Sunday, February 06, 2005

Coming out in Springfield

I'm going to place a temporary moratorium of stories about gay cartoon characters after this story, but I thought this discussion was so well-thought out that I had to post it -ss

From the Baltimore Sun: Which of 'The Simpsons' regulars is gay -- and will get married when their town legalizes same-sex weddings?

By Stephen Kiehl
Sun Staff
January 26, 2005

James Dobson has his work cut out for him.Last week, the conservative flame-thrower denounced SpongeBob SquarePants - the harmless cartoon sponge who holds hands with his friends and lives in an underwater pineapple - for appearing in a "pro-homosexual video." Next month, a regular character on The Simpsons will come out and be married in a same-sex wedding.

Simpsons producers haven't revealed which character turns out to be gay, but that hasn't stopped fans from speculating or placing bets on who it might be. Patty Bouvier, the chain-smoking, raspy-voiced sister of Marge who has rarely dated men, seems to be the leading contender - one Web betting site,, stopped taking wagers because so much money was being placed on her.

But before spreading more idle gossip, let's deal in facts. Here they are, as determined by literally hours of dogged reporting (we called Fox): A Simpsons character will come out and be married by Homer, who becomes an Internet minister because he thinks he can make money by marrying gay couples. The wedding will be televised Feb. 20.

Now, back to the gossip. From here on, we're trafficking in guesses, rumor, innuendo, hints and allegations. You have been warned.

When Simpsons creator Matt Groening announced in August that a character would come out this season, early speculation focused on Waylon Smithers, the neat, bow-tied, doll-collecting assistant to Mr. Burns, owner of the nuclear power plant. Indeed, the evidence has been increasing over the show's 16 seasons.

Let's go to the tape: In the third season, when the power plant is 90 seconds away from a core meltdown, Smithers says to Mr. Burns, "Sir, there may never be another time to say ... I love you, sir."Mr. Burns responds, "Oh, hot dog! Thank you for making my last few moments on earth socially awkward."

In other episodes, Smithers dances with the Village People on top of a submarine, singing "In the Navy," and is shown to have a shirtless Mr. Burns as the screen-saver on his home computer. He's also been spotted Rollerblading in Springfield's gay neighborhood and has been known to wear a pink robe.

But the consensus among fans is that a Smithers outing would be disappointing. As Nate Kushibo, moderator of The Simpsons e-mail listserv, wrote in an e-mail to The Sun: "If it turns out to be Smithers, the only bit of newsworthiness would be that there are still people in America who think that a 40-something unmarried man who collects Barbie-like Malibu Stacy dolls, goes on Caribbean trips with male friends, and visits leather bars simply hasn't found the right woman yet.

"Simpsons executive producer Al Jean says the show's writers decided early on it would be funny to drop hints that Smithers was gay but never make a big deal about it. Most of the hints have come in the form of Smithers' slavish devotion to Mr. Burns."I've always thought of Smithers as a Burns-osexual," Jean says. "Whatever gender Burns is, he loves. So Smithers loves Mr. Burns. So he is a man who loves men."

So that settles that. But it doesn't mean Smithers will come out and get married. In fact, since he loves Mr. Burns so much, it's unlikely he'd marry anyone else. And Smithers coming out wouldn't be much of a surprise, since so many fans have assumed it for so long.OK. Who's next?

The Internet rumor that Patty, Marge's sister, comes out and marries a female golf pro has been circulating for so long that it's hardened into what passes for "fact" on the Internet. There have been some clues along the way. When her sister Selma was looking for a husband to start a family, Patty showed no interest. When Homer, naked, runs by the sisters in one episode, Patty says, "There goes the last lingering shred of my heterosexuality."

In any case, Jean warns that the show could be changed at the last minute and is not in its final form. The episode has been in the works for about a year, since San Francisco decided to allow gay and lesbian couples to marry (a move later overturned by the state's Supreme Court) and several other cities followed suit.

"We thought it would be an interesting thing for Springfield to do," Jean says, adding that the town splits into pro- and anti-gay marriage camps. "Lisa thinks it's good for civil rights. The reverend of the local Protestant church is opposed to it. Other people think tourists will come to town. Mayor Quimby wants the money. We don't take a position as much as explore everybody's positions."

Besides Patty and Smithers, there are some other possibilities:

Barkeeper Moe: Famous for making a drink called the "Flaming Moe." However, in this week's episode he was spotted with Nelson the bully's mother.

Lenny and Carl: The two inseparable buddies work with Homer at the nuclear plant.

Duff Man: Well-muscled spokesman for Duff Beer. Clearly spends a lot of time at the gym. Wears a cape.

Groundskeeper Willy: Wears a kilt, single, buff.

Ned Flanders: Mustachioed neighbor of the Simpsons whose trademark greeting is "Hi-dilly-ho!" Choreographs the Super Bowl halftime show in a future episode. Has also worn his late wife's dress while mowing the lawn.

The Simpsons has featured at least one openly gay character in the past: John, a kitsch collector played by Baltimore filmmaker John Waters, appeared in an episode from Season 8 called "Homer's Phobia." Waters' character befriends the Simpson family, but Homer worries about his influence on Bart. John finally wins Homer over by rescuing him and Bart from a band of marauding reindeer. In the end, Homer tells his son, "Any way you choose to live your life is OK with me."

The show has a policy that guest voices can only make one appearance, but Waters would like an exception. "I should come back and marry Ned Flanders," he says. "More people have seen me on The Simpsons than have seen any of my movies."

Waters says The Simpsons is the most subversive show on television because its cartoonish veneer allows it to slip all kinds of messages to children under the radar of their parents. He predicts the coming-out episode will follow that pattern.

"They'll make it funny and they'll make it subversive and they'll make it not exactly politically correct," he said.Waters expects it will be Patty, or Marge's other sister, Selma, who comes out because lesbians are less threatening to the general public.

It won't be the first gay wedding on television. Friends, Roseanne and Northern Exposure all featured gay weddings, or at least commitment ceremonies. But none of those programs showed the classic wedding moment - the kiss. Fans expect a kiss on The Simpsons, partly because it's animated and can get away with more than nonanimated shows.

"The Simpsons could make a strong political point that the networks would never dare in a sitcom," says Larry Gross, a communications professor at the University of Southern California and author of Up from Invisibility: Lesbians, Gay Men and the Media in America. He says a gay wedding on the show is significant - with or without a kiss.

"It's part of the peculiar status of television in American culture," Gross says. "It's the common ground on which we all discuss issues, whether it's race or feminism or sexuality. And the fact they're discussed in this venue is already a marker of where the culture is moving."

Cartoon watchers have long had fun speculating about which characters might secretly be gay.

Tinky Winky, for example, was "outed" by Jerry Falwell in 1999, who cited how the Teletubby wore purple, carried a handbag and had a triangle symbol on his head.

Such talk, of course, says more about gay stereotypes than about the actual sexual orientation of the characters, who after all are entirely fictional.

And so, while Simpsons producers do not want to discount the gay wedding episode's potential social contribution, their intention is more to have fun - and then move on.

The episode after the wedding has Lisa becoming so angry with Bart that she takes out a restraining order against him.

No love lost there.

Here are the odds for five of the show's characters, from the Internet betting site

Patty, 1:1
Waylon Smithers, 11:4
Ned Flanders, 20:1
Lenny and Carl, 10:1

No comments:

Post a Comment