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.)


The Simpsons: a probably-too-detailed look at ‘Homer’s Enemy’

"So what's new, Grimey?"

In his review of the two newest episodes of Futurama, Zack Handlen of The A.V. Club (which: is one of my favourite websites. If you are a geek who adores crazy-in-depth pop-culture analysis, subscribe to it now) goes off on a thoughtful tangent in which he proposes that the episode ‘Homer’s Enemy’ marks “the beginning of the end” of The Simpsons.

If you’re not a Simpsons nerd and can’t identify episodes by their titles, ‘Homer’s Enemy’ is basically The One with Frank Grimes:

A fastidious new employee at the plant [Frank Grimes] doesn’t get along with Homer, who is anxious to make amends. Meanwhile, Bart comes into the possession of an abandoned factory.

Wikipedia rightly identifies ‘Homer’s Enemy’ as “one of the darkest episodes of The Simpsons“: Grimes, who’s “had to struggle for everything he ever got”, becomes increasingly furious with Homer and the ease of his accomplishments. It culminates with Grimes – nicknamed “Grimey”, against his wishes – impersonating Homer’s buffoonery, electrocuting and killing himself in the process. Homer then ruins his funeral by snoring during the service.

It is indeed dark. Handlen, while declaring the episode “hilarious, no question” (it is),  argues that “it fundamentally and permanently undermines the series’ core” – The Simpsons, he says, is built on “family”, and the series “can’t support that level of darkness without losing its heart”.

I disagree (though I do agree with Handlen’s other point, that the episode is “a clever piece of meta-commentary on certain basic elements that have been with the show since the beginning”), because The Simpsons has always had dark elements, particularly concerning Homer’s behaviour – consider ‘A Streetcar Named Marge’, in which he flat-out tells Marge he doesn’t care about her interests, or ‘Lisa’s Substitute’, where he says pretty much the same thing to his eight-year-old daughter. Both stories are wrapped up tidily, though in neither does Homer really earn his redemption (I remember being shocked by his selfishness in ‘Streetcar’ even as a small child) ((One could argue that Homer earns his ‘Lisa’s Substitute’ redemption in the later instalment ‘Lisa’s Wedding’, which functions as a sort of unofficial sequel; both episodes are about Homer’s relationship with other men in Lisa’s life.)).

Note that both these episodes are from early on in The Simpsons‘ run (seasons four and two, respectively); Homer was a much darker, more selfish character before he morphed into the loveable idiot we’re familar with. ‘Homer’s Enemy’ really just combines those two sides of his character  in a single episode.