Donald Clarke

Whingeing about cinema and real life since 2009

Marge Simpson on the cover of Playboy? What the…

Marjorie. How could you? I’ve never got on with Lisa Simpson. I don’t watch cartoons — even sophisticated post-modern ones — to be lectured by some self-righteous, faintly pompous bore about the iniquities of capitalism or the insensitivity of the …

Sun, Oct 25, 2009, 20:17

   

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Marjorie. How could you?

I’ve never got on with Lisa Simpson. I don’t watch cartoons — even sophisticated post-modern ones — to be lectured by some self-righteous, faintly pompous bore about the iniquities of capitalism or the insensitivity of the logging trade. Of course, she’s usually right, but 6.30 on Sky is neither the time nor the place for this stuff.

Unfortunately, I do have to adopt Lisa’s tree-huggy tone when addressing the issue of Marge Simpson appearing on the cover of this month’s Playboy. What the heck is going on? For two decades we have counted on Matt Groening, creator of The Simpsons, to provide a genuinely progressive voice amid the chatter and noise that characterises prime-time television. An old-school liberal, who made his name in the alternative press, Groening has always been reliably sound on matters of race, religion and sexual politics.

Until now.

Let’s not mince words here. Marge Simpson is appearing on the cover of a w**k mag. (Okay, I am mincing my words, but I think we have to asterisk the w-word in both online and print articles.) The only significant difference between Playboy and Razzle is that the latter magazine never pretends to be anything other than what it is: something to be read with a large box of tissues to hand. If Groening approves of this decision — and I’m not aware of him objecting — then he is implicitly endorsing the crass objectification of women.

What is it Helen Lovejoy likes to say? “Won’t somebody please think of the children!” For some time now, the Playboy Bunny, often in diamante form, has been appearing on items of clothing aimed at pre-pubescent moppets. I had assumed that Groening would share the general queasiness that such cynicism inspires in sensible parents. It seems not. Perhaps he thinks that young girls should aspire to a job that requires them to dress as a rabbit while serving gin and tonics to leering businessmen. Perhaps he feels bending over a haystack wearing nothing but cowboy boots is a fit way to earn a living. It hardly needs to be said that The Simpsons is not purely a children’s show, but a significant part of the audience is of a tender age and (heaven help me, I sound like Mary Whitehouse) this decision sends out a very dubious message.

I hear what you’re saying. John Updike, Norman Mailer, Philip Roth, Joyce Carol Oates and James Baldwin have all written for Playboy. Well, Johnny, if Norman Mailer jumped off a cliff would you do so as well? Much of the generation that came of age before 1970 (or so) has some very peculiar ideas about the meaning of sexual liberation. These writers may have felt that allowing Hugh Hefner — that gin-swilling, silicone-squeezing, bathrobe-wearing old reprobate — a degree of respectability was a fit way of exercising their prestige. I think differently. Whenever I pick up my copy of The Executioner’s Song or American Pastoral I imagine a layer of slime adhering to the cover. The same substance now coats the television when it broadcasts The Simpsons.

Shame on you, Groening.

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