The Day Homer J. Simpson Taught Us About Photography

Promotional artwork for The Simpsons episode “Homerazzi”

On Homer’s uncertain Birthday, he almost burned the iconic house after struggling to blow the candles on his cake for more than three hours. Fortunately for the family, the smoke detectors were working as they should, and the tragedy got quickly interrupted by the Springfield’s Fire Department. The small conat lead Marge into investing in a fire-proof safe-box for guarding their most precious irreplaceables.

Everyone was asked to pick one single item. Bart picked a talking Krusty Clown doll, and Lisa went for a Stacey Malibu’s toy car over a complex tree diagram she had previously designed upon the decision conundrum. A clever symbol of her true age despite her efforts of appearing as an overly mature and sophisticated 8 year-old girl. On the other hand, Homer went for a Wookie scented cologne which he claims was the one he used for his first date with Marge. Maggie wasn’t considered at all (even when we know how much she loves her pacifiers); and last but not least, Marge chose the Family Photo Album.

Everything was fine and safe, and there was nothing to worry about. So, Marge friendly-patted the safe, and the disaster aroused. She woke up the Krusty Doll, which landed on Lisa’s tacky cabrio, turning the car’s lights on to finally igniting Homer’s odd cologne. The whole thing exploded, and the family photo album was sadly reduced to crumbling ashes.

Could you imagine such a thing happening to you? I mean, losing all of your beloved photographs in a brief fraction of time? Oh jeez, I get the hibbie-jibbies just by thinking about it for my own shots… And of course, this scenario becomes more interesting when considering our platform based social interaction schemes governing our everyday lives (van Dijck, Poell, & de Waal, 2018).

Sure, we can all make a back-up of the back-up of our back-up files; but we can’t be 100% sure that our beloved photos won’t easily perish nowadays. Printing some of the most meaningful and valuable photographs is an extremely healthy practice various non-photographers and photographers alike have; especially when referring to those which aren’t digital natives like the younger folks.

Domestic photography is a widely spread household habit, and it basically refers to all the photographic activities practiced by these social groups for non-professional matters (Sarvas & Frohlich, 2011). Aside from aesthetic achievements, the ultimate purposes of this social practice are quite diverse. From documenting the past while focusing on memories and milestones (Bourdieu, 1990), to even attempting to project the future via parents’ mediations (van Dijck, 2007). And in large cases, they are broadly centered as part of specific cultural practices that involve family and kinship reunions; as well as friendship and other social gatherings too (Chalfen, 1987). This, however, has expanded and has become accessible without the need of any physical interaction (Hand, 2012). And even a single photograph, under particular circumstances, can become the absolute signifying symbol of the Family as a whole for an individual human being (Barthes, 2010).

Here, The Simpsons writers gave a very common social concern a slightly hilarious twist. Symbolized by Marge, the concern is simple; no family wants to ever lose their precious memories due to some clumsy mistake nor catastrophic fire. Nowadays, we can include any sort of digital glitches into these array of preoccupations; hence the popularity (and even mandatory habit) of backing-up our digital photographs on a regular basis. The odd calamity comes into play disguised in a Murphynian way when the safeguard strategy is the very main reason behind losing the photographs at all.

In a desperate move for calming down her mother, Lisa suggested that after all, they could reenact all those family moments via new photographs in the future. Marge got triggered right away, and the whole family milestones got re-registered in a couple of snaps. After the frantic frame shooting, she returned home with the prints, which got destroyed again by Homer’s lawnmower. Marge knew better from the previous accident, and had a back-up set of prints. After that, the whole family enjoyed their Re-staged Precious Memories together at the dining table.

After looking at one of Homer and Marge’s anniversary shots, Bart spotted two celebrities having a suspicious date at the back of the restaurant where they re-celebrated their special date. This happening urged Marge into sending the photograph to a celebrity tabloid in order to get some extra cash for covering the needed repairs to cover the damages caused by the aforementioned accident.

Homer took the photos to The Springfield Inquisitor, where he met a hyperactive (clearly resembling the despicable J. Jonah Jameson) man who offered him $200 for more celebrity shots; and he promised to make him a moderately wealthy man. The profession’s income spans on average between $95~$265 per hour in strong economies, and between an hourly $15~$65 in under-developed contexts. At that moment, Homer J. Simpson became The photographer that will teach us (all) an important lesson on the ethics of photojournalism.

The celebrity photographer character quickly develops from a polite fellow, who kindly asks for photographs, to a rude paparazzo that intrudes people’s private lives no matter the stakes. After getting bashed and insulted in a red carpet event, Homer changes his strategy, and pivotes it into a shamefully sensational maneuver. For this to happen, he asks Bart to partner with him to piss-off celebs so they can ambush them in compromising situations. A technique that effortlessly makes one think about some of the now-questionable tricks used by Arthur Fellig (a.k.a Weegee) for getting his crime-related shots, even before the police arrived at the scenes. He was well known for using a portable police-band shortwave radio, which allowed him to always be on the known about any hot topic on the city (Bonanos, 2018). And this same photographer, inspired the main character played by Jake Gyllenhaal in Dan Gilroy’s 2014 thriller film “Nightcrawler” (Traff, 2014).

In a subtle way, Homer confronts us with a deep ethical dilemma after he starts pushing the situations in order to get the sensational shots he was looking to deliver to the editor’s table. More precisely, with all the ethical conflicts that underlie at the base of all the odd practices mass media develop in order to deliver what the big audiences are craving to consume (Foster Wallace, 1993; Bourdieu, 1998; Debord, 2014). We, the visual consumers, should be the ones to blame for the industry’s unethical practices to happen in the first place. It is our own expectant and voyeuristic morbidity the main promoter of them; and this should be an open invitation for us to change our habits of visual and cultural consumption.

Urged for sensationalist imagery, Homer stalks people out of dry-cleaners and restaurants. In one encounter, he stumbled into celebrity boxer Drederick Tatum, who appears to be a gentle and noble folk. Our Homerazzi crew decides to tease the celeb in order to capture him while angrily beating Homer. He got what he wanted, and in the meantime, he illustrated us about the importance of always being prepared (he was carrying like a dozen cameras with him). The editor’s board at the inquisitor approved his submissions, and assigned him more shots like these.

Fun Fact: Homer built a darkroom in Lisa’s bedroom, and she complained about them developing photos at 23:00. Anyone who has developed negatives knows that late hours is true. But will also agree that they were just starting out, 03:00 would have been more precise.

For keeping up with the tradition, Homer became obsessed with his new profession, and Marge suggested he quit it. After all, they recovered the needed money, and he was basically exploiting other human beings’ private misfortunes with his approach. He defended himself by reckoning the general society’s double-moral standard of stating to hate tabloids when they are just another guilty pleasure.

In a risk-it-all maneuver, our paparazzo crashed into the hidden and very private Wolfecastle-Kennedy-Quimby wedding event; filled with celebs and public figures of course. He surely crossed a line (or several) after performing his Ethan Hunt-like photographic stunt, and triggered the jet-set community into taking some actions against the photographer. Rainier Wolfcastle suggested that in order to defeat a paparazzo, another alike photographer should be the one taking care of the task.

He hired Enrico Irritazio (which personally reminds me a lot of Ron Galella, but that’s just me tripping out the reference) to take embarrassing photographs of Homer for making him conscious about how tedious his actions were. I think that every photographer should be able to understand what is felt when another person takes photos of ourselves without asking us for permission, nor without any consent from ourselves. And this call is directly addressed to my social oriented colleagues like street and documentary photographers, and photojournalists too.

Luckily for Irritazio, taking compromising photos of Homer turned out to be the easiest to perform task, ever. From jail-worthy parenting habits, to public nudity; from animal abuse to inebriated blackouts, Homer gave it all for the tabloids.

After getting hit in his pride, Homer quits his job as a photographer. The social elite came victorious, and celebrated with a blast of sybaritic excesses. On a final rage, our beloved character crashed into the party, unveiling all the pleasures from the rich and famous. In a heroic act, Homer negotiated with them for keeping the photos unpublished, if they agreed to be gentle with their fans, admirers and all the people that helped them out into being on the very top of the social strata. Signing a couple of autographs, or supporting non-mainstream charities are some of the actions that he requests the celebs to perform once in a while. They all agree, and as usual, the episode ended in a happy and lecturing way.

References

Barthes, R. (2010). Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography. New York, United States: Hill and Wang

Bauman, Z. (2019). Thinking Sociologically. (T. May, Ed.) (3rd ed.). Oxford, United Kingdom: John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

Bonanos, C. (2018). Flash: The Making of Weegee the Famous. New York, United States: Henry Holt and Company.

Bourdieu, P. (1990). Photography: A Middle-Brow Art. California, United States: Stanford University Press.

Bourdieu, P. (1998). On Television (P. Parkhurst Ferguson, Trans.). New York, United States: New Press.

Chalfen, R. (1987). Snapshot Versions of Life. Ohio, United States: Bowling Green State University Popular Press.

Debord, G. (2014). The Society of the Spectacle (K. Knabb, Trans.). California, United States: Bureau of Public Secrets.

Foster Wallace, D. (1993). E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction. Review of Contemporary Fiction, 13(2), 151–194.

Hand, M. (2012). Ubiquitous Photography. Massachusetts, United States: Polity Press.

Sarvas, R., & Frohlich, D. M. (2011). From Snapshots to Social Media: The changing picture of domestic photography. London ; New York: Springer.

Traff, T. (2014, November 10). The Original Nightcrawler. Retrieved from The New Yorker website.

van Dijck, J. (2007). Mediated Memories in the Digital Age: Personal cultural memory in the Digital Age. California, United States: Stanford University Press.

van Dijck, J., Poell, T., & de Waal, M. (2018). The Platform Society. New York, United States: Oxford University Press.

Scholar & Writer on Photography | PhD Student | Photographic Guidance https://federicoalegria.com/guidance

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