Horror and Hangovers: The Existential Dread of Homer Simpson
“I’m somewhere where I don’t know where I am.”
I was nine years old when I first heard Homer Simpson cry out those words in the “Homer³” segment of Treehouse of Horror VI. I laughed at it – a vintage Homer quote – but not as hard as I should have.
Something about Homer’s experience in the third dimension just felt unpleasant. I didn’t know why until years later.
Here’s an abridged version of it on YouTube if you don’t remember it.
Whether the show’s staff meant to do it or not, they crafted a terrifying portrait of the uncertainty of Homer’s working-class life. So let’s start, again, with that famous Homer quote.
“I’m somewhere where I don’t know where I am.”
When Homer flees into the “mystery wall” to avoid his sisters-in-law, he tumbles into a world he doesn’t understand, a dimension of floating equations, grid-like landscapes sizzling with neon energy, and semi-sentient objects.
It’s Homer Simpson, CGI-style, and while some critics consider the animation gimmicky, it drives home the alien nature of Homer’s surroundings. When we look past this supposed gimmick, we understand that Homer’s been thrust into a new technological age that he isn’t prepared to face.
This new age includes the internet, globalism, and the chaos from the American downsizing era and the continued decline of the manufacturing sector. Homer has faced economic uncertainty before – strikes and layoffs – but those situations were grounded in a world Homer knew. Those episodes hearken back to old labor struggles, Harlan County and the like.
But this ominous dimension – glittering and pretty, but with a dark unknown just over the horizon – offers Homer a new terror: The blue collar man becoming irrelevant in the information age.
And all of this is completely out of Homer’s control.
As a middle-aged, barely college educated man in a rustbelt town, Homer can do very little to control his own fate. He might work hard, but the economic realities of this new world make his efforts futile.
Much like the mostly outstanding early Treehouse of Horror segments, “Homer³” spoofs a legendarily effective horror classic, that being “Little Girl Lost” from The Twilight Zone.
Yet this segment only draws scant inspiration from it. Over the years, the more I watched “Homer³,” the more I thought of this scene from Michael Moore’s Roger and Me.
Forget the divisiveness of Moore’s work and just focus on this vaguely Homer-looking fellow recounting his drive home after being laid off, scared and helpless in a world that doesn’t need him anymore. This man’s pride, the job he’s done most of his adult life, vanishes without him having any control over it.
And the tiniest of mistakes can bring Homer – and men and women like him – to their doom.
Homer is minding his own business in this alien plane, attempting to make sense of it, when a bouncing cone stabs him in the ass. In a brief fit of rage, Homer hurls the cone away, only to have its sharp point tear through the fabric of time and space.
Before Homer can react, the tear widens into a gaping wormhole that threatens to swallow him whole.
What’s this, if not a metaphor for the missteps of a person in a financially fragile state? This could have been Homer skimping on that repair to the hot water heater, only to have it burst and flood the house, a calamity for a family that can barely pay their bills to begin with.
It could have been a truck driver who accidentally cut off the wrong motorist on the highway, only to have that person call the “How’s my driving?” number on the back of the rig, costing that man his job.
For men and women who walk on economic eggshells, the smallest transgression could mean financial disaster for themselves and their families.
And when Homer falls into this abyss of the unknown, there’s no one that can help him, as hard as they try.
Homer’s friends and family band together to help him. Reverend Lovejoy appeals to Homer’s faith, to no avail. Chief Wiggum almost kills Homer by firing wildly into the next dimension, a scene as chilling as it is hilarious, considering how law enforcement officials often have to deal with desperate, out-of-work men.
Professor Frink deftly identifies Homer’s plight, but is unable to help, and how is that any different from the droves of sociologists and economists who pinpoint the problems the working-class faces, but are otherwise powerless to help?
Finally, Bart bravely dives into the third dimension in a futile attempt to save his father, literally following the man into the abyss.
Yet like any kid who has to watch his mother or father suffer through the perils of being unneeded in our modern world, he can only attempt to reach across the yawning chasm between them, with a naïve hope that his father can somehow leap across it.
Homer cannot. Bart watches his father fall.
At the end of it all, Homer is alone and terrified.
In the final scenes of the segment, Homer crashes into the gritty reality of our dimension and lands in a dumpster.
Like a homeless man, alone and terrified in a back alley.
Homer walks the streets, emitting pitiful whimpers at sights of the world around him. He doesn’t know where to go. He has no place here.
Homer is alone. His friends and family are gone, along with the job he’s worked since high school that provided him food, shelter, and identity.
It’s a bleak ending, lightened only by Homer’s sudden discovery of the erotic cake store, but even that felt forced, for this Treehouse of Horror tapped into a visceral fear that far too many people know.
The fear of being alone, the fear of being sucked into a void you don’t understand, the fear of becoming insignificant.
Holy macaroni, indeed.
Boy, that was a downer! Come visit Mack at his blog the next time you’re smiling, so that he may extinguish it!