For reasons not worth telling here and never discussed again, Homer needs to learn his full middle name. In doing so, he falls into a bohemian lifestyle, embracing his mother’s hippie past to the detriment of his family’s present.
I’m not sure how to avoid talking about the episode’s iconic moment, so let’s just get it out of the way.
Matt Groening has admitted to giving numerous Simpsons/Futurama characters the middle initial J as homage to Jay Ward, creator of Rocky and Bullwinkle. So it’s fitting that, like Philip Jay Fry, Homer’s middle name would be precisely Ward’s first name. But this moment isn’t iconic for the meta implications. Homer’s guileless joy over discovering his middle name – despite the fact that in a very real way, this knowledge has not changed his name at all – is perfect and pure, a reminder of times when Homer was defined more by misguided enthusiasm rather than by callousness and cruelty.
Which is not to say that there’s no jerkass Homer in this episode – far from it. What’s nice about Doh’in’ in the Wind is the way that Homer’s jerkassery can be argued to be part of the episode’s thrust, rather than being the byproduct of lazy writing. There’s a throwaway gag near the end that reveals the heart of the satire at play:
Bart: “Cheer up dad. You make a great hippie.”
Homer: “Oh, you’re just saying that.”
Bart: “No, really. You’re lazy and self-righteous.”
It drives home that Homer’s transformation into unproductive slob wasn’t all that much of a transformation at all. He’s still purely id-driven, doing whatever he wants whenever he wants without any repercussions. Those sympathetic to the counterculture movements of the late 60s might say he missed the point; as far as I’m concerned, he got it exactly right.
The problem isn’t one of selling out; the baby boomers may be forgiven for settling down a bit. Drug addiction, risky sex, poverty, and homelessness are perfectly valid ways to enjoy one’s twenties, but if you want to raise children, you want to do so with a little stability in your life. I don’t begrudge them that. But one would hope at least a modicum of their alleged idealism would have carried through with them. Instead, when they went mainstream, they defined the Reagan years: self-centered, materialistic, shallow, callow, and utterly indifferent to anyone but themselves. Their middle age revealed the lie that was their youth.
But that shouldn’t have been much of a surprise to anyone who had examined their youth with any care. Their laziness was evident not only in their squalor, but in their form of activism, defined primarily by shouting what they wanted without having any meaningful plan for attaining their goals. 1 Their poverty itself was a sham, given how many of them were affluent white kids who could return to mom and dad’s for a free meal whenever the hunger bit a little too hard2 Their so-called free love was still tied too loosely to the patriarchal ideas of the time, so that for most of them, love was only free for the men.
This wouldn’t have worked as a Lisa episode – her idealism is rooted in practicality. Bart loves hedonism and rebellion, but even he sees no appeal in Homer’s vagrancy. (It goes without saying that Marge’s suburban dreams are completely incompatible with the hippie lifestyle.) Only Homer, the worst Simpson, could fall for the idea that doing nothing is doing something, and that there is value in being of no use to anyone. He’s not the monument the flower children want for themselves, but he’s the one they deserve.
The terrific irony, of course, is that Seth and Munchie (as expertly voiced by Martin Mull and George Carlin) actually have their shit together. They didn’t burn out or fade away in the time since the Summer of Love, nor did they surrender to mindless careerism and coked-up capitalism. Instead of being a burden to those around them, as Homer would have, they found a way to provide a decent product to the community (and presumably jobs as well, despite the implausible implication they ran the farm/factory alone). They also lived a life that was wholly their own, unbound by societal norms. Homer could not have possibly found better mentors on the path to responsible nonconformism. But that was never Homer’s path. Like an entire generation of Americans, he wanted only to move between irresponsible noncomformity and irresponsible conformity; no wisdom, no growth, just indulgence.
But, uh, did you like it?
And is it funny?
It sure is. Let’s get to the quotes.
Homer: “Hey, Dad, what does the ‘J’ stand for?
Abe: “How should I know? It was your mother’s job to name ya and love ya and such. I was mainly in it for the spankin’.”
Abe: “This is the hippie commune your mother ran off to when life with me became a living hell.”
Abe: “Shame on you, boy! Put some damn pants on, and then pull ’em down! ‘Cause it’s time for a spankin’!”
Homer: “Come on, Maude! The human wang is a beautiful thing.”
Homer: “You guys are total sell-outs!”
Munchie: “Wait! Don’t you work for a nuclear power plant?”
Homer: “Come on! Where’s your freak bus?”
Seth: “I drive a Saturn.”
Homer: “A Saturn?!”
Munchie: “We used to have a bus. In a way, the ’60s ended the day we sold it – December 31, 1969.”
Homer: “I guess the juice business is more important than the ideals our hippie forefathers refused to go to war and die for.”
Homer: “Hear ye! Hear ye! The intergalactic jester proclaims this conformity factory closed!”
Skinner: “Fifteen years of loyal service, and this is how they tell me? A jester with an invisible proclamation.”
Kent Brockman: “A spokesman attributed the production shutdown to a half-witted oaf.”
Homer: “Ah, it was sweet of those guys to blame an oaf, but really it was my fault.”
The extended drug riff near the episode’s end is pretty great, even if the writers don’t seem to have a solid handle on what drugs do what. Wiggum identifies peyote in the vegetable juice, but the effects on Springfieldians seem more akin to pot or acid.
Much of the first act is devoted to a series of pointless adventures – Mr. Burns can’t open a jar of pickles, and neither can anyone else in the plant, which leads Burns to realize he needs to hire young blood, which leads to a poorly-acted recruitment film, which leads to Homer wanting to join the Screen Actors Guild, which leads him to needing to know his middle name. Most of it is forgettable, though I like the idea of the film ending with Burns berating his cast.
I’m neither old, hip, nor unhip enough to recognize what was going on in the Bob Hope scene. But it seems to tie into Homer not really knowing anything about hippies. Speaking of which –
The Other Iconic Moment