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The Simpsons Gets Political - SE01 E09 - Life On The Fast Lane

The Simpsons Gets Political - SE01 E09 - Life On The Fast Lane


"It's not quite breakfast, it's not quite lunch. It comes with a little slice of cantaloupe. You don't get quite what you'd get at breakfast, but you get a good meal!"


Script Synopsis: The episode opens with the children making breakfast for Marge on her birthday. As Marge receives her gifts it becomes apparent that Homer has forgotten her birthday, and therefore does not have a present to give her - a fact which the rest of the family realise.

Rushing out to buy Marge a present - Homer arrives at the mall. The scene cuts between Homer at the mall picking out her present, and Marge on the phone to her sisters discussing the fact that Homer always buys Marge gifts that are really for him. This observation is confirmed to the viewer when Homer picks out a bowling ball as Marge's gift, and has his own name engraved onto it.

At Marges birthday meal, the family present gifts and Marge realises what Homer has done. Later on in bed she is clearly irritated with him and proclaims that she will be keeping the ball for herself, much to his chagrin. The next day she goes to the bowling alley to play, informing the attendant that she is there "out of spite".

At the bowling alley she meets Jacques, who offers to teach her how to bowl. When asked about the name engraved on the ball she neglects to mention that she is married, saying that Homer is the balls name. Over the course of the lessons, Jacques proves to be charming, and a good teacher - displaying many of the traits that Homers lacks. Marge starts spending more time away from the family, and Lisa begins to notice something is wrong.

As Lisa tries to convince Bart to take it as seriously as she does, Homer also begins to notice that he is losing Marge after finding the bowling glove that Jacques gave her as a gift. Although, he seems unable to do anything to win her back and instead becomes despondent. Culminating in him being unable to even cry out in pain when hit with a baseball pitched by Bart.

The episode culminates with Marge having to make a choice of whether to go to Jacques apartment away from prying eyes - or to go visit Homer at the nuclear plant. Ultimately making the choice to go see Homer, and spending ten minutes in the back seat of his car.

Issue raised: What would different ethical systems have to say about infidelity, and the dilemma Marge faces at the end of the episode?


(§) All of the theories discussed have much more depth to them then I have given them herein, if you're interested to learn more there are some great books at your local library.


Philosophy can serve a purpose, this is what I like to tell people who insult my job prospects on the internet. It can make us sound smart to strangers, when we use words like ontology, empirical or epistemological in our everyday speech. It can also offer a view on how we ought to live, and can have something to say about lifes tricky dilemmas.

It can guide our thinking at various points in our short journey from baby to corpse, and help us make the best - or the best they can be - decisions.

The decision that Marge has to take in this episode is whether or not she should be physically unfaithful(1) to her husband, and ultimately put her marriage in jeopardy. Or, whether to value her husband and her marriage over a silver tongued pseudo-French guy.

Given that she has to make a decision and clearly sees this as a dilemma. She might want to reach for one of the great moral philosophies in an attempt to work out what the thinkers associated with them would have her do. Or at least the moral philosophers covered by the British A-level syllabus(2). As she doesn't, to my eternal regret, we can do it for her - starting with:

Utilitarianism

Utilitarianism is a moral theory which claims that we should judge an action on the amount of pleasure or pain that it creates. That we should prefer those actions which maximise pleasure and minimise pain. That when we consider whether we ought to perform an action, we should perform a kind of calculation as to the amount of people that would benefit or lose out if the action were to be performed - and take the course of action in which more people are positively benefitted, than lose out.

Utilitarianisms chief virtue is that it is a neat theory, in that what one is meant to do, according to the theory, is usually pretty clear. Even if it does have a tendency, and this is its chief downside, of justifying some pretty horrific shit just so long as more people benefit from it than lose out(3). Is it OK to murder five people, to prevent ten dying? I hear you ask the utilitarian.

"Ab-so-fucking-lute-ly!" The Utilitarian screams with glee. "It's not only justified! It's the most moral thing to do! Here's the knife! Get stabbing!"

Obviously, I jest. The figure of the utilitarian may not engage in the act of murdering five innocents lightly. But their theory is fairly unequivocal that, all other things being equal(4), due to the fact that ten people is more than five people - and we assume all those people would get a real kick out of continuing to live. We should prefer the lives of the ten. Because, the amount of pleasure that will be generated will be more, and the amount of suffering less, if we murder five instead of ten.

Obviously, life doesn't really work like that. Very rarely are we going to be asked to choose between five people or ten people dying. Very few of us are going to go around pitching morally dubious torture reality TVprogrammes (5), still less of us think the holocaust would have been OK if everyone was getting off on it, and I'd be willing to bet that very few people think harvesting organs from drifters who no one cares for, to save people with large families who care about them, is legit.

Where we might think utilitarianism was getting it right, intuitively speaking, would be in a case such as Marge's. If one takes all other things to be equal, and says that in the episode if Marge is unfaithful to Homer, then one person gets to experience pleasure - Jacques. But three experience pain; Lisa, Homer and Bart. Thus, by remaining faithful more people benefit than lose out. So, according to the theory she ought to remain faithful, because if she does less people are hurt and more are happy.

Outcome: Marge the utilitarian, would act just as she did in the episode.

Kantian Ethics (Deontological Ethics)


"Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law."
— Immanuel Kant, Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals

Imagine your actions created a law, by which everyone must act as you did. Thus, if you murdered someone then everyone would murder someone. If you stole, then everyone would steal. And, if you went to your bowling instructors seedy apartment and had extra-marital sex with them, then everyone would go to their bowling instructors apartment and have extra marital sex with them. Nightmare, right?

Well, maybe not. If you were the sovereign legislator in a kingdom of ends, then if you shared, treated people with respect and dignity, remained faithful to your partner, didn't steal, murder or rape then no one would. If everyone acted like this sovereign legislator in their actions, then no one would be buying birthday presents they never intended the recipient to use, or getting off with creepy pseudo-French guys to spite people - or at least I wouldn't, nor probably would Marge.

If the world was like this, it would be excellent. Great theory, right? Basically, it's "Do unto others" but steeped in German Philosophy and logic. It does assume that what people desire is fairly static, in that some might think a world of polygamy would be great, or wouldn't mind some kind of The Purg" type scenario where-by murder was fine. So the question can be begged; "Who's kingdom and what ends?". Which, incidentally, is what my upcoming grime debut is called.

Outcome: Marge the Kantian, would take the decision she does in the episode.

Aristotelean Ethics (Virtue Ethics)

If you want my opinion, and I take it you do as you are reading my blog, Virtue Ethics is a mess of a theory. Chiefly, because it's not really a theory - more a statement of what traits Aristotle, or whatever theorist is attempting to update Aristotle - takes to be desirable.

At its core Virtue Ethics proposes that the moral agent ought to develop traits that are compatible with arete (excellence or virtue), phronesis (practical or moral wisdom), and eudaimonia (flourishing). Clearly then, what these traits would be can be disputed and are likely to be extremely culturally specific.

Take phronesis (practical moral wisdom), how exactly does one develop this? From what source? How does one know that what one is practising is moral wisdom? Well by reason of course! What does reason demand we do? No one knows. Is what is considered reasonable fixed over time and space? No.

Apparently eudaemonia is an objective, not a subjective, state. Characterising the well lived life. But well lived according to who? According to reason! Is what is considered reasonable fixed over time and space? No.

You get my point. This theory suffers from bringing up high sounding concepts, which cannot be defined or fixed and attempting to make a moral theory out of them. Sorry for being dismissive, but having had to humour this crap all the way through my undergraduate and postgraduate degrees I've finally lost patience. Bentham was right, this shit is nonsense on stilts.

Outcome: Marge would do whatever the fuck she wanted, and then justify it with high sounding platitudes.

Existentialism

Existentialism is roughly speaking, the idea that life has no ultimate meaning. But that we can apply meaning to it. That if there is no god, and no truth in the universe - why not just make your own truth and live according to that.

Jean Paul-Sartre, who incidentally was a seedy looking Frenchman himself, characterises the outlook the best in an anecdote he relayed in a lecture entitled "Existentialism as a Humanism". During WWII one of his students came to him to ask for his advice. The young man was considering whether or not he ought to join the French Resistance, despite the great danger it would put him in, the fact that his family would be extremely upset at his likely death and the fact that at that point in the war the endeavour looked futile. The student would likely die, and the cause he would be fighting for would lose anyway. But he believed he should do it and sought Sartres opinion.

What Sartre told him was that by coming to him he had displayed that he had made the decision already. Sartre was a communist anti-fascist, by coming to him the student had displayed his preference, and no matter what Sartre told him he was likely to go off to join the resistance anyway. The student had created a meaning, which was to sacrifice himself for something he believed in. He had created his own meaning, and intended to live in a way that was true to this. A kind of morality.

Deep eh'?

Outcome: Marge would do whatever the fuck she wanted, but for consistent and intellectually interesting reasons.


FIN.

_____

Notes:

(1) She is emotionally unfaithful, although I do question how much of a thing that actually is. As it precludes us from having deep relationships with someone who there is a chance that we might be interested in sexually when we are in a relationship, even if we don't bump uglies with them - the friend, not the person we're in a relationship with.

(2) I had to fairly arbitrarily pick the moral theories to discuss, and this seemed as good a selection as any. Who knows my blog might make a useful teachers aid for someone.

(3) This is referred to in some literature as a "Utility Monster", basically what this means is, you might be able justify sadistic torture as a reality TV format if everyone got a real buzz out of it. Or make an argument that gang rape is legit cos' 10 > 1. A way around this is to introduce the concept of higher and lower pleasure - but then you get into a whole thing about semantics, and then the theories chief virtue, simplicity and ease of application, disappears.

(4) We've got a lot to get through here guys, so debates can be had about the quality of the lives in question ya'da'ya'da'ya - hence 'all other things being equal'. Utilitarianism as a school of thought can have a lot of nuance to it - I aim to give an overview, not present the whole picture, thus I may err on the side of caricature.

(5) See Footnote 3.

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