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Homer Simpson

Homer Jay Simpson is a main fictional character in the animated television series The Simpsons and father of the eponymous family. He is voiced by Dan Castellaneta and first appeared on television in The Tracey Ullman Show short "Good Night" on April 19, 1987. Homer was created and designed by cartoonist Matt Groening while he was waiting in the lobby of James L. Brooks' office. Groening had been called to pitch a series of shorts based on Life in Hell but instead decided to create a new set of characters. The character received his first name from Groening's father. After appearing on The Tracey Ullman Show for three years, the Simpson family got their own series on Fox, which debuted December 17, 1989.

Homer is the boorish father of the Simpson family. With his wife, Marge, he has three children: Bart, Lisa and Maggie. As the family's provider, he works at the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant. Homer embodies several American working class stereotypes: he is crude, overweight, incompetent, clumsy, and lazy; however, he is also fiercely devoted to his family. Despite the suburban blue-collar routine of his life, he has had a number of remarkable experiences.

In the shorts and earlier episodes, Castellaneta voiced Homer with a loose impression of Walter Matthau however, during the second and third seasons of the half-hour show, Homer's voice evolved to become more robust, to allow the expression of a fuller range of emotions. He has appeared in other media relating to The Simpsons – including video games, The Simpsons Movie, The Simpsons Ride, commercials and comic books – and inspired an entire line of merchandise. His catchphrase, the annoyed grunt "d'oh!", has been included in The New Oxford Dictionary of English since 1998 and the Oxford English Dictionary since 2001.

Homer is one of the most influential fictional characters on television, having been described by the British newspaper The Sunday Times as "the greatest comic creation of [modern] time". He was ranked the second greatest cartoon character by TV Guide and was voted the greatest television character of all-time by Channel 4 viewers. Castellaneta has earned three Primetime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Voice-Over Performance and a special achievement Annie Award for voicing Homer. In 2000, Homer, along with the rest of his family, was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Role in The Simpsons

The Simpsons uses a floating timeline in which the characters do not physically age, and as such the show is generally assumed to be set in the current year. In several episodes, events have been linked to specific time periods, although this timeline has sometimes been contradicted in subsequent episodes. Homer Simpson is the bumbling husband of Marge and father of Bart, Lisa and Maggie Simpson. He was raised by his parents, Mona and Abraham Simpson; in the episode "Mother Simpson", (season seven, 1995) it is revealed that Mona went into hiding in the mid-1960s following a run-in with the law. Homer attended Springfield High School, and in his final year fell in love with Marge Bouvier. Marge later discovered she was pregnant with Bart, and the two were married in a small wedding chapel across the state line. Subsequently, Homer was hired to work at the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant. Lisa was born soon after, and the couple bought their first house. The episode "That 90's Show" (season 19, 2007) contradicted much of the established backstory; for example, it was revealed that Homer and Marge were childless in the early 1990s although past episodes had suggested Bart and Lisa were born in the 1980s.

Homer's age has increased as the series developed; he was 36 in the early episodes, 38 in season eight, and 40 in the eighteenth season, although even in those seasons his age is inconsistent. During Bill Oakley and Josh Weinstein's period as showrunners, they found that as they aged, Homer seemed to become older too, so they increased his age to 38.

Homer has held many different jobs, over 188 in the first 400 episodes. In most episodes, he works as the Nuclear Safety Inspector at the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant, a position he has held since "Homer's Odyssey", the third episode of the series. At the plant, Homer is often ignored and completely forgotten by his boss Mr. Burns, and is constantly falling asleep and neglecting his duties. Matt Groening has states that he originally decided to have Homer work at the power plant because of the potential for Homer to create havoc. The rest of his jobs have lasted only one episode. In the first half of the series, the writers developed an explanation of how he got fired from the plant and then rehired in every episode; in later episodes he often began a new job on impulse, without any mention of his regular employment.

Character

Creation

Matt Groening first conceived Homer and the rest of the Simpson family in 1986 in the lobby of producer James L. Brooks' office. Groening had been called in to pitch a series of animated shorts for The Tracey Ullman Show, and had intended to present an adaptation of his Life in Hell comic strip. When he realized that animating Life in Hell would require him to rescind publication rights, Groening decided to go in another direction, and hurriedly sketched out his version of a dysfunctional family, naming the characters after members of his own family. Homer was named after Groening's father. Very little else of Homer's character was based on him, and to prove that the meaning behind Homer's name was not significant, Groening later named his own son Homer. Although Groening has stated in several interviews that Homer is the namesake of his father, he also claimed in several 1990 interviews that a character in the 1939 Nathanael West novel The Day of the Locust was the inspiration for naming Homer.

Homer made his debut with the rest of the Simpson family on April 19, 1987 in The Tracey Ullman Show short "Good Night". In 1989, the shorts were adapted into The Simpsons, a half-hour series airing on the Fox Broadcasting Company. Homer and the Simpson family remained the main characters on this new show.

The family was designed so that they would be recognizable in silhouette. Homer's physical features are generally not used in other characters; for example, in the later seasons, no characters other than Homer and Lenny have a similar beard line. When Groening designed Homer, he put his initials into the character's hairline and ear: the hairline resembled an 'M', and the right ear resembled a 'G'. Groening decided that this would be too distracting though, and redesigned the ear to look normal. He still draws the ear as a 'G' when he draws pictures of Homer for fans. In some early episodes, Homer's hair was rounded rather than sharply pointed because animation director Wes Archer felt it should look disheveled. Homer's hair later evolved to appear consistently pointed. During the first three seasons, Homer's design for some close-up shots included small lines which were meant to be eyebrows. Matt Groening strongly disliked them and they were eventually dropped. Homer's middle initial "J", which stands for "Jay", is a "tribute" to animated characters such as Bullwinkle J. Moose and Rocket J. Squirrel from The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show who got their middle initial from Jay Ward.

In the season seven (1995) episode "Treehouse of Horror VI", Homer was computer animated into a three dimensional character for the first time for the "Homer3" segment of the episode. The computer animation directors at Pacific Data Images worked hard not to "reinvent the character". In the final minute of the segment, the 3D Homer ends up in a real world, live-action Los Angeles. The scene was directed by David Mirkin and was the first time a Simpsons character had been in the real world in the series.

Character development

Executive producer Al Jean notes that in The Simpsons' writing room, "everyone loves writing for Homer", and many of his adventures are based on real experiences of the writers. Homer's behavior has changed a number of times through the run of the series. He was originally "very angry" and oppressive toward Bart, but these characteristics were toned down somewhat as his persona was further explored. In early seasons, Homer appeared concerned that his family was going to make him look bad; however, in later episodes he was less anxious about how he was perceived by others. In the first several years, Homer was often portrayed as sweet and sincere, but during Mike Scully's tenure as executive producer (seasons nine to twelve), he became more of "a boorish, self-aggrandizing oaf". Chris Suellentrop of Slate wrote, "under Scully's tenure, The Simpsons became, well, a cartoon. Episodes that once would have ended with Homer and Marge bicycling into the sunset now end with Homer blowing a tranquilizer dart into Marge's neck. Fans have dubbed this incarnation of the character "Jerkass Homer". At voice recording sessions, Dan Castellaneta has rejected material written in the script that portrayed Homer as being too mean. He believes that Homer is "boorish and unthinking, but he’d never be mean on purpose." When editing The Simpsons Movie, several scenes were changed or otherwise toned down to make Homer more sympathetic.

The writers have made Homer's intelligence appear to decline over the years; they explain this was not done intentionally, but it was necessary in order to top previous jokes. For example, in "When You Dish Upon a Star", (season 10, 1998) the writers included a scene where Homer admits that he can not read. The writers debated including this plot twist because it would contradict previous scenes in which Homer does read, but eventually they decided to keep the joke because they found it humorous. The writers often debate how far to go in portraying Homer's stupidity; one suggested rule is that "he can never forget his own name".

Personality

Homer's personality and comic efficacy lies in his frequent bouts of stupidity, laziness and explosive anger. He has a low intelligence level, described by director David Silverman as "creatively brilliant in his stupidity". Homer also shows immense apathy towards work, is overweight, and "is devoted to his stomach". His short attention span is evidenced by his impulsive decisions to engage in various hobbies and enterprises, only to "change ... his mind when things go badly". Homer often spends his evenings drinking Duff Beer at Moe's Tavern and, as shown in the episode "Duffless" (season four, 1993), is a borderline alcoholic. He is very envious of his neighbors, the Flanders family, and is easily enraged by Bart: Homer will often strangle Bart on impulse in a cartoonish manner. The first instance of Homer strangling Bart was in the short "Family Portrait". Matt Groening's rule was that Homer could only strangle Bart impulsively, never with pre-meditation, and that it would always be over quickly. Another of the original ideas entertained by Groening was that Homer would "always get his comeuppance or Bart had to strangle him back", but this was dropped. He shows no compunction about expressing his rage, and does not attempt to hide his actions from people outside the family. While Homer has repeatedly upset people and caused all sorts of mayhem in Springfield, these events are usually the result of either his intense temper or a lack of foresight rather than any malice. Except for expressing annoyance at Ned Flanders, Homer's destructive actions are usually unintentional.

Homer has complex relationships with all three of his children. He often berates Bart, but the two commonly share adventures and are sometimes allies. Homer and Lisa have opposite personalities and he usually overlooks Lisa's talents, but when made aware of his neglect does everything he can to help her. He sometimes forgets that Maggie even exists, although Homer has often tried to bond with her; "daddy" was her first word. While Homer's thoughtless antics often upset his family, he has also revealed himself to be a surprisingly caring father and husband: in "Lisa the Beauty Queen", (season four, 1992) he sold his cherished ride on the Duff blimp and used the money to enter Lisa in a beauty pageant so she could feel better about herself; in "Rosebud", (season five, 1993) he gave up his chance at wealth to allow Maggie to keep a cherished teddy bear; in "Radio Bart", (season three, 1992) he spearheaded an attempt to dig Bart out after he had fallen down a well; and in "A Milhouse Divided", (season eight, 1996) he arranged a surprise second wedding with Marge to make up for their unsatisfactory first ceremony. Homer however has a poor relationship with his father Abraham "Grampa" Simpson, whom he placed in a nursing home as soon as he could. The Simpson family will often do their best to avoid unnecessary contact with Grampa, but Homer has shown feelings of love for his father from time to time.

Homer is "a (happy) slave to his various appetites", and would gladly sell his soul to the devil in exchange for a single doughnut. He has a vacuous mind but is still able to retain a great amount of knowledge about very specific subjects. Homer’s brief periods of intelligence are overshadowed however by much longer and consistent periods of ignorance, forgetfulness, and stupidity. Homer has a low IQ of 55 which has variously been attributed to the hereditary "Simpson Gene", his alcohol problem, exposure to radioactive waste, repetitive cranial trauma, and a crayon lodged in the frontal lobe of his brain. In the episode "HOMR" (season 12, 2001) Homer had surgery to remove the crayon from his brain, boosting his IQ to 105, but although he bonded very well with Lisa, his newfound capacity for understanding and reason made him less happy and he had Moe reinsert the crayon, causing his intelligence to return to its previous level. Homer often debates with his own mind, which is expressed in voiceover. His brain has a record of giving him dubious advice, sometimes helping him make the right decisions, but often failing spectacularly. It has even become completely frustrated and, through sound effects, walked out on him. Homer's conversations with his brain were used several times during the fourth season, but were later phased out after the producers "used every possible permutation". These exchanges were often introduced because they filled time and were easy for the animators to work on.

Voice

Homer's voice is performed by Dan Castellaneta, who voices numerous other characters, including Abraham Simpson. Castellaneta had been part of the regular cast of The Tracey Ullman Show and had previously done some voice-over work in Chicago alongside his wife Deb Lacusta. Voices were needed for the Simpsons shorts, so the producers decided to ask Castellaneta and fellow cast member Julie Kavner to voice Homer and Marge rather than hire more actors. Homer's voice sounds different in the shorts and first few seasons of the half-hour show than it does in the majority of the series. The voice began as a loose impression of Walter Matthau, but Castellaneta could not "get enough power behind that voice", and could not sustain his Matthau impression for the nine to ten hour long recording sessions so had to find something easier. Castellaneta "dropped the voice down", and developed it into a more versatile and humorous voice during the second and third season of the half-hour show, allowing Homer to cover a fuller range of emotions.

Castellaneta's normal speaking voice has no similarity to Homer's. To perform Homer's voice, Castellaneta lowers his chin to his chest, and is said to "let his IQ go". While in this state, he has ad-libbed several of Homer's least intelligent comments, such as the line "I am so smart, s-m-r-t" from the episode "Homer Goes to College" (season five, 1993) which was a genuine mistake made by Castellaneta during recording. Castellaneta likes to stay in character during recording sessions, and tries to visualize a scene in his mind so that he can give the proper voice to it. Despite Homer's fame, Castellaneta claims he is rarely recognized in public, "except, maybe, by a die-hard fan".

"Homer's Barbershop Quartet" (season five, 1993) is the only episode where Homer's voice was provided by someone other than Castellaneta. The episode features Homer forming a barbershop quartet called The Be Sharps and at some points, his singing voice is provided by a member of The Dapper Dans. The Dapper Dans had recorded the singing parts for all four members of The Be Sharps. Their singing was intermixed with the normal voice actor's voices, often with a regular voice actor singing the melody and the Dapper Dans providing backup.

Until 1998, Castellaneta was paid $30,000 per episode. During a pay dispute in 1998, Fox threatened to replace the six main voice actors with new actors, going as far as preparing for casting of new voices. However, the dispute was soon resolved and he received $125,000 per episode until 2004 when the voice actors demanded that they be paid $360,000 an episode. The issue was resolved a month later, and Castellaneta earned $250,000 per episode. After salary re-negotiations in 2008, the voice actors receive approximately $400,000 per episode.

Reception

Commendations

Homer's influence on comedy and culture has been significant. He was placed second on TV Guide's 2002 Top 50 Greatest Cartoon Characters, behind Bugs Bunny; fifth on Bravo's 100 Greatest TV Characters, one of only four cartoon characters on that list; and first in a Channel 4 poll of the greatest television characters of all time. In 2007, Entertainment Weekly placed Homer ninth on their list of the "50 Greatest TV icons". Homer was also the runaway winner in British polls that determined who viewers thought was the "greatest American and which fictional character people would like to see become the President of the United States.

Dan Castellaneta has won several awards for voicing Homer, including three Primetime Emmy Awards for "Outstanding Voice-Over Performance" in 1992 for "Lisa's Pony", 1993 for "Mr. Plow", and 2004 for "Today I Am a Clown", although in the latter case it was for voicing "various characters" and not solely for Homer. In 1993, Castellaneta was given a special Annie Award, "Outstanding Individual Achievement in the Field of Animation", for his work as Homer on The Simpsons. In 2004, Castellaneta and Julie Kavner (the voice of Marge) won a Young Artist Award for "Most Popular Mom & Dad in a TV Series". In 2005, Homer and Marge were nominated for a Teen Choice Award for "Choice TV Parental Units". Various episodes in which Homer is strongly featured have won Emmy Awards for Outstanding Animated Program, including "Homer vs. Lisa and the 8th Commandment" in 1991, "Lisa's Wedding" in 1995, "Homer's Phobia" in 1997, "Trash of the Titans" in 1998, "HOMR" in 2001, "Three Gays of the Condo" in 2003 and "Eternal Moonshine of the Simpson Mind" in 2008. In 2000, Homer and the rest of the Simpson family were awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame located at 7021 Hollywood Boulevard.

Analysis

Homer Simpson is an "everyman" and embodies several American stereotypes of working class blue-collar men: he is crude, overweight, incompetent, clumsy and a borderline alcoholic. Matt Groening describes him as "completely ruled by his impulses". Dan Castellaneta calls him "a dog trapped in a man's body", adding, "He's incredibly loyal — not entirely clean — but you gotta love him." In his book Planet Simpson, author Chris Turner describes Homer as "the most American of the Simpsons" and believes that while the other Simpson family members could be changed to other nationalities, Homer is "pure American". In the book God in the Details: American Religion in Popular Culture, the authors comment that "Homer's progress (or lack thereof) reveals a character who can do the right thing, if accidentally or begrudgingly. The book The Simpsons and Philosophy: The D'oh! of Homer includes a chapter analyzing Homer's character from the perspective of Aristotelian virtue ethics. Raja Halwani writes that Homer's "love of life" is an admirable character trait, "for many people are tempted to see in Homer nothing but buffoonery and immorality. He is not politically correct, he is more than happy to judge others, and he certainly does not seem to be obsessed with his health. These qualities might not make Homer an admirable person, but they do make him admirable in some ways, and, more importantly, makes us crave him and the Homer Simpsons of this world. In 2008, Entertainment Weekly justified designating The Simpsons as a television classic by stating, "we all hail Simpson patriarch Homer because his joy is as palpable as his stupidity is stunning".

In the season eight episode "Homer's Enemy" the writers decided to examine "what it would be like to actually work alongside Homer Simpson". The episode explores the possibilities of a realistic character with a strong work ethic named Frank Grimes placed alongside Homer in a work environment. In the episode, Homer is portrayed as an everyman and the embodiment of the American spirit; however, in some scenes his negative characteristics and silliness are prominently highlighted. By the end of the episode, Grimes, a hard working and persevering "real American hero", is relegated to the role of antagonist; the viewer is intended to be pleased that Homer has emerged victorious.

In Gilligan Unbound, author Paul Arthur Cantor states that he believes Homer's devotion to his family has added to the popularity of the character. He writes, "Homer is the distillation of pure fatherhood. This is why, for all his stupidity, bigotry and self-centered quality, we cannot hate Homer. He continually fails at being a good father, but he never gives up trying, and in some basic and important sense that makes him a good father. The Sunday Times remarked "Homer is good because, above all, he is capable of great love. When the chips are down, he always does the right thing by his children — he is never unfaithful in spite of several opportunities."

Cultural influence

Homer Simpson is one of the most popular and influential television characters in a variety of standards. USA Today cited the character as being one of the "top 25 most influential people of the past 25 years" in 2007, adding that Homer "epitomized the irony and irreverence at the core of American humor. Robert Thompson, director of Syracuse University's Center for the Study of Popular Television believes that "three centuries from now, English professors are going to be regarding Homer Simpson as one of the greatest creations in human storytelling. Animation historian Jerry Beck described Homer as one of the best animated characters, saying, "you know someone like it, or you identify with (it). That's really the key to a classic character." Homer has been described by The Sunday Times as "the greatest comic creation of [modern] time". The article remarked, "every age needs its great, consoling failure, its lovable, pretension-free mediocrity. And we have ours in Homer Simpson."

Homer has been cited as a bad influence on children, however; for example, in 2005 a survey conducted in the United Kingdom found that 59% of parents felt that Homer promoted an unhealthy lifestyle. A five-year study of more than 2,000 middle-aged people in France found a possible link between weight and brain function, the findings of which were dubbed the "Homer Simpson syndrome". Results from a word memory test showed that people with a Body mass index (BMI) of 20 (considered to be a healthy level) remembered an average of nine out of 16 words. Meanwhile, people with a BMI of 30 (inside the obese range) remembered an average of just seven out of 16 words.

Despite Homer's embodiment of American culture, his influence has spread to other parts of the world. In 2003, Matt Groening revealed that his father, after whom Homer was named, was Canadian, and said that this made Homer himself a Canadian. The character was later made an honorary citizen of Winnipeg, Canada, in real life because Homer Groening was believed to be from the Manitoba capital, although sources say the senior Groening was actually born in Saskatchewan. In 2005, The Simpsons was adapted for Arabic television. Homer was renamed Omar Shamshoon and several staples of his character were changed: he drank juice instead of beer, did not eat bacon or visit Moe's Tavern, and ate kahk instead of doughnuts. The series did not fare very well and only 34 of the 52 adapted episodes aired. In 2007, an image of Homer was painted next to the Cerne Abbas giant in Dorset, England as part of a promotion for The Simpsons Movie. This caused outrage among local neopagans who performed "rain magic" to try and get it washed away. In 2008, a fake Spanish euro coin was found in Avilés, Spain, with the face of Homer replacing the figure of King Juan Carlos I.

Homer has appeared, voiced by Castellaneta, for several other television shows, including the sixth season of American Idol where he opened the show; The Tonight Show with Jay Leno where he performed a special animated opening monologue for the July 24, 2007 edition; and the 2008 fundraising television special Stand Up to Cancer where he was shown having a colonoscopy.

D'oh!

Homer's catchphrase is the annoyed grunt "d'oh" that is typically uttered when he injures himself, realizes that he has done something stupid, or when something bad has happened or is about to happen to him. During the voice recording session for a Tracey Ullman Show short, Homer was required to utter what was written in the script as an "annoyed grunt". Dan Castellaneta rendered it as a drawn out "d'ooooooh". This was inspired by Jimmy Finlayson, the mustachioed Scottish actor who appeared in 33 Laurel and Hardy films. Finlayson had used the term as a minced oath to stand in for the word "Damn!" Matt Groening felt that it would better suit the timing of animation if it were spoken faster. Castellaneta then shortened it to a quickly uttered "d'oh!" The first intentional use of d'oh! occurred the Ullman short "The Krusty the Clown Show", (1989) and its first usage in the series was in the series premiere, "Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire".

"D'oh!" was first added to the The New Oxford Dictionary of English in 1998. It is defined as an interjection "used to comment on an action perceived as foolish or stupid". In 2001, "d'oh!" was added to the Oxford English Dictionary, without the apostrophe. The definition of the word is "expressing frustration at the realization that things have turned out badly or not as planned, or that one has just said or done something foolish". In 2006, "d'oh!" was placed in sixth position on TV Land's list of the 100 greatest television catchphrases. "D'oh!" is also included in The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations. The book includes several other quotations from Homer, including "Kids, you tried your best and you failed miserably. The lesson is never try", from "Burns' Heir" (season five, 1994) as well as "Kids are the best, Apu. You can teach them to hate the things you hate. And they practically raise themselves, what with the Internet and all", from "Eight Misbehavin'" (season 11, 2000). Both quotes entered the dictionary in August 2007.

Merchandising

Homer's inclusion in many Simpsons publications, toys, and other merchandise is evidence of his enduring popularity. The Homer Book, about Homer's personality and attributes, was released in 2004 and is commercially available. It has been described as "an entertaining little book for occasional reading and was listed as one of "the most interesting books of 2004" by The Chattanoogan. Other merchandise includes dolls, posters, figurines, bobblehead dolls, mugs, alarm clocks, jigsaw puzzles, Chia Pets, and clothing such as slippers, T-shirts, baseball caps, and boxer shorts. Homer has appeared in commercials for 1-800-COLLECT, Burger King, Butterfinger, C.C. Lemon, Church's Chicken, Domino's Pizza, Intel, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Ramada Inn, Subway and T.G.I. Friday's. In 2004, Homer starred in a MasterCard Priceless commercial that aired during Super Bowl XXXVIII. In 2001, Kelloggs launched a brand of cereal called "Homer's Cinnamon Donut Cereal", which was available for a limited time.

Homer has appeared in other media relating to The Simpsons. He has appeared in every one of The Simpsons video games, including the most recent, The Simpsons Game. Alongside the television series, Homer regularly appears in issues of Simpsons Comics, which were first published on November 29, 1993 and are still issued monthly. Homer also plays a role in The Simpsons Ride, launched in 2008 at Universal Studios Florida and Hollywood.

Notes

References

Further reading

External links

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