Well here’s an amazing episode. Another great “message” episode that’s tucked in between some truly goofy stuff, but still knocks the moral message out of the park. This is one of my favorite episodes that tries to talk Homer about something serious, it’s just a little odd that it’s not Lisa who’s trying to teach him.
The episode starts off by needing to get the family in some financial woes, and the method they use to do that is have Bart running some sort of insane Lotto game in his basement by putting various types of balls with numbers on them in the dryer. Unfortunately something goes wrong and destroys the washer and dryer, racking up a serious gas bill as well. Homer then hilariously tries to pay the bill in a water-jug full of pennies, but he drops it through the core of the Earth and China doesn’t give him any help. So left with no other options, Marge decides they need to sell a family heirloom of a Civil War figure. So they head down to the mall in the hopes of hocking the little figurine.
And the place they go is a campy antique and knick-knack store called Cockamamies, which looks like I could spend a lot of money in. We see the family wander around the store for a little bit, finding a TV Guide owned by Jackie Onassis, a robot from a movie called Clank, Clank, You’re Dead that still has the skeleton of the midget that operated it inside, and pogo-stilts. But after goofing off they meet the proprietor, John, voiced by the wonderful John Waters. And pretty much right off the bat the family is enamored with John and his goofy personality. But he does kind of break their hearts when he reveals that the Civil War Figurine is actually a whiskey decanter, which really made me laugh because I don’t know about you readers, but my grandparent’s house was full of liquor decanters shaped like things like a bust of Elvis, or a cowboy, proudly presented like they were works of art. But John does give them a glimmer of hope when he explains the whole concept of kitsch and camp to the Simpsons, and they invite him over to their house to appraise all their terrible belongings.
Later that night John gets to their house and continues to be the most charismatic dude in the world. Marge shows him around the house and his mind is blown at just how kitschy their house is, loving every minute of them. And by the end of the night, the whole family is fully on board with John. Marge and he start being friends, and Homer even dances with him in the living room. And the next morning Homer comes down to the kitchen to talk to Marge, and says that he had a blast with John, and that they should invite John and his wife over some time soon, but Marge lets Homer in on a little something Homer didn’t notice:
Marge: “Homer, didn’t John seem a little “festive” to you?”
Homer: “Couldn’t you agree more, happy as a clam.”
Marge: “He prefers the company of men!”
Homer: “Who doesn’t!?”
Marge: “Homer, listen to me carefully. John is a ho- mo…”
Yep, the Simpsons have met a gay man. Not counting Karl I guess. And Homer is not okay with it, which Marge can’t believe. Homer starts freaking out, while Marge struggles to understand what his problem could be. He’s freaked out that he danced with “a gay” and that John was being sneaky about it, since Homer apparently likes his “beer cold, my TV loud, and my homosexuals FA-LAMING!”
And Homer continues to be an idiot when he refuses to go for drive with John and the family that afternoon like they had planned. John comes to pick them up, and Homer just sullenly stares at him from the window, while starting to panic because Bart starts using phrases he picked up from John. So Marge and the kids go out with John, while the kids are confused about the creepy robotic Santa he has in his back seat, called the Annual Gift Man. John then takes them around Springfield, dishing on all the gossip that they never knew about the town, and even going to some retro 50’s diner that’s apparently a big gay hangout, since they have an awkward run-in with Mr. Smithers.
But once they get back from the trip the new big plot of the episode gets going when Homer really start to worry about Bart’s sexuality. He chooses a pink Snowball instead of a ding-dong for dessert, dances around in a wig, and walks by in a Hawaiian shirt while Bart claims that it “came out of the closet.” Which was a joke that baffled me as a kid, and as I’ve said before, I used to watch reruns of the Simpsons like crazy with my brother and grandma, and I’m pretty sure that when we asked her about it, she was either unfamiliar with the term, or didn’t want to tell us about it for some reason and pleaded ignorance, so that joke was just nonsense to me for years.
All of these stupid things start to pile up on Homer, and he starts flipping out to Marge, telling her that he’s worried that Bart’s gay, and that they need to fix it. Marge does her best to tell Homer that that’s a ridiculous thing to worry about, but he can’t even put into words what his problem with homosexuality is, just like most homophobes, and just gets angrier. And that boils up until he decides he needs to straighten Bart out. And since we all know how great Homer is at doing things, it goes great. First he makes Bart sit in front of a billboard for Laramie cigarettes that has two women in bikinis having a pillow fight for hours, but all it does is make Bart want a cigarette. He then takes Bart to the Ajax Steel Mill so Bart can see manly men, but that backfires when it turns out all the mill-workers are gay, and that they have a gay dance-club called the Anvil inside, which ends with Bart asking Homer why he brought him to a gay steel mill, and Dan Castellaneta delivers a wonderful reading of “I don’t know,” that I have no idea how to describe, but it’s hilarious.
So Homer’s plan isn’t really working. And he goes to Moe’s to commiserate with Moe and Barney about the whole thing, and the three start brainstorming. And that brain trust ends up deciding that the best way the straighten a boy up is to kill something, and since there isn’t a war going on they decide hunting is the next best thing. Homer, Barney, and Moe then go buy a bunch of hunting gear, and take Bart away from Cockamamies to go kill a deer, even though Bart points out that a bunch of guys alone in the woods seems kind of gay. But they still make him go out into the woods all night, and they don’t even see a single deer. So the guys pack up, and head back to Springfield, disappointed.
Moe starts to give Homer crap about raising a supposedly gay kid, and a vegetarian, and they pretty much give up hope. That is until they come across Santa’s Village, which has some perfectly good reindeer to kill. And back with the intelligent characters, they’re starting to worry that the idiots haven’t gotten home yet, and Lisa tells them that they’re trying to find a deer. But John knows that there aren’t deer in Springfield, and that the only thing close to deer is the reindeer, so he gets them to head out there. And things aren’t going well in Santa’s Village, because Bart won’t kill Blitzen, and the reindeer start freaking out in some kind of mating ritual. Moe and Barney go and hide, and Homer ends up lifting Bart over his head to protect him from the deer, which begin butting him all over his poor body. And just as Homer is about to be murdered by reindeer, that creepy robotic Santa shows up and scares them away. John has saved the day! Moe and Barney are sullen about being saved by a gay guy, and that leads to this amazing interaction:
Homer: “Hey, we owe this guy. And I don’t want you calling him a sissy. This guy’s a fruit! And, no, wait, wait, wait, Queer! That’s what you like to be called right?”
John: “Well, that or John.”
So great. So the Simpsons drive home with John, and even though it may be the concussion talking, Homer tells Bart that anyway he wants to live his life is fine with him. Which confuses Bart, until Lisa explains that Homer thinks he’s gay, which blows Bart’s mind.
This episode is so good. Sometimes the episodes that try to tackle a serious social issue can come off a little preachy, but this one is so perfect. It’s no shock that it got an Emmy and a GLAAD award, because this episode is shockingly progressive, especially for the mid-90’s. John almost instantly becomes one of the most likeable and charming one-off characters that the show ever created, and they do an excellent job in making him an interesting person, who just happens to be gay. And a person that Homer really likes, and is super compatible with, until he finds out his sexual orientation. Homer’s weird struggle to explain just what it is about homosexuality that bothers him is one of the best parts of this episode, because it’s so much like reality. Any homophobe I’ve ever met usually stumbles and trips over themselves trying to explain what’s wrong with homosexuality, and how it personally offends them, because more often than not they’ve never actually thought about it, and are just parroting opinions that they’ve picked up. Because it’s ridiculous that people have issues with homosexuality. What do you care? It’s not bothering you in the slightest. Love is love, let it go. You don’t need to be shitty and hate on people who are different than you. It’s a little depressing to see Homer spouting such a hateful rhetoric, but it kind of makes sense. People of Homer’s generation weren’t that used to homosexuality, and all they knew of it was that it was wrong and should be hated. Besides Karl, which I guess he didn’t understand, I guess Homer hasn’t met any gay people, and so he’s never formed his own opinion before. And really, it’s that last quote I gave that sums it all up, and kind of speaks to some of the frustration that people feel with all the new PC terms that we’re using for various sexualities and genders. Because, yeah, it’s important to get the terminology right so that you aren’t offending someone, but in the end of that day I feel like it’s much more important to think of someone as their name, not whatever complicated label they’re requesting to be called. Because none of that should matter, you should like someone for who they are, not the label society has given them.
Take Away: Don’t be an asshole homophobe. Accept people for who they are, not as the stereotypes you think they are.
“Homer’s Phobia” was written by Ron Hauge and directed by Mike B Anderson, 1997.