2.4 Two Cars in Every Garage and Three Eyes on Every Fish
Bart catches a three-eyed fish downstream from the nuclear power plant. In order to prevent the plant from being shut down, Mr. Burns runs for governor, and on the final night of the campaign has dinner at the Simpsons’ home with reporters present.
“Two Cars in Every Garage” is a reference to the campaign of Herbert Hoover, the U.S. President at the time the Great Depression hit (historians are mixed on the degree to which his policies caused it).
The Simpsons usually has its foot light on the gas when it come to political satire, but it goes full speed ahead in this episode, and manages to do so, as it often does, in a non-partisan manner.
Mind you, I’m not the type of person who sees non-partisanship as some inherently virtuous (or even attainable) state. Should everyone strive to be unbiased? Sure, but human beings are inherently susceptible to partisanship, and as soon as you strongly identify as ‘definitely not this thing’, you’re gonna gloss over it when you inevitably slip up.
Sometimes it’s good to just take a side, too, you know? The Simpsons does take political sides in terms of, instead of left vs. right, “corruption vs. non-corruption,” to paraphrase Jon Stewart.
Burns, of course, represents corruption. The scene where he brings in a power plant inspector and leaves the room with a bunch of money on the table is so hilarious, and yet really not at all outlandish. That’s what I love about this episode; it recognizes that no matter how far it pushes its satire, it couldn’t possibly present anything beyond credulity.
It’s not just other TV shows that rip off The Simpsons; reality rips off The Simpsons. Just as Family Guy and South Park can’t really do anything The Simpsons hasn’t done, Ranier Wolfcastle and Mr. Burns predate the real-life and far less realistic Governor Schwarzenneger and presidential candidate Trump.
Donald Trump has highlighted his ‘humble’ upbringing by citing a small loan of a million dollars he received from his father; a drunk, self-pitying Burns hums “Buddy Can You Spare a Dime,” an anthem of the poor from the Great Depression. When reality in politics can be so false, parody has no direction to go but smaller.
I love the moment in the retirement home where Abe Simpson says that Burns is “just what we need: Young blood.” Burns is in eighties. Today we see GOP supporters lauding Trump for the vivacity and newness he is bringing to politics. If Trump wins, he’ll be in his seventies when he takes office, and the oldest President at the time of inauguration in American history.
While we’re talking about real life “Simpsons did it” moments, here’s an actual fish with three eyes.
The dialogue in this episode is fast approaching the quality of seasons three through seven. Homer joins a despondent Burns in the parking lot and suggests he run for governor:
Homer: “Where are we going?”
Burns: “To create a new and better world.”
Homer: “If it’s on the way could you drop me off at my house?”
Like the newscast in “Krusty Gets Busted,” the various newspaper clippings set up The Simpsons as its own, self-contained universe parallel to ours. Various characters in various locales commenting on campaign ads accomplishes the same thing.
Political satire often confines its focus to politicians; The Simpsons is particular about satirizing voters, which is arguably bolder and more radical than taking a stance that implicitly favours one party. Seeing a campaign ad, Barney says, “Oh no, an election? That’s one of those deals where they close the bars, isn’t it.”
The best bit of satire, in my view, comes in Burns’ ad, where he reframes the attacks on the nuclear power plant as an attack on Blinky, the three-eyed fish, saying, “Say what you will about me, I can take the slings and arrows. But stop slandering poor, defenceless Blinky.”
That’s the Checkers speech. In 1952, Richard Nixon, the vice presidential candidate at the time, was accused of misappropriating $18,000 in campaign donations for personal use. In a televised response he spoke, not about any specific cash donations, but of another gift he’d received from a supporter:
It was a little cocker spaniel dog, in a crate he had sent all the way from Texas, black and white, spotted, and our little girl Tricia, six years old, named it Checkers. And, you know, the kids, like all kids, loved the dog, and I just want to say this right now, that, regardless of what they say about it, we are going to keep it.
The speech received, at the time, the largest televised audience in history. He employed a straw man fallacy. Nixon’s critics never mentioned Checkers, but by making the dog the crux of the argument, Nixon successfully painted his critics as heartless pedants. He received an outpouring of support, remained on the presidential ticket, and was victorious in a landslide in the 1952 election.
Marge kicks ASS in this episode. The reveal of Blinky on Burns’ plate at the Simpsons’ dinner table is absurdly reminiscent of Titus Andronicus, where Titus bakes his rival’s children into a pie and feeds it to them.
Burns’ spitting the fish out is the moment you wish you saw in every political campaign. On the surface it’s satirizing how politicians really feel about us, but it goes deeper than that. His campaign is doomed by that particular moment, and not by any of his shallow, terrible policies. The episode doesn’t even show the election results, because they don’t need to. The conclusion is foregone, and the writers have already made their point about us.
Best Moment: Reporters converge around the bit of fish Burns has spat on the floor, snapping photos of it. It’s a perfect example of The Simpsons nudging its satire into the absurd in order to bring its point home.
Best Quote: “Ironic, isn’t it, Smithers. This anonymous clan of slack-jawed troglodytes cost me the election, and yet if I were to have them killed, *I* would be the one to go to jail.” -Mr. Burns