Coming out of the closet is a difficult decision for many gay people due, in large part, to the possible ramifications from family, friends and co-workers.
Yet while many gay individuals agonize over when and how to come out, one gay man has a team to make the decision for him.
Waylon Smithers, an executive assistant at the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant in Springfield, is expected to come out to his boss and owner of the plant, billionaire C. Montgomery “Monty” Burns — the object of his affections.
Although he is not openly gay, many Springfield residents have suspected Smithers of being gay, and he has not been shy about frequenting Springfield’s gay clubs and vacationing at a male-only resort. Burns, his tyrannical boss, however, has been completely oblivious to Smithers’ sexual orientation or his feelings toward him.
Of course, Smithers is a fictional character on the hugely popular animated series The Simpsons, which is considered the longest running prime-time sitcom in the United States. The show, created 26 years ago, produced nearly 600 episodes and is broadcast in more than 90 countries.
According to executive producer Al Jean, Smithers will come out to “Mr. Burns” over the course of two episodes during this year’s season, which began last Sunday.
“In Springfield now, most people know he’s gay, but obviously Burns doesn’t,” Jean said in an interview with TVLine. “We deal with that in two episodes. We actually do a lot with Smithers this year. He gets fed up with Burns not appreciating him and considers his options.”
Fans have long suspected Smithers was gay, and his closeted sexual orientation has been a running gag on The Simpsons since the first season. According to Simpsons lore, the idea for Smithers’ ambiguous sexual orientation came from the late Sam Simon, The Simpsons‘ co-creator, who proposed Smithers be gay, but without drawing attention to it.
Smithers’ infatuation with his boss was teased in many episodes, and his coming out is a reflection of society’s growing tolerance of the LGBT community.
In an interview with The Guardian, Edward Schiappa, head of comparative media studies at MIT, said it was noteworthy for a character on an iconic and broadly popular American TV show to come out.
“Springfield is about as middle American as one can get, and Smithers coming out within that fictional world mirrors — and reinforces — the mainstreaming of gays and lesbians in the real world,” Schiappa said.
Meanwhile, Robert Thompson, director of Syracuse University’s Center for the Study of Popular Television, told Yahoo! News that “the idea of a show that has an openly gay character has ceased to be remarkable. Before the 1970s, we had virtually no gays or lesbians or transgender people on television at all. They were virtually invisible. And I guess the Smithers story is one more character that demonstrates that is not the case anymore.”
Smithers’ first appearance was as a Black man.
Incidentally, in Smithers’ first appearance on the first season’s third episode, he was mistakenly animated with the wrong color and was made African American by the color stylist.
However, it was his only appearance as a Black man. The show’s creators had envisioned Smithers as white and also felt a Black character playing the role of a subservient sycophant to an old, white, rich man would not be a good idea. From the fourth episode on, Smithers was white.