It’s subtle and often not noticed, but even in The Simpsons, the single characters are the ones you wouldn’t want to be.
The Simpsons is a TV show that defined much of my childhood, adolescence, and a good portion of my 20s. I recall with fond memories rushing to the TV every Sunday night at 8 p.m. to watch the new episode (and the repeats). Then, once the DVDs came out, I felt compelled to buy every one through Season 15, when, in my opinion, the creators began to make shark-jumping a competitive sport.
One of the episodes that sticks out in my mind is “Marge vs. Singles, Seniors, Childless Couples and Teens, and Gays” where the citizens of Springfield form an anti-children’s initiative to rid the town of anything even remotely devoted to children. Devoted mom Marge plans to dismantle the initiative and in true episodic fashion, succeeds.
Cinema Sentries praised the episode as “a great example of the way a show used to be able to find hilarity in mocking both sides of an issue when it spoofs both the grueling life of a parent and the grueling lives of those without children who have to put up with the problems caused by other people’s kids.”
While I applaud the creators’ efforts to parody both parents and non-parents, I can’t help but think of the stereotypes the show helped to perpetuate with respect to singles.
Let’s go down an abridged list of single characters on the show and the stereotypes they embody:
Otto – Bus driver, stoner, always sporting pair of headphones and loves demolition derby.
Sea Captain – talks with the stereotypical pirate accent, forever smells of seawater
Kirk Van Houten – he was married, but ultimately, is a pathetic loser who was fired from his job at the cracker factory after his divorce because “crackers are a family food.”
Moe Szyslak – bartender and all-around malcontent. Many of the show’s jokes revolve around his loneliness.
Principal Skinner – ineffectual school principal, mama’s boy, still lives at home with his mother.
Mrs. Krabappel & Miss Hoover – two disillusioned teachers, who chain-smoke and surreptitiously drink in the teacher’s lounge.
Lindsey Naegle – businesswoman, and self-described alcoholic and sexual predator.
Patty & Selma – prototypical “spinsters” who chain smoke.
Montgomery Burns – the miserly millionaire, so disenchanted with life that he blocked the sun from Springfield.
Now, let’s contrast these characters with the married ones:
Dr. Hibbert – a well-established physician and family man with a thriving medical practice, a strong sense of Hippocratic responsibility and an infectious laugh.
Ned Flanders – a devout Catholic with a unique concept for a store (one for left-handed people), is a happily married father until his wife’s passing.
Reverend Lovejoy – the town Reverend, married with a daughter and painted as duly accountable.
Marge – a responsible, loving, stressed-out mother of three who is a loyal wife to her boorish husband.
Homer – the boorish husband, is somehow still married and employed because the show wouldn’t exist without those things in his life.
While I haven’t watched any new episodes since 2012, I’m told the characters haven’t changed much. And I’m sure if I watched more television, I could find even more characters who embody the stereotypes so often given to singles.
Just once, I’d like to see a show with people who are single and happy, because it always seems like the single character is always working to get paired up with someone so they can finally find happiness and success.
This is where I now re-enact Marge’s famous, exasperation-fueled “Mmmm.”
Craig Wynne, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of English at Hampton University in Hampton, Virginia. He is currently researching singlism as pertains to academic careers. He has written articles on writing anxiety and enjoys writing fiction and how-to non-fiction in his spare time. When not immersed in his work, he enjoys hiking, running, and traveling. With respect to the latter, he recently taught developmental writing to high school students in Muar, Malaysia. He enjoys the single life and the freedom it gives him to grow.