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The Simpsons Gets Political - SE01 E07 - The Call of the Simpsons

The Simpsons Gets Political - SE01 E07 - The Call of the Simpsons

He's an experienced woodsman y'know.

Script synopsis: Homer, envious of Ned Flanders's new motor home, goes to Bob's RV Round-up to buy one of his own, but because of his poor credit rating, he is only qualified for a smaller dilapidated one, much to his family's disgust. Thrilled with the new RV, Homer takes his family on an excursion. Driving on remote back roads and ignoring Marge's suggestion to turn back on the main road, the Simpsons find themselves teetering over a precipice. The family escapes the RV before it plummets over the cliff, leaving themselves stranded in the wilderness.

Issue raised: Masculinity. Homer seems to be of the belief that as a man he needs to exaggerate his capacity in classically masculine pursuits - such as being a woodsman, and does not wish to consult with his wife on the salesman insistence that if he needs to there is something wrong with the world. Is this vision of masculinity toxic and damaging?

Bullshit hyper-masculinity is an infantile disorder. The kind of person who needs to represent themselves to the world as an experienced woodsman in order to protect a vision of their own masculinity is not strong, and they are victims of the same patriarchal society which oppresses their female counterparts.To be sure, this is not to diminish the struggles of women. But the external forces driving a man toward performative pseudo-masculinity, are the same ones that oppress women and these behaviours perpetuate gender inequality.

But what is performative pseudo-masculinity? How does Homer exhibit it in the episode, and then ultimately transcend it?

A definition

Certain ways of being and acting form part of our social expectations around gender, therefore when acting in certain ways we may be acting in these ways because we have an expectation that this is the way that someone who identifies with the gender we identify with ought to act. The performative aspect of the conjunction refers to the way in which we may be "acting a part" or "playing a role" from a socially set script rather than out of authentic self-ness.

But alas, to begin:

The episode opens with Bart struggling to mow the lawn with an old and broken down lawnmower,as Homer looks on, as Todd Flanders mows his own lawn on a state-of-the-art ride on mower. Upon being asked by Bart if they could get a new mower to compete with next doors Homer says the first (and last) wise thing he will say all episode:

"Just be happy with what you've got, son. Don't try and keep up with the Flander-eses" - Homer Simpson

In the context of our discussion this statement can form a useful counter-point to performative pseudo-masculinity, in that it implores the agent to reference themselves in the way they act(1) rather than to draw from an external source to inform them on how they ought to act. In the performance of masculinity what is taking place is an attempt to interpret and then put into practice a vision of what masculinity is, or should be. However, this has to be interpreted by each individual who wishes to practice masculinity. It also has to match, in the performers view, a socially given view of what masculinity is.

Thus, the temptation on the part of one who wishes to be perceived as masculine is to overemphasise certain traits which they believe, that society believes to be masculine. It is easy at this point to see how certain behaviours may become intensified by this process.

However, if one where to fix ones behaviours based on how one believed one ought to act rather than acting in accordance with what one thought was socially demanded - one might be happy with what one had, and would be doing the social equivalent of not trying to keep up with the Flander-eses.

The flash of insight by Homer is however shattered by the arrival of Ned Flanders in his brand new top of the line RV. Homer expresses disbelief that Ned is able to afford such a vehicle noting that Ned only makes $27 per week more than himself. Now, as noted in a previous blog - Homer doesn't make a lot. However, Ned informs Homer that he was able to pay for the vehicle using credit (maybe Ned's part of Springfield Credit Union).

Clearly taken by the idea, and possibly wishing to prove himself as a provider on par with his neighbour the next scene see's us at "Bob's RV Round'Up" which apparently Bob doesn't own even though' his name is on the sign - it's a long story.

Marge expresses her unease at the idea of buying one of the RV's reminding Homer that they are unlikely to be able to afford it. Bob, ever the smooth salesman, takes Homer off into his office to a run a credit check. Unsurprisingly the credit check, given the events of "There's No Disgrace Like Home" where the family had to pawn their TV, does not pass.

Not wanting to go away empty handed - Homer asks if there is any RV that he can afford. Upon which Bob offers him a, frankly shit, one for $350 a month. Unsure Homer wishes to go and consult with his family. Bob, probably knowing how easy it is to fall prey to a false sense of masculinity, then implores Homer that:

"If you have to talk it over with those humans out there, there's something wrong with all of us. You look like a man able to make a decision!" - Bob, of Bob's RV Round'Up

To begin with, if we intend to overanalyse this statement - and I do - there is something disconcerting with the phrasing here. The implication is that the truly masculine figure is elevated above mere humans. Further, we could consider the 'all of us' part of the sentence to not include women and children. Part of the idea of performative pseudo-masculinity is that if someone who "should be" engaging in the behaviours, fails to -  then it is a threat to the self-image of all who practice it.

Having been persuaded by the specious reasoning - we cut to the next scene where the Simpsons are about to embark on their first trip in the RV.

Disregard of maps is a trait that is typically associated with men. It is a cliche and a caricature and is certainly not true of all men. However, Homer in his role as exemplar of performative pseudo-masculinity overtly displays the trait in the episode - and in future ones - maybe he doesn't learn his lesson. What results from Homers cartophobia is the family finding themselves lost in the woods - and at risk of a premature end to America's favourite family.

"Simpsons_RV_Cliff.gif"- The rhyming pleases me.

Analysing the episode from the perspective that we are, it should be immediately obvious as to the negative impact that Homer's adherence to performative pseudo-masculinity is having. He has up until this point paid an obscene amount of money, which the family cannot afford, for an extremely poor quality vehicle, managed to get them stranded in the wilderness due to an unwillingness to go with a map, and almost killed them by driving the van off of a cliff.

At this point the viewer might expect Homer to recognise his shortcomings and attempt to work with the family for a resolution - the viewer would be disappointed however(2).

Act Two: "The Simpsons Have Entered The Forest"

Outwardly at this point Homer is still representing himself as an experienced woodsman who can handle the situation. This exterior position is given lie to however seconds later when he goes off to exclaim that; "I've murdered us all!".

What this demonstrates is that the exterior bravado is, in fact false. The idea of performative masculinity however is that it is that, a performance. What the agent thinks, feels or believes is not at issue so much as the exterior performance which they put on. Much like an actor playing a part - if we could hear their true internal monologue the illusion that Nancy Cartwright is an 8-year old boy would obviously be shattered. Likewise if we were truly privy to Homers internal monologue throughout, the illusion of strength and stability would be shattered(3).

The next section of the episode see's the male and the female members, bar Maggie who goes with Bart and Homer ultimately to be taken in by bears, part ways.

Homer and Bart head into the woods to go and find help to bring back to the rest of the family. It is at this point that Homer begins to impart to Bart a version of masculinity, and gives an insight into how it may be transmitted between generations. Maggie also gets lost in the forest and finds better parents in some bears than in Homer. Pretty fucked, eh'?

The next few minutes of the episode see's Homer and Bart lose their clothes going over a waterfall, with Homer believing that he may have killed his son. Fail to trap a rabbit to eat, and Homer angering  a swarm of bee's in an attempt to steal honey from their hive, and subsequently alarming some holidaymakers who mistake him for Big Foot as he stumbles out of a thicket covered in mud and unable to speak as bee's have stung his mouth all up. Him being mistaken for Big Foot sparks a hunt by the authorities for the dangerous creature - which ultimately brings the episode to a conclusion.

All of this would be merely unfortunate if it wasn't all as a result of performative pseudo-masculinity. The fact that Homer has put his family in danger, almost killed his son, and is at risk of losing his life all because he cannot bring himself to admit that he is not the, in his view, epitome of masculinity that is the figure of the woodsman makes this almost tragic. This being the Simpsons it is well written, thus it remains comic.

Act Three: Redemption

The thing that makes early seasons Homer so likeable is that he often catastrophically fucks up. But he generally recognises the error of his ways - and the situation is resolved, and we can get back to liking him, after all to err is human.

The scene in which Homer stumbles out of the forest to be shot with a tranquilliser and sent to sleep, although not before telling Bart to avenge him, represents the last point in the episode in which Homer seems to be enforcing on himself, to the detriment of others the self defeating ideology of pseudo-masculinity.

The episode being ultimately resolved as he seeks comfort from Marge, and it would seem admitting that the way he has behaved is wrong. Although, not before we are informed that opinion is split as to whether Homer is a below average human, or a brilliant ape.

It is worth bearing in mind that all of the misfortunes within the episode that Homer suffered, where a direct result of him performing a role. The performance of which hurt him and those he loved. The argument being that the roles we perform if they do not match our authentic self, damage us as well.



(1) The quote is about material goods I know, but just work by analogy. plz. k. thnx.

(2) There's definitely a joke to be made about Theresa May, the Tories and the voting public here but I'll let you all fill in the gaps.

(3) Honestly the jokes about the Tories could be coming thick and fast, they're almost to easy.


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