Homer Simpson: Homophobic Hero?

By Denise Du Vernay (2009)

NOTE: Below is only an excerpt from the paper. The full version of this paper is available as a PDF file.
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Recently, a man I’d just met said to me, “men are so ugly. I don’t know how you women can put up with us, let alone sleep with us.” I told him that I’ve wondered the same thing all too often. American men seem to embrace the unattractive stereotype of the simple male, from the irritating Belushi character in According to Jim, to the myriad husbands who are less attractive than their wives (Cougar Town, Family Guy, King of Queens) to the borderline offensiveness of The Man Show. Homer Simpson, however, is America’s favorite homophobic, simple, lazy, ignorant, overweight buffoon. But why would America have a favorite any of the above? Shouldn’t American men be offended that they are habitually portrayed as dimwitted and utterly helpless without their wives? The ignorant, ball-scratching, balding husband is no new character to American sitcoms, but he is not appealing in the way that Homer Simpson is. I find it subversive that Homer displays all of the above unsavory characteristics, but yet he is still loveable. Al Bundy, Mr. Roper, and Archie Bunker all predate Homer, and while it can be argued that all four of these men are not good enough for their wives, not one of these characters could be considered likeable besides Homer. The laughter and applause was obviously canned when Al would put his hands in his pants or when Stanley would burn Helen with one of his harsh verbal zingers, but the audience genuinely wants Homer to succeed and to be happy.

In my quest for an answer to this conundrum, I set out to use my students to help me figure it out. I sent out an email questionnaire to my students, asking the males in particular to respond. They were to print out the questions and turn in without their names.

Some of the questions I asked were:

“Would you be embarrassed to let others know you watch daytime or primetime soaps regularly?”

“Would you be embarrassed to let others know you are a fan of The Simpsons?”

“Have you ever had an emotional attachment to a television character?”

“Do you think Homer is cute?”

“Do you relate to Homer or see part of yourself in him? Are there other television characters that you relate to in the same way?”

“Which shows, if any, do you feel are insulting to men? To women?”

I received 38 responses from traditionally aged freshmen male students. In an attempt to achieve more well-rounded data, I conducted telephone interviews with several older men in which I asked the same questions. Male respondents to my surveys have suggested that the reason that viewers put up with the unsavory depiction of American men in television is because “everyone knows that that’s not how most of us are.” In a telephone interview, one male estimated that the stereotypes are “20 to 25 percent accurate.” Female respondents to the same question answered quite differently: “It’s generally okay to mock the status quo.” In comedy, it is generally okay to poke fun at the group or groups in power, while it is considered distasteful or offensive to have a laugh at an oppressed minority’s expense (unless, of course, you are a member of that minority group). Homer says it best when he states “I’m a white male, aged 18 -49. Everyone listens to me, no matter how dumb my suggestions are” (“Lisa vs. Malibu Stacy” 1994).

While many scholars (and people with far too much free time) have written topical analyses of the show and its popularity, this paper seeks to explore the possible reasons why Homer resonates so strongly with American men, paying special consideration to the seemingly contradictory traits Homer displays of homophobia and bi curiosity. The data mainly comes from personal observation of the show and its viewers and surveys of mainly college-aged viewers. (I had the good fortune to teach a composition class at Florida State University entitled “Writing about The Simpsons: Pop Culture and Theory” which has provided much of the data not gleaned in recent surveys).

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