“Dear Purveyors of Senseless Violence: I know this may sound silly at first, but I believe that the cartoons you show to our children are influencing their behavior in a negative way. Please try to tone down the psychotic violence in your otherwise fine programming. Yours truly, Marge Simpson.”
After Bart and Lisa watch an Itchy and Scratchy cartoon, Maggie strikes Homer with a mallet. Marge is horrified and vows to put a stop to violence on children's television. But when the ball of censorship starts to roll, where will it all end?
Homer attempts to build Marge a spice rack. While doing so, Maggie sneaks up and hits Homer on the head with a mallet. Marge is at first clueless as to why Maggie would do such a thing, but Maggie later sees an episode of The Itchy & Scratchy Show, a cartoon which is understood for its violence and tries to stab Homer with a pencil. Marge immediately blames the show for Maggie's actions and bans Bart and Lisa from watching the show as well. Despite the ban, Bart and Lisa still manage to watch Itchy & Scratchy at their friends' houses. Marge writes a letter to the producers of the show asking them to tone down their violence and in response, Roger Meyers, Jr. (the CEO of Itchy & Scratchy International) writes a letter to Marge, telling her one person can not make a difference and insults her, and Marge plans to teach them a lesson.
Marge forms an angry mob known as "Springfieldians for Nonviolence, Understanding, and Helping" (SNUH) and forces the family to picket outside the Itchy & Scratchy Studios. Unknown to her, Bart and Lisa have been sneaking off to their friends' houses to watch the shows, under the guise of 'playing sports' or 'making the most of their childhood years'. Marge's protest gains momentum and soon more people join the group and even start to picket The Krusty the Clown Show, on which Itchy & Scratchy is shown. Marge appears on Kent Brockman's show, Smartline, where she confronts Roger Meyers over the violence and suggests that concerned parents send letters to Meyers. Plenty of letters to fill the mail trucks that line up down the street are sent to the studio, one letter says that the writer won't even stop if they see Meyers crossing the street. Roger Meyers admits defeat and agrees to eliminate violence in Itchy & Scratchy. Eventually after angrily consulting with Marge over the phone, the first of the new shorts is released, in which Itchy and Scratchy sit on a porch drinking lemonade making small talk. Marge finds the cartoon to be better, but Bart, Lisa, and other kids across Springfield reject the cleaned-up show. A lengthy montage follows, in which the children of Springfield go outdoors (rubbing their eyes as though they've never seen sunlight) and engage in various wholesome activities, leaving Krusty with no show. That night, Bart and Lisa talk about their various outdoor activities while Marge listens happily. After the kids are excused from dinner, Homer remarks it is good that kids are spending time outdoors and getting some fresh air and exercise.
Meanwhile in Italy, the curators of Michelangelo's David send it on a tour of the United States, with one of the stops being Springfield. The members of SNUH urge Marge to protest the sculpture, insisting that the sculpture is offensive and unsuitable. However, Marge, an artist herself, argues that the sculpture is a masterpiece. Dr. Marvin Monroe capitalizes on this hypocrisy and asks Marge how she can believe it wrong to censor one form of art but not another, to which Marge is forced to admit that she can't and admits defeat, although she remarks not all forms of free speech are fine and wishes some, like cartoon violence, would be rejected as trash. She chooses to give up her anti-cartoon violence protest. Itchy & Scratchy immediately returns to its old form and the playgrounds and backyards are now empty as kids are once again indoors glued to their TVs. Homer and Marge go to see David, which Homer expresses some admiration for, but he sees Marge looks annoyed. When he asks why, she is irked by the fact Bart and Lisa could be seeing one of the most noted masterpieces in world history but they're cooped up at home "watching a cat and mouse disembowel each other". She cheers up when Homer tells her that the school will be forcing the children to go.
Behind the Laughter
"Itchy & Scratchy & Marge" was and is a critically acclaimed episode which dealt with censorship issues, and also allowed the writers to have use more Itchy & Scratchy cartoons which many fans had been clamoring for. The episode was written by John Swartzwelder, who loved Itchy & Scratchy and wrote several episodes that had them at the center. The episode was partially inspired by Terry Rakolta, who protested Fox over the show Married... with Children. For the episode, which handles a large issue, the writers tried not to have a point of view and looked at both sides, despite what the writers personally felt. During the original airing of the episode, the Fox satellite blew out and the entire West coast of the United States missed the first act of the episode.
This was the first episode directed by Jim Reardon, who had previously made a student film called Bring Me the Head of Charlie Brown which was very violent and the experience served him well for this episode. There are several characters who work at I&S studios who are caricatures of real people: the cartoonist who draws the Marge/Squirrel is based on Eddie Fitzgerald, who worked at Filmation and the three people with Meyers when he is asking Marge for suggestions are caricatures of Rich Moore, David Silverman and Wes Archer.
Alex Rocco makes his first of three appearances as Roger Meyers. Many people behind The Simpsons were huge fans of The Godfather and Jim Reardon looked for a way to shoot him in the eye as a reference to Rocco's character, Moe Greene. However, the writers could not find a feasible way to link Meyers to Moe Greene and instead made the character more like The Famous Teddy Z, which had been a TV show when Rocco played a Hollywood agent.
The long montage of the kids of Springfield playing was directed by Bob Anderson and is making a satirical point by saying the opposite of what the writers believed. The segment was written by John Swartzwelder and the idea of using Beethoven's Sixth Symphony was in the original script. James L. Brooks had wanted the episode to end with the montage, but the writers disagreed. Roger Meyers, Jr. makes his first appearance in this episode, as does Sideshow Mel, although he does not have any lines until the later episode "Radio Bart."
Warren Martyn and Adrian Wood, the authors of the book I Can't Believe It's a Bigger and Better Updated Unofficial Simpsons Guide praised the episode, stating that "Homer's doomed attempt to build a spice rack is only the start of another great episode, which works as a superb debate about television violence and politically inspired censorship." As well as noting that "the ending is especially poignant, as the pedagogues of Springfield swoop on Michelangelo's David as an example of filth and degradation". Empire named the Psycho parody as the second best film parody in the show. "The best throwaway gags blindside the unsuspecting viewer in episodes that are nominally about something else... Hitchcock is ripped off more than any other director but this is the most lovingly rendered reference."