Next is The Simpsons Season 8 Episode #15 entitled Homer’s Phobia. This episode first aired February 16th 1997. I viewed this episode at home on DVD, Saturday February 27th 2010 by myself. The couch gag for this episode features a computer screen with the Simpsons’ couch framed in an internet video box belonging to “America Onlink.” A cursor appears and clicks a button that says “Load Family.” It takes forever to load and the cursor repeatedly clicks the “Exit” button to no avail.
When Bart causes a freak clothes drier accident that results in a nine hundred dollar gas bill the family is forced to sell one of Marge’s grandmother’s heirlooms, an old Confederate civil war doll. They take the heirloom to a store in the mall called Cockamamies that buys and sells collectibles and antiques. The store is full of campy and kitschy items from the past. They meet the proprietor, John, who happens to look just like film director John Waters (who in fact voices the character). He is sorry to inform them that the figurine isn’t an antique at all. As a matter of fact it is a whiskey bottle from the mid-seventies. The family takes an immediate liking to John and Homer invites him over for dinner. They have a fun evening together and all is well until the next morning.
At breakfast when Homer suggests that they invite John and his wife over sometime Marge informs him that John is gay. Despite all the clues (obvious, obvious clues) Homer is taken aback by John’s homosexuality. When Marge points out that Homer had no problem before he knew John was gay, he claims that he’s upset because John’s a sneak for not making it clear that he was homosexual. As Homer put it, “I like my beer cold, my TV loud, and my homosexuals flaming.” That afternoon he refuses to join the family on a ride around town with John. While at lunch they run into Waylon Smithers, also gay, whom John clearly knows. In fact Smithers says, referring to the Simpsons in an accusatory tone, “So John, this is your sick Mother?” When they return Homer is concerned that John “got them gay.”
He becomes particularly concerned about Bart’s sexuality and decides that it’s his fatherly duty to make sure that Bart turns out to be straight. The next morning when he finds John having coffee with Marge Homer is furious. When John asks what he’s got against gays Homer can’t present a cogent argument but insists on “taking back his son.” First Homer sits Bart in a lawn chair on the median strip of the highway facing a billboard for Laramie Slims cigarettes that features two beautiful women in their underwear having a pillow fight. Homer leaves Bart to stare at the advertisement for two hours and when he returns he asks how Bart feels. The boy says that he feels like a cigarette and when Homer asks what brand he wants Bart replies “Anything slim.”
His first attempt having failed Homer takes Bart to the local steel mill to see real men at work. However, all of the mill workers turn out to be gay. Homer drags Bart out, hands over his eyes as the steel mill is transformed into a dance club called The Anvil. When Homer recounts the story to his friends Moe and Barney at the bar, Moe is shocked that he’s unaware that the entire steel industry, as well as Aerospace and the railroads, are gay. They devise a plan to take Bart deer hunting which they believe will make him a “real” man. On the drive to the countryside Moe asks Bart if he’s ever been hunting. Bart responds, “Nope. Something about a bunch of guys alone together in the woods. Seems kinda gay.” Homer scolds him for his very immature attitude.
They spend hours sitting around drinking beer without any sign of a deer. When they pack it in and head back Homer is dejected that he couldn’t fix Bart. Just when all seems lost Moe spots a Santa’s Village ahead. They break in with the intention of shooting one of the reindeer thus fixing Bart. Back in Springfield the family is getting worried. John reasons that because the “deer all migrated north when the state park converted to Astroturf” the only thing even resembling a deer would be found at Santa’s Village. They arrive in time to see the reindeer attacking Homer and his party. Homer sacrifices his own well being to protect Bart. John sends a remote control Santa Claus robot from his store into the middle of the herd. The annoying automaton drives away the reindeer. John drives the family home. Much to Bart’s confusion Homer tells him that any way he wants to live his life is okay. Lisa informs Bart that Homer thinks he’s gay and the episode ends on a surprised look from Bart.
This episode is not merely a successful piece of art but for a cartoon show to do something so socially relevant, controversial and in prime time is a real cultural achievement. While the viewers have known for years that the character Waylon Smithers is gay, no one in Springfield does, and his homosexuality is dealt with primarily through innuendo. This is the first episode of the show that dealt directly and openly with homophobia and while in the years since Marge’s sister has come out as a lesbian, nothing compares before or since to this episode on this particular issue.
Homer’s empty headed representation of the homophobic American male is unsubtle and completely brilliant. It is clear from the first moment he appears on screen that John is gay but Homer can’t see it. Once he’s told he’s so shaken up that he’s even concerned about the property value of his house going down because now they can’t say that only straight people have been in the house. While his reaction isn’t hateful or violent it is extremely ignorant and fearful which is the most common form that any sort of prejudice takes.
Thankfully while Homer is an idiot he does have a good heart. However, even when John saves Homer and company from the reindeer and Homer comes to accept John he still has misconceptions and preconceived notions. Referring to John Homer says “Queer? That’s what you like to be called right?” He replies, “Well that or John.” Thankfully most of us aren’t like Homer. Let’s just hope that most of those who are as ignorant as he is also share Homer’s good qualities.
The Simpsons Season 8 Episode #15: Homer’s Phobia
Rating: 5 out of 5