Sideshow Bob started off as a good guy (kind of)

Along with other recurring characters like Mr Burns, Fat Tony, and Jimbo, Kearney and Dolph, Sideshow Bob is one of The Simpsons‘ long-standing villains. If asked to define Robert Underdunk Terwilliger’s primary motivation in a sentence, most Simpsons fans would probably say “to kill Bart Simpson”.

But till I recently re-watched the season one episode ‘Krusty Gets Busted’ I’d forgotten that Bob wasn’t always motivated by mere homodical rage. And nor did Bob only frame Krusty the Klown in that instalment because he was sick of being the butt of Krusty’s jokes (though he admits this was an important factor:

“Yes, I admit it, I hated him,” Bob confesses as Chief Wiggum leads him away in cuffs. “His hackney shennanigans robbed me of my dignity for years. I played the buffoon, while he squandered a fortune on his vulgar appitites. That’s why I framed Krusty.”)

But interestingly, Bob also sought to get rid of Krusty because he was sick of the clown dumbing-down his young audience, who Bob exposed to the likes of high-culture beacons including Gore Vidal and Susan Sontag. Screams Bob:

“Treat kids as equals! They’re people too! They’re smarter than you think! They were smart enough to catch me!”

Early seasons of The Simpsons focused on the idea that Our Favourite Family is so dysfunctional they corrupt everyone who crosses their path, and Bob’s speedy reduction from “homicidal cultural advocate” to “homocidal sociopath” fits pretty well with this theme. As far as I can remember, Bob’s goal to cultivate the minds of children never resurfaces as a factor in his later schemes, making it a curious, forgotten remnant of his initial characterisation.


Is Homer Simpson just faking stupid?

Pictured: Homer struggles to comprehend the theory explained in this post

In ‘Lisa’s Substitute’ Ms Hoover tells the class her lyme disease is psychosomatic. “Does that mean you’re crazy?” wonders Ralph. Another student responds: “No, that means she was faking it.”

“Actually,” Ms Hoover replies wearily, “it was a little of both.” Wiktionary concurs, more or less, telling us “psychosomatic” pertains “to physical diseases, symptoms etc. which have mental causes”.

So is Homer Simpson’s infamous stupidity psychosomatic? That is, is Homer only stupid because he wants, on some deep subconscious level, to be stupid? Could he really just be faking it?

The evidence Homer’s faking stupid lies in the episode ‘HOMR’ – maybe better known as ‘The One Where Homer Learns He’s Had a Crayon Lodged in His Brain the Whole Time’. Helpful scienticians believe the crayon is impairing Homer’s intelligence. When they remove it, Homer becomes smart, which apparently validates their theory.

But what if it’s not the process of removing the crayon which makes Homer smart, but the process of removing the mental block which prevents him from believing he is smart?

To put it another way: we know from what happens later in the episode that Homer does not want to be smart. Homer wants to fit in (well, what Homer actually wants, I think, is to live life as effortlessly as possible, and fitting in requires less effort than standing out). Smart Homer is alienated from all the other cretins in Springfield, The Simpsons’ microcosm of society; only Dumb Homer is able to fit in. Homer’s subconscious desire to be dumb manifests itself literally at the climax of the episode, when he has a qualified surgeon reinsert the crayon into his brain – much to Lisa’s dismay.

But it’s not the crayon that makes Homer stupid. The crayon is just a symbol, an excuse for Homer to believe he’s stupid. The “real” Homer Simpson is a man of average intelligence – he merely chooses to behave like a dunderhead of sub-average intelligence (though generally he’s not consciously aware of making this choice). In other words: he’s faking stupid.

We see more evidence of the Homer’s-faking-stupid theory in ‘$pringfield’. When Homer dons Henry Kissinger’s lost glasses, his subconscious desire to be dumb lifts long enough for him to quote Pythagoras’s theorem (well, he mucks it up by confusing right-angled triangles with isosceles triangles, but I did only say he’s a man of average intelligence).

“Ah ha!” you cry, attempting to poke holes in my outlandish theory. “What about the episode ‘Lisa the Simpson’?” That’s the one where Lisa discovers the existence of the so-called “Simpson gene”, which transforms Simpson men into dolts around the onset of puberty. “Doesn’t that episode prove that Homer’s stupidity is genetic, not psychosomatic?” you ask.

Well, no, because the events of ‘HOMR’ show that the Simpson gene is bunk – if Homer were genetically determined to be stupid, he would not be capable of demonstrating the intelligence he does in ‘HOMR’. (As for Bart and Grandpa: Bart isn’t stupid either – he merely suffers from ADHD, and becomes ruthlessly smart when he takes medication to treat it. And Grandpa… well, Grandpa probably is just plain stupid, for reasons unrelated to the Simpson gene. He did cancel Star Trek, after all.)