Wednesday, July 25, 2007

14 Days of Simpsons

#3: Homer Bad Man
Season 6
After hiring a feminist babysitter, Homer and Marge go to a candy trade show. They smuggle out candy for the kids. Homer steals a rare piece of candy, but he can't find it when he gets home. When he gives the babysitter a ride home he sees the candy stuck to her posterior. When he grabs for it, she screams and runs away. He awakes the next morning to find protesters on his lawn and the babysitter leads them in a sexual harassment campaign. They make Homer's life a living hell. Homer does an interview for a tabloid TV show thinking that America will hear his case, but all they hear is what a complete jerk he is. FOX does a TV movie about him and he is depicted even worse in this portrayal. The news has around-the-clock coverage of the situation. The Simpson family does a public access show to clear his name, but it does not help his cause. Willie comes to Homer and shows him a video that he recorded of the night in question. Homer shows the babysitter and she realizes that she was wrong about him being an ass-grabber and the news admits that it was wrong about him, too. With all the forgiveness going on, Homer makes up with his TV set.

Do you remember in the early nineties when “Sexual Harassment” was all the buzz? Brought into the mainstream by the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings, every male in the country was put on notice to keep his mouth (and zipper) closed at work. The effects of the new found knowledge that perhaps we shouldn’t engage in inappropriate behavior in the workplace were wide-reaching and still in motion to this day. Naturally, entertainment media had to have its turn to chime in on the topic. Of these attempts, I have enjoyed 3 in particular: The episode of DinosaursWhat Sexual Harris Meant,” the (much) later Tom Brady skit on SNL, and of course this Simpsons episode.

First, I love that there exists (at least here) a gummy Venus de Milo for Homer to become obsessed with. Neither the fact that Homer lacks the self-control to prevent himself from grabbing it off the babysitter’s butt nor the fact that it was a completely innocent act tells us anything about Homer that we don’t already know. Rather, it is a perfect reflection of his character as refined over the years. The protesters who show up on the Simpson’s lawn employ a wonderful chant:
“Two, four, six, eight,
Homer’s crimes are very great!
Great meaning large or immense;
We use it in the pejorative sense!”

If there is one thing that entertainment media (shows like The Simpsons) does well, it is find ways to poke fun at the news media (it is for this reason, I think, that the news media is growing to look more and more like entertainment media). This episode is no exception. Taking the phrase “news media” in its broadest possible sense, we find here jabs at tabloid news shows (Rock Bottom), day-time talk shows (Gentle Ben), the traditional evening news, and the new 24 hour news cycle (“This is hour 57 of our live, round the clock coverage outside the Simpson estate.”). My favorite of all is Rock Bottom, which I fear becomes less of an exaggeration every day. Here is the transcript of Homer’s actual interview with them:

“Somebody had to take the babysitter home. Then I noticed she was sitting on the gummy Venus, so I grabbed it off her. Just thinking about that sweet, sweet candy… I wish I had another one right now!”

What aired on Rock Bottom:
“Somebody had to take the babysitter home. Then I noticed she was sitting on (edit) her (edit) sweet (edit) can. (edit) so I grabbed (edit) her (edit) sweet can (edit) Oh just thinking about (edit) her (edit) sweet (edit) s-s-s-weet (edit) can.”

Watch the clock in the background during the edited interview and this becomes infinitely more funny. So, is there a moral to the story? Is it that sexual harassment is bad but a rush to judgment on that or any other offense is worse? Is it that the media is the worst offender when it comes to rushing to judgment? If so, then this episode is more relevant today than the day it was written. Personally, I like to think that the moral is that we should all live under the sea. There we only find friendly crustaceans, not accusations.

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