that serves as the actual source of his strength but the long-suffering mortal, Reverend Lovejoy, who loses pieces of himself so Flanders can function. We get a glimpse into this parasitic relationship in this episode with the first of Flanders’ annoyingly pointless calls.

That said, we do see some other, actual human behaviours. Homer gets him mad several times and we won’t see that again for a while. Like Todd’s being an actual human boy, I’m so used to the alternative that it’s these earlier examples of actual humanity from him and his father that feel out of character. It’s automatic to assume the later forms to be degradations from their earlier and thus truer selves. Bu while their ultimate fate is deranged parodies of themselves, that is also the fate of the entire show. Characters in early seasons often change as they grow into their definitive selves, like Zoidberg becoming the cast’s psychic toilet in Futurama, and I lean toward that here.

Lisa is in fine form this episode as she becomes Bart’s Master. She far-too-easily takes on responsibilities beyond her age in the face of Homer’s malicious incompetence. This and the line, “It’s times like this that I’m glad dad has little to no interest in almost everything I do” are small apertures that provide a much larger look into the realities of living under substandard parents. The mixed blessing of the grimness of the situation coupled with the strength to survive and even thrive in spite of it. Lisa is strong, but it comes from something very sad.

This is an episode of Bart being a normal boy I’d forgotten as it is far more understated. He has significant focus but it’s only as a function of Homer’s story. As he himself says, he is a pawn. But as a pawn he can exist without the constraints of narrative focus and the character tropes those force. Homer is both villain and main character here so there is nothing left for Bart to do but be a 10 year old boy forced into competition by a zealous father. But his journey into zen is like most of his other personal growth, a temporary thing that ends when the episode does.

Dead Putting Society is a great character episode with a tight internal structure that the series has largely been lacking. There’s no hanging plot threads or baffling holes, the narrative, themes, and characters all interact to create a tight web that leads to a satisfying conclusion. It’s a slow burner of an episode whose memorable moments are the kinds of small and subtle ones you can miss on a single viewing. The story is singular, but it is woven with other characters and moments in natural ways that really show how lazy other story shifts can be.

Homer is a vile oaf who gets his comeuppance but we get an insight into the sad mind of one, even if it has to come via the words of a nerd writer.

Yours in describing this all to a psychiatrist one day, Gabriel

Jokes, lines, and stray thoughts.

There’s an amusing gap between Bart’s “still just a potato”, implying that he’s a poor student, and his use of obscure ditto marks.

Homer is probably right about Elf Grass.

Homer noticing Maude’s butt is the start of a long running thing where he is clearly attracted to her.

“Beggers can’t be choosy”, “Too bad we don’t live on a farm” (in response to a free protractor), and “Jack Nicholson himself couldn’t make it” are great examples of Homer’s general ignorance that used to be threaded throughout his lines. The kinds of little mistakes that suggest only a superficial grasp or misunderstood point that better fill out the kind of dumbass Homer is. He knows of these things but not enough to get them quite right.

Bosom is a hilarious word in general and takes on added humour when used in the archaic form for general chest and not specifically a full titty. Flanders’ sound when he is caught delivering the letter is also pretty funny.

Hey, here’s a journey into the past, Lisa goes to a fucking library to research putting! A fucking library! You had to get up, put on pants, go to a building that had hours, go to a catalogue that was a piece of furniture filled with paper, walk to where the books were supposed to be, hope they were actually there, and then take the books home before you could get an answer to your question. I’ve looked up a vast quantity of putting tutorial videos in YouTube while I was writing this, and I’m still covered in chocolate from shame-eating a sweetened Christ-Rabbit in the middle of the night.

The process of naming the putter is funny. Bart engages in this process with the enthusiasm of a cat being walked on a leash. Mr Putter is delightfully comic zero effort only to be topped by “Mom” when Homer demands a female name. It’s a good one-two but both lefts and the second hits harder for some reason. It hides a second layer of absurd in an even less expected fashion multiplying the effect.

A weird sighting of make-up free Krusty in the pool hall.

Bart whacking the ball, hitting the gorilla, and nearly hitting Homer is a well constructed moment. Shot, shot, shot/sound, sound, sound and then the final shared shot of the pair looking at each other. It’s a small but nifty example of how balancing elements creates good scenes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From Heaving Mounds to Exploding Ovaries: A Brief History of Women’s Porn

From Heaving Mounds to Exploding Ovaries: A Brief History of Women’s Porn

At first glance, Jane Austen and noted Australian actor Jack Thompson’s penis don’t have an awful lot in common and there was a time when I would have felt the same way. When given carte blanche to select your own topic to write on, the thinking writer shoots for a pleasant combination between the least amount of work and the most amount of fun. Naturally, I selected pornography as my area of focus. Porno. Even saying the word is enough to make your mouth feel dirty and the images it calls to mind are hardly any cleaner. It is mass consumed and yet mass condemned, so powerful a loathing does it summon that it has been able to unite both fundamentalist Christian and radical feminist on the matter of how a woman should be depicted. No small miracle.

I say woman and not man because everyone knows that porn is for men. Say porno and people picture some guy, crankin’ it to some girl. Men too unattractive to get laid, hunched over a screen, shuddering away and the complex ways this mental image constructs the world is a very interesting subject. But it’s also a subject that’s been done to death, go Google it, I’ll wait.

You’re back! Great. So that got me to thinking, the modern world and its myriad wonders has brought with it a slow deconstruction of many old beliefs about the differences between the sexes. Once indisputable facts are now routinely mocked absurdities but one of the last to fall (or at least, start to lean a bit) is the axiom that porn is a guy thing. Pornography made by and/or for heterosexual women (gay and queer porn is an essay of its own) is, in this post-Sex and the City era, less of a surprise but it is not as recent as one might think. The history of women’s porn, the forms it has taken and the means by which it is accessed, parallel the emancipatory history of the western woman and provide interesting perspectives on the process. Separated (like women’s history itself) into pre and post Women’s Liberation, the following will take you from Reformation England to the Internet and explain just what Jane Austen, and Jack Thompson’s penis have in common.

 

Part 1. 

A divorce, an industrial revolution, and a pair of publishing houses walk into a bar: Romance novels and the Vaginal Photoplethysmograph.

Henry VIII and Sexual Assault: The Birth of Romance.

The mid 1500s were a pretty happening time in Briton. Henry VIII had just created the Church of England and sense of “affective individualism” was present in the new church’s message.  Preachers were defining marriage in a new way, one that stressed mutual love, comfort, and support. Marriage was the single decision a woman would make in her life and now there was a social system supporting her concern for good treatment.  This new social reality became the groundwork for the earliest “romances”.

 I put the term “romance” in the inverted commas of irony because the plot of the first major novel, Samuel Richardson’s Pamela: Virtue Rewarded (1740), was essentially a fifteen year old girl haggling with her rapist/employer over the details of her marriage contract.  Believe it or not, this was remarkably empowering within its social context — a theme that tends to follow the romance genre — and the book was an absolute hit, spawning theatrical adaptations, unauthorized sequels and even merchandise.  This book would contain most of the tropes which have come to define the romance genre as it was expanded on in now famous fashion.

A modern dismissal of the romance genre is that it’s pop but, like Pamela, literary classics like Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice (1813), Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre (1847), and American “domestic sentimentals” like E.D.E.N Southworth’s The Hidden Hand (1859) were the hugely successful pop-culture of their day.   They fed a new market of literate, middle-class women. Women whose home industries had been eliminated by the industrial revolution and whose participation in society was entirely restricted, women with nothing to do but read.  By the late 1800’s a majority of English readers were female and they were reading about one of the few areas of their lives they could exercise some control.  Into this new publishing world, stepped Gerald Mills and Charles Boon.

Mills and Boon, Harlequin, and Hiding Your Porn in Plain Sight

Mills and Boon (M&B) had both worked for a British publishing firm, Methuen, as education director and sales manager respectively, before turning a shared 1000 pounds into their own publishing house in 1909.  Their first published book, Sophie Cole’s romance, Arrows from the Dark (1909) was released along with a variety of other fiction and non-fiction lines.  By 1914, Arrows from the Dark, had sold 1,394 copies and other Mills and Boon romances like Beatrice Grimshaw’s When the Red Gods Call (1911), and I.A.R. Wylie’s The Daughter of Brahma (1912) were blockbusters of the time.  Following the financial crisis of the late 20s and Mills’ death in 1928, the company’s bleak financial position forced them to drop anything not wildly profitable.  Fortunately, romance fiction was wildly profitable and this growth period saw the development of their marketing by genre (instead of the traditional author) and the mail order catalogue sales system.  They were (and still are) an untouchable juggernaut of publishing which is why they caught the eye of a small Canadian publishing firm, Harlequin Books.

Incorporated in 1949 in Wiinipeg by Jack Palmer, Doug Weld and Richard Bonnycastle, Harlequin Books began much like M&B, publishing whatever they could get their hands on.  Amongst fascinating titles like Lady, That’s My Skull were reprints of various British authors, including some attached to Mills and Boon.  Richard Bonnycastle took control of the company in 1957 and a year later he owned the entire business along with his wife, Mary.  By 1964, Harlequin had been republishing Mills and Boon for 7 years while maintaining other lines. Mary Bonnycastle, working as editor, saw great potential in the popularity of their romances and dedicated Harlequin to the genre exclusively.  A mail-order system and advertising focused in supermarkets, women’s magazines and daytime television saw Harlequin’s profits skyrocket and in 1971 the company purchased Mills and Boon.  Together they were the most profitable publisher for the next decade and are still a dominant force today.  You’re probably wondering when this is going to be about porn and not the minutes of Harlequin’s most recent corporate meeting. But that’s the thing, romance fiction IS porn, it just doesn’t look like it when porn is defined by magazines that spell jugs with two gees and a zed.

Men and Women can be Different: The Science of Sit-Com Stereotypes

A 2009 study on how emotional and cognitive absorption affected women’s responses to erotic material found “that the degree to which a woman becomes absorbed in an erotic stimulus, such as a film excerpt, may have a substantial impact on her subsequent feelings of sexual arousal.”  A 2014 study, using a less-than-pleasant sounding vaginal photoplethysmograph, found that “The strongest single predictor of subjective arousal was sexual arousal thoughts” and not raw external stimulus. Carol Thurston cites similar studies when she states that, “…the brain is involved physiologically and exerts more control in the sexual arousal of females than in males” and that “if there is any single label that fits these romances today it is female sexual fantasy”.  Early forms of “pure” or “sweet” romance were known for “stopping at the door” but just because nothing carnal was described doesn’t mean nothing carnal was suggested.  Early works, like 1928’s The Dancing Boy, would use lines like, “The fact of his love was a spar she clung to when the wild seas engulfed her” to craft effectively erotic moods.  And, as the aforementioned studies show, these moods are enough. When interviewed on the subject, a woman going by the name of Gil said “Like reading Mills and Boon… there are some of those… that are really sexy… y’know, no sex but… like you can take it further than they go.”  As female sexual response differs from the male, so too does the means by which one stimulates it. If you have to go to the shop and you live down the road from it, the directions to it are easy. If you live further away and want to avoid traffic, the directions are more complicated. The point is, men live close to the shop.

Pre-1970s Harlequin editorial guidelines specified sweetness and in 1982 industry giant Barbara Cartland came out heavily against racier material saying, “…all decent women dislike pornography. It’s degrading and humiliating and like me it makes them feel sick. To me, it’s appalling that so many well known (sic) authors, especially in America, who write very well should think that sex must be included.”  While overt erotic material was on the horizon, even the sweet books like Cartland’s were a form of porn as, “The romantic intensity of Harlequins — the waiting, fearing, speculating — are as much a part of their functioning as pornography for women as the more overtly sexual scenes”. Feminist critic Ann Snitow praised romances, saying, “…a strength of the books is that they insist good sex for women requires an emotional and social context that can free them from restraint” and this was manifest in the ways the books changed with the times.  Class and divorce themes (1910s), soldiers returning with psychological scars or not at all (WW1 & 2), finding employment (1950s), and balancing independence with love (1970s) were all used as Pamela Regis’ defined “social barriers” to be overcome.  As the social reality of women changed, their pornography followed suit, and the 1970s were to bring the biggest change yet.

Peter Parsi described Harlequins as “…pornography for people too ashamed to read pornography” but the Women’s Liberation movement was to challenge that shame.  Harlequin’s initial squeamishness about overt sex, Mary Bonnycastle was not a fan, quickly fell by the wayside after sales figures and reader polls indicated its demand.  In the early 80s, romance fiction subdivided into myriad new lines of varying subjects and degrees of eroticism which remain to this day, but what if Jane Austen and her ilk didn’t do it for you? Men had magazines, why not women? Jack Thompson’s penis, or lack thereof, was about to become the metaphor for the other side of women’s porn.

Part 2

Gal’s Mags, The Internet, and a Phallus-y Fallacy: The Modern Woman and Porn.

 

Enough to Put a Woman Off: Men Attempt Women’s Porn Magazines and the Debate over Dongs

Radical philosophical and political movements, through their challenging of taboos, coincide with booms in porn and the Women’s Liberation movement of the early 1970s is no different.  In 1972, Cosmopolitan gave the world the first nude male centrefold in the forms of Burt Reynolds for the US market and Jack Thompson for the Australian.  But unlike the exposed centrefolds in men’s porn, there was no subtle shot of shaft, no tasteful glimpse of glans, no penis at all. Some readers demanded more and the reaction to the missing manhood prompted the start of women’s pornographic magazines like Playgirl (1973), Viva (1973), and For Women (1992).  It also brought to the fore the great question around women’s porn, do women like to look at the male form?

Writing in response to feminist academic discussion on the question, Janice Galloway would declare “Of course the penis is erotic!” and that her love of “the silky smoothness of penis-skin” shouldn’t make her any less of a feminist.  Jessica Davies would contrarily assert that “The whole idea of the magazine is alien to the female psyche. You simply cannot role reversal the centrefold concept, put it on news-stands and expect women to buy it.”   Theses quotes summarize the divide in opinions on women’s porn and the readership was similarly split. Some women enjoyed the pornography and wanted more, others enjoyed the informative, social sexual discussion the magazines provided.  Appealing to both at the same time was a puzzle beyond their publishers, so each magazine peddled itself as though purchasing it was a feminist act.  There were problems with this assertion.

That each magazine was published by a man – Playgirl by Douglas Lambert, Viva by Bob Guccioni, and For Women by Richard Desmond – and that each of those men had started out and still produced men’s porn were facts which critics used to hammer each magazines’ supposed feminist credentials.  The pictorials were described by some readers as, “…mediated through a male consciousness of what female desire is and female eroticism is” and, despite female photographers, they lacked a defined women’s aesthetic and were often lifted from gay photoshoots.  Subsequently, the history of these magazines was brief. Viva folded after only 5 years, For Women lasted 8 and Playgirl has undergone a variety of changes, most recently having shifted to a gay male focus.  In spite of a stated desire by many women, and the honest critiques of the pictorials, the failure of these magazines was seen as a final proof that women and “porn” porn don’t mix. They couldn’t have been more wrong.

Ladyboner: noun, “an erect clitoris; by extension, a state of arousal or sexual desire in a woman”

Clarissa Smith argued that women do have sexual responses to images of men but, “The difficulty lies in attempting to understand those responses within theoretical frameworks that dispute the existence of such responses…”  A great challenge the magazines faced was that this framework made each magazine purchase the equivalent of taking a side, nobody ‘accidentally’ buys porn, so each magazine tried to market itself as the purchase of a little slice of equality.  Unlike men, women could never casually consume porn, and this inequality characterized early understandings of women’s porn. Things have changed. The Internet has brought everyone together anonymously, and women’s porn, along with old ideas about it, have exploded. Only guys can be gross? A comment by a female user on an internet picture of Daniel Craig reads “I just want to lick him, just once…..”, and that was one of the polite comments.  The Internet’s capacity to cater to niche markets in ways a magazine never could has allowed the disparate communities to build their own spaces, and build they have.

The modern woman’s porn landscape represents a fascinating synthesis of everything which has come before it. The written word is as popular as ever, erotic fan fiction’s writer base is approximated to be 78% (based on self-reported gender) female with 30 million stories uploaded to popular site, Wattpad.  Fanfic writers cover just short of literally everything and have even attained fame with 50 Shades of Grey being a modified collection of Twilight fanfiction.  Reddit communities like Ladyboners and Chickflixxx allow women to ogle the male form and share links to/discuss porn that suits their needs. True to the research, interpersonal connection and mutual pleasure are as important as the basic sexual mechanics. Noted director for women’s porn production company, New Sensations, summed up as much in a note to his (female) writer, Jacky St. James: “Don’t write porn. Write a real story that has sex.”  And if that’s not you, don’t worry, the internet has you covered. Yaoi (gay male Japanese manga) fiction is just one example of a newcomer which has exploded in popularity with women’s interests in feminized male forms creating fascinating new perspectives on female sexuality.  Everything from pregnant men to clown porn, whatever it is, you’ll find it on the Internet.

Ann Snitow mused that, “…one can not (sic) resist speculating that equality between the sexes as child rearers (sic) and workers might well bring personal feeling and abandoned physicality together in wonderful combinations undreamed of in either male or female pornography as we know it.”  I like to think that the Internet is helping that along. A woman’s consumption of modern porn has been split between camps which both made something as personal as sexuality a public statement of identity. The anonymity and connectivity of the Internet has finally given women the freedom to explore pornography privately, and find whatever tickles their fancy. Rather than looking at porn as women, they can look at it as a woman.

Conclusion

The history of women is one of emancipation as thinking beings with agency, and this is reflected in the history of women’s porn. Romance novels evolved from social changes to marriage attitudes and wrote (still write) to the experiences of women over two centuries, providing social commentary, titillation, and a good read. Women’s Liberation brought with it a false start in the form of magazines which homogenized the breadth of female interests into too narrow a band but what magazines started, the Internet finished. A digital woman can be who she wants to be, explore new things, and find communities of similar folk. Whether it’s something like Jane Austen’s words or more along the lines of Jack Thompson’s penis, it’s your choice, just make sure to delete your browser history.

 

By Suave Lovegood

Silence of the Spams

Silence of the Spams

SUSPENDED ANIMATION! The most powerful of naps. But with great power comes a sudden presence of incredibly hot employees which was very briefly confusing.

They say hindsight is 20/20 which is why I had my foresight upgraded to 50/50. This was why I could have told you, and did, repeatedly, tell you that giving the revolutionary pop-up ads old sexbots as bodies was a bad idea. It was a fascinating revolution, as far as those go, no mean feat considering I once saw a pineapple stab a pork chop while screaming about its rights. Ha ha, nobody was more surprised than the chop.

The Spam was a little on the irritable side already given that its entire life, and the eventual structural components of its awareness, was/is based on constant social rejection. Now I like a good laugh as much as the next person — and by god, building a personality using rejection as the core defining parameter is funny — but funny doesn’t necessarily translate to good decisions. I learned that the hard way after infecting that wailing sewer ghost, Janice, with a case of superfluous eyeballs. Funny as goddamn hell but I couldn’t sneak up on her for nearly 6 months which ruined a whole slate of other things I had planned. As it happened, I spent my store credit refund from the Thompson’s Brand Eyeball Serum and Floor Wax on the foresight upgrade so I suppose it all worked out in the end. Anyway, the Spam was irritable and desperate for acceptance so it did the same thing any emotionally stunted reject does: get hot and slut it the fuck up.

Hot sluts tend to be great at only those two things because each is both a heavy point spend and the kind of stat buff that eschews the need to bother with nonsense like skills or thought. So I hadn’t noticed that the office had been wholly overrun by them as they were living up to the low standard set by the discount productivity gobs that normally fill the space and I avoid looking at my employees. My suspicions were first aroused when my loins were first aroused by Janice. That was odd, normally she looked like something Junji Ito would draw if he wanted to kill penises. Sexy Janice was an immediate and threatening ordeal as it was something even my foresight hadn’t seen coming. This caused a near cataclysmic doubtquake which would have killed me were I not equipped with existential crumple zones.

I looked for something, anything, familiar. The bad trip reflex of grounding yourself with the mundane. But as I stared at the Sexy Mail Boy, stalking the cubicles in a midriff top like a lethal power bottom in a locker room full of shy but curious footballers, the full horror of the day was upon me. The entire office was sexy.

I summoned the anti-virals and cursed immediately. Doe eyes and shapely thighs svelted their way into the office and dreamily asked what I desired. Goddammit, they’d gotten into everything. I don’t “desire” the goddamn end of this nonsense, I pragmatically want it for sensible, non-genital reasons! Begone, tart-muses from beyond the digital veil! Fortunately, none of this nonsense works on me as I am well aware that all attractive people are just the adorable cheese in some cruel trap. Pig’s blood is only funny when you’re telekinetic, dammit.

The thing about existence is getting something is better than having something. The second you’re hot, there’s a countdown timer over your head for when all that shapely razzle-dazzle becomes the new burden you crave release from. It’s a tale as old as time. Tell ugly people they’re pretty. Tell pretty people they’re smart. Tell young people they’re mature. Tell accidentally conscious spam advertisements that they are genuinely cared for. I hastily thew together some fake emotional walls to break down and delivered a stirring speech to the office about how I knew their secret and, while I wasn’t upset, did need my original employees back. The Spam sexily understood and frustratingly hot Janice, their leader, explained that this was just a temporary thing for them anyway. That was a goddamn lie but A: telling them that would just make them sob attractively and B: they’d somehow managed to stuff the entire ugly office into a storage closet which I found fucking hilarious so I was willing to let it all slide. Hell, after putting a notice up for their adoption I invited them all to the the annual Office Cease Fire/Party. A laugh like that deserves a reward.

At any rate, I’ve since installed some specifically tasked spam blockers. If your cretinous keystrokes aren’t getting through to the comments, try to sound less like braindead algorithm hocking dick medicine. As for other office news, the UI has been tidied a bit. All of my work is now under The Desk of Gabriel Morton with various subcategories that I can already feel myself regretting assuming you’ll be able to figure out yourselves. I try to be lead by example and inspire the youth, pursuant to that, I’ve quit writing about Doctor Who because it became incredibly dull. Remember kids, quitting is absolutely an option and anyone saying otherwise is merely trying to bind you to their productivity mill via socially implanted psychoslavery engrams. The Simpsons continues, though, as I still enjoy that, the last one was free as I forgot to do it for months but the rest will necessitate the staggering .033 cents a day ticket price. Additionally, there is the Classy Critique Corner where currently resides 2 extra bits of stuff that it is your homework to read. Too many mongtards bother me with questions answered therein and as much as I love the sound of my own voice I love it more when I can say something other than the same damn things over and over. No, I’m not doing these as videos, learn to read. These latter writings will pop up occasionally as they are very dependent on the muse.

I’m going to replace your favourite porn with deep fakes of your mother.

Gabriel.