Classic Simpsons: Ritualistic firing as-entertainment in Burns Verkaufen der Kraftwerk.

3.11 Burns Verkaufen der Kraftwerk

Homer becomes expendable when German investors purchase the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant.

Usually when I’m curious to know some random, insignificant statistic, the internet delivers. After watching this episode I wanted to find out how many times Homer has been fired from his job at the power plant, but just as Rick Moranis hopelessly combed the desert in 1987’s Spaceballs, I couldn’t find a thing.

That’s surprising to me, because The Simpsons’ writers do this a LOT. Even if they aren’t outright firing Homer, his incompetence on the job is always comic fodder.

This is most piercingly addressed in Season 8’s “Homer’s Enemy,” which I consider to be the spiritual series finale. New employee, Frank Grimes goes on an episode-long tirade about how Homer’s ineptitude is constantly rewarded, while his own dedication and results go unnoticed. It’s an anthem to meritocracy, and (I think) a subtle jab at viewers for not being critical enough of Homer.

Anyway, it falls to me to come up with a Homer getting fired stat, which is too bad because I stopped watching in the early 2000s. The best I could come up with is nine times; in “Homer’s Odyssey,” “Diatribe of a Mad Housewife,” “Ice Cream of Margie,” “Simpson Tide,” “The Girl Code,” “Fat Man and Little Boy,” “Treehouse of Horror II,” “Treehouse of Horror IV (very briefly),” and of course this episode.

We’re obsessed with firings as a culture. A prominent figure screws up publicly? Twitter calls for their head. An overworked employee has a vulnerable moment and raises their voice at the wrong customer? Same result. A certain world leader who shall remain nameless became a global celebrity by ritualistically firing someone on national TV every week. Firings to us are not just entertainment, but a sort of restorative justice.

And if the firee has dependants? I dunno, that’s someone else’s problem, it’s the free market, whatever, fuck you.

Anyway (Oh God I started another paragraph with “anyway”). Given the fact we don’t have basic income yet, the proper way to view this episode is through a prism of complete and total cruelty. Which is way more fun anyway regardless!

That’s right, I’m taking Homer’s side on this one. Yes, of course he should lose his job for being dangerously incompetent, but there is no justice to be found in his kids collecting dirty old soap slivers in order to bathe themselves because their father has genuine difficulty supporting them.

This isn’t me saying this episode isn’t funny. It’s a riot. Homer is unable to pay attention while being interviewed by the German investors, and he trails off into a daydream where he prances through the Land of Chocolate. Gut busting; also Homer without question has a diagnosable attention deficit condition as well as anxiety. Hilarious. Fire his neurodivergent ass.

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Fun fact: This bit originally had a street called “Hershey Highway,” but the censors nixed it. If you don’t know why I can’t help you.

Homer’s stock broker (which he didn’t even know he had; poor guy) calls and says he can make 25 bucks if he sells his power plant stock now. He cashes out before the stock skyrockets, and finds out could have made $5200 instead—what a dolt, right?

Not so fast. All the other employees who make $5200 spend it on frivolous shit they don’t need. Yes, Homer spends it on a nice craft beer, but I’m giving him credit for having fantasized about spending his 25 bucks on a hair cut, a hot car wax, or a new hammer. An extra 25 dollars would have been of meaningful help to him. But he spent it on booze. How terrible. Wait, don’t the German investors later put the alcoholic employees through paid rehabilitation? Couldn’t Homer use that? Oh right they fire him for having ADHD.

Homer is actually kind of adorable in this episode. Like when he puts two and two together that two guys with thick German accents aren’t from Springfield. Or when he gives Burns the inside information he needs to get his plant back (and gets zero thanks for doing it). Or his line, “My job is my identity. If I’m not a safety whatcha ma-jigger, I’m nothing.”

Homer is doing his best and you’re terrible for laughing at him. (I hope my facetiousness is coming through here)

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Imagine for a second that Homer, despite his best efforts, just isn’t that smart. “You just spent $5200 on beer” becomes a deeply sad moment. See, this is fun!

Sidebar: I have two questions about Waylon Smithers. One, is his bee allergy in “22 Short Films About Springfield” canon? Because he seems unbothered by getting repeatedly stung in this episode.

Secondly, I’m neither L, nor B, nor G, nor T, so this is definitely a question rather than a statement, and if anyone wants to @ me on Twitter with their perspective, go ahead—Do you find that the writers tend to frame Smithers’ queerness as being central to his sycophantic nature? If so, that’s problematic, right?

Anyway (rule of threes), I think watching people get fired satisfies our urge to see power structures inverted. That sounds like a weird statement since it’s often the ones way down the totem pole we enjoy watching get axed, but our tiny little brains are very easily tricked into using people with very little actual power as stand-ins for more powerful figures or ideas. I know this to be true because I’VE WORKED IN RETAIL.

Also because I’m a disabled person on assistance; or, as they call us in fascist regimes, the first to be vilified and killed. I’m fun at parties I swear.

The ritualistic element of firing as-entertainment reminds me of the Saturnalia festival in Ancient Rome, where political and even gender roles were reversed. I don’t know who at the top OK’d this, but it was absolutely brilliant because it gave people the feeling of structural power while those in positions of authority didn’t have to give up jack shit.

It’d be nice if we had basic income so we could just admit our penchant for cruelty and enjoy our unemployment porn. But we don’t, so I guess I’m glad my parents didn’t suck at their jobs for reasons beyond their control.

Anyway. Good episode!

Best moment: The Germans trying to get a terrified Homer to agree to their meeting.

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Large man with tiny object. Comedy 101.

Best quote: “What good is money if you can’t inspire terror in your fellow man?” —Mr. Burns


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