It’s undeniable that The Simpsons holds a lasting impact on how we view sitcoms and animation. Many pop-culture nerds, including myself, have analysed and interpreted the many complex characters and their interactions. However, with over 30 seasons and numerous writers, analysing even one character from The Simpsons can become complicated. So, I’d like to focus on an episode that I believe leaves a significant impression. It is season 8, episode 23, Homer’s Enemy.
The dynamic in Homer’s Enemy
Homer’s Enemy follows Frank Grimes, a new employee at the nuclear plant. Juxtaposing Homer’s ignorance and laziness, Frank is hardworking and self-aware. He can’t comprehend why Homer is so acclaimed despite his incompetence. Throughout the episode, Frank grows increasingly enraged and jealous of Homer, culminating in his gruesome demise.
The dynamic between Frank Grimes and Homer Simpson is a captivating one, but not unique. We see the dichotomy between the resentful, hardworking ‘Apollonian’ figure and the laid-back, ignorant ‘Dionysian’ character throughout history and fiction. It’s childish SpongeBob vs cynical Squidward, easy-going Forrest Gump vs agitated Lieutenant Dan, ‘Marilyn’ Elle Woods vs ‘Jackie’ Vivian Kensington.
I will explore this dynamic in Homer’s Enemy to show how we might use these mindsets in our daily lives. My take on this dichotomy is simple- Homer reflects a passive mindset while Frank demonstrates a purely active one.
There’s something intriguing about a character who only has things happen to them without needing to put in the effort. One of my favourite examples of a character like this is Lord Arthur Scoresby in Mark Twain’s short story, Luck. Scoresby, much like Homer, is incompetent at his work yet continuously receives praise and recognition based on sheer luck. However, it’s important to engage in critical thinking when it comes to passive characters. As we know from other episodes of The Simpsons, Homer isn’t completely passive. Like Frank, he’s been through a lot in his life and is also prone to jealousy and hatred.
In Luck, Twain positions the reader in the perspective of an unnamed narrator listening to a clergyman tell Scoresby’s story. How can we be sure that the clergyman knows all the details of Scoresby’s life? How do we know that the clergyman isn’t jealous of Scoresby’s success and framing him as incompetent in his story?
The writers of Homer’s Enemy have a similar approach. Despite the animation’s third-person perspective, the episode positions the audience to see Homer through Frank’s eyes. We see Homer without the context of his life and his flaws are showcased. On a superficial level, Homer is a buffoon whose success in life is only down to luck. He’s met President Gerald Ford, he’s gone on tour with the Smashing Pumpkins, he’s been to outer space, and would you like to see his Grammy Award?
We may find people like this in real life enviable. They appear to have everything going for them despite the fact that we might think they don’t deserve it. However, there’s something admirable about someone who lives a relaxed life by not worrying about meeting the expectations of others.
But with that said, a purely passive life isn’t necessarily a fulfilling one. Characters like Homer, Scoresby, Forrest Gump, and Barbie can gently flow through life and gain opportunities without trying. But what about those of us who don’t have enough luck? And is a passive, apathetic mindset helpful for our friends, family, and co-workers?
Despite his diligence, Frank is portrayed antagonistically in this episode. Of course, there is something very admirable about ‘triumphing over adversity.’ However, his intentions lead to hostility.
Frank is so self-aware that he lives for external validation. The episode begins by revealing that he was abandoned by his family when he was four years old. An experience like that could explain his desperate need for recognition. Frank is intensely jealous of other people’s accomplishments but is indifferent to his own. This mindset, I believe, is preventing him from working through his trauma.
I’m sure a lot of people can relate to Frank Grimes. I have been Frank Grimes.
But this mindset isn’t healthy. You’ll never be happy if you’re constantly criticising others and therefore setting standards too high for yourself. This mindset led to burnout and cynicism for me.
Yes, it’s good to live life with determination and self-awareness, but it’s more important to keep your boundaries in mind. And Homer’s Enemy makes it very clear- Frank has no sense of boundaries. He constantly tells people how ‘hard-working’ he is, yet he is incapable of putting aside time for himself. That’s why this episode is so tragic. His demise is the result of his vindictiveness. It leaves us wondering if a life of constant labour is really worth it in the end.
So, a lack of self-awareness can lead to passive ineffectiveness and too much self-awareness can lead to active bitterness. So, what happens if we combine the two mindsets?
An actively passive mindset
Being an active person implies that you are conscious. So, being actively passive suggests that you have chosen to be passive. This mindset has helped me with making quick decisions. I’m able to assess the circumstances surrounding my problems and actively decide when it’s best to take a break.
If you’re coming from the perspective of a purely active mindset, this might be difficult to do. Because you’re trying to be productive at all times, you may struggle to justify taking time off to do nothing. However, keep in mind the ‘active’ aspect of this passivity. Maintaining your natural self-awareness will prevent you from slipping into an unproductive, ‘lazy’ state for the rest of your life. I remind myself that I know I will eventually get back to what I need to do.
If it’s impossible to take a break, you might need to reassess if what you’re doing really is right for you. I also find that the right kind of fun and relaxing break naturally reinvigorates my creativity and productivity. That’s how I’m able to work on these posts ?
A passively active mindset
Being actively passive is very much an ‘in-the-moment’ sort of thing. It’s the act of choosing to do nothing for the benefit of your wellbeing. Having a passively active mindset, on the other hand, is best applied in a general sense. It involves reflecting and planning to ensure you’re living your best life.
Since I started perceiving life in this way, I find I’m productive in a fun manner. I prioritise setting the boundaries I need to ensure that I get enough rest and enjoyment out of life. I’m active enough to get things done but passive enough to know that things will run smoothly without needing to overwork. It helps me set my own goals and standards without the need for validation from others. Although, I admit I still need to do a bit more work on that!
I know that I’m being vague with my descriptions here. But the great thing about being passively active is that it’s perfectly customised to what you want out of life. If you don’t know where to start, don’t worry! My next post is all about the small and fun steps you can take to start getting to know yourself. You might be interested in last week’s post on the reflective process of audio journaling.
I’ve enjoyed watching The Simpsons for a long time. But I first came across Homer’s Enemy last year, when I was starting my third year of university. This episode really resonated with me as I related so much to Frank Grimes that it scared me. As a recovering perfectionist, I hope this blog post inspires you to rethink how you value productivity and live the life you’ve always wanted to live.
Have you seen any other examples of the passive vs active dynamic in fiction and history? I’d love to read what you think in the comments below!
Souces that inspired me
- I recommend YouTuber EmpLemon‘s video essay for a comprehensive analysis of Homer’s Enemy, its context, and social commentary.
- For an extensive discussion of the Apollonian-Dionysian dynamic in media, politics, and society, I recommend ContraPoints’ video on Envy.
- If you’re struggling with justifying taking breaks and experiencing burnout, check out this video by Simple Happy Zen.