2.20 The War of the Simpsons
Homer and Marge sign up for a marriage counselling retreat after Homer humiliates Marge at a party. Homer goes fishing during the retreat, and has to choose between his wife and catching the big one, a catfish called General Sherman.
Okay gather round, kids. I’m about to give the subliminal plot of a hundred or so sitcoms that centre a family:
Dad character is given buffoonish, Archie Bunker-esque qualities in order to soften the pro-patriarchy message and reframe casual misogyny as cute and non-threatening. Emotionally bankrupt and unsupportive dad character pulls some colossal boner that forms the plot of the episode. Dad apologizes for colossal boner, male writers pull a forgiveness ex machina out of the nagging wife.
I love The Simpsons ninety percent of the time because it does more than just this. It has children speaking truth to power. It pulls off complex, pointed, and yet unbiased religious and political satire. It conveys meaningful parables while tossing out a laugh a second.
But deep down in its bowels, it’s every other sitcom with an aging turd of a patriarch who we elevate as a hero because, well, a lot of writers are aging, turd-like, and benefit from patriarchy (I fit at least two of those descriptions, myself). I often overlook it because there are so many great things about The Simpsons, but sometimes that septic mess of unexamined male privilege bubbles up and we get episodes like this one.
Marge nagging Homer about party preparation, Marge nagging Homer about drinking, Marge nagging Homer about staring at Maude, Marge nagging Homer about fishing, Marge nagging Homer about his gross friends, Marge nagging Homer about forgetting birthdays, Marge nagging Homer about his selfishness; all this is framed as stuff that’s happening to Homer, rather than stuff Homer Does To Other People.
Even Homer’s showdown with General Sherman is framed as accidental. Homer isn’t an abuser, he’s a nice guy; a victim of circumstance.
Homer’s sacrifice of throwing the fish back in a lake is enough for Marge to stay in their marriage, which should astonish me, but it really doesn’t, considering the barrage of messaging we get that says men are entitled to a woman’s approval.
Imagine my shock when I realized some women actually leave you when you act like the men you’ve modelled yourself after.
I honestly believe the reason we’re so aghast by women who refuse to accept apologies for abhorrent behaviour is because of the subliminal messaging in much of western storytelling, which tells us that the words, “I’m sorry” somehow trump sustained and meaningful growth. We live in a culture filled to the brim with messaging that frames any marginalized person’s refusal to accept apologies (or any steadfast adherence to their own boundaries) as a far greater vice than the behaviour that caused it. We value protection for those with power and compliance from those without it. Homer throwing General Sherman back in the lake isn’t just the tip of the iceberg, it is the iceberg.
Best Moment: Abe Simpson’s reveal that he was messing with the kids’ emotions just to get them to clean the house.
Best Quote: “If you want him to live through the night, I suggest you roll him onto his stomach. Remember, I said if.” -Dr. Hibbert