Would you want Homer Simpson to be your neighbor?

Okay, you've chosen a place to live, at least for a year or two. Maybe it was the location, or the proximity to school or work, or you've got some history in the area. Perhaps other family members live nearby, or the area is close to your favorite recreational areas. More practically, maybe the price was right, period. In any case, you've planted roots.

One you’ve settled in, you realize that you’ve inherited neighbors. They may be people you knew in advance, or total strangers. You may share certain cultural attributes, or your neighbors may be very different from you in all kinds of ways. I once heard a talk from a person living in the wilderness of British Columbia. His nearest neighbor was 40 miles away, and that was about right for him.

Some people may have, as neighbors, a Simpson-esque family. Sure, the Simpsons are a fictional family, living in the city of Springfield. The TV series debuted in 1989. One of the many uniquenesses of the family, and the show, is that since 1989, the characters haven’t aged. So for over 25 years, TV viewers have been allowed into the same Simpson town, home, school, and workplace. If you watched only a single episode, or watched all 654 (as of the end of March, 2019), you shouldn’t be surprised at their antics.

Let me introduce you to the Simpson family. Homer Simpson works as a "nuclear safety inspector" at the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant. The majority of the time you see him at work, he is either asleep or eating doughnuts. He’s around 40 years of age, and has been described at various times as “crude, overweight, incompetent, dim-witted, clumsy and a borderline alcoholic.” Duff beer is his drink of choice. He expects his wife, Marge, to take care of him and the children (Bart, Lisa, and Maggie). He rarely recognizes the extraordinary accomplishments of Lisa, regularly chokes his son as he berates him, and mostly ignores his infant daughter Maggie. Homer often receives cranial trauma, would sell his soul for a doughnut or a piece of bacon, and often uses the grunt "D'oh!", which typically is uttered when he injures himself, realizes that he has done something stupid, or when something bad has happened or is about to happen to him. He seems to use the phrase a lot. He takes naps in a Protestant church most Sundays. Politically, I see him being a big Donald Trump fan, at least until his daughter Lisa talks some sense into him.

Marge seems to be a couple of years younger than Homer, and is a homemaker. Regularly, she is in the position of the "long-suffering wife and mother." She is the moral compass for the family, and recognizes Homer’s shortcomings. First Lady Barbara Bush once criticized the show, and the writers wrote a letter from Marge to Barbara Bush:

Dear First Lady:

I recently read your criticism of my family. I was deeply hurt. Heaven knows we’re far from perfect and, if truth be known, maybe just a wee bit short of normal; but as Dr. Seuss says, “a person is a person.” I try to teach my children Bart, Lisa, and even little Maggie, always to give somebody the benefit of the doubt and not talk badly about them, even if they’re rich. It’s hard to get them to understand this advice when the very First Lady in the country calls us not only dumb, but “the dumbest thing” she ever saw. Ma’am, if we’re the dumbest thing you ever saw, Washington must be a good deal different than what they teach me at the current events group at the church. I always believed in my heart that we had a great deal in common. Each of us living our lives to serve an exceptional man. I hope there is some way out of this controversy. I thought, perhaps, it would be a good start to just speak my mind.

With great respect, Marge Simpson

Barbara Bush actually responded:

Marge makes sure the kids get to school, that Homer gets to work, and that the family gets to church. She's constantly thinking about the ethical implications of Homer's actions, and exercises great judgement. Politically, I think she’d be a Hillary Clinton fan.

The children, Bart, Lisa, and Maggie, are unique characters. Bart, about 10 years old, doesn’t take school or authority seriously. He is disruptive and and rebellious, and Homer strangles him regularly for these behaviors. The teachers and principal at Springfield Elementary School don’t hold him in high regard, and he’s got a convicted felon, Sideshow Bob, always interested in murdering him. You may have heard some of Bart’s tag lines:

"Eat my shorts" and "Don't have a cow, man!"

Politically, Bart would support the candidate with the best treats at political rallies, if he even showed up. He is very apolitical.

Lisa is about 8, in 2nd grade, plays with Malibu Stacy dolls, loves ponies, and plays the baritone saxophone. She is knowledgeable about local and global issues, from environmental justice to women's rights. Lisa is a committed vegetarian, but along with Bart she is a rabid fan of the violent show, Itchy and Scratchy. One of Lisa’s famous tag lines is, “Meh.” She “came out” as a Buddhist. Politically, she would be a Bernie Sanders fan. In one futuristic show that looked at Lisa as an adult, her occupation was… president of the US.

Lisa as President in "Bart to the Future," episode 243.  I can only wish!

Finally, we have Maggie, about 1. Maggie doesn’t speak except through the noises of her red pacifier, but there are hints that she is very aware of the world around her, like the time she spelled out E=MC² with her baby blocks.

So let me bring my topic back to the issue at hand: would you like Homer Simpson to be your neighbor? The first issue that comes up is that neighbors often come as a package. You could have problems with Homer, but the package includes Marge, Bart, Lisa, and Maggie (and a dog and a cat).

If they were your neighbors, here’s what I can guarantee: you will be exposed to fire, explosions, police actions, and, on occasion, you may collapse into a black hole. A meth factory might be more predictable.

On a more regular basis, you will have the:

Good: Marge and Lisa. I would love to have Marge and Lisa as my neighbors. My bias is that I share so many of the same values as Marge and Lisa, particularly Lisa. In fact, I have to make a confession here. When my kids were in elementary school, Caroline and I would help them with their homework, get them into bed with a book, and say goodnight. Then, I’d retire to the TV room and watch… the Simpsons. After about 5 minutes or so, Katelin or Wesley (or both) would be sneaking up the stairs to sneak a peak at the TV. When I noticed them, I’d motion them to join me, and we’d sit all cuddled up watching together. I’m just waiting for the day when my kids tell me I ruined them for life by allowing them to watch this show.

Bad: Don’t expect to get back any tools that you loan to Homer. Expect a lot of noise in general, and strange pets.

Ugly: Be prepared for Homer’s drinking and driving, and his strangling of Bart. Depending on the day, Homer will insult gays, and people from a variety of nationalities and religions. And Bart is not the positive influence you might be expecting for your kids.

None of us live by the Simpsons. However, we do have neighbors. And these neighbors aren’t mirror images of us.  Your neighbors may have different religious or political views.  You may have neighbors with very different cultural behaviors or backgrounds.  I would hope this diversity would add to the flavor of a neighborhood.

The majority of my neighbors are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, although there is certainly political diversity.  In my local voting precinct, Obama beat McCain in 2008 (48%-47%), but lost in 2012 to favorite son Romney (35%-63%).  Believe it or not, that made us one of the most liberal enclaves in the county.  By the way, in 2016 Clinton beat Trump (38%-30%) in Logan Precinct 21 (the other votes went to third party candidates).

I like a diverse neighborhood.  But I think I would have problems if my neighbors included FLDS fundamentalist Warren Jeffs, or racist David Duke, or anti-government Clyde Bundy.  Do I have to be accepting of all people?

Infidel, by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, is her autobiography. It includes her stories of living in Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia, Saudi Arabia, and the Netherlands.

Ali tells a story of growing up in a Muslim household. She goes into great detail reminiscing about her religious indoctrination at home, school, and in her community. From experiencing female genital mutilation, to wearing a full length robe to hide her skin from the gaze of men, to her lessons on Islam, Ali was a full participant in her clan and her religious community. However, following an arranged marriage to a Somali living in Canada, she escaped to Holland and requested asylum. She was granted refuge status, and eventually received both an undergraduate and graduate degree in political science, even being elected to the Dutch Parliament. During this time, her views on women and Islam crystalized into a cautious attack on multiculturalism when it involved the abuse of women and children. She wrote a screenplay for a short film, Submission. The producer, Theo van Gogh, was later murdered, and a letter threatening the life of Ali was left stabbed in his chest. She has lived under heavy security and secrecy ever since.

In her book Nomad, she writes, “All human beings are equal, but all cultures and religions are not.” "In the real world," Ali says, "equal respect for all cultures doesn't translate into a rich mosaic of colorful and proud peoples interacting peacefully while maintaining a delightful diversity of food and craftwork. It translates into closed pockets of oppression, ignorance, and abuse."

So what happens if my neighbors are Somali immigrants ready to have female genital mutilation performed on their daughter?

What if my neighbor is David Duke of the KKK? He has neighbors.

What if my neighbor is rancher Clive Bundy? He has neighbors.

What if my neighbor was conspiracy theorist Alex Jones? He has neighbors.

Neighbors can run the gamut. Gun nuts, drug users, animal or child abusers, and sex predators. Do we have to accept all neighbors? There are 11 registered sex offenders living within 2 miles of my home.  

What about neighbors with compulsive hoarding disorders, or schizophrenia?  About 8 blocks away, I had 2 friends that, sadly and horribly, ended their story in a murder-suicide.

If you don't want your neighbors, you have limited options:

• you can move
• they can move
• they can change
• you can change
• you can coexist

So this brings us back to the Simpsons.

Neighbors aren’t all like Homer and Bart Simpson. Luckily, there are Marge and Lisa Simpsons out there as well. Neighbors often come as a “package deal.” And homes and apartments don’t usually come with a “personality” clause, stating that the occupants have to believe in certain things and conform to a single standard of behavior. Ironically, I remember an apartment which had a clause in the rental agreement that I couldn’t put beverage containers on the windowsill (read: empty beer cans). That was probably a good idea for that stage in my life.

Neighbors like the Simpsons don’t only tell me about them. They make me look inward, to who I am and who I want to be. And in this case, I’ve decided that I’d like the Simpsons to be in my town, even on my street, but not necessarily be my immediate neighbor. And if they move next door, I’ll do my best to get to know Homer, and emulate Marge and Lisa. Bart? I’ll be the first to call the police. He better watch out.

And if you have great neighbors?  Well, there is only one thing to say.  SCORE!


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