Drew Mackie, co-host of the podcast Gayest Episode Ever and “a 38-year-old gay man who has watched The Simpsons basically his entire life,” has accomplished a feat that took him a year and offers a fascinating picture of the transformation of societal attitudes toward LGBT people. In an approximately 2 hours and 20 minutes, has chronicled every LGBTQ joke made on The Simpsons‘ 31 seasons (he’s waiting for the current season to finish before adding it).
“I tried to insert commentary in the video only when the clips didn’t speak for themselves, when it wouldn’t be immediately clear from the context what was LGBT-related and why I included it,” wrote Mackie. “In many cases, the footage has been sped up slightly or re-edited, both to evade YouTube’s copyright detector and to make the end product as short as I could make it. Did I learn anything from this? Well, had I picked King of the Hill or Seinfeld or whatever, I would have been done a lot sooner.”
“I did learn that LGBT jokes on The Simpsons fall into the following categories,” Mackie continued, “a reference to LGBT culture or homosexuality in general; implying that a character is LGBT; a minor character, usually anonymous, is styled to appear to be gay and offer up a line with stereotypical gay voice. (I say ‘gay’ because there really isn’t much of lesbian, bi or trans characters that do this. It’s just gay men.). That might seem like a ‘no duh,’ but it was interesting to see the difference between Homer being shocked by looking at a Robert Mapplethorpe book and Milhouse unknowingly saying or doing something that marks him as effeminate.”
Adds Mackie: “In putting it together, I realized that The Simpsons is unique in that it has focused on the same core of characters — voiced by the same group of actors and in some cases produced by people who have worked on the show sometimes for decades. As a result, tracking how the show deals with LGBT characters and issues might work as a reflection of how Americans themselves have evolved. I’ve been watching the show since the 1989 Christmas special, and as a result, the show introduced me to a lot of elements of gay culture that I wasn’t getting anywhere else. That’s been good in some instances, but often it also taught me bad lessons about what it means to be a gay person, in that way that happens when you’re young and your brain just absorbs everything without really understanding it. As it turns out, I didn’t grow up to be much like Smithers, but I still wanted to lay out everything the show offered me — the stuff that holds up today, the stuff that doesn’t age well, the stuff that maybe wasn’t great even back in the day — and let viewers decide for themselves what works and what doesn’t.”
Check out Mackie’s podcast, Gayest Episode Ever.
“Also, the show has had different eras in which LGBT humor functions differently,” Mackie continued. “Again, that might seem obvious, but to me it was interesting to see how the show tracked societal attitudes toward LGBT people: from occasional references in early seasons because gay content was still taboo on broadcast TV to sometimes the majority of a given season having at least one LGBT joke per episode. As of the posting of this video, it’s rarer for an episode to make a one-off LGBT joke, either because it’s become more normalized for the people who make the show or because gay jokes are just told less often, generally speaking. It is worth pointing out, however, that the two most recent seasons of the show contain four separate episodes that a viewer might consider queer episodes: ‘Mad About the Toy,’ ‘Werking Mom,’ ‘Marge the Lumberjill’ and ‘Livin’ La Pura Vida.’ That’s a lot, and the LGBT humor featured in these episodes is more central to the plot — they’re tied to an LGBT character who’s part of the story. Regarding the T in LGBT, there’s a lot more that can be improved. The show may have progressed with how it uses gay and lesbian characters — Smithers and Patty in particular — but it hasn’t done much to represent transgender characters. Gayest Episode Ever looks forward to bringing more guests in for future episodes to discuss how successful the show’s attempts at trans jokes have been.”