Even if you've only seen a season or two of The Simpsons, you will probably know about Itchy & Scratchy. The (also animated) mouse and cat star in their own show in the world of the long-running cartoon, and are both loved by fans and known for being incredibly violent. Even The Simpsons, with all its button-pushing, isn't known for showing any out-right gore the way that the Itchy & Scratchy segments do, so the question of how those behind the comedy managed to get their antics past the censors remains. Well, now a former writer for The Simpsons has revealed how they did it.
This particular duo are, of course, the stars of their own animated series, The Itchy & Scratchy Show, which is beloved by Bart and Lisa Simpson, and is a part of The Krusty the Clown Show. This cartoon show within a show...within a show, has been around basically as long as The Simpsons, and while the segments are super short (always under 60 seconds) they are also punctuated with extreme violence. During an interview with The New Yorker, former Simpsons' writer John Swartzwelder was asked about how the show was never filled with the typical jokes one would find in animation, and he added:
The obvious example of this would be The Itchy & Scratchy Show. We could show horrendous things to the children at home, as long as we portrayed them being shown to the Simpsons’ children first. Somehow this extra step baffled our critics and foiled the mobs with torches. We agreed with them that this was wrong to show to children. ‘Didn’t we just show it being wrong? And, look, here’s more wrong stuff!’
Huh? I mean, this is baffling, correct? From what John Swartzwelder said, the only thing keeping Itchy & Scratchy from becoming a hot topic of contention among the Fox censors and worldwide viewers was the simple fact that The Simpsons always shows the audience that Lisa and Bart, two impressionable children, are actually watching and enjoying their horrific antics. To Swartzwelder's credit, he sounds confused by this, as well.
The Itchy & Scratchy shorts are based on several real animated shows, including Tom and Jerry, which focus on an aggressive (and literal) cat and mouse dynamic, generally with the mouse always coming out of any conflicts successfully. Most of us love to watch an underdog win, but in the case of Itchy he can usually be found victorious because he's beheaded Scratchy, or tied him to train tracks, or eviscerated him in some manner, which is always shown on screen and makes Lisa and Bart howl with laughter.
This does seem odd, but I can see where John Swartzwelder and the other writers wouldn't push the issue, and whatever the reason, let's just all be glad that we've been able to enjoy Itchy & Scratchy for as long as we have.