- By Lenny Burnham
I’m guessing everyone reading this knows the main thesis of Dead Homer Society: The Simpsons was a smart satire with developed, interesting characters. Zombie Simpsons is a stupid mess with only a shallow resemblance to The Simpsons. But, while the extreme decrease in quality in the double-digit seasons is a bummer for any Simpsons fan, it creates a particular problem for queer Simpsons fans—half of the show is great in quality but has fairly little in the way of representation, half has lots of gay characters and storylines but doesn’t have the same quality. It’s hard to watch an episode like “There’s Something About Marrying” without longing to see what the people who made episodes like “Lisa vs. Malibu Stacy” could have done with the same subject matter. It’s nice to dream of a world where the years of smart satire overlapped more with the years that were flush in references to gay life, but it will always just be a dream. But, my question is—what show does a better job with queer representation, The Simpsons or Zombie Simpsons? On sheer number of characters and screentime, Zombie Simpsons wins hands down. They added in Julio and Grady, explicitly outed characters whose sexuality had only been hinted at previously and they’ve had three episodes (“There’s Something About Marrying”, “Three Gays of the Condo” and “Flaming Moe”) dedicated to gay subject matter, while The Simpsons only had one (“Homer’s Phobia”).
References to homosexuality in The Simpsons were quick and relatively subtle. Look no further than the town meeting in “Bart After Dark.” When Marge, Maude, Ned and the Lovejoys hold a town meeting to discuss Springfield’s burlesque house, they show a slideshow that reveals many of the Springfieldians that have visited the place and we hear their loved ones react with shock. The fourth person we see is Patty and Selma cries out, “Patty?!” In a lesser show, this would have been the punchline—far too many shows think that the very existence of gay people is a punchline. But here gay life is just an accepted part of the world and we quickly move on to Brandine’s reaction to the picture of Cletus before we get to the actual punchline, which, because this is The Simpsons, consists of four quick jokes in a row (no one cares that Barney is a sleazebag, Wiggum sounds like a child whining that they did him twice, Smithers’s parents insisted he give it a try and Quimby claims that you can’t identify him by his very obvious “Mayor” sash because that could be any mayor). In a very short sequence we get four jokes and two acknowledgements of gay life, without any of the humor being at the expense of the gay characters.
In “Treehouse of Horror III” Patty sees Homer naked and says, “There goes the last lingering thread of my heterosexuality.” It clarified that Patty is gay—and comfortable referencing her sexuality—quickly in the form of a joke and then moved on. Back in the days of The Simpsons they could let a character just be gay without a long, jokeless episode about their emotional struggle because they weren’t desperate to be relevant.
By the time, “There’s Something About Marrying” aired, it was no longer enough for The Simpsons to have funny references from characters whose homosexuality was just one dimension of their character. They had to dedicate entire episodes to begging people to watch them for their politics, not for their humor. And they even screwed that up. You’d think that an episode dedicated to supporting same-sex marriage would be, if not actually good, at least positive for gay people, but they had to have Patty’s fiancé turn out to be a man. This episode might claim to support gay marriage, but it undercuts its own point completely by focusing on a relationship in which one of the partners is so oblivious that they didn’t even notice their partner’s gender. They have so little respect for lesbians’ sexuality and relationships that they dare us to accept the idea that Marge noticed Patty’s fiance’s large Adam’s apple before Patty noticed that or any other telltale signs. If you’re going to make an episode about how homosexual relationships are just as valid as heterosexual relationships, it might be a good idea to focus on a couple that at least took a cursory glance at each other’s bodies before jumping into getting engaged.
In another gay issue episode, “Flaming Moe”, Moe converted his bar into a gay bar and then every gay character in Springfield became a regular (except Dewey Largo, who had left town as part of another plot in that episode). Group shots were populated by every gay character, including Patty. Every time I got a glimpse of Patty I wondered why she wasn’t at home, watching TV and avoiding social interaction. The episode just decided that every gay person spends every night at a gay bar. This isn’t even an instance of them milking a stereotype or oversimplification for the sake of a joke, this is them mindlessly and needlessly accepting that all gay people have the same habits for absolutely no story or comedy purpose.
Even though Zombie Simpsons tries and tries to win over gay audiences with issue episodes like “There’s Something About Marrying” and “Three Gays of the Condo” and The Simpsons only had a handful of references in its run, I’d still pick The Simpsons over Zombie Simpsons every time. Because every character in The Simpsons, even minor ones, were thought through and developed, we got great characters like Smithers, Patty and Karl. Even though Zombie Simpsons has much more room to be explicitly inclusive, they’ve only added a few extremely one-dimensional gay guys and still haven’t bothered creating another lesbian. For me, Zombie Simpsons’s policy with representation can be summed up by the end of “Homer Scissorhands.” When Marge said she found a new hairdresser besides Homer, I immediately thought, “It’s going to be Julio” even though I’d never seen him portrayed as a hairdresser before and it had been established that he’s a photographer. Indeed, I was right. They had plopped Julio into the role of hairdresser for a plot point. Because Smithers and Patty were created early in the series, they have firmly established jobs at the power plant and the DMV. If Patty had been created now her job description would be “maybe she makes leather vests or maybe she plays in the WNBA or something like that.”