In a new book, German author Erwin In het Panhuis analyzes the queerness of The Simpsons and how it’s encouraged gays to come out thanks to its sympathetic attitude towards homosexuality.
In Behind the Gay Jokes: Homosexuality in The Simpsons, In het Panhuis writes that the iconic cartoon “treats homosexuality as something normal in a media environment which can usually be very hostile to the point of view.”
The author analyzed the show’s 490 gay-themed scenes and identified 70 LGBT characters, including the long-suffering Waylon Smithers, to whom he devotes an entire chapter.
Smithers, perhaps the first daddy-chaser on TV, has been obsessively devoted to his boss Mr. Burns since making his debut along with the show in 1989 (as a black guy). In het Panhuis praises the show for dealing with the character’s sexuality in depth.
“It is a very complicated relationship full of fear and unrequited love and moments of real tenderness,” he says.
The show explored homophobia in a 1997 episode, guest starring John Waters as a Cadillac-driving, thinly-mustachioed gay (named, appropriately, “John”) who befriends Bart.
In “Homer’s Phobia,” Homer becomes reluctant to accept John when he belatedly realizes his sexual proclivities. When Bart starts wearing Hawaiian shirts and dancing in women’s wigs, he begins to suspect the boy is gay.
This leads to one of the greatest scenes in the show’s history: a visit to a steel mill so Homer can show Bart what real men look like. Turns out they look a lot like the Village People.
“Homer has kissed other men on the lips more than 50 times throughout the series but despite that he’ s happily married to his wife,” In het Panhuis said of the Simpson patriarch. “Homer is sometimes heterosexual, sometimes gay and sometimes homophobic.”
According to The Local, In het Panhuis argues that Fox stuck with The Simpsons in part because it needed a “liberal fig leaf” to offset its conservative news coverage. The network initially objected to airing “Homer’s Phobia” and censors ruled “the topic and substance of this episode are unacceptable for broadcast.”
The decision was eventually reversed after a staff turnover at Fox and the episode received numerous plaudits, including an Emmy and a GLAAD Media Award. The 2002 episode “Three Gays of the Condo” also snatched an Emmy, this time featuring a gay neighborhood and couple with whom Homer moves in following a fight with Marge. The episode is worth it just for a shirtless Homer dancing in a gay club.
In 2005, The Simpsons became the first animated series to dedicate an entire episode to gay marriage with “There’s Something About Marrying.” Upon the suggestion of a pro-LGBT rights Lisa, Springfield legalizes same-sex marriage to boost tourism.
Marge is for the idea, but when one of her chainsmoking twin sisters, Patty, comes out of the closet — she quickly changes her tune. Meanwhile, since Rev. Lovejoy refuses to marry the influx of gay couples, and being a minister pays some serious coin, Homer becomes ordained and marries every gay couple in town.
The episode was particularly praised for how it handled Marge’s reaction to her sister’s coming-out. Patty accuses Marge of being liberal and supportive of gay marriage but unable to accept her sister’s own homosexuality. Marge eventually comes around and by the time Lady Gaga made a cameo last year in an anti-bullying episode, she had no problem swapping some spit with Mother Monster.
From Waylon Smithers to Patty Bouvier and the 70 some odd characters in between, The Simpsons has been a pioneer in depicting homosexuality in primetime and as In het Panhuis puts it, “will always be a trailblazer.”
To quote that Chelsea queen Duffman, “Oh yeah!”
h/t: Simpsons Wiki