Last week, three Florida parents complained when an art teacher showed Michelangelo’s “David” (1501–1504) — one of the most famous sculptures in the history of art — to their sixth-grade students. One parent called the masterpiece “pornographic,” and the others were angry they hadn’t been notified beforehand. The principal was forced to resign, and the charter school’s board chair ascended a soapbox to preach “parents’ rights,” a conservative talking point and platform of Governor Ron DeSantis.
The story has proven to be even more outlandish as it has emerged that a similar incident was part of an early episode of the Simpsons, aired over 30 years ago in 1990. In episode nine of season two, titled “Itchy & Scratchy & Marge,” a group of parents become outraged when Michelangelo’s “David” makes a stop in Springfield as part of a US tour.
The episode starts when Maggie, inspired by the cartoon Itchy & Scratchy, hits her brother Bart over the head with a mallet. Their mother, Marge, becomes outraged over the show’s violence and begins a crusade against it, forming “Springfieldians for Nonviolence, Understanding, and Helping” (SNUH) and holding protests.
“I can protect my own children, but there are many others whose minds are being warped every afternoon at four,” Marge says. She goes on a conservative talk show to discuss her anti-violence campaign and is mocked, but her plan is ultimately successful: The show stops being violent, the kids become bored by it, and they wake from their screen-induced hypnosis and begin playing outside. Later in the episode, Michelangelo’s “David” is exhibited in Springfield. Marge’s fellow SNUH members are infuriated, but Marge is not convinced.
“But that’s Michelangelo’s ‘David,'” she says. “It’s a masterpiece.”
“It’s filth,” replies a SNUH member. “It graphically portrays parts of the human body, which, practical as they may be, are evil.”
The parents go to a rally where they hold protest signs that read “No nudes is good nudes” and “Get off your pedestal.”
Marge returns to the talk show, where she is now mocked for supporting the display of “David.”
“How can you be for one form of freedom of expression, like our big naked friend over there, and be against another form, like Itchy and Scratchy?” says the host.
Marge ultimately concedes, stating, “I guess one person can make a difference, but most of the time they probably shouldn’t.”
The episode seems to use the “David” statue as an exaggerated example of the consequence of censorship (and as a dig at inflammatory talk show hosts), but in states including Florida, the storyline has become a grim reality as conservative lawmakers have banned drag shows and restricted discussions of sexuality, gender identity, and race. The episode takes another dark turn when we consider other parental pleas that are not being taken into consideration: Lawmakers have still refused to tighten gun control, even in the wake of yesterday’s shooting at a Tennessee elementary school that left three children and three staff members dead.
The Simpsons is perhaps not so much predictive as it is critically reflective of the dominant ideology. DeSantis as gross example of cultural revanchism is not new in America. or even in Florida.
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