In Classic Gay TV, Louis Peitzman looks at classic and new-classic gay-themed episodes of television. Was this a major step forward in LGBT representation or a cringeworthy relic of the past?
Series: The Simpsons
Episode: “Homer’s Phobia” (Season 8, episode 15)
Original Air Date: February 16, 1997
Plot Points: Bart destroys the dryer, but the family can’t afford to replace it. Marge decides to sell her grandma’s precious Civil War figurine. The Simpsons go to Cockamamie’s, a store that specializes in camp – “the tragically ludicrous, the ludicrously tragic” – and meet the flamboyant owner, John (voiced by John Waters). Homer and John hit it off instantly, and Homer invites John over. They dance to “I Love the Nightlife,” which is maybe the gayest thing you can do outside of man-on-man sex.
Turns out Homer has the worst gaydar ever, because he freaks out when Marge tells him that John is gay. (“Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God, I danced with a gay. Marge, Lisa, promise me you won’t tell anyone.”) Homer resolves to shun John, even as the rest of the Simpson family embraces him. As Bart begins to act gayer – wearing a Hawaiian shirt, choosing a pink Snowball over a Hostess Cupcake – Homer becomes determined to straighten him out.
It’s a total disaster, as the whole world has apparently gone gay. Homer takes Bart to a steel mill that turns into a big gay disco. When he decides to take his son hunting – along with stunning examples of masculinity Moe and Barney – they end up hunting domesticated reindeer instead of deer. The reindeer get the upper hand, and it’s up to John to save Homer’s life with a missile-firing robot Santa. Homer finally accepts John, leading John to conclude that we could end homophobia if all gay men would just save a straight man’s life.
What Makes It Gay: Previous episode of The Simpsons had some gay themes: Season 2’s Simpson and Delilah” even showed Karl (voiced by Harvey Fierstein) kissing Homer. But “Homer’s Phobia” was the first episode to introduce an openly gay character. (It also continues the long process of outing Smithers, who seems to have a thing with John.) And it has the GLAAD seal of approval, earning the GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding TV – Individual Episode. Also: John Waters.
How Does It Hold Up: What’s interesting about “Homer’s Phobia” is that it’s very relevant but also a product of its time – current sitcoms may make the occasional gay joke, but it’s rare for a main character to express such severe prejudice. On the other hand, it’s so over-the-top that it makes Homer out to be an idiot, not a bigot. That’s why it remains one of the great TV episodes about homophobia: rather than get preachy, it shows exactly how stupid homophobes are.
“I like my beer cold, my TV loud, and my homosexuals flaaaaming.” (Homer)
John: “Homer, what have you got against gays?”
Homer: “You know, it’s not usual. If there was a law, it would be against it.”
Marge: “Homer, please, you’re embarrassing yourself.”
Homer: “No, I’m not, Marge. They’re embarrassing me. They’re embarrassing America. They turned the Navy into a floating joke. They ruined all our best names like Bruce and Lance and Julian. Those were the toughest names we had. Now they’re just—”
Homer: “Yeah, and that’s another thing! I resent you people using that word. That’s our word for making fun of you. We need it!”
“Where you been, Homer? Entire steel industry’s gay. Yeah, aerospace, too. And the railroads. And you know what else? Broadway.” (Moe)
“You know Bart, maybe it’s just the concussion talking, but any way you choose to live your life is OK with me.” (Homer)
Louis Peitzman is a freelance writer in Los Angeles, spending most of his time as the weekend editor at Gawker and a contributor to WitStream and TV.com. He’s a little bit Dorothy, a little bit Blanche. You can follow him on Twitter.