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Accidental Heroes

Homer Simpson
By Martin Kelner on Jan 15, 2001 - 1:10:00 PM

Article dated: Monday 15 January 2001
Homer Simpson
If ever anyone's hero status could be said to be accidental it is Homer Simpson's. When news of the Simpsons phenomenon first reached Britain in the late '80s we were given to understand that the hero was the spiky haired young upstart Bart, who showed his disrespect through catchphrases like "eat my shorts" and "don't have a cow, man".

Homer's secondary importance to the enterprise was apparent in the fact that nobody bothered inventing colourful catchphrases for him. He had to make do with the single syllable "doh" filched from the James Finlayson character in the Laurel and Hardy films.

But it soon became clear that the 36-year-old indolent, gluttonous, but uncommonly uxorious father of the Simpson family rather than his ten-year-old son was the character that lifted the show not just above any other cartoon series, but above pretty well any TV sit-com you have ever seen.

The better we got to know Homer, the more we realised he was not as advertised. The Sky TV promos that preceded the showing of The Simpsons in Britain sold them relentlessly as the Family From Hell, with an overweight slouch of a couch-potato father, a Dennis The Menace son, and poor stressed put-upon mother and daughters. What they didn't tell us was that the Simpsons were essentially good sweet people, none sweeter than Homer.

There isn't a vindictive bone in Homer's body. Actually, there isn't a bone of any sort since he is a cartoon character, something it is easy to forget. Such love has been lavished on Homer by his creator Matt Groening, whose son and late father are both significantly called Homer, that the character lives and breathes and never fails to light up the screen.

It is some achievment to have a father constantly trying to strangle his ten year-old son, and still have us and him love him dearly. Not since Sergeant Bilko has there been a character on TV so badly behaved and yet so adorable.

The thing about Homer, even when he is being doltish, is that he means well. When Lisa believes she has seen a vampire, Homer comforts her. "Lisa, there's no such thing as a vampire," he says, "It's all make believe like elves, gremlins and eskimos."

Inappropriate advice is Homer's speciality - "Son, when you participate in sporting events, it's not whether you win or's how drunk you get," "Kids, you tried your best and failed miserably. The lesson is, never try." - but the children, both infinitely smarter than him, love him and seem to appreciate that he's trying to help.

Outside of his family, of course, with the possible exception of bowling, Homer does not put much effort into anything. His self-confessed lack of ambition - awards he wins at his school re-union include most weight gained, most hair lost, and person who travelled least distance to be there - is truly heroic in the most success-driven aspirational society in the world, and must take a lot of pressure off his kids.

The Simpsons may be the last family in America that really works. Maybe
former President George Bush should have watched an episode or two before he made his famous remark in 1992 that what America needed was families "closer to the Waltons than the Simpsons".

Really? Consider Homer's behaviour in the episode where he is chosen to accompay a glamorous co-worker (voiced by Michelle Pfeiffer) to an out-of-town exhibition. Although attracted to Pfeiffer and tempted by her ardent advances, Homer remains steadfastly loyal to his wife back home. The irresistible thought occurs that what America really needs is politicians who are closer to the Simpsons than the Clintons.

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