Lifetime of Simpsons

That’s What Makes Me Cool – Not Caring, Right?: The Underutilized Power of Marge Simpson

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During this week of reckoning with my thoughts and opinions toward the members of the Simpson family there were some that I knew would be easy to write about, and others that would be hard. Honestly, even though I feel very differently about Lisa and Bart, I kind of had my opinions on them cemented, and was ready to discuss these iron-clad thoughts. But then there was Marge. I mentioned in my Maggie article that she was the toughest family member to wrap my mind around and come to a real definite opinion, but man does Marge give her a run for her money. Because Marge is a fascinating character that can often be used to great effect, but who by and large isn’t used as well as I feel she should be used.

Growing up Marge was probably my least favorite character of the bunch. Because she was the boring mom. She made bad jokes, and generally seemed to be there to keep the rest of the family from getting into wacky hijinks. And, when I was younger, that couldn’t have interested me less. Marge was just a wet-blanket of a character who didn’t do much at all for me. There just wasn’t a whole lot about her that really spoke to a young boy apparently, and Marge-centric episodes were often the bottom of the barrel for me.

But, as I’ve aged and supposedly matured, Marge has really become a low-key fantastic part of the show for me. She’s rarely in the spotlight, but she’s always in the background, tossing out jokes that made me groan when I was a kid, but that I’ve come to absolutely love. And I honestly don’t know what changed. I have no idea why Marge’s lame jokes and observations drove me crazy as a kid, but delight me in modern day. She’s really funny, and her weird brand of often self-deprecating humor works perfectly for me, especially in the small doses that it’s often doled out in. She gets to toss out absolute groaner jokes, while Homer and the kids get to react in bafflement, which drove me crazy as a kid, but I just eat up now.

Plus, Marge is one of those characters that work so well when put in the more emotional spots. Julie Kavner is fantastic as Marge, and has always killed in the role, and she really gets to shine in emotional episodes. Which, sometimes feels like a cheat, because I imagine most people can really get hit by mom stuff. They’re occasionally emotionally manipulative, but some of the best episodes of the show revolve around Bart and Lisa learning the hard lesson that a mother being disappointing in you is far worse than a mother being mad at you. Marge is an incredibly loving mother, and has devoted her entire life to her family, so it stands to reason that we would get a bunch of episodes revolving around her and the family trying to get along. She’s believes in her children wholeheartedly, and is always willing to take their side, and to encourage them to be the very best version of themselves that they possibly can be.

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Likewise, her relationship with Homer is often terrific, but also delivers one of the most conflicting aspect to Marge as a character. There’s of course the issue that Marge and Homer fall into that old trope where we have a big fat dumb husband and his ever-patient wife who is just there to forgive him. And that trope sucks. But, when their relationship works, it really works. Their history together, and the eternal devotion that Homer and Marge have to each other always gets me misty, and the idea that while they may not lead the most exciting life together they always have fun together is so important to me. Unfortunately, the flip-side of this is that they often decide to have Homer and Marge’s relationship put in jeopardy, leading to one of my least favorite types of episodes of all time. It would be absurd to have Homer and Marge never have any problems, and to have a storybook marriage. That’s impossible. But, the show really fell into a rut with doing the exact same story, time and time again. Homer would make an ass of himself, Marge would be instantly furious with him, she quickly reaches the point where she thinks the marriage is about to end, Homer does something last minute to fix things, and they just move on without actually growing. And I hate it. Primarily because it makes Marge this utter doormat. She’s just there to forgive Homer, without actually having him change, knowing that he’ll continue to be an asshole to her whenever the show wants to trot this plot out again.

But, there’s another thing about Marge that makes me mad for her sake. Marge really gets put into three types of episodes. Ones where she has to be disappointing in the kids, ones where she’s struggling with her marriage to Homer, and ones where she fails at something she’s passionate about. And that last trope bums me the hell out. The show has shown us time and time again that Marge is actually a very talented person, but she’s kind of walled that side of her life off from her life as a mother and wife. And, whenever she tries to break out of that mold and do something new with her life, it just falls apart. I’m not sure why there are so many jobs that basically boil down to “Marge gets a job and does terribly at it,” but man are there too many. And, while I enjoyed some of the earlier examples of this trope, it just gets exhausting. I just don’t understand why Marge isn’t allowed to succeed.

Which is kind of my biggest sticking point with Marge. I really like her. She’s a fantastic character with a lot of untapped potential and a surprising amount of depth. But, she’s just not often utilized. She’s used as a plot device more than a character, just as something for Homer or the kids to try and make happy. She could really become a much better character, one given a lot more to do, but for whatever reason she’s often locked into those three types of episodes, not allowed to shine. But, when she actually gets to take center stage and do her own thing, I love it.

 

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