Homer's Phobia

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Template:Infobox Simpsons episode "Homer's Phobia" is the fifteenth episode in the eighth season of the American animated television series The Simpsons. It first aired on the Fox network in the United States on February 16, 1997. In the episode, Homer dissociates himself from new family friend John after discovering that John is gay. Homer fears that John will have a negative influence on his son Bart and decides to ensure Bart's heterosexuality by taking him hunting.

It was the first episode written by Ron Hauge and was directed by Mike B. Anderson. George Meyer pitched "Bart the homo" as an initial idea for an episode while show runners Bill Oakley and Josh Weinstein were planning an episode involving Lisa "discovering the joys of campy things". Oakley and Weinstein combined the two ideas and they eventually became "Homer's Phobia". Fox censors originally found the episode unsuitable for broadcast because of its controversial subject matter, but this decision was reversed after a turnover in the Fox staff. Filmmaker John Waters guest-starred, providing the voice of the new character, John.

"Homer's Phobia" was the show's first episode to revolve entirely around gay themes and received a positive critical response both for its humor and anti-homophobia message. It won four awards, including an Emmy Award for Outstanding Animated Program (For Programming One Hour or Less) and a GLAAD Media Award for "Outstanding TV – Individual Episode".


Needing money to pay for a repair after Bart damages the gas line, the Simpson family visits "Cockamamie's", an offbeat collectibles shop, hoping that it will purchase one of the family's heirlooms (an "authentic" American Civil War doll which turns out to be a decorative liquor bottle). Homer meets John, the antiques dealer, who explains that much of the merchandise is there because of its camp value. Bart and Lisa take an instant liking to John, and Homer invites him to the Simpsons' house to see the campy items that the family owns. The next morning, Homer tells Marge that he likes John and suggests they invite him and "his wife" over for a drink some time. Marge tries to hint repeatedly to an oblivious Homer that John is gay, and when she eventually can't she tells him face to face and Homer is horrified. Homer's attitude towards John changes completely, and he turns against him, refusing to join his tour of Springfield. The rest of the family joins John and has a good time, but Homer is upset with the family upon their return. The rest of the Simpson family continue to enjoy John's company, especially Bart, who starts wearing Hawaiian shirts and dancing in a woman's wig. This makes Homer uneasy, and he begins to fear Bart is gay.

Homer endeavors to make Bart more masculine by forcing him to look at a cigarette billboard featuring scantily clad women in hopes Bart will be attracted to girls, but instead Bart gets the urge to smoke "anything slim." Homer then escorts him to see a steel mill to show Bart a manly environment; however, much to his surprise and dismay, the entire workforce is gay, and during their breaks they turn the mill into "The Anvil", a gay disco. A desperate Homer insists on taking Bart deer hunting with Moe and Barney. When they cannot find any deer, they decide instead to go to "Santa's Village" and shoot the reindeer in the corral, despite a tearful Bart being reluctant to do so. This backfires when the reindeer attack them. John, with the help of Lisa and Marge, uses a Japanese Santa Claus robot to scare off the reindeer and save the hunting party. Homer accepts John, more or less, and tells Bart, who is still unaware of his father's concerns, that any way he lives his life is fine with him. After Lisa informs Bart that Homer thinks he is gay, Bart is stunned. The episode ends with everyone driving off in John's car.

Just before the end credits a dedication to the steelworkers of America is shown, reading "Keep reaching for that rainbow!"


A balding man with a small mustache, in sunglasses and wearing a dark suit.
John Waters instantly accepted the invitation to guest-star in the episode.

The original concept for the episode came from a few lines of show ideas written by George Meyer. One of them read "Bart the homo", and Ron Hauge was selected to write the episode, with the story stemming from that line.<ref name="roncom">Template:Cite video</ref> The idea of using filmmaker John Waters as a guest star had been around for a while. Many of the staff were fans of his work, and showrunners Bill Oakley and Josh Weinstein had planned to use him in an episode called "Lisa and Camp", which revolved around Lisa "discovering the joys of campy things".<ref name="Billcom">Template:Cite video</ref> Their idea was combined with Meyer's and it became this episode. The episode was originally titled "Bart Goes to Camp", but was renamed because the joke was too oblique.<ref name="roncom"/> Mike B. Anderson directed the episode, telling The Gold Coast Bulletin: "When I read the script I was enthralled, not only because of the visual possibilities, but also because the story felt very solid. It was engaging and surprising and I really put heart into that episode."<ref name=origins/>

Waters accepted his invitation to be a guest star instantly, stating that if it was good enough for the actress Elizabeth Taylor, who appeared in the season four episodes "Lisa's First Word" and "Krusty Gets Kancelled", it was good enough for him. He joked, however, about a negative reaction if his character would be made to look like fitness personality Richard Simmons.<ref name="JohnWaterscom">Template:Cite video</ref> John's design was based largely on Waters' own appearance; for animation reasons, Waters moustache was changed from straight to curvy, so that it did not look like a mistake.<ref name="JohnWaterscom"/><ref name=mike>Template:Cite video</ref> As thanks for his performance, the show's staff sent Waters an animation cel from the episode, which he now has hanging in his office.<ref>"The Prince of Puke talks porn, pubes and periods". Planet Sick Boy. Archived from the original on June 24, 2007. Retrieved 2007-07-17. </ref>

According to Oakley, the Fox censor objected to "Homer's Phobia" being aired. The normal procedure is for an episode's script to be sent to the censor and then faxed back with a list of lines and words that should be substituted. However this episode came back with two pages of notes about almost every single line in the show. The censors stated that they did not like the use of the word "gay", or the discussion of homosexuality at all, and closed with a paragraph which stated that "the topic and substance of this episode are unacceptable for broadcast". Usually the censor notes are ignored as the offending lines and problems are dealt with after the episode has been animated. In this case the entire episode was deemed a problem, so it could not be solved in this way.<ref name="Billcom"/> The staff asked Waters if he thought the gay community would find the episode offensive. Homer's use of the word "fag" to insult John was his only problem, so the writers changed it to "queer".<ref name="NoHomers">"Ask Bill & Josh". NoHomers.net. 2005-11-02. Retrieved 2008-06-24. </ref> The censor problems ultimately came to nothing as when the episode came back from animation in South Korea, the then-Fox president had just been fired and replaced, with the censors being replaced as well. The new censors sent back merely one line: "acceptable for broadcast".<ref name="Billcom"/>

The "gay steel mill" scene was written by Steve Tompkins. He first pitched that Homer and Bart would encounter longshoremen, but it was too much work to animate the lading of ships, so a steel mill was used instead.<ref name="tompkins">Template:Cite video</ref> Tompkins also wrote a different third act for the episode, which was never produced. Instead of Homer, Bart, Barney and Moe going deer hunting and ending up at "Santa's Village" they would go back to the steel mill. There, Homer would attempt to prove his heterosexuality by having a human tractor pulling contest with some of the steel mill workers. It was decided that it "didn't really service the story" and was dropped.<ref name="com">Template:Cite video</ref>

Cultural references

The episode features numerous cultural references. The song "Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)" by C+C Music Factory is played twice during the episode: first as the steel mill transforms into a disco, and second over the closing credits.<ref name="BBC"/> Homer's record collection includes music by The New Christy Minstrels and The Wedding of Lynda Bird Johnson, the albums Loony Luau and Ballad of the Green Berets by Staff Sgt. Barry Sadler.<ref name="book"/><ref name="BBC"/> The song that John picks out and he and Homer dance to is "I Love the Nightlife" by Alicia Bridges, and the song that Bart dances to is "The Shoop Shoop Song (It's in His Kiss)" by Betty Everett.<ref name="BBC"/> When John is introduced there is a plastic pink flamingo lying in the background, a reference to John Waters's film Pink Flamingos.<ref name="book"/> Items in John's store include several buttons endorsing political campaigns of Richard Nixon, Dan Quayle and Bob Dole as well as an issue of TV Guide owned by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis which features the title characters from the sitcom Laverne & Shirley on the cover.<ref name="book"/> When John takes the Simpson family on a driving tour of Springfield's shopping district, he points out a store where he claims that the Mexican film actress Lupe Vélez bought the toilet she drowned in. This is a reference to the urban legend that Velez was found dead with her head in the toilet the night of her suicide in 1944.<ref>"Homer's Phobia" in The Simpsons Archive Archived 2012-05-12 at the Wayback Machine.</ref>


Ratings and awards

A man with grey hair and glasses sitting in front of a microphone.
Mike B. Anderson won two awards for directing the episode

In its original American broadcast, "Homer's Phobia" finished tied for 47th place in the weekly ratings for the week of February 10–16, 1997 with a Nielsen rating of 8.7. It was the fourth-highest-rated show on the Fox Network that week.<ref>David Bauder (1997-02-21). "NBC's sky falls on rest of TV's broadcast networks". The Florida Times-Union. p. D-2. </ref> The episode won the Emmy Award for Outstanding Animated Program (For Programming One Hour or Less) in 1997.<ref name="emmys">"Primetime Emmy Awards Advanced Search". Emmys.org. Archived from the original on 2011-02-15. Retrieved 2009-02-10. </ref> Mike Anderson won the Annie Award for Best Individual Achievement: Directing in a TV Production,<ref>"Legacy: 25th Annual Annie Award Nominees and Winners (1997)". AnnieAwards.com. Archived from the original on 2008-05-12. Retrieved 2008-01-15. </ref> and the WAC Award for Best Director for Primetime Series at the 1998 World Animation Celebration.<ref name=origins>"Origins of Homer phobia". The Gold Coast Bulletin. 2001-05-24. p. T30. </ref><ref>Kenyon, Heather. "The World Animation Celebration: Pasadena's Festival". Animation World Magazine. Retrieved 2007-05-13. </ref> Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation called it "a shining example of how to bring intelligent, fair and funny representations of our community onto television"<ref>"Homer's Phobia?". Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. 1997-02-21. Archived from the original on September 29, 2007. Retrieved 2007-02-14. </ref> and awarded it the GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding TV – Individual Episode.<ref name=alberti>Henry, Matthew (2003). "Looking for Amanda Hugginkiss". In Alberti, John. Leaving Springfield: The Simpsons and the Possibility of Oppositional Culture. Wayne State University Press. pp. 239–241. ISBN 0-8143-2849-0. </ref> Several of the episode's animation cels were selected for display at the Silver K Gallery in Melbourne, Australia in 2001.<ref name=origins/>

Critical reviews and analysis

"Homer's Phobia" has been cited as a significant part of The Simpsons' exploration of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) themes.<ref>Gumbel, Andrew (2004-08-07). "Why America's love affair with The Simpsons is being forced out of the closet". Irish Independent. </ref> The series made several references to homosexuality before the episode aired.<ref name="Mudhar">Raju Mudhar, "Springfield's coming-out party; Cartoon to reveal gay character And it might not be Smithers," Toronto Star, July 28, 2004, pg. A.03.</ref> In the 1990 episode "Simpson and Delilah", the character Karl (voiced by Harvey Fierstein) kisses Homer, while the recurring character Waylon Smithers is often shown to be in love with his boss, Montgomery Burns, initially suggestively and since then more overtly.<ref>Stephen Kiehl, "Homersexual debate splits Springfield," The Ottawa Citizen, February 12, 2005, pg. L.7.</ref> However, "Homer's Phobia" was the first episode to revolve entirely around homosexual themes. Two later episodes that explored LGBT issues were "Three Gays of the Condo" and "There's Something About Marrying".<ref name="Outing">"Springfield awaits its first outing," Calgary Herald, July 29, 2004, pg. E.2.</ref>

When the episode aired, the production team received "very few" complaints about its content, with most of the response being positive.<ref name="com"/> Alan Frutkin gave the episode a positive write-up in the LGBT-interest magazine The Advocate, calling it "vintage Simpsons."<ref>Frutkin, Alan (1997-02-18). "Homer's Sexual Panic". The Advocate (727). p. 53. </ref> Warren Martyn and Adrian Wood stated in their book I Can't Believe It's a Bigger and Better Updated Unofficial Simpsons Guide, that: "Only The Simpsons could do this so tongue-in-cheek that nobody could get in a tizzy about it. Very good indeed."<ref name="BBC"/> In the book Leaving Springfield, Matthew Henry praised the episode's critiquing of "the most common misconception about homosexuality: namely that gayness is somehow contagious", as well as its other themes.<ref name=alberti/> Catharine Lumby of the University of Sydney cited the episode as an example of good satire as it "managed to explore a lot of [homosexual] issues in quite a deep way [...] without being overtly political", which she claimed, along with the episode's humor, made its anti-homophobia message more successful than that of other gay-themed shows like Queer as Folk.<ref>Michael Lallo (2007-07-25). "Mmmmmmmm ... clever". The Age. p. Culture 9. </ref> In his review of The Simpsons – The Complete Eighth Season DVD, Todd Gilchrist said that "Homer's Phobia" "certainly qualifies as one of the all-time greatest episodes."<ref>Gilchrist, Todd (2006-08-14). "The Simpsons – The Complete Eighth Season". IGN.com. Retrieved 2007-03-01. </ref>

It was placed fifth on Entertainment Weekly's top 25 The Simpsons episode list.<ref>"The Family Dynamic". Entertainment Weekly. 2003-01-29. Retrieved 2007-02-13. </ref> In 2003, USA Today published a top 10 chosen by the webmaster of The Simpsons Archive, which had this episode listed in tenth place,<ref>Paakkinen, Jouni (2003-02-06). "10 fan favorites". USA Today. Retrieved 2007-02-13. </ref> and it was again placed tenth on AskMen.com's "Top 10: Simpsons Episodes" list.<ref>Weir, Rich. "Top 10: Simpsons Episodes". Askmen.com. Retrieved 2007-02-13. </ref> IGN.com ranked John Waters's performance as the ninth-best guest appearance in the show's history,<ref>Goldman, Eric; Iverson, Dan; Zoromski, Brian. "Top 25 Simpsons Guest Appearances". IGN. Retrieved 2007-02-13. </ref> with TV Guide naming him the third-best film related guest star.<ref>Arnold Wayne Jones (2007-05-18). "The Simpsons Turns 400: We Name the Greatest Guests!". TV Guide. Retrieved 2008-01-12. </ref> In a 2008 article, Entertainment Weekly named Waters as one of the 16 best Simpsons guest stars.<ref>Wook Kim (2008-05-11). "Springfield of Dreams: 16 great 'Simpsons' guest stars". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 2008-05-11. </ref> John Patterson of The Guardian wrote that Waters' appearance "felt to me like a summit meeting between the most influential pop-culture figures of the last 25 years."<ref>John Patterson (2005-04-30). "The Guide: Preview film: If only... There were a few taboos left for John Waters to shatter. John Patterson mourns the death of offensiveness". The Guardian. </ref>

In 2002, Off the Telly writers Steve Williams and Ian Jones named "Homer's Phobia" one of the five worst episodes of The Simpsons, stating that it "leaves such a nasty taste in the mouth", as Homer is "quite simply a bastard" throughout the course of the episode. The pair concluded by saying "this is a side of the show we'd not seen before, nor particularly wanted to see."<ref>Williams, Steve; Jones, Ian. "Five Of The Best ... And Five Of The Worst". Off the Telly. Retrieved 2015-09-25. </ref> In June 2003, Igor Smykov sued the Russian television channel REN TV on claims that The Simpsons, along with Family Guy, were "morally degenerate and promoted drugs, violence and homosexuality." As evidence, "Homer's Phobia" was shown to the judge to prove that The Simpsons promoted homosexuality, and thus should not be aired again on the channel. The case was thrown out after one day.<ref>"Court Rules for Simpsons Cartoon". The St. Petersburg Times. 2005-04-05. Archived from the original on September 30, 2007. Retrieved 2007-03-07. </ref>


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