Who knew Homer Simpson was a trailblazer?
A new study suggests "The Simpsons" series has helped gay men come out and changed the perception of homosexuality over the years with its positive depictions of gay relationships.
Conducted by German librarian Erwin In het Panhuis, the study is featured in the book Behind the Gay Laughter: Homosexuality in "The Simpsons." In it, he analyzes 490 scenes and 70 gay characters from the popular cartoon series, which first aired in 1989.
According to English-language German news outlet The Local, In het Panhuis notes that by including gay characters and scenarios, "The Simpsons" has quashed prejudices. For example, the character Smithers' infatuation with his boss, Mr. Burns, is one ongoing storyline, while Homer himself has kissed other male characters on the lips more than 50 times over the course of the series. In 2005, it was the first cartoon to dedicate a full episode to same-sex marriage.
"As a result, 'The Simpsons' conveys to an audience of millions a typically American, but an uncharacteristically open-minded, image of gays and lesbians," reads a synopsis of the book on Amazon, as translated by The Huffington Post. "Despite the fallback to stereotypes, an intelligent, fair and entertaining handling of homosexuality can be observed in 'The Simpsons.'"
Series creator Matt Groening has expressed dismay over the injustices in American society. In a previous interview, recounted in the 2004 book Leaving Springfield: The Simpsons and the Possibilities of Oppositional Culture, Groening is quoted as saying there is a lack of gay representations, particularly gay couples, in pop culture. "[G]ay men are staved for positive portrayals of lasting love," he said.
Groening not only used "The Simpsons" to present such portrayals, but he also did so with his comic "Life in Hell." The strip, which ran for 32 years, showcased the gay relationship of characters Akbar and Jeff. That same gay sensibility resonated in the Fox series.
"They have set standards for many other animated series that followed," In het Panhuis told Germans newspaper Süddeutschen, according to a HuffPost translation, "and I believe that they also always wanted to be pioneers."