Cartoon Femininity

The news hit a few weeks ago--Marge Simpson would be on the cover of the November issue of Playboy. And she is, well, on some of them, anyway--Alina Puscau is on the rest, though Marge gets the centerfold section in all of them. Some commentators have wondered about the choice, from both sides. Why would The Simpsons, which satirizes the patriarchal world Playboy celebrates, put Marge in this situation? Why would Playboy think this a good marketing strategy toward twenty-somethings who haven't found The Simpson family edgy, well, ever?

Sarah Churchwell, writing in The Guardian attempts to answer the first question.

If The Simpsons occasionally lampoons feminism, however, it much more frequently satirises the objectification of women for commercial purposes: in one episode Marge and Lisa watch a television ad in which a man at a petrol station is approached by three scantily dressed sexy young women, strutting to pop music; one of them leans over to reveal a cross dangling in her cleavage, and a voiceover intones: "The Catholic church. We've made a few … changes."

Playboy is trying to claim the same thing in promising to reveal the devil in Marge Simpson. But Marge has been showing her devilish side for years. When she shut down the Maison Derri̬re, she warned Belle, its proprietor, that she was about to learn that "the two most dangerous words in the English language are 'Marge Simpson". And, actually, in 2004 Marge was featured on the cover of Maxim Рin a negligee, on all fours, scrubbing the floor Рso it's hard to conclude that she's letting the sisterhood particularly down by appearing in Playboy.

If Marge has always been a figure for sending up cultural questions about women's roles, then one could argue there is nowhere more appropriate for her to end up than on the cover of Playboy, the magazine that emerged in the very era – the American 1950s – that The Simpsons was born to burlesque. Playboy represented the flipside of that fantasy of domestic stability: instead, the magazine offered a sentimental fantasy of sanitised promiscuity. And of course Hefner has long been nothing if not a cartoon himself, a smirking parody of the vacuous consumption and mindless sexualisation he promulgated.
This, of course, is only a small snippet--the whole thing is worth reading. I don't have an answer for the second question I posted above, and neither does Churchwell. The notion that a Marge Simpson cover is going to pull in twenty-something readers is, well, ridiculous. It seems like a scene out of Mad Men where a bunch of middle-aged white men are trying to figure out what will sell to housewives, only with young adults as the pitchees this time. "The Simpsons--that's still edgy, right? The kids love edgy!" And Playboy has done this a lot recently, with "spreads" of women characters from video games and the like--although those made sense for the Playboy aesthetic, given their absurd dimensions and featureless faces. Whatever the reason, if the idea was to pull in twenty-somethings, it was a bad idea--maybe forty-somethings would be intrigued by it enough to buy a copy, but I'd be surprised if they see much of a bump at all.

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