A new German study claims The Simpsons has helped gay men come out, and changed the perception of homosexuality for the better.
The study, conducted by German librarian Erwin In het Panhuis, is featured in the book Behind The Gay Laughter: Homosexuality In The Simpsons. The study analyses 490 scenes and 70 gay characters from the show.
In het Panhuis believes that by including gay characters and scenarios, The Simpsons has helped to combat prejudices. For example, the study notes Smithers' infatuation with Mr Burns — an odd choice, perhaps, given that Smithers' "real deal" is simply that he's Mr Burns' assistant, in his early 40s, unmarried, and currently residing in Springfield.
The study also points to the fact that Homer Simpson has kissed other male characters on the lips more than 50 times over the years.
Perhaps more significantly, The Simpsons became the first cartoon to dedicate an episode to same-sex marriage in 2005.
"As a result, The Simpsons conveys to an audience of millions a typically American, but an uncharacteristically open-minded, image of gays and lesbians," reads an Amazon synopsis of the book, translated by The Huffington Post. "Despite the fallback to stereotypes, an intelligent, fair and entertaining handling of homosexuality can be observed in The Simpsons."
Series creator Matt Groening (also responsible for comic strip Life In Hell, which featured gay characters Akbar and Jeff) has previously spoken out about the representations of gay couples in pop culture. "Gay men are starved for positive portrayals of lasting love," he said in an interview recounted in Leaving Springfield: The Simpsons And The Possibilities Of Oppositional Culture.
"They have set standards for many other animated series that followed," In het Panhuis told German newspaper Süddeutschen, "and I believe they also always wanted to be pioneers."