Has Homer Simpson stopped strangling Bart? Simpsons fans created an online furore after a recent episode of the longstanding animated series. The show is in its 35th season and recently ignited debate after the season’s third episode aired on Fox.
In the episode titled “McMansion & Wife,” which aired on Oct. 22, Homer Simpson (Dan Castellaneta) meets with his new neighbour Thayer (Hank Azaria) and mentions that Homer has “quite a grip” as they shake hands.
Homer replies to Marge, saying, “See, Marge, strangling the boy has paid off,” Homer quips with a smile, “Just kidding. I don’t do that anymore; times have changed!”
Homer strangling Bart has been an ongoing joke on the series since its debut episode, Simpsons Roasting On An Open Fire, aired on Dec. 17 1989. The joke has been a staple for decades, but IGN has noted that Homer last strangled Bart in season 31. Only a few people have noticed the lack of strangulations until now. Many viewers took Homer’s recent comments as fact and deduced that the show’s creators had retired the long-running gag. Some were upset, while others lauded Homer’s good behaviour.
The Simpsons has been a controversial show since its inception. In the early 90s, Bart was accused of being a poor role model for children, and some countries even banned the show. A significant criticism that followed the show for many years was its portrayal of Abu, an Indian character in the series, voiced by Hank Azaria.
Abu is an Indian immigrant and was used to channel a host of Indian stereotypes. Comedian Hari Kondabolu even released a documentary in 2017 titled The Problem With Apu. Many people were incensed by the stereotypes but also that a non-Indian was voicing him.
Increasingly vocal criticism of the character led to Azaria stepping down from the role in 2020. In 2021, the actor appeared on the Armchair Expert podcast and apologised to Indian people offended by the character. Azaria also remarked that while the show had good intentions, it contributed to the ‘structural racism’ in the US.
The show’s co-creator, Matt Groening, mirrored Azaria’s apologies when talking to the BBC in early 2021, saying that the show would work towards being more inclusive, stating that white actors would not play non-white characters.
Will Homer Continue to Strangle Bart?
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Homer’s bad parenting techniques and use of violence have long grated some viewers. Many felt the joke should be eliminated and felt relieved when they assumed the creators had finally done so. Cancelling Homer’s gag of strangling Bart seemed like the next phase in aligning the show with modern sensibilities. While people presumed that co-creators Matt Groening and James L. Brooks officially retired the gag, The Simpsons creators recently addressed the speculation and officially denied they are retiring the controversial joke.
People magazine recently asked Brooks if Homer will no longer strangle Bart, to which Brooks responded, “Nothing’s getting tamed. Nothing, nothing, nothing,” Brooks added, “He’ll continue to be strangled-if you want to use that awful term for it. He’ll continue to be loved by his father in a specific way.”
Homer might not officially have stopped strangling Bart, but the show quietly retired the joke. The last few seasons have had no family violence between Bart and Homer. The joke was one of the main gags of the show and was synonymous with the two iconic characters.
Its quiet retirement was perhaps enforced unofficially after the scandal with Azaria and the growing politically correct media environment in which the show was operating. Perhaps the recent episode in question was a way for the creators to acknowledge that the joke was off-limits subtly.
Brooks’ refutation that the gag was retired leaves the possibility that Homer will one day strangle Bart. However one feels about the joke, it was part and parcel of what made The Simpsons one the most acclaimed television series of all time.