In 2023, Homer Simpson Is Your Facebook-Obsessed Boomer Uncle

When did Homer stop being a dumb, middle-aged white guy and start being *every* dumb, middle-aged white guy?
In 2023, Homer Simpson Is Your Facebook-Obsessed Boomer Uncle

The last 15 years of social media have taught us that there’s nothing quite like a constant connection to a smartphone to ruin our impressions of our loved ones — and that includes Homer Simpson.

About a month ago, a new episode of The Simpsons 35th Season, “Iron Marge,” featured a B-story that would give the biggest Simpsons fan from 1995 an aneurysm. In it, Homer discovers a neighborhood app similar to the real world’s Nextdoor that allows him to alert his fellow Sprinfieldians to local threats, large and small. Almost immediately, Homer attaches his entire sense of self-worth to his ranking on the app’s leaderboards, and he starts concocting alarmist posts designed to spread fear and misinformation to the detriment of the neighborhood itself and the enlargement of his ego. As Homer and Agnes Skinner vie for the title of foremost fearmonger, they inadvertently trap themselves in a sinkhole where Homer is forced to perform the Heimlich maneuver on his adversary and decides that the real-world validation of saving a life is an ample substitute for social media engagement.

That episode was written by Simpsons veteran Mike Scully, who served as the series’ showrunner on Seasons 9 through 12. Though Scully earned three Emmy awards during that time, he’s been retroactively criticized by some fans and media members for supposedly ushering in the end of the Simpsons’ Golden Age and the beginning of the show’s gradual decline in quality. Whether or not Scully deserves the scorn he so often receives from some critics and critical fanboys, he’s certainly been involved in drastic changes to the show’s secret formula during his decades on the franchise. As such, I’d like to ask Scully a couple questions: When, exactly, did Homer stop being a dumb middle-aged white guy and start being every dumb middle-aged white guy? Also, why does he have to spend so much time on his goddamn phone?

In the early seasons of The Simpsons, Homer’s motivations were as simple as his pleasures: He loves junk food and beer, he hates having to do actual work and he’d do anything for his family. Homer’s shortcomings were similarly straightforward: He’s overweight, he’s lazy and he’s not the sharpest bulb in the box, thanks to a crayon in his brain. And, yes, he has a gnawing need for external validation that allows him to get swept up in a monorail scheme, or a plow-measuring contest with his best friend, or a jealous mania that causes him to cough up the secret formula for a Flaming Moe (or Flaming Homer).

However, as The Simpsons progressed, Homer’s flaws and motives flattened out even further. Around Scully’s second season as showrunner, the character moved into what fans labeled his “Jerkass Homer” arc, wherein episode after episode centered around Homer’s piggishness while the positive qualities that originally endeared him to the audience faded into the background. Homer’s love of his family and propensity for profound selflessness took a backseat to the oafish behavior that was an easier vehicle for The Simpsons’ high jokes-per-minute pace that was quickly accelerating.

Today, the sheer density of gags written into Simpsons scripts necessitates a kind of character simplicity that’s been coined as “Flanderization.” At the same time, modern Simpsons writers have this inexplicable need to cram every episode full of social commentary to the detriment of established character qualities — like when Homer’s crossing guard duties served as a heavy-handed metaphor for militarized policing in the Season 35 opener. And so, it’s not enough for Homer to just be stupid — he needs to be the specific kind of stupid that the writers are targeting for surface-level satire. Which is, so often, the ignorance of a reactionary conservative with a smartphone full of misinformation. It even corrupted this year’s Treehouse of Horror, in which Homer name-dropped the “nanny state” twice in the first minute of the “Lout Break” storyline.

It’s natural that, with the rise of social media, Simpsons writers would attach Homer’s innate need for attention and validation to the tools that everyone else uses to get their fix of artificial approval. However, it’s frustrating that so many of these factors driving the show toward a place of simplicity in message and characterization have turned The Simpsons’ central character into a caricature of the personalities that get corrupted by these tools instead of the writers showing us how the Homer we know would react to a changing world. 

In today’s Simpsons, Homer Simpson isn’t really a character. He’s a stand-in for stupid people from his age, race and weight demographic, a vessel for the writers’ gripes with whichever extended family member ruined Thanksgiving by bringing up something he heard on The Joe Rogan Experience. And, just like that uncle, the answer to Homer's character problems is straightforward — just put the phone down and spend some quality time with your family.

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