Digital humanities and The Simpsons? It seems like a perfectly cromulent pairing, now that a Simpsons searchable databaseÂ exists (courtesy ofÂ Ben Schmidt, a professor at Northeastern University in Boston).Â The Atlantic (“Behold, a Database That Tracks More Than 500 Episodes of The Simpsons“) has a goodÂ rundown of the database, as well as some intriguingÂ thoughts about how we can think of almost 600 Simpsons episodes as one long text:
“So how do you turnÂ The Simpsons, the show, intoÂ The Simpsons, the textual corpus? You take advantage of the fact that the series’ episodesâ€”all 552 of themâ€”have been close-captioned. You treat the show’s subtitles, essentially, as their texts. Which isn’tÂ a fool-proof methodâ€””it’s often very quickly done,” Schmidt points out of the transcript-creation processâ€”but itÂ doesÂ allow for an overall, text-basedÂ reading of the show. And, because subtitles areÂ plotted by time, they allow you to understand the shows as they move forward, minute by minute as well asÂ season by season. So they allow you toÂ compare the over-time appearances of, say,Â Mrs. KrabappelÂ with those of, say,Â Mayor Quimby. They allow you to plot the writers’ relative reliance on particular catchphrases (“D’oh!,” “Release the hounds!,”Â “Ay, carumba!”) over the show’s evolution.Â
They allow you to treatÂ The SimpsonsÂ as, effectively, a singleÂ book. A single, enormous, unapologetically four-fingered book.”
Ben Schmidt’s nifty database (which functions a lot like Google’s nGram viewer) can chartÂ the specific mention of a word over the course of an episode, as well as interesting trends forÂ how characters or words have recurredÂ over the show’s long history.
More recently, the FrinkiacÂ screenshot search database has been one of the cooler Simpsons Internet things I’ve seen in quite some time. WithÂ almost 3,000,000 images (through the first 15 seasons or 350 plus episodes, although Season 11 currently appears to have some iffiness) the Frinkiac represents how much we nowÂ think about The Simpsons in a bite-sized, quote and meme form.
Wired (“Epic â€˜Frinkiacâ€™ Search Engine Matches Any Simpsons Quote With Its Still“) has an interesting insight from the guys behind the site. The part that I find particularly fascinating, is how we think about Simpsons episodes, whether in quote or a broader descriptive senseÂ —
â€œOne thing I wasnâ€™t expectingâ€”or didnâ€™t know how to think aboutâ€”was how people other than us would search for things,â€ says Schulte. â€œWe started from an almost encyclopedic memory ofÂ SimpsonsÂ quotes, which is kind of the basic unit of Thinking About The Simpsons for us. From seeing search queries, thatâ€™s not exactly common: many people seem to search for a description of the scene rather than just what is being said out loud.â€
For the truly details-obsessed among us, weÂ can even narrow down a search in a frame by frame fashion — making it that much easier to find a Simpsons quote/image for every aspect ofÂ human experience. So far, theÂ FrinkiacÂ does a good jobÂ with obscure quotes, and my favorite use thus far is picking a generic term (such as “burger“) and revisiting what scenes turn up.[update: The FrinkiacÂ now does GIFs!]
And here’s the nuts and bolts post on how the Frinkiac was made and how the search works (“The more you type, the more accurate your search becomes. For example, “kill anyone who looks” isn’t accurate enough to find Rex Banner, so keep typing,Â “kill anyone who looks at me cockeyed” to find the scene. Of course … it turns out that was the only scene in which the Simpsons ever said “cockeyed“.) Â This is so much more fun than the old fashioned way of having to Google search an episode and find an image.Â Simpsons quotes are part of our daily lexicon. Ok, Simpsons quotes are part of my daily lexicon.
What a time to be alive.