The name of the hair growth tonic, dimoxinil, always stuck in my head for some reason. The weirdly deliberate yet never expressed homosexuality of the equally strangely specific assistant, Karl. Homer delivering a fairly brutal punishment to Bart.
I’ve known two guys in my life who like to get pegged. For the folk at home a little less familiar, that means they like their lady friend to fuck ’em in the ass with a strap-on. One was a quite bogany labourer and the other was a beard hipster. Now this shit isn’t like the furries. Peggees don’t wear a hat that says, “I like being pounded in the ass in a straight way” or anything. I found this out, both times, via a drunk girlfriend but it was only goddamn hilarious with one of them. Narrative twist: it wasn’t the bogan.
Dim bulbs think we menfolk rip on each other about the things we’re bringing up because we hold some specific dislike for whatever it is we’re mocking. Sometimes yes, but mostly they are just the tools we use to beat our friends. It’s not about the thing it’s superficially about, it’s about the discovery and punishment of insecurity. Bogan boy was secure in his assplay. Reeeeeeeeal secure. In an act of roast judo I’ve never seen before or since, he turned it on one of his mates by shifting the focus to how said mate was insecure about even trying it.
The beard hipster tried to deny it. In that, we saw the loose thread of weakness and we ripped at it until there was nothing left.
Baldness is a lot like getting fucked in the ass. Being ashamed of it is what makes it shameful. Just shave your goddamn head and be done with it. Pining over what ain’t coming back or keeping that sad little rim of leftovers screams to the world, “I don’t like getting fucked in the ass. No seriously, I don’t, I don’t know who told you I did but they’re lying. Shut up!”
The Simpsons emerged during an interesting period of American television. Forty years of sitcoms had spent time in two evolutionary cul-de-sacs of feeling out this new technology called television and the economic security of mimicry. The late 80s and early 90s brought the first wave of hard backlash against the perfect families and cliched stories that the architects of this new era grew up watching. But while some seriously avant garde shit got aired, even if only briefly (MTV was a trailblazer in this department), networks and audiences could only deviate so much. The Simpsons has frequently used the fact that it’s animated as insulation against the colder parts of its own storytelling and this story needs it as it twists a trope into a drooling narrative Cenobite.
A lot of stories deal with the idea of filling in a character’s hole to see what amazing things the resulting creature is capable of. Give someone the money, fame, or body they’ve always wanted and then watch as the beast of desire, its appetite whet, turns them into something they’re not. Cue lesson about how power corrupts and that the status quo of a stagnant personality is the only true self. This episode looks like it’s doing that the same way The Thing looks like one of your coworkers.
Through the magic of science, Homer gets hair. With this one missing piece replaced, he gets a promotion and a chance at a whole new life before dramatic character faults rip it all from him. But it’s okay, because he has his family and his wife loves him even without the hair. The barely beneath anything subtext of these stories is that the missing piece is always the confidence the superficial fix brought out and that this magic was inside you the whole time. The barely beneath that subtext of this episode is that this isn’t the case with Homer. He is a failure. There is no missing piece. He is complete. There’s a grim sophistication to a series that can be regarded as a hopeful family sitcom while being so tragically bleak.
Everything the hair gets Homer is the result of the hair and not any extra confidence it’s bestowed on its fat throne. Burns, erroneously, sees Homer as a young go-getter exclusively because of it and the resulting promotion is a union mandated boon Homer had nothing to do with. So far, these events are par for the course tension build to the expected trope of “the power was within you all along” revelation. These are the challenges most shows would have their character rise to meet.
Then there’s the tartar sauce suggestion.
This is the kind of success a loser fantasises about. The dreams doomed to remain so as they’re always several meaningful steps short of a real plan. The delusional self-insert fanfictions that they could be any level of professional athlete, musician, ninja or some combination of the lot if only they were given the chance. They’re too stupid to even fantasise about how to be good at something so their success is always a result of a previously ignored innate skill (it’s management’s fault really, for not recognising it sooner) that, like the loser’s missing piece, perfectly fills a gap the executives never even noticed. Homer barely blubbers his point about inadequately seasoned fish sticks before Burns fulfils the idiot fantasy by leaping in and doing all the actual work for him.
The subsequent scene of triumphal tartar distribution is an unearned moment of glory but it fits the trope so it acts as a kind of misdirection. You’ve seen the unexpected but in the exact way you expected to see it. Like hearing Happy Birthday sung in a foreign language, it’s so familiar your mind fills in the gaps.
The show hammers this point home moments later when Smithers points out that all the positive improvements in plant productivity correlate directly to Homer no longer being at his old post. They literally state that Homer has brought nothing positive to the table, that the hair didn’t unlock any hidden excellence, and they get away with it via another clever piece of trope manipulation.
All of these things have a slimy antagonist and the slime is the important part. A loser fantasy will often involve some level of class struggle, if only unconsciously, and the conniving slime of the entrenched structural privilege character serves to emphasise the folksy honesty of our “real America” hero. Smithers has been cast in this role by hating and doubting Homer from the second Burns chose him. Burns describes Smithers’ feelings as being motivated by the slimiest of emotions, jealousy, which allows the audience to write off his actions as those of a villain. All of this, and Homer’s bonus of being a titular protagonist, is stacked up to distract from the fact that Smithers is right. The Complete Homer has not only failed to accomplish anything but the plant is better off without him altogether.
Into this halfway point steps one of the more baffling characters in Simpsons history, Karl.
He’s vocied by noted homosexual and velvet bear, Harvey Fierstein, and, apparently, was going to be modelled after Fierstein who objected on the grounds that he didn’t represent the gay community well. Why? Was he too chubby? Hairy? Jewy? Karl’s tall, Scandinavian handsomeness feels like a kind of sad wish fulfillment for a man unhappy with his appearance and this helps emphasise the peculiarity of the character. Karl bursts into the episode a tall, handsome, infatuated with Homer, fairy Gaymother who picks up where the hair left off. Every moment he’s on screen is a scream you can’t ignore as he skillfully micromanages Homer’s existence to a peak the boob cannot help but plummet from.
Karl demonstrates a level of skill that suggests he could turn anyone into a miracle. Not draw the miraculous out of them, as the sitcom trope would prefer, but wield any fool like a puppet until they couldn’t help but succeed. Homer is this puppet and the closest thing to a reason we are given is that Karl’s infatuated with him. This probably made more sense when the character looked like Fierstein, but the physical change blocked off the only possible explanation. Now we’re left with a softer, gay Dolph Lundgren falling so head over heels for a fat, ignorant, straight, married 36 year old that he sacrifices everything just to give the plump idiot control of a life he cannot possibly steer himself. Everything from the anniversary present to the management speech is Karl. What the hair did earlier, Karl does later. Homer bucks the trope again, only appearing competent because of human plot device more ludicrous than hair growth gravity boots.
Referential humour is basically an in-joke between the writer and other people who share knowledge of the referent. They tend to stand out, like when your friends giggle about a shared joke that excludes you, to the point that you can spot a reference happening even if you don’t know what it’s about. For years, I thought Karl was one of these. The episode already draws inspiration and moments from the 1957 movie Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? which you haven’t seen if you aren’t a 60 year old Jayne Mansfield fan, so for a long time I’d assumed Karl’s near blinding visibility a reference to some old person movie I’d never seen. But he’s not. Within the trope, he’s the natural counter to Smithers. The wise janitor or magical black guy who supports our up-and-coming underdog with even folksier wisdom. But his real function is less counterpoint than parallel. His amplified visibility is another misdirection which makes this episode such a grimly sophisticated piece of bastardry.
How sorry are you supposed to be for someone who is the victim of prejudice when the prejudice is perfectly accurate? Homer isn’t a young go-getter and he really doesn’t have anything to teach the plant about management. Those sophisticated words are Karl’s, not a manifestation of a dormant talent finally given a platform. Homer is the fraud Smither’s calls him, a bald fool supported by chemical hair and a more talented man.
Among the many things that a story provides us, some of the most enduring are justice and closure. History is replete with stories of people who were ahead of their time or unjustly prevented from accomplishing greatness and tales that reverse this have an appeal that spans ages and cultures. But for every empty success that resulted from structural privilege or unjust failure that resulted from same, there’s millions who are shit-farming morons because that’s as high as they can climb. Simpson and Delilah uses that title to invoke the idea that the hair bestowed a subsequent power and engage the sitcom tropes that come with it. It plays out the trope in the same cadence but hides vicious language underneath the pleasant tone. There is no magic, no piece that will bring out the better version of you. This episode is a puzzle box that releases only pain when solved. Welcome to the nineties.
Yours in never kissing a fool, Gabriel.
Jokes, lines, and stray thoughts.
Okay, I’m not gonna kill you but I’m going to tell you 3 things that are going to haunt you the rest of your days.
You’ve ruined your father.
You’ve crippled your family.
And baldness is hereditary.
I like to see Bart suffer. The sitcom temporal loop he’s trapped in makes educating or changing him impossible so the only release we ever get is the occasional hit that lands flush. They skirt any real satisfaction by having him react more to the idea of going bald than anything else, but it’s probably one of the better punishments he’s received over the course of the series. Sometimes a kid needs to hear that their bullshit has hard, unpleasant consequences and that said are exactly their fault.
1 replies to Simpson and Delilah
Alex on 18th December 201718 Dec 17 said:
This is one episode I remember clearly from when I was a kid, for two particular lines: Get a haircut you hippy, and let the fools have their tartar sauce. Those two lines were the most often quoted ones by me and my brother for years, and still are, even with the recent advent of more popular scenes (Steamed hams comes to mind). I also never realised Karl was meant to be gay or in love with Homer until I rewatched the old episodes recently, being a wee preschool lad with no real grasp on sexuality. I think I just figured that Karl was a really nice guy who wanted to help Homer out because he had such a rough time at the plant. In hindsight the kiss probably should have made it more obvious.
Another thing that stuck out to me on rewatch was Burns showing a little humanity and sympathising with Homer over his baldness. Being so familiar with the later seasons when everyone is at maximum archetype, it was surprising to see Burns show that he can actually be a good guy once in a while and something about it warmed my little heart just a bit.
Love all these Simpsons write-ups and I'm glad we're into season 2 now. I never really have much to say about season 1, and whatever I do, you usually cover it anyway. Keep up the good work, Gabe, they make for some excellent reads.
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