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Married with Children as a Parody of Men's Rights Activists

Bob "MovieBob" Chipman | 16 Jun 2014 12:00
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Debuting in the eponymously-titled ninth episode of the show's eighth season, "NO MA'AM" - National Organization of Men Against Amazonian Masterhood - was a joke built on the basic premise that a male counter-movement to feminism was inherently ridiculous, and would mostly wind up being a pack of self-consciously emasculated losers (read: Al and his fellow middle-aged sad-sack pals) barking out the common gripes of the beer gut set in the language of "activism." Sample rant: "Every day for the past 30 years you high-heeled pitbulls have blamed us for everything, from not being able to get into Harvard to not being able to get into stretch-pants." Send-up of boorish jackass from the mid-90s or allegedly "insightful" The Five routine from now? You decide!

Though debuting as the third-act punchline to a single episode about Al etc's "war" against a TV personality (Jerry Springer, who had not yet come into his own as a real life talk show titan) and self-described "Masculine Feminist," NO MA'AM proved popular enough to become one of the more frequent running gags of Married's final four seasons. In The Legend of Ironhead Haynes, the organization seeks out an Iron John-esque figure of legend (Waylon Jennings) and receive a new masculinity-specific Ten Commandments... which they promptly burn for heat rather than part with an assortment of lingerie catalogues.

Ultimately, NO MA'AM would assemble for about 14 episodes before the series came to an end in the eleventh season. Sometimes just as a one-off reference or B-story (in Bingo Was Her Game-O the group's "intense debate" over choosing a new official beer keeps Al away from learning of Peg's substantial winnings in a bingo tournament), other times expanding on its own self-constructed mythos (in Flight of The Bumblebee they haze Al's son Bud as a potential new member through an elaborate prank that leads to him having to wrestle King Kong Bundy). In one of the more memorable appearances, they even attempt to rebrand themselves as a religion (season 10's Reverend Al) - not for ideological reasons, but to avoid paying a beer tax.

It also served as a plot-element of two of the series' rare two-part episodes: In Business Sucks and Business Still Sucks, Al summons NO MA'AM as a counterweight to a public-breastfeeding protest being waged in his mall shoe store (their solution: A counter-protest of flashing their beer-bellies). In the especially prescient I Want My Psycho Dad I & II, NO MA'AM mobilizes when Al's favorite TV show - itself a send-up of ultraviolent macho power-fantasy series (unseen but frequently heard) - gets run off the air. They take their fight all the way to Congress... though they're a bit stymied when the actor who portrayed Psycho Dad holds a press conference to announce that a deranged fan letter from Al has led him to retire (and apologize for) the character. Oops.

Married With Children has today largely passed into pop-culture memory. Television history now remembers The Simpsons (which debuted two years later) as being the show that "launched" the Fox Network; but in truth the first time most Americans found out Fox existed (the network was a notoriously bargain-basement affair in the beginning) without accidentally breezing by it while channel-surfing was when a "family values activist" launched a protest over the third episode of the (then largely-unknown) Bundy family's adventures. Some of that is due to quality (like most pre-DVD/streaming sitcoms, the ration of "filler" episodes is pretty high) but also owes something to being dated - we were meant to laugh at Al's pathetic ignorance, but a lot of the show's very of-the-90s "humor" will doubtless come off pretty ugly to modern ears.

But, it must be noted: Through NO MA'AM, Married With Children had the more excessive 21st Century MRA fringes predicted with eerie accuracy (one can imagine Al having an active Reddit life, at least). Not exactly my first choice of fictional television entities to spring to life, but as Married spin-offs go I guess it's still preferable to Top of The Heap...

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