The Simpsons and Gender in “Homer Defined” and “Homer Alone”



This weekend, as per usual, I kicked back and watched the Simpsons. The episodes that FX’s Simpsons World randomly selected were exceptionally hilarious, each episode hailing from Season 3. I emphatically declare that the earlier seasons of the Simpsons are the best ones, the ones that best pull off that balance of satire and warm fuzzy feelings for which the show is admired so much. Both episodes used stereotypical gender portrayals to arrive at a more modern understanding of gender that is represented through old conventions. For example, in “Homer Alone,” Marge takes on all the burdens of a stereotypical housewife (as she does in most episodes) and in doing so reaches a breaking point with Homer, Bart, Lisa, and Maggie, causing her to literally stop her car in the middle of the bridge in an act of protest that is simultaneously a mental breakdown. Soon enough, the town descends on Marge, and her plight is broadcasted rather obnoxiously by Kent Brockman of Channel 6 news, who literally gets lowered from a helicopter to cover this seemingly insignificant news. In this excessive mode of humor, Marge’s breakdown and Homer’s relative failure to effectively parent while she is gone might seem to only reinforce traditional gender roles; the episode, however, modernizes their plight by making Homer appear vulnerable to Marge in front of the whole town and Marge receiving the appreciation she deserves, the episode concluding with the family reunited in a bed together because they all missed Marge so much.

In “Homer Defined,” Homer saves the powerplant that he works in by guessing which button to press in order to shut down a nuclear reactor from meltdown. He is hailed as a hero, and certainly becomes arrogant in his glory, but a phone call from Magic Johnson congratulating him in front of a large audience makes Homer realize he is a fraud. Just like in “Homer Alone,” Homer is now vulnerable, becoming more contemplative about his actual competency in the workplace, or lack thereof: in a flashback occurring during the meltdown, we see Homer playing with a rubix cube while being trained how to use his safety console, the rubix cube covering the button Homer needs to push in the event of emergency. Homer’s development in his acknowledgement of professional blunders follows the traditional structure of a sitcom, the episode being divided into three acts that are indicated through dictionary definitions (see image). At the end of these movements, Homer is someone who succeeds despite his idiocy, becoming sincere at the admittance of his professional incompetence (something many men would never admit to).

Although Homer is typically masculine in that he cannot single-parent well and is self-assured in his profession, his incompetency lends itself to a greater sincerity whereby Homer can admit his flaws while becoming a more admirable father and husband in doing so. These episodes stake out gender roles founded on sincerity and compromise instead of rigid, unmoving stereotypes of the distanced father and hard-working employee.


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One Response to The Simpsons and Gender in “Homer Defined” and “Homer Alone”

  1. marymdalton says:

    The Simpsons is — without a doubt — brilliant. Don’t tell anyone, but my favorite chapter in the book is Peter Steeves’s essay on the show. Something for you to look forward to in coming weeks!

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