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Recap / The Simpsons S8 E15: "Homer's Phobia"

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Original air date: 2/16/1997 (produced in 1996)

Production code: 4F11

Homer befriends John, an eccentric antiques dealer, only to call the friendship off upon learning that he's a homosexual. He then begins to fear that Bart might be influenced by John and become gay.

Episode Summary

Bart organizes a race between the washing machine and the dryer, which ends up with both appliances breaking the gas line. To pay for the steep repair bill (and after an attempt by Homer to mail the gas company a huge jar full of coins from the retirement fund ends with the jar sinking to the center of Earth), Marge decides to sell an old figurine of a Confederate soldier that belonged to her grandmother. The family then goes to "Cockamamies", an antique shop at the mall, whose owner John (voiced by B-movie director John Waters) tells them the heirloom is actually a decorative whiskey bottle from the early 1970s, but nevertheless takes it, as his store is full of campy merchandise, ranging from an issue of TV Guide that belonged to Jacqueline Onassis with Laverne and Shirley on the cover to a 1950s-style sci-fi board game. Homer takes a liking to him and invites him over to their house, where John is entertained by the camp value of their possessions, although Homer seems unaware of what John's campy demeanor implies.

The following morning, Homer is told by Marge, in no uncertain terms, that John is gay, a revelation that truly shocks him, as he thought he didn't act flamboyant enough. While Marge and the kids continue to socialize with John, Homer refuses to associate with him and begins to fear that Bart might be turning into a homosexual after seeing him sporting a Hawaiian shirt, dancing to "The Shoop-Shoop Song" wearing a bouffant wig and preferring pink Sno-Balls for dessert instead of Hostess chocolate cupcakes. Marge then tells Homer to spend more time with Bart, something he does by taking his son to see a billboard featuring two scantily-clad girls having a pillow fight, which only makes Bart want to smoke... slims. They then go to a steel mill expecting to see manly men in action, but it turns out the brawny-looking steelworkers are very much flamboyant, and that the place also doubles as "The Anvil", a gay disco.


At the tavern, Moe and Barney convince Homer that the world is turning gay, and that the only way to keep Bart straight is to take him hunting. Unable to find any deer (as they have long moved out of the woods), the entourage intrudes on a Christmas village, where they force a tearful Bart to shoot one of the reindeer, but the reindeer soon begin to attack them. They are saved in the nick of time, however, when John brings his Japanese Santa Claus robot and scares the reindeer away. While Moe and Barney are dismayed at the thought of being rescued by a homosexual, Homer thanks John for saving his life and tells Bart he will love him regardless of his choices. Lisa then tells a confused Bart that Homer thinks he's gay.


"Homer's Phobia" contains examples of:

  • The Alcoholic: It turns out the figurine Marge's grandma owned was actually a liquor bottle in disguise. Marge figures it'll serve as a testament to "Grandma's secret drinking problem."
  • Camp: John is a big fan of this, and considers the Simpson home a prime example.
  • Camp Gay:
    • Subverted. John is gay and the campiest person ever (and in fact was played by John Waters), but Homer fails to realize, and he even accuses John of having "fooled" him by not making his sexuality (even more) obvious.
      Homer: I like my beer cold, my TV loud, and my homosexuals flaming!
    • The steel mill workers are another example, as they even turn their workplace into a gay disco during their freetime much to Homer's further horror.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The Robot Santa in John's car ends up saving the day by scaring off the reindeer.
  • Comically Missing the Point:
    • As usual for him, Homer doesn't realise John is gay until it's spelled out for him as blatantly as possible.
    Homer: We gotta have [John] and his wife over for drinks sometime.
    Marge: Mmm, I don't think he's married, Homer.
    Homer: Oh, a swingin' bachelor, eh? Well, there's lots of foxy ladies out there.
    Marge: Homer, didn't John seem a little...'festive' to you?
    Homer: Couldn't agree more, happy as a clam!
    Marge: He prefers the company of men.
    Homer: Who doesn't?
    Marge: Homer, listen carefully. John is a homo—
    Homer: Right.
    Marge: —sexual.
    • Bart also fails to notice what Homer is doing until Lisa tells him that Homer thinks he (Bart) is gay, right at the end.
    • While strangling Bart (see Disproportionate Retribution below), Bart points out to Homer that they have company who's not used to seeing Homer's method of discipline. Homer tells John he'll just be another minute, then keeps strangling Bart.
  • Compressed Vice: Homer suddenly develops a case of homophobia in this episode, despite a previous episode having him take a kiss and a butt slap just fine from a Straight Gay guest star, only finding it odd at most. In another, he had no problem drinking at a lesbian bar until he realized there was no fire exit. After this episode, his homophobia is never mentioned again.
  • Continuity Nod: The "Pin Pals" shirt John found at Goodwill is Homer's from "Team Homer".
  • Couch Gag: The living room is in an "America Onlink" window on a computer screen. The computer tries to download the family, but the downloading is so slow that it won't even exit.
  • Crapsack World: If you ask Homer, at least.
    Homer: The whole world's gone gay!
  • Cure Your Gays: Homer attempts this on Bart.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: As John and Marge playfully tap one another in complimentary fashion over her corn on the cob kitchen drapes, Bart then whacks Homer in the stomach as hard as he can only for him to begin choking him in front of them.
  • Driven to Suicide: Feeling humiliated at being rescued by John, Moe says he's considering killing himself again (this being the first mention of his suicidal tendencies, a couple of seasons before it became his signature non-sex offender trait).
  • Epic Fail:
    • Homer tries to mail the gas company a huge water cooler bottle full of coins heavy enough to force him to walk in a crouch one step at a time to move it. When he finally manages to carry it out of his house and sets it down on his lawn, it promply sinks into the ground deep enough to create a massive hole, causing Homer to yell into it to ask the Chinese for help.
    • In an effort to straighten Bart out, Homer accidentally takes him to a steel mill that turns into a gay dance club/bar after the work day is over.
  • Everyone Has Standards:
    • Notoriously amoral prankster Bart refuses to shoot a helpless reindeer. When Homer tries to strong-arm him into doing otherwise to prove he's manly, Bart genuinely sounds a second away from tears. It's a good reminder for all his mayhem, he's still a kid.
    • When Homer tells John to stay away from his family for being gay, John refuses to give him any of the cactus candy he brought over. Only to recant it as being too cruel and offers a small piece.
  • Fictional Video Game: The Astro Blast arcade game at Cockamamie's in Springfield Mall.
  • Gay Aesop: Homer unknowingly befriends a gay man, (wrongly) fearing that Bart was gay, and various other things along those lines. He ends up getting saved from a herd of angry reindeer by the gay guy.
    John: Well, Homer, I won your respect, and all I had to do was save your life. Now, if every gay man could just do the same, you'd be set.
  • Gay Bar Reveal: Homer takes Bart to a steel mill, intending to straighten him out by showing manly straight guys at work. However, it turns out to be a gay steel mill that turns into a gay dance club/bar after the workday is over.
    Worker: We work hard, we play hard.
  • Gay Moment: Homer tries too damn hard to avoid these.
  • Girl on Girl Is Hot: The reason Homer thought the cigarette ad would cure Bart. Ironically, the billboard could be interpreted as displaying homosexuality. But Homer apparently only discriminates against homosexual men, not homosexual women, like a lot of entertainment media and men do in real life.
  • Gone Horribly Wrong: Homer's attempts to keep Bart in straight territory led them to visit a steel mill filled with sweaty men in trousers... who are gay to the last of them.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: When they're charged by reindeer, Homer hoists Bart over his head so that they can't reach him and can only charge at him. Bart urges him to protect himself to no avail.
  • Heteronormative Crusader: Homer is worried that Bart is becoming gay and spends most of the episode trying to keep him straight by forcibly exposing him to "manly" things like hunting and cigarette ads (the second attempt backfires spectacularly because the ad portrays two panty-clad, pillow-fighting pinup girls, and Bart decides he wants to smoke their brand).
  • Hollywood Density: One of the steel workers carries around a large vat of what is implied to be molten steel, which should weigh several tons.
  • The Hunter Becomes the Hunted: And the prey-turned-hunters consist of domesticated reindeer.
  • Hypocritical Humor: When Homer tries to make Bart tougher by going hunting:
    Bart: Something about a bunch of guys alone together in the woods... seems kinda gay.
    Homer: That is a very immature attitude, young man!
  • Ink-Suit Actor: John looks exactly like John Waters, although his mustache is squigglier than in Real Life because it was easier to animate.
  • Insane Troll Logic: The grand total of evidence that Homer has for Bart turning gay is seeing him wear a Hawaiian shirt (which, as Marge points out, Homer would think nothing of doing himself), choosing a pink snack cake over a chocolate one (after clearly being on the fence), and dancing around in a woman's wig as a gag. He and Moe believe that taking him hunting will make him straight, though, ironically, Bart doesn't think much of the sport as being alone in the woods with a bunch of men seems "kind of gay" to him. (Homer also drags him away from a violent arcade game to make it happen).
  • Invented Invalid: Smithers spots John with the family at a restaurant and confronts him with, "So, this is your 'sick mother'?"
  • Karma Houdini: Bart doesn't get in trouble for breaking the dryer, which is what sets up the episode.
  • Kissing Cousins: Invoked by Moe, who thinks Homer and Marge are these after being told that Lisa is a vegetarian.
  • Macho Camp: Homer takes Bart to a steel mill because he's worried Bart spending time around John will emasculate him. Much to Homer's consternation, while they're all very muscular, they're very effeminate in disposition. Then the five o'clock whistle blows...
  • Macho Disaster Expedition: Homer gets increasingly worried that Bart is going to become a homosexual like the campy kitsch antique store owner John that he and the guys try to make sure Bart will still be a macho kid. Homer's attempts all end up in failure and culminate in a hunting trip that flops completely due to all the deer having left Springfield due to the city replacing all the grass in the woods with artificial turf.
  • Mistaken for Gay: The episode revolves around Homer worrying that Bart is becoming gay.
  • N-Word Privileges: Homer berates John for using the word "queer" because "That's our word for making fun of you! We need it!"
  • Papa Wolf: When the reindeer attack Homer and Bart, Homer lifts Bart above his head to keep him out of harm's way while he takes the brunt of the attack.
  • Pet the Dog: If it's hard to sympathize with Homer throughout this episode due to his sudden and comprehensive homophobia, his knowingly risking his life to save Bart's near the end helps some, showing that he really does want what's best for the kid despite his wrongheadedness.
  • Politically Incorrect Hero: Homer is incredibly homophobic, which is shown after he met John, but does mellow a bit after John saved his life. John summed it up rather well at the end:
    Well, Homer, I won your respect, and all I had to do was save your life. Now, if every gay man could just do the same, you'd be set.
  • Pun-Based Title: Homer's Phobia (homophobia).
  • Queer People Are Funny: Everyone at the steel mill.
  • A Real Man Is a Killer: The reason Homer, Moe and Barney took Bart to deer hunting.
    Moe: Time was, you send a boy off to war. Shootin' a man'd fix him right up. But there's not even any wars no more, thank you very much, Warren Christopher!
  • Real Men Hate Affection: The conversation between Homer and his brain when he decides to make sure Bart doesn't turn out gay. It does not go well.
    (Homer places his arm on Bart's shoulder)
    Homer's Brain: You're leaving the arm there too long. You want to make it worse? (Abruptly removes it)
    Homer's Brain: No, no! He'll know you're on to him! Quick! Shake his hand!
    Homer: (shaking his hand) Just remember son, whatever happens, I'll always love you.
    Homer's Brain: (fearfully) As? As?
    Homer: As a father! Uh, a father! Regular father! (sighs with relief)
  • Real Men Wear Pink: Marge brings some Hostess cupcakes, both the pink snowballs and the chocolate cakes, and Homer is horrified when Bart prefers picking the pink snowballs over the chocolate cakes. He further alarms Homer by wearing a Hawaiian shirt, which Homer insists are only worn by gay men and "big fat party animals": in other words, it's not gay if he does it.
  • Shout-Out: In one scene, Marge presents the kids their favorite snack. The dialogue only refers to them as "store-bought snack cakes — both kinds", but they're clearly specifically Hostess CupCakes and Sno Balls. (To Homer's obvious dismay, Bart picks a Sno Ball.)
  • Shut Up, Hannibal!:
    • The mill workers.
    Homer: (to the gay steel workers) You people are sick!
    Worker: (mockingly) Oh, be nice!
    • The European Spanish dub makes it even greater (though it features an Insult Backfire Pun that is sadly untranslatable to English).
    Homer: You are all crazy!
    Worker: You're crazier, bald woman!note 
  • There Are Two Kinds of People in the World: Upon seeing Bart with a Hawaiian t-shirt, Homer tells Marge that there are only two kinds of people who wear those shirts: gay guys and big fat party animals, and Bart doesn't look like the latter to him.
    Marge: So if you wore a Hawaiian shirt, it wouldn't be gay?
    Homer: Right. Thank you!
  • Very Special Episode: Homer makes a new friend named John, but when John turns out to be gay, he's horrified and Marge calls him out for it. Things get worse when Homer thinks Bart will end up gay because John spends more time with Bart than Homer does (and even begins wearing Hawaiian shirts and dancing to 1950s music while wearing a wig). Homer tries to "cure" Bart by taking him to a cigarette billboard (which is for slim cigarettes and features two scantily clad women pillow fighting whilst holding a cigarette each), a steel mill (that turns into a gay disco after the workday is over), and a hunting lodge (which fails). At the end, Homer learns to accept Bart for who he is, and Bart doesn't know what Homer is talking about until Lisa spells it out for him: "He thinks you're gay."
  • Visual Pun: Bart's shirt. Homer panics when he sees Bart wearing a seemingly Camp Gay shirt.
    Homer: Where'd you get that shirt?
    Bart: I don't know. Came out of the closet.
    Homer: (worried) Uh huh...
  • Walking Shirtless Scene: "Hot stuff, coming through."
  • Where Everybody Knows Your Flame: Homer makes friends with a kitschy antique store owner, but breaks off the friendship when he finds out that John is gay and Bart may be being influenced by him (the episode ends with Homer learning his lesson, naturally). In an effort to straighten him out, Homer accidentally takes Bart to a steel mill that turns into a gay dance club/bar after the workday is over. We work hard, we play hard.
    Moe: Where have you been, Homer? The entire steel industry is gay.