In its earliest years on television, The Simpsons generated a lot of controversy from a myriad of figures, but mostly those on the political right. Educators claimed the character of Bart, the young child who dislikes school, set a bad example for young children. In 1992, President George H.W. Bush declared, “We are going to keep on trying to strengthen the American family, to make American families a lot more like the Waltons and a lot less like the Simpsons.” Bush’s comment was remarkable in that a sitting president of the United States attacked a cartoon family for its lack of moral values. The show weathered these early criticisms and became the defining comedy of the 1990s. In the ensuing years, the show still flirted with controversy, especially in the season 4 episode “A Streetcar Named Marge” with a satirical song attacking New Orleans.
First, some context. In the episode, Marge, wanting to expand her horizons, auditions for the role of Blanche DuBois in a community theater production of A Streetcar of Desire. Her audition for the new musical version of the famed Tennessee Williams play goes poorly. The director, Llewellyn Sinclair, does not think Marge can portray the constantly put-upon Blanche until he witnesses a beaten-down Marge take a phone call from Homer. Seeing her world-weariness, he casts her in the part. Marge, struggling with a scene where she smashes a bottle and threatens the character of Stanley Kowalski (played by Ned Flanders), learns to channel her anger at Homer, who has not been supportive of her endeavors, into her performance. The episode also contains an extended tribute to the 1963 movie The Great Escape as baby Maggie orchestrates an escape from the tyrannical Ayn Rand School for Tots, where the family has dumped her while Marge pursues her theatrical dreams.
The episode is a pitch-perfect satire of both community and Broadway theater. Sinclair declares “I've directed three plays in my career and I've had three heart attacks. That's how much I care, I'm planning for a fourth.” He also points to a review of one of his earlier plays titled, "Play enjoyed by all." At one point, Marge is swinging around the theater on ropes as smoke fills the stage accompanied by a laser show. Lisa suggests that the scene is meant to show “Blanche’s descent into madness.”
Controversially, the episode also contained a song from the musical about the city of New Orleans. The lyrics are below: