Fresher 15 – The Songs To Hear This Month

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1).        SEA PINKS – Yr Horoscope

Northern Ireland just can’t stop churning out great bands. Ash, General Fiasco, Fighting With Wire, the list is endless. Now add the literate pop of Sea Pinks to that list. Beginning with a chugging indie riff reminiscent of The Housemartins, this blink-and-you’ll-miss it slice of delicious rock makes horoscopes much more fun than Mystic Meg.

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2).        DIIV – Out of Mind

The prodigal son has returned. Zachary Cole Smith, ‘Cole’ to his friends, returned after a four-year absence for new record Is the Is Are, which has a darker undercurrent than his debut Oshin. ‘Out of Mind’ is the opening track, which builds from a crackle of feedback into Cole’s irresistible, chorus-inflected riffs. It’s good to have him back.

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3).        TELEGRAM – Godiva’s Here

Telegram are the latest band to be touted as ‘the next big thing’, and upon listening, it’s hard to disagree with their shamelessly catchy tunes and bravado. ‘Godiva’s Here’ changes tack from a thunderous intro into a reflective chorus.

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4).        PUBLIC ACCESS TV – On Location

Currently supporting Spanish garage rockers Hinds on their UK tour, four-piece Public Access TV will hopefully be giving the shiny, up-tempo strut of ‘On Location’ an airing. The band have already garnered plaudits for their previous single ‘In Love and Alone’, but ‘On Location’ takes their bright rock and knocks it out the park.

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5).        ULRIKA SPACEK – Beta Male

Despite having a band name that sounds like a Swedish astronaut, Ulrika Spacek are certainly ones to watch. ‘Beta Male’ begins with reverb-drenched feedback before a taut, distorted bassline and haunting guitar motif creep into view. The song continues to build, blending Black Rebel Motorcycle Club with My Bloody Valentine.

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6).        PRIMAL SCREAM ft SKY FERREIRA – Where the Light Gets In

Primal Scream’s Bobby Gillespie, like The Charlatans before him, continues to keep his relevance alive well into the 21st century, despite staggeringly getting ever close to age 60. ‘Where the Light Gets In’ is embellished with a fantastic guest spot from Sky Ferreira, who’s hazy guitar strums and fervent call-backs give this dance-inflected number real purpose.

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7).        DAY WAVE – Gone

Beginning with a trademark dream pop riff, ‘Gone’ piles on the shimmering effects until it sounds like a long-lost ‘80s offcut, particularly the soothing, Drums-esque vocals.

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8).        TRAVIS – 3 Miles High

Aw, Travis. Love or loathe them, they have the sweetness of a boy who never once asks for a shag after giving you a lift home. ‘3 Miles High’, from their upcoming album Everything At Once, is a breezy, Beatles-esque acoustic number with wistful melodies and Fran Healy’s breathy sigh.

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9).        PJ HARVEY – The Wheel

After the critical acclaim of Let England Shake, PJ Harvey is finally back with this taster from her forthcoming album. ‘The Wheel’ is a lo-fi crunch, recalling the splintered grooves of Uh Huh Her, with the catchy refrain of “I’ve heard there was 28,000.” It bodes well for the new album.

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10).      TWIN PEAKS – Walk to the One You Love

It may be another ‘70s-style riff to add to the list of ‘Get It On’ pilferers, but at least here it’s subtle – ‘Walk to the One You Love’ has strong sax beats behind the funky guitars, and is made stronger with the vocals of Cadien Lake James.

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11).      I KNOW LEOPARD – Perfect Picture

I Know Leopard have been around for quite some time, and have achieved notable success in their native Australia. Whether or not it will cross over into England remains to be seen, but the hushed boy-girl harmonies and delicate dream pop of ‘Perfect Picture’ deserve some recognition.

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12).      KULA SHAKER – Infinite Sun

And this month’s unlikely comeback heroes are…yes, Kula Shaker have been ploughing a spiritually-rewarding, but hardly lucrative, furrow since reforming in 2007, but their new album K 2.0 really does feel like a comeback. ‘Infinite Sun’ contains Crispian Mills’ usual brand of kooky sitars, religious lyrics and a pounding chorus.

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13).      YUCK – Cannonball

It’s brave to name a song ‘Cannonball’, especially when you’ve got the likes of The Breeders and, erm, Damien Rice to compete with, but Yuck take the mantle and run with it with this sludgy slice of grunge pop. They’re still living in the flannel-flecked ‘90s, and we love them all the more for it.

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14).      JAKE BUGG – On My One

Jake Bugg loves a moan, so it’s no surprise to hear that his new single – his first in nearly three years – is a curmudgeonly gripe about touring and being betrayed by God. Luckily, Bugg can back up these gripes with strong melodies, and this moody shuffle sounds like a long-lost La’s outtake.

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15).      RICHARD ASHCROFT – This Is How it Feels

‘Mad Richard’ may have mellowed as the years have progressed, but he still knows how to achieve notable bombast. ‘This Is How It Feels’ is his first offering since that disastrous weird rap record, and it seems he’s relocated the string-drenched, solemn rock that made Alone With Everybody such a compelling record.

‘Lisa the Skeptic’ – The Beginning of the (Flanderised) End?

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The Simpsons has coined a lot of phrases over the years, some that have been lifted from catchphrases, others purely from the genius that lies beneath. However, one term the creators might not be so enamoured with has to be ‘flanderisation’. I’m sure you know what it means, but here’s a quick recap – as the show ploughed on and the quality diminished, what was once subtle traits within characters became rampant exaggerations; Flanders became an ultra-conservative Christian, Skinner became a spineless momma’s boy, Lisa became an embittered mouthpiece and Smithers was relentlessly homosexual.

It’s hard to pinpoint where all this started, but the common theory is that Season Nine, when Mike Scully began his infamous reign as showrunner, is the beginning of the end. On Sunday, I saw an episode I haven’t seen for a long time, ‘Lisa the Skeptic’. In the past, episodes that, on the surface, seem sobering are actually thought-provoking and bittersweet (see ‘Lisa the Iconoclast’ and ‘Summer of 4 ft 2’ for prime examples). I knew this Lisa-centric episode wasn’t quite up to that standard, but upon watching it, I felt a foreboding sense of what was to come as the show’s characters began to morph into their OTT, current selves.

Firstly, throughout the episode Homer is now fully versed in his ‘Jerkass’ persona. It’s not too much of a problem when it’s funny and, more importantly, when he’s held accountable for his actions (for instance, when he’s driving home bitterly from the police motorboat sting), but often his unilateral actions go unnoticed. There’s a few things in the episode that Homer does that rub me up the wrong way – when he enters the police station, he barges boorishly past Snake, a dangerous criminal, in order to get his motorboat. Later on, when Lisa uncovers the so-called angel, he pushes through the crowd and indignantly shouts “out of my way, I got here late!” and, of course, simply steals the angel and bids the crowd adios. I don’t mind so much that he charges people to see the angel, and I did chuckle at his retort to Agnes (“hey I’m trying to eat here, beat it, peg leg!”), but this isn’t the Homer I want to see – we want to root for our protagonist, and in the past Homer has been a loveable, if lazy, underdog; it’s not so nice seeing him be an uncouth moron.

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The episode also, arguably, does damage to Lisa. For me, the Smartline scene is a dangerous prequel to the rabble-rousing Lisa that inhabits the show nowadays. There’s a lot of ire directed towards Lisa online and on forums, and I feel that’s purely because since around Season Nine-Ten, she’s never down from her soapbox, preaching and yelling, whereas the Lisa of old was a sweet, naïve outsider. The Smartline scene begins with Kent saying that Lisa is making her “thirteenth appearance on the show”, which was a trigger for me – I don’t really think we actually saw her on the show before this, but it’s as if the show wanted us to believe this fact, that Lisa is relentless in promoting her polemic views and will stop at nothing to do so. Throughout the episode, she denounces the town’s religious beliefs with vitriol and scorn; think back to ‘Lisa the Iconoclast’ when not only did she have proof Jebediah was a pirate, but she nervously cleared her throat and politely told her findings to the likes of Apu and Moe. Here, she’s unafraid to kick up a storm and it’s kind of hard to root for her.

With the episode focusing on science vs religion, it’s only natural Flanders is prominent. It’s good to see him express a bit of passion in his arguments, particularly when he utters the line “science is like a blabbermouth that ruins the ending. Well I say there’s things we don’t wanna know…important things!”. It’s one of my favourite remarks of his, but again this feels like the infamous “haha, you wish” Homer response in ‘Homer’s Enemy’; you can see the new characterisation of Flanders, the religious nut who showers with swimming trunks on, beginning to form in this episode. Despite being staunch in his faith, Ned was never one to denounce others, and here his exaggerated line “we’ve come for the angel, it’s not safe with the unbeliever” feels a little OTT for Flanders, a man who in the past enjoyed a sports game and a beer.

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Finally, Smithers is also given a brief, if telling, introduction to his ‘flanderised’ state. I must admit while I laughed at the suddenness of his smooch on Burns, it again shows Smithers’ current state. In the past, Smithers’ love of Mr. Burns wasn’t quite as latent as it is now – it was more that Smithers was, as Burns deemed it, “a young bootlick”. He worshipped Burns as the ultimate sycophant, not quite as a gay man. I remember a recent episode when, after taking an injection to make him straight, Smithers yelled “I love boobies!”. It felt so wrong. There’s an upcoming episode where apparently Smithers “comes out”, which I really can’t wait for (“in case you can’t tell, I’m being sarcastic”).

‘Lisa the Skeptic’ isn’t a bad episode, and there’s a lot I laughed at – Lisa’s “who wants to come back with me?” cry feels like traditional Lisa, Skinner’s PA announcement tying in the honour and the naughty students, Lionel Hutz’s line (“it’s a thorny legal issue alright, I need to refer to the case of ‘Finders vs Keepers’”) and all of Moe’s barbs in the crowd scenes. The premise itself is also intriguing, but if you look hard enough, you can see the cracks beginning to show, and the characters beginning to become caricatures of themselves. As the angel foretold, the end is nigh.

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How ‘Homer Badman’ Successfully Skewered the Hyperbolic Media

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Years ago, I remember reading a story about Supergrass drummer Danny Goffey, in which he engaged in some sort of wife-swapping on the decadent Primrose Hill. All of a sudden, the revelation engorged the music publications, with a source bemoaning Goffey had become a “laughing stock at the school gate.” It then transposed into the tabloids, with piping hot redtops giving Supergrass the kind of fame they hadn’t experienced since ‘Richard III’.

It’s just one example, but it’s a relevant – or ‘cromulent’ – point about how such little discrepancies can become embellished to the point of absurdity. Just look at when Peter Buck allegedly attacked a stewardess with a pot of yogurt, or when Winona Ryder shoplifted (she was in a difficult place, guys…Macy’s).

By the time of Season Six, The Simpsons was no longer just an urbane observation of suburbia – it was a scalpel-sharp satire. No one, or nothing, was safe from the acerbic, referential wit of the show’s writers, and even though the hyperbolic nature of the media had been showcased before, it was never done as well or as extensively as on Homer Badman, in which Homer’s innocuous grasp of a gummi chew creates a media storm that, unlike Homer’s car, just won’t blow over.

What’s considerably compelling about this episode – in my view, it is definitely in top five all-time classics – is how it is still valid today. With the rise of social media, we are ingratiated into a cyberspace circle-jerk of homeless people playing clarinets, YouTube vloggers renouncing the Devil and tales of anti-feminist meetings and covens. The media is still a melting pot of magnification, it’s just not as streamlined as it once was, and shows like Judge Rinder and Jeremy Kyle are still scarily similar to the hilarious scene from Rock Bottom.

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TV and the media – newspapers are rather conspicuous, surprisingly – are skewered throughout, but they’re also the thread that keeps the show tethered. After a wonderfully bombastic, explosion-filled candy convention, Homer is driving home babysitter Ashley Grant, who is written as a typical feminist-in-training – she’s conservatively dressed, refers to men as “males” and views Homer with seething displeasure (not least when he asks her to take the wheel so he can “scratch in two places at once”). When his hitherto missing gummi Venus has nestled onto Ashley’s rump, Homer grabs it and all poor Ashley sees is Homer’s lustful moan. After that, we are greeted to a cavalcade of protests, round-the-clock TV footage, sensationalist news and a threadbare made-for-TV movie, in which Dennis Franz is presented as a more homely Homer and Ashley is a pigtailed honour student.

What’s interesting is that show not only satirises the media, it also demonstrates the difference between what we want to hear and what we should be hearing – when Homer is at the centre of a smear campaign, the gogglebox is awash, and seemingly most people in town are enraged and aghast at such a slovenly act. However, when Homer uses TV as his ally, to record an innocence speech on public access TV, no one watches, nor do they really want to. It’s a small but compelling fact that reflects our occasionally deep-seated need for salacious slander, rather than cognitive truth. This is neatly reflected at the end when Willie, who had saved Homer’s skin, is portrayed as a depraved pervert, and, of course, Homer is instantly swayed by the report’s hard-hitting nature.

When media storms blow into town, it is a sad truth that a band of busybodies will ride on its coattails. It’s a fact that sometimes people will just complain for the sake of it, and on Homer Badman the victim is joined by a slew of slogan-holding man-haters, who not only sleep on the Simpsons’ yard, but also follow Homer to work and make his life a living Hell. On the television, a woman weeps as she says “I’ve never met Homer Simpson or had any contact with him, but…”, as a reassuring host says “that’s ok, your tears say more than real evidence ever could.” It’s a hilarious send-up of the nature of those ITV daytime shows you watch when you’re either ill or unemployed, when such a small act is ramped up beyond recognition and whips a crowd into an angry, feminist frenzy. Also, the sheer absurdity and hilarious pay-off of the chat show Gentle Ben is worth the admission price alone.

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The infamous Rock Bottom scene is now one of the show’s most famous, and with good reason. Everything is exaggerated – the clock changes times with each sentence, Godfrey Jones is outside, Homer’s face freezes…it’s perfect. But how many of us can say it’s scarily not too far off an episode of Jeremy Kyle or (shudder) Kilroy? It’s also a nice subversion that Homer actually thinks they intend to help him, rather than make him into some sort of sexual predator.

As the show’s quality began to decline, the writers were a little more on-the-nose when it came to satirising the gutter media (one scene I remember is when they trash Ned’s house and one shouts “let’s concoct more lies!”), but here their pen is mightier than the sword – they demonstrate the truth-meddling, hyperbolic nature of the media, and all of its components, in a believable and relevant way.

See you in Hell, candy-boys!

 

 

 

The Simpsons – Was ‘That 90s Show’ Really As Bad As We Remember It?

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I’ve written a fair few blogs on all things Simpsons, and I’ve always avoided this one. This is their Around the Sun, their ‘Number 9 Dream’, their List of the Lost – in short, it is an infamous episode wherein many fans, whose strings of devotion had already been strummed far too taut by this point, well and truly gave up. It is a thirty-minute throwback that allegedly stuck up a middle finger, while jumping on a shark and laughing all the way to the bank. To conclude, most people hate it.

Shockingly, this episode was aired eight years ago, and quite rightly at the time a large succession of Simpsonites declared the show well and truly superannuated. It was a flashback, but not as we’d known it – whereas The Way We Was painted Marge and Homer as juxtaposed juniors, I Married Marge a bittersweet portrayal of fiscal insolvency and Lisa’s First Word a charming memory of a burgeoning family, That ‘90s Show plucked Homer and Marge from their bellbottomed ‘70s heyday and discarded them into the caffeine-riddled, flannel-flecked ‘90s. This, alone, was enough to chagrin even the most forgiving of Simpsons fans.

With the show exhibiting a floating timeline, it almost made sense for the characters to be transposed into another decade – after all, Bart was 10 in 1994, when (we can assume) this flashback portrays. But maybe it’s not that fact – it’s the core points of that the episode itself continues the post-glory theme of a tangled romance. Most Marge-Homer episodes since 2000 have changed tack from a sober Homer bike-riding with Marge in the sunset, to a drunken Homer placing his wife behind the wheel of a crashed car. So to write a flashback episode, where at least fans can sleep soundly knowing they were two fools very much in love, in which Marge and Homer are at a crossroads (where another man is filling up gas) makes for very sombre viewing.

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But allow me to play witness for the defence (or, as Homer says in one episode, “devil’s advocate”). In 2008, fans were fairly flustered at the show’s continued lapse in quality – The Simpsons Movie had, temporarily, halted any feelings of anguish, but the general feeling was anything past Season Ten (and even then there were inconsistencies) was only guaranteed a small slew of snickers. But in 2008, none of us were aware that the show would still be running nearly a decade later. Heck, like a drunken auntie, we all expected it not to see the Tennies. The fact is since That ‘90s Show besmirched our opinions, there has been eight more seasons. That’s well over 100 episodes, and can we  honestly say the bulk of these have been any funnier?

That ‘90s Show is offensive for it not only changes Homer and Marge’s history, but it also salts the earth it left behind. It’s also particularly criminal as it displays Marge in a rather negative light, instead showing Homer to be a caring and supportive partner (which is especially rare these days). Marge gets accepted to Springfield University, where she enjoys the cultural stimulations and creative individuals it possesses, not least her stereotypically soapbox-standing professor. She gradually falls for Professor August in a big way, so much so that it seems her and Homer are over, even though he’s paying for her tuition fees. Of course, it all works out in the end (as these types of episodes always do), but Marge has always been the sweet, grounded ying to Homer’s unilateral yang; to see her be offered a life of intellectualism is heart-breaking enough, but to see her actually consider cheating on Homer with such a bland brainbox really stinks.

Watching the show now, I genuinely don’t feel it’s as egregious as The Principal and the Pauper, this show’s equally controversial cousin. It tampers with the show to an extent it’s almost non-canon (similar to …Pauper), but, unlike that episode, it doesn’t simply hit the reset button at the end with a half-assed hand wave.

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I even enjoyed some aspects of this episode (I know, I’m fired, aren’t I?). Maybe it’s because I yearn for anything nostalgic, but the flashback episodes are always greeted, by me, with giddy anticipation. I love seeing Homer and Marge as a young couple, before they became grounded in realism and a perpetual state of disappointment. They were naïve and needy, but both had a strong bond that kept them tethered. I always find it sweet to watch, and here it’s on display, albeit not as a striking as before. Even though Homer is churlish and unsupportive about Marge’s academic career, it’s clear he’s merely worried she’ll outgrow him for someone more educated, and thus it’s hard to really resent his admonishments. This comes into play later, when he’s ridiculed on campus for being uneducated. The writers do a good job of making Homer seem out-of-place and out of his depth, but they keep his responses muted and respectful. In short, I actually feel for Homer in this episode, while Marge comes across a bit skanky.

I also love anything ‘90s, so I enjoyed the cultural references throughout, even though they seemed to simply merge every year of that decade into one handy era – “the ‘90s.” I dug Marge’s Rachel-esque hair and especially loved Homer’s grunge phase, particularly his messed-up hair and Cobain threads. When I first saw this episode, I was 15/16, and thus still enjoyed the episodes, and, oddly, this one had a profound effect on me – I was falling in love with grunge music at the time, buying copies of Green Mind and It’s A Shame About Ray, so when this came out, it was manna from Heaven. I even wanted to call my first band Sadgasm, but the others refuted. I even enjoyed Homer and Marge watching Seinfeld, and his dumb call & response of saying “no soup for you!”, simply because that’s something I do all the time when I’ve just watched a show. And, finally, I liked ‘Closing Time’ getting an airing. The only thing this show was missing was a Winona Ryder reference. Maybe next time.

That ‘90s Show is patchy and treads on the timepiece of our favourite family, but maybe it’s time to view it with fresh eyes; it’s really not that bad. And it did give us this immortal quote – “he who is tired of Weird Al is tired of life.”

Pro-Rape Meetings – The Hymn for the Narcissistic and the Confused

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I remember taking a module in university called ‘Unpopular Texts’. I only chose it because I loved the lecturer, which is embarrassingly myopic in hindsight, and our first task was to watch a movie called Threads. Within the movie, there was a nuclear blast which rendered most of earth a wasteland, wherein the ‘humans’ began to devolve into cavemen. Even the ending – in which a primitive woman gives birth to a stillborn baby – was depressing. That was the future, according to 1987; in 2016, their realisation wasn’t quite so bleak, but we often have to do a double-take on some occurrences.

Lately, there has been the emergence of Return of Kings, the self-anointed seers of the future of manhood. Their plans are brutish and archaic, and they spout the kind of sexist, offensive drivel that would make a Viking blush. It’s hard to believe that in the modern age we are still being entertained with such out-of-focus, dangerous spoutings, but Daryush ‘Roosh’ Valizadeh and his band of Merry Men are ensuring that mankind – with the emphasis on ‘man’ – must hang their heads in shame at their fellow gender.

“I think women are a good thing,” was once quoted by Peter Mannion in The Thick Of It, when challenged on his superannuated raison d’etre. It was ham-fisted and horrible, but made sense within his character; to him women were like iPads, a daring new invention that were making life easier, even if it meant reluctantly releasing the grip of the biro. But for Valizadeh and an assortment of other men, women are a threat – everything ‘men’ seem to hold dear is under fire from a hoard of forward-thinking, hard-working women who must be stopped and must be secluded from an all-boys club, where no doubt the Stella will swill, the porn will perish and the fists will fly.

Return of Kings is no better than Isis, in theory. Of course, I am not for one second saying they are equal, so please don’t berate me for that one. But their views are so antiquated and wrong it’s hard to believe anyone would be succumbed to join. But, like Isis, some men are easily swayed because they are drowning in a sea of banality; Return of Kings must be like stumbling from the bar into a dreary jazz club, where they discover men of the same tastes and ilk, and realise maybe this is for them.

Men will be drawn into it for different reasons – some will simply join because they are tired and disgruntled at their own short-sighted opinions of feminism (the chants of “they hate anything with a dick” and “lesbians need to shut up” are always around the corner). Others will be confused and agitated, joining out of sheer ignorance. Others will no doubt have their own dangerous agendas. But it’s a sad reflection on today’s seemingly educated society that we are being introduced to groups that must be the equivalent of the good old No Slaves Allowed Treehouse Gang, formed by Mark Twain’s butler. Some will just simply, and laughably, say it’s the “male version of feminism.” After all, if feminism is all about bashing men (which, according to them, it is), then surely men are allowed it, too? I’m guessing they’ve even got a Janet Street Porter effigy to burn with excessive Lynx Africa.

Their most controversial comment has been that “rape should be allowed if it is on private property.” The ramifications of such an utterance are innumerable, but breaking it down it’s as shocking as it sounds – to these people, women are no better than a flagrant squirrel. They are game. They are vermin that have stumbled into their shrubbery and, thusly, should be punished. And punishment in their primitive form is to use the pulsating weapon they’ve been blessed by God with. They view women with such disdain that they’d no doubt defend themselves by saying “it’s their own fault.” Wearing skirts, after all, means a girl is “asking for it.” So being in their house, whether or not they have been invited, they must have known what was going to happen. It reminds me of that episode of The Simpsons, when Chief Wiggum sets up some sort of torture chamber and tells Homer: “Now once a person is in your house, anything you do to them is nice and legal.”

Valizadeh still wants men to be able to “meet in private away from a loud, obnoxious, dishonest, and potentially violent mob”, perhaps referencing the numerous petitions that have been signed against him. Thankfully, the ‘meet-ups’ he had arranged – which, staggeringly, were taking place across 43 countries, like some sort of deranged Live Aid – have been cancelled, but that’s not to say they won’t find a way of being arranged. They will still try to peddle their ways, make their voices known and preach from their own inaudible Bible. That’s what gender representation is all about, after all.

Freedom really does come slowly at first.

The Twisted – and Devastating – World of Marge Simpson

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If you think Simpsons episodes surrounding Lisa are a little dispirited, spare a thought for the matriarch of the series. For Marge represents what could be Lisa’s tragic future, if she doesn’t get away and find intellectual equals (and if Lisa’s Wedding is anything to go by, she does). Marge, however, isn’t so lucky, and her creativity and intelligence are merely afterthoughts in a world of risk-free homemaking.

Recent episodes of The Simpsons have seen the female quotient of the characters suffer profusely, not least Marge, who has become a mere perfunctory prop in the crazy antics of her husband. One episode, ‘Springfield Up’, completely tampered with their bittersweet younger days, in which Marge, who has given up her journalistic dreams, sighs: “I have to have this job so Homer can keep doing his erotic etchings and work on his band.” Way to kill the romance AND the character, guys.

But what about the times when Marge finally asserts herself? The answer is we are treated to an intriguing view into her feud with futility. She has a thirst for relevance, something that cleaning grime and changing beds can’t do, and it really comes out in The Twisted World of Marge Simpson.

Writer Jennifer Crittenden had previously penned Scenes from the Class Struggle in Springfield, so by this point she was fully immersed in Marge’s character; she could highlight the frustrations and the desire within her with an effortless grace. Here, a light is once again shone on her inability to fit in, something perhaps her eight-year-old daughter has inherited (see The Summer of 4 ft 2). Her dalliance with ‘The Investorettes’ – Maude, Helen, Agnes and Edna – ends when she refuses to jump into any high-risk ventures, claiming they’re, well, “a little risky.” While Marge’s naivety and apprehensions can occasionally grate, here it perfectly mirrors her character. Nice guys finish last, the cliché says, and it’s true of Marge, someone who offends in her inoffensiveness.

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It’s when Marge buys her own franchise, the Pretzel Wagon, when the episode shifts into gear. It’s refreshing to see Marge driven and ambitious, trying to quash the banality without causing a ruckus. However, things don’t go to plan, and soon she finds herself losing competition to the Fleet-A-Pitta wagon. “I guess Macy’s and Gimbels learnt to live side by side,” she sighs. “Gimbels is long gone,” Agnes retorts. “You’re Gimbels.” It’s a wonderfully harsh back-and-forth that really hits home Marge, and many other people’s, personality – if you’re a nice person, someone who tries to get along with others and works hard, you will, regretfully, get dumped on. From a great height.

Within these confrontations, Marge has her own with the family. “Is this how you see me? As a spineless, potato-cooking housewife who can’t compete in the real world?” she asks them, once again demanding the validation she so sorely needs. The episode does a great job of making us empathise with Marge without once pitying her; we want her, the ‘little guy’, to achieve something, to escape the humdrum home she’s been forced to encapsulate, and we really feel the struggles she goes through.

I always consider myself a ‘nice guy’ (although people might say otherwise). I would also self-deprecatingly call myself a ‘soft touch’. I have always been the one to stay late at work, offer to help out, accept being left out of something or generally get pushed about. I’ve been called a doormat, a punchbag, all of those cruel but sardonically motivational putdowns that people like me get called. So I can really sympathise with Marge’s situation, as someone who just wishes to make something of their life without having to resort to showboating and one-upmanship. Is that even possible these days?
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The episode’s most devastating scene is when Marge, at her lowest ebb, sighs to her kids about some new advice. “I mean, if you’re nothing special, why kid yourself?” she asks, before saying: “Aim low. Aim so low no one will even care if you succeed.” As her face sinks into some handily placed butter, I really don’t think this line has ever been given the praise it deserves – how many people, when succumbed to such despondency, have felt this way, that all your peaks are in spite of your troughs, and that even the smallest accomplishment is overshadowed. Marge has always been the modicum of wasted potential, but within this episode she makes no effort to hide it; this scene, to me, is almost, almost as good as the unbelievable “all you can do is laugh” act break from …Class Struggle

Homer, who throughout the episode shows the emotional support his Jerkass regeneration wouldn’t, hires the Mafia to help, which leads to the zany endings the Scully era frequently flaunted. Here, though, it kind of works, for the episode was becoming so drenched in pathos it really needed a light flourish. For the first two acts, though, it’s a very interesting character analysis on a character that has had to make the most of what life has given her, even though she wanted more.

Plus, it gave us this bit of badinage – “no deal, McCutcheon – that moon money is mine!”