Digital humanities and The Simpsons? It seems like a perfectly cromulent pairing, now that a Simpsons searchable database exists (courtesy of Ben Schmidt, a professor at Northeastern University in Boston). The Atlantic (“Behold, a Database That Tracks More Than 500 Episodes of The Simpsons“) has a good rundown of the database, as well as some intriguing thoughts about how we can think of almost 600 Simpsons episodes as one long text:
“So how do you turn The Simpsons, the show, into The Simpsons, the textual corpus? You take advantage of the fact that the series’ episodes—all 552 of them—have been close-captioned. You treat the show’s subtitles, essentially, as their texts. Which isn’t a fool-proof method—”it’s often very quickly done,” Schmidt points out of the transcript-creation process—but it does allow for an overall, text-based reading of the show. And, because subtitles are plotted by time, they allow you to understand the shows as they move forward, minute by minute as well as season by season. So they allow you to compare the over-time appearances of, say, Mrs. Krabappel with those of, say, Mayor Quimby. They allow you to plot the writers’ relative reliance on particular catchphrases (“D’oh!,” “Release the hounds!,” “Ay, carumba!”) over the show’s evolution.
They allow you to treat The Simpsons as, effectively, a single book. A single, enormous, unapologetically four-fingered book.”
Ben Schmidt’s nifty database (which functions a lot like Google’s nGram viewer) can chart the specific mention of a word over the course of an episode, as well as interesting trends for how characters or words have recurred over the show’s long history.
More recently, the Frinkiac screenshot search database has been one of the cooler Simpsons Internet things I’ve seen in quite some time. With 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 now think about The Simpsons in a bite-sized, quote and meme form.
Wired (“Epic ‘Frinkiac’ 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 sense —
“One thing I wasn’t expecting—or didn’t know how to think about—was how people other than us would search for things,” says Schulte. “We started from an almost encyclopedic memory of Simpsons quotes, which is kind of the basic unit of Thinking About The Simpsons for us. From seeing search queries, that’s not exactly common: many people seem to search for a description of the scene rather than just what is being said out loud.”
For the truly details-obsessed among us, we 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 of human experience. So far, the Frinkiac does a good job 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 Frinkiac 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, “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“.) This is so much more fun than the old fashioned way of having to Google search an episode and find an image. Simpsons quotes are part of our daily lexicon. Ok, Simpsons quotes are part of my daily lexicon.
What a time to be alive.