I was thinking about the new study results about The Simpsons, Fox’s top animated TV series, while I was packing for San Diego’s annual International Comic-Con last night.
The Simpsons is in my top five TV shows, rotating in and out of the number one spot depending on my mood that day. It’s an amazingly progressive series that couches politics in humor and is much more subversive than most people realize — especially anyone who dismisses it as merely a cartoon.
The study I’m talking about was done by a German scholar, Erwin In het Panhuis for his new book Behind the Gay Laughter: Homosexuality in ‘The Simpsons’. Panhuis analyzed nearly 500 scenes and 70 gay characters from the now-23-year-old TV show, and found that the series has not only changed the perception of gay men (and other LGBT folks) but also paved the way for many to feel comfortable coming out.
I’m not surprised. It was, in 2005, the first cartoon to have a full episode dedicated to marriage equality and has devoted considerable time to a couple of gay characters: Mr. Burn’s unrequited assistant Waylan Smithers, Jr., and Marge’s sister, Patty Bouvier, who nearly married a woman at one point.
The show’s creator, Matt Groening, is the animation god in our house. On top of creating another one of my beloved shows, Futurama, his shows tackle tough issues, make me laugh, and he's told reporters (most notably, in Leaving Springfield: The Simpsons and the Possibilities of Oppositional Culture) that he does what he does because “gay men are starved for positive portrayals of lasting love.”
So as I head off to Comic-Con I’m off course excited to see Groening and my Simpsons peeps, as well as the artists, creators, filmmakers, actors and authors behind my favorite TV shows, films, comic books and graphic novels.
Anyone who thinks Comic-Con is just about comic books hasn’t been there in years — and it’s not just fanboys and geek girls, though delightfully those are out in droves.
The Con’s longest running panel is called Gays in Comics and it brings together a huge host of LGBT folks who work in the comic industry, some creating the most iconic characters (from Batwoman to Kevin Keller) including some that have made it from page to screen. Last year’s 25th anniversary gathering was packed with hundreds of people and even standing room areas were filled. This year exploring the LGBT presence in comics will be Paige Braddock (Jane's World), Shannon Walters (Kaboom), Justin Hall (No Straight Lines), Leia Weathington (The Legend of Bold Riley), Shena Wolf (Uclick), Sina Grace (Li'l Depressed Boy; Not My Bag), and others.
There are literally dozens of LGBT events at Comic-Con, from parties to panels, and each time the club, auditorium, classroom, or theater will be filled with both straight and queer folks. I can’t wait to see Mortal Instruments, the movie based on a YA novel that could be the next Twilight — only one of its main characters is gay (and good).
The thing about Comic-Con and why I go, isn’t about the LGBT-specific events (though that’s icing). It’s because there’s a general sense of inclusiveness. With so many people in costume, the convention is a chance for everyone to be whoever they want to be. It’s Halloween in July. And that includes LGBT folks.
I’m from Idaho, where LGBT bars are few and far between, which means everyone goes to the same club. Unlike say New York or Los Angeles, there isn’t a bar for black lesbians, white gay men, BDSM and leather folks, or drag queens. We all go to the same bar. And there’s great value in that, in not being able to self-select to be only amongst people who share your life, values, hobbies, and race/class/religious backgrounds.
Comic-Con is a lot like that. For one week, you can be anybody but you must also accept everybody. There’s no hate, no discrimination, no in-group fighting (unless we’re talking Star Wars vs. Star Trek, then it’s on). We’re all just one people, with all our delicious queerness on display. Like Pride, but for geeks.
So if you’re there, hunt me down and say hi. You’ll recognize me. I’m going to be the only one dressed as Zombie Miss Muffet.
DIANE ANDERSON-MINSHALL is the editor in chief of HIV Plus magazine, and The Advocate's editor at large.