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Itchy and Scratchy

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by Izzy Kalman (December 2002)

I’ve often said that comedians are the best psychologists. Comedians (and I include comedy writers in this category) know real human nature. They show us what we are like without the disguises. Because it shows us for the shnooks we really are, comedy is so much fun.

One of the favorite and most successful shows in the U.S. is The Simpsons (a cartoon show, for those somehow unfamiliar), advertised as “America’s favorite dysfunctional family.” This cartoon family reflects many profound truths. One of them is that virtually every family with more than one child, regardless of how “functional” or “dysfunctional” the family may be, has one “good” kid who tries to make the parents happy and one “bad” kid who tries to make the parents miserable. In The Simpsons, Bart is the troublemaker and Lisa is the wonderful child.

In the Simpsons’ world, there is a TV cartoon show called Itchy and Scratchy. Through this catoon-within-a-cartoon, the writers of the Simpsons make perhaps its most subtle and profound point. We all know that most cartoons are full of violence, and this is as true for the cartoons I grew up with in the 50’s and 60’s as they are of the cartoons of today. The Itchy and Scratchy Show is nothing but pure, unadulterated violence. You know what? Not only the does the antisocial Bart like the show. Angelic, pacifistic Lisa loves the show just as much as Bart does! She lies on the floor with her brother and the two of them laugh their heads off to the sight of a cat and mouse butchering each other in every variation.

What’s the moral? That violent entertainment is not bad for us. We have heard so often that violent entertainment creates violent children that most of us take it as an absolute truth. But I grew up on violent entertainment. Didn’t you? How could you possibly avoid it? Practically all human entertainment from the beginning of civilization is violent. Yet almost all of us grow up into nonviolent adults.

Violent entertainment does not make us violent. Have you ever seen fighting breaking out among the audience of a violent film? If violent entertainment caused violent people, violence in society would be steadily increasing since graphic violence in entertainment has been on the rise. Instead, violence in real life has been declining during the same period that violence in entertainment has been increasing. I still enjoy violent entertainment (not all of it – I do have some taste), and so do most people I know. There is no need to feel guilty about this. If it’s good for Lisa Simpson, I know it’s good for me.

Read more about mistaken attitudes about aggression

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