Hello and welcome to In Too Deep, where I over-analyse a certain section of pop culture.
One good thing about my country is that they play classic Simpsons every night, so I decided to tune in for the hell of it. Sure enough it was quite a funny episode, mostly revolving around Itchy and Scratchy. But then it suddenly occurred to me: Do they work as a joke any more? Do kids get the reference? Or have they become culturally out of date?
Well lets start with the most obvious thing: Itchy and Scratchy is clearly both a parody of not only Tom and Jerry but the complaints about cartoon violence in general. As you all know but will be told by me anyway, Tom and Jerry got under a lot of fire for having too much cartoon violence in it. They were worried that impressionable kids may copy it and start hitting each others with frying pans (which, even if they did, they’d probably stop fairly quickly once it started to hurt too much). They even made an episode of The Simpsons dealing with this concept and whether it was right or wrong. But here’s the question I ask you: When was the last time you saw Tom and Jerry on TV?
Now I can barely remember if I saw it thanks to free-to-air TV, satellite TV or my own collection of video tapes about the show, but what I can remember is that I definitely enjoyed it. Well some of it. Some of the Chuck Jones stuff was extremely hit or miss with me. Anyway I remember watching it and have vague memories of my friends all knowing about it as well. We all knew what Tom and Jerry was. But do kids today know what it is? Oh sure thanks to the modern world they can look it up online, that’s easy. But do they even know that it exists at all? TV nowadays seems incredibly reluctant to air something like Tom and Jerry due to its somewhat violent nature (either that or it itself is culturally irrelevant) so kids these days are less likely to ‘get the joke’ like we did. When we watched Itchy and Scratchy as kids we knew it was parodying those cat and mouse cartoons, with the ‘joke’ being they were extra violent and bloody. We all laughed along and had a good time. But does the joke still work nowadays? I mean sure one could argue the idea of cartoon violence to that extreme will always be funny on a purely subversive level, but thanks to the internet we no longer find it shocking. Or at least we’re much more accustomed to finding cartoon shows that deliberately ramp up the blood and gore for humorous effect. But we don’t have as many shows featuring character X trying to catch and potentially kill character Y, only to be amusingly hurt by what’s going on around them or their own incompetence. I mean I don’t keep up with kids TV these days, but nothing like it has swung by my radar. So does that mean Itchy and Scratchy no longer have a place in our modern day world?
Well if you may I’d like to extend this to the Simpsons as a whole, especially a lot of the earlier stuff from the 90s. You watch that stuff back and it’s a time capsule of 90s culture and viewpoints. A lot of the jokes and references are now all that exist of some once famous properties. For example: Name the movie Sideshow Bob’s villainous theme is based on. Give up? Turns out it’s a film called Cape Fear from 1991, a remake of the 1962 film of the same name. In fact the entire episode â€œCape Feareâ€ is a parody of said movie. But of course nowadays people won’t see the parody and think of it as an original idea. Same goes with many of the early Treehouse of Horror stories based on The Twilight Zone. Kids these days aren’t likely to realised that the shorts aren’t original concepts but parodies of a famous TV show (if not famous movies and other such properties). Watching 90s Simpsons really is starring into a time capsule from the past and all the eerinesses that comes with it. But does that mean those episodes are no longer culturally relevant?
Well one of the things that often confused me as a kid was some of the layout of the Tom and Jerry shorts. They’d be using machinery or appliances I didn’t get, or making jokes that totally went over my head due to them being a famous reference. Same goes for Looney Tunes. Bugs Bunny’s famous nonchalant carrot-chewing stance in fact came from a movie called It Happened One Night. Those back in the day would have gotten the reference, but to me it was just Bugs Bunny being Bugs Bunny. But just because I wasn’t getting all the references doesn’t mean I didn’t find it funny. I may have missed the referential humour but I got a lot of the broad strokes, the main gags. Just because it isn’t as culturally relevant doesn’t mean it’s not as funny.
So to tie it all back round to Itchy and Scratchy: No, the joke doesn’t work any more. Kids these days don’t get that it’s in fact a reference to a completely different cartoon. Just like how when we watched it as kids we didn’t know that Krusty the Clown was a reference to a real life performer. But that doesn’t stop the joke from being funny. If done right it doesn’t lose any of its humour at all.
So there you have it. My look at cultural relevancy in this day and age. If you disagree with anything, or have anything to add, feel free to leave a comment. Till next time.