"Homer Badman" is an episode of the television show The Simpsons, released in the show's sixth season, in 1994. The episode's plot follows Homer Simpson's accidental sexual harassment and following media circus.
The episode starts, as The Simpsons' episodes often do, with an unrelated story: Homer wins tickets to a candy show, and leaves the children with a babysitter, a young, feminist college student, so that Homer can go to the candy show and steal as much candy as possible. He also steals the Gummy de Milo, a replica of the Venus de Milo made of gummy. While driving the babysitter home, he sees that she has sat on the Gummy de Milo and reaches for it, making her believe he is grabbing her butt.
She goes to the media, and soon the house is being picketed (with the memorable cheer: "two, four six, eight, Homer's crime was very great, great meaning large or immense, we use it in its pejorative sense") and targeted by news teams. Trying to clear his name, Homer is interviewed by Rock Bottom, a tabloid TV show satirizing shows such as Hard Copy and Inside Edition. Using editing tricks and scary music, they make Homer's denial into a confession, and his situation deteriorates...until Groundskeeper Willie reveals he had taped the event, and that Homer was innocent. Rock Bottom broadcasts a slight correction, and then does a feature on Groundskeeper Willie's spying, causing Homer to dislike the man who just saved him.
The episode actually took on two important issues-sexual harassment and media manipulation- and did so in a way that was good beyond just the show's normal cleverness.
I am not writing about this episode just because it was a funny television moment, however. A few days ago, when thinking about the recent campaign, I was thinking that negative advertising doesn't work. I was fishing around for an example of why people were less likely to have their opinion swayed by turning a movie clip grainy and slowing it down, and this episode came to mind. I am sure there are many other examples where such staples of media manipulation has been satirized, but this was the first that occured to me, and it might be the first that occured to other people of my generation. The date on this is also important: this episode came out in 1994, which was 14 years ago. This would be before the time of some young adults today, and would have been broadcast when people in their early 30s were still teenagers. In other words, the generation that was raised not just in media saturation, but in self-conscious media saturation, is now becoming predominant. I think most people of my generation know when we are being (obviously) manipulated, and don't react well to it. I think that the fact that we were inocculated against this type of thing might actually lead to politicians (and others) having to refrain from using the more obvious tricks that worked on people not raised in skepticism.
So while I think it might be a little bit of wishful thinking to hope that American politics will be reformed by an episode of the Simpsons broadcast in the early 1990s, I do actually think there is a possibility that it made a contribution.