New article: “Why The Simpsons are needed more than ever in the age of Donald Trump”

As a follow-up to last week’s visit from Harry Shearer to the University of Cambridge, Sarah Steele, Todd Gillespie and I have written a new article for The Conversation UK: “Why The Simpsons are needed more than ever in the age of Donald Trump”:

simpsons satire cambridge

In it we share some highlights from Harry Shearer’s talk on the importance of political satire (here’s a link to the video of the event) as well as some thoughts from Simpsons show runner Al Jean and what satire means at a time when reality often feels stranger than fiction. What is the place of satire in our current political and social climate?

Our timing for the article also happens to coincide with Donald Trump’s much-discussed visit to the UK this week.

Harry Shearer at the University of Cambridge – July 6th, 2018

This week Harry Shearer — voice actor for The Simpsons, including characters such as Mr. Burns, Waylon Smithers, Principal Skinner, Ned Flanders and many others — will be visiting the University of Cambridge, and the Intellectual Forum at Jesus College. 

I will be hosting what should be an excellent event with Harry and we will be taking questions from the audience. He will talk about the The Simpsons in the context of its use of political satire as well as a range of other topics. Also be sure to check out including his excellent work at Le Show radio program.

If you’d like to pose a question for Harry Shearer, we will also do our best to field some questions online. If you are on Twitter, tweet your questions using the hashtag: #SimpsonsQA

For up to date information, follow us on Twitter:



If you’d like to tune in from afar, the livestream of the event is available at:

Things that are awesome: Simpsons database, Simpsons search engine!

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:

simpsons database“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.
frinkiac 7More 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.egg head likes his booky wook

Breaking news: Matt Groening, Homer Simpson discuss the ‘real’ Springfield

Following up on the year’s biggest news story to date (Smithsonian: “Matt Groening Reveals the Location of the Real Springfield“). Confirming long-standing speculation (by me, and you) over the past couple of decades, it turns out that Springfield is in Oregon. And, the Smithsonian interview is also a very good one, definitely worth a read if you’re into Simpsons mythos.

And here’s the money quote from the Matt Groening interview:

OK, why do the Simpsons live in a town called Springfield? Isn’t that a little generic? 

Springfield was named after Springfield, Oregon. The only reason is that when I was a kid, the TV show “Father Knows Best” took place in the town of Springfield, and I was thrilled because I imagined that it was the town next to Portland, my hometown. When I grew up, I realized it was just a fictitious name. I also figured out that Springfield was one of the most common names for a city in the U.S. In anticipation of the success of the show, I thought, “This will be cool; everyone will think it’s their Springfield.” And they do.

Not to say that this really ends the debate about “where” Springfield really is. Everybody already knew that Springfield borders Ohio, Nevada, Maine, and Kentucky, come on.

So what does this mean for Simpsons lifers? Entertainment Weekly (“Homer Simpson is conflicted about Matt Groening’s Springfield reveal”  wonders if there are some mixed feelings on the big reveal —

“And [Homer’s] not the only one who feels conflicted. For a record-breaking 23 seasons, the mystery of Springfield’s exact location has been one of The Simpsons‘ most enduring running gags. Even though we know the town can’t really exist, speculating about where it might be is a favorite fan pastime — it’s up there with ranking the series’ best episodes and debating when, exactly, its “golden age” ended. Revealing which Springfield inspired Homer’s Springfield doesn’t solve the riddle, but it does take some of the fun out of guessing.”

@HomerJSimpson sure has been busy with the news:

And nice job by Gizmodo (“What The Simpsons’ Springfield Looks Like in Real Life“). If you squint hard enough, you can kind of see a resemblance. Still, it’s fun to think about.

The Best GPS App Ever?

I don’t even need a GPS app. But, a good idea’s a good idea: “TomTom Brings Homer Simpson Voice Guidance to iPhone.”

You can check out a couple of samples at the TomTom website here.

If I already had the TomTom iPhone app ($59.99), I’d happily shell out the $5.99 to have Homer tell me where to drive. I mean, who else would you trust more to tell you where to turn and when?

Partially-related Homer quote: “How is education supposed to make me feel smarter? Besides, every time I learn something new, it pushes some old stuff out of my brain. Remember when I took that home winemaking course, and I forgot how to drive?

Literature and The Simpsons

Last week’s post on Simpsons courses had me thinking a bit more about The Simpsons and literature. What a fun idea for a class that would be. Seems to me there would be a lot to work with, since the show has a long history of literary allusions, one-off gags, and punny episode titles. I wonder how long it would take me to compile an exhaustive list of literary allusions … probably too long. But, for now, here are some of my favorites that readily come to mind.

ps: Any good ones to add to the list? Let me know.

Episode Allusions:

Poe’s “The Raven”

Homer’s Odyssey and Shakespeare’s Hamlet (Tales from the Public Domain)

Poe’s “The Telltale Heart” (Lisa’s Rival)

Keyes’ Flowers for Algernon (HOMR)

Golding’s Lord of the Flies (Das Bus)

Twain’s Tom Swayer and Huck Finn (Simpsons Tall Tales)

Shakespeare’s Macbeth (Four Great Women and a Manicure)

Rand’s The Fountainhead (Four Great Women and a Manicure)

Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo (Revenge is a Dish Best Served Three Times)

Williams’ “A Streetcar Named Desire” (A Streetcar Named Marge)

Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes (Treehouse of Horror XV)





Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women (The Man in the Blue Flannel Pants)





Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov (Treehouse of Horror XXII). The best Brothers Karamazov fart joke in recent memory, thanks Fictional Characters Reading Fiction Tumblr!

Quote Allusions:







Mr. Burns: “It was the best of times, it was the blurst of times?! You stupid monkey!” (Last Exit to Springfield)

(See also: Infinite monkey theorem)

Kent Brockman: “In fact, every copy of Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” has been checked out from the Springfield Public Library. Of course the book does not contain any hints on how to win the lottery, it is rather a chilling tale of conformity gone mad.” (Dog of Death)

Mr. Burns: “Good bye, Springfield. From Hell’s heart, I stab at thee!” (Last Exit to Springfield)

Homer: “Lisa, the point of Moby Dick is to be yourself.” (The Fat and the Furriest)

Lisa: “Well, Pablo Neruda says that laughter is language of the soul.”

Bart:  “I am aware of the works of Pablo Neruda.” (Bart Sells His Soul)

“Is this the end of Zombie Shakespeare?” (Treehouse of Horror III)

Homer: “Marge, name one successful person in life who ever lived without air conditioning.”

Marge: “Balzac!”

Homer: “No need for potty mouth just because you can’t think of one.”

Marge: “But Balzac was his name!”

Homer: ” ‘If if’s and but’s where candy and nuts …’ eh, how does the rest of that go?” (Lisa’s Sax)

Marge: “Did you invite one of your friends?”

Lisa: “Friends? Ha! These are my only friends: Grown-up nerds like Gore Vidal. And even he’s kissed more boys than I ever will.”

Marge: “Girls, Lisa. Boys kiss girls.” (Summer of 4 Ft. 2)


“I saw the best meals of my generation
destroyed by the madness of my brother.
My soul carved in slices
by spikey-haired demons.” (Bart vs. Thanksgiving)

Homer: “‘Here lies’ — Walt Whitman?! Damn you, Walt Whitman! [kicking tombstone] I hate you, Walt freakin’ Whitman! ‘Leaves of Grass,’ my ass!” (Mother Simpson)







(Politically Inept, with Homer Simpson)







Mr. Burns: “Taking an idea I got from a Stephen King book, I’m going to cover this town with a dome!”

Lenny: “It’s been done”

Mr. Burns: “Really? You don’t say.  Smithers, did you know about this?” (The Fool Monty)

(I had qualms about Stephen King on my literary references list. But it’s funny, so it makes the list. For more on this one, check out Neatorama: “Which Came First, Under the Dome, or The Simpsons Movie?“)


Guest Appearances:

Robert Pinsky (Little Girl in the Big Ten)

George Plimpton (I’m Spelling as Fast as I Can)

John Updike, Amy Tan, and Stephen King (Insane Clown Poppy)

Tom Wolfe, Gore Vidal, Michael Chabon, Jonathan Franzen (Moe’N’a Lisa)

And of course that episode with Thomas Pynchon (Diatribe of a Mad Housewife)






Neil Gaiman (The Book Job)

For even more, The Atlantic has a stupendous list: “A Visual History of Literary References.”

* [Update] A few more to add to the list, courtesy of The Lisa Simpson Book Club. I’m very impressed by the effort that went into the bookshelf of Lisa Simpson. The metatextual implications of an animated character’s collection of literature is just delightful.

**[Updated Update]: Check out this great list, “Unexpected Literary References” compiled by Caleb Ross. Thanks for the reminder about Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery”!

College Courses and The Simpsons

Here’s a brief, interesting article listing other college courses which have incorporated The Simpsons (The Simpsons and Philosophy at Berkeley also gets a brief mention). I especially like the premise for combining The Simpsons within a literature course. If done well, there is certainly a great deal of material to work with.

It sure would be fun to see reading lists and syllabi for some of these courses.

Update: I found the course description for the Rochester Institute of Technology’s course rather interesting. I’m a fan of the Adorno, Barthes, and Matthew Arnold assigned readings. Link:  Introduction to Cultural Studies – The Simpsons.

Interview on The Simpsons

In celebration of The Simpsons reaching 450 episodes, KCBS had a feature on the show this morning, where I was invited to speak along with Paul Cantor, Professor of English at University of Virginia. By the way — be sure to check out this Sunday’s The Simpsons 20th Anniversary Special: In 3-D! On Ice hosted by Morgan Spurlock (of Super Size Me fame). While you’re waiting for Sunday, you might also enjoy this article or this blog post on the upcoming event.

Teaching a college course on The Simpsons? Anytime I get to mention Foucault and a Simpsons episode in the same sentence, it’s a pretty good day. Click on the image below for the full podcast of the show!

Paul Cantor is brilliant, and certainly a highly-regarded figure in American popular culture studies (check out his book, Gilligan Unbound) – so this was quite a thrill for me! I particularly enjoyed his comparison of The Simpsons and Charles Dickens during the interview. You can check out an excerpt from one of Cantor’s essays on The Simpsons here.

Interview on The Simpsons

The Simpsons: An Uncensored, Unauthorized History

The Simpsons: An Uncensored, Unauthorized History

I hear there’s mention of a certain UC Berkeley-based Simpsons class in here. I’ll have to check it out.  (I hope I had something interesting to say in there!).

[Fun Trivia Update] While we’re on that subject, here’s the “12 college courses we wish our schools had offered” list from the always-interesting mental_floss magazine. I really think “The Simpsons and Philosophy” is a much cooler class than “The Horror Film in Context,” but I can’t possibly imagine a more biased person on this topic than me anyways.