For many years, I’ve been a big, big fan of the T.V. show The Simpsons. I think you could make the argument that it’s the best show that’s ever been on television. The humor has always spoken to me…there’s the physical comedy that is only possible with a cartoon, there are tons of references to literature, popular culture, you name it. It can be crass, it can be crude, but it can also be intelligent, thought-provoking, and touching. There have been literally dozens of classic episodes, and I’ve been going around quoting some of the more memorable lines for years. There have been other shows, both cartoon and live action, which have echoed some of its better qualities, but there’s never quite been anything to rival it. When I see that it’s on, it’s highly unlikely that I’m going to want to turn the channel to anything else. It’s like a balm to me. It’s been a part of my life for close to thirty years.
Because that’s how long it’s been on the air, now…twenty-eight years, if I’m not mistaken, I think upwards of 600 episodes, or maybe it’s 700. It’s survived not dozens, not hundreds, but thousands of other shows being cancelled and taken off the air, and it’s still going strong. I could certainly continue watching new episodes on Fox every Sunday, as I believe the latest season debuted a short while ago. And yet, even though this is my all-time favorite show, and you’d think I’d be thrilled to watch new episodes, as I do for all the other shows that enjoy, I just can’t do it anymore. I can no longer watch my favorite show, and there was a time when I believed that could never, ever happen.
So, what was it that led me to stop watching my favorite show? What was the straw that broke the camel’s back? The answer is simply this: I can no longer stand to watch Homer and Marge fight anymore. Now, that might seem like an absolutely absurd statement. Homer and Marge, the father and mother in the titular cartoon family around which the show revolves, are cartoon characters. They’re not real. Yes, you could say that, and it would be accurate. But have you never cared about a fictional character, whether on T.V., in a movie, in a novel or a comic book? Did you never have a crush on Jon Hamm in Mad Men? Did you never care what happened to Frodo on his quest to destroy the one ring? Did you never wish to hang out with Holmes and Watson, or swing through the jungles with Tarzan? If your answer to all of these was no, it’s okay to stop reading now. If you don’t care about fictional characters, then what I’m saying is going to sound like gibberish.
And yet, for those that are still reading, I’ll assume that you understand that characters can be important to people, regardless of the medium through which they are conveyed. Since The Simpsons has been on the air for so long, I’ve gotten really, really fond of the characters. I’ve watched them through their ups and downs, their trials and tribulations; I’ve watched them laugh and cry, and, while I might not have literally laughed and cried along with them, it would be accurate to say that what happened to them had a lasting, even a profound effect on me. And the character with whom I associate most is without a question Homer Simpson. That has been especially true as I gradually have crept closer to the age at which the character has been portrayed. Being a cartoon, of course, Homer never ages. He’s always pushing forty…and now, so am I, thought I first started watching the show at the age of nine.
I’m similar to Homer in certain ways, but different in many others. Homer is a creature of the id. He’s overweight, is constantly finding ways to stuff the most fattening and sugar-blasted food down his gullet, and he’s a compulsive drinker. There are been many episodes that deal with his gluttony, and his presumed alcoholism. I’m not a glutton, nor an alcoholic, but I recognize Homer’s base impulses. They’re my own, too. I’d love to be lazy and work and still somehow draw a paycheck, stuff myself and sugar and fattening foods with no serious repercussions, and go through life demonstrably drunk. Who wouldn’t? Homer is more animal than human in some ways, a creature obsessed with and attracted to the creature-comforts. But while all that is true, he feels, too, truly and deeply, in a way that resonates with me as a viewer. Since the show has been on the air for so long, there have been many episodes where Homer has felt unloved by a number of the other characters, including but not limited to all three of the children, and Grandpa. But never is Homer more miserable than dealing with Marge, his spouse…and that’s what has always been the trouble for me.
Since the show first came on the air, the writers (and there have been many, many writers, over the years), have pounded it into the viewers brains that Homer and Marge aren’t well suited for each other. You can go all the way back to Season One, and the episode where Homer gets drunk and ogles Maude Flanders, leading he and Marge to go on a couples retreat. Homer would rather go fishing and attempt to catch “General Sherman,” the legendary catfish of Catfish Lake. Homer catches the fish, but then releases him at Marge’s insistence rather than taking him home and frying him up for supper, thereby proving his love for Marge. All’s well that ends well…except then these two would go on to fight another five hundred times or so over the course of the next twenty-something years.
I don’t like Marge’s character. I never did. She’d depicted as a wet blanket. She’d the worrier of the family…she’d the one who would be the least fun to hang around with of the principle family members, while the most fun would undoubtedly be Homer, the party animal. It’s clear that there’s love between the two of them, but Homer, with his impulsiveness, with his alcoholism, has a hell of a time keeping things going smoothly with her. The fault is by no means entirely Marge’s, either. Who would want to be married to a guy who has changed careers on a dime dozens of times over the years, who is unable or unwilling to curb those impulses that are so much a part of him. Going back to the previously referenced episode, there’s a part where Marge is listing to Reverend Lovejoy and the rest of the couples all of Homer’s faults…he gambles, he forgets all holidays, both personal and secular, his body makes strange noises…this is not the ideal partner, but any stretch of the imagination. Yes, Homer loves Marge, and vice versa, but love is not enough.
The two of them have never actually gone through with the breakup, though, despite how poorly suited they are for each other. The show has teased it many times, with mini-breakups, but they’ve never decided to pull the trigger and make the split permanent. I guess they thought it would alienate the audience, that it would be too dramatic of a change to the show to break up the nucleus of the family. And so, the family has stayed together, and Homer and Marge have continued fighting…and fighting…and fighting.
I watched one of the most recent episodes a few weeks ago, one I’d never seen before, and it happened again. And it was just enough. My own parents didn’t make it. They split; it messed me up something awful, and it was many, many years before I felt myself to be entirely over it. With Homer and Marge, it’s almost worse, because I really care about the character of Homer Simpson, big dumb goon that he is, and I can’t stand to see him hurt anymore. I just can’t. Maybe I feel things too deeply; maybe I care too much about fictional characters. You could make that argument, and you’d have a valid point. But I’m a Cancer, and I’m a person who feels things deeply, for better or worse. That’s what leads me to most identify with Homer’s character, and if that’s ridiculous, so be it. The bottom line is that I just can’t watch these two go at each other anymore, and I won’t watch any more of my all-time favorite show because of it. Maybe, if the writers would swear that they’d never have the two of them fight anymore ever again, I’d be willing to start watching once more. But I don’t think it’s ever going to happen. Much like the writers’ unwillingness to pull the trigger on a Homer-Marge permanent divorce, or separation, these two fighting just seems to be a fact of the show. If that’s always going to be the case, I’d just as soon they pull the plug. It took them almost thirty years to lose me as a viewer, but they finally accomplished it.