A Tribute to the Inspired Derangement of YouTube Simpsons Shitposting

Comedy Features The Simpsons
A Tribute to the Inspired Derangement of YouTube Simpsons Shitposting

Like so many other millennials of a certain age, The Simpsons has for decades formed a core pillar of my sense of humor. I’m all too familiar with the patter and familiarity of the Simpsons referencing that goes on to this day between devotees of the show, contextless lines from random episodes worked into everyday conversation by guys who rarely realize they’re even doing it at this point. It’s the natural byproduct of decades spent watching and rewatching Simpsons reruns on broadcast TV, hoping for a favorite episode to show up in an era before easy access to the entire series existed in a streaming format. With the show now easier to access in full than it was at any point from 1989-2019, those comedic references have subsequently received the push to become that much more convoluted and esoteric in recent years–the continuing evolution of niche memes in ever more niche and bizarre directions.

And heaven help me, I still love it all. Even as it becomes more opaque and strange by the day, the hilariously weird online culture that has grown up around The Simpsons has effectively cordoned itself off entirely from any attachment at all to the show itself as it still (technically) exists today. Because we have to note that culturally, The Simpsons has been dead for decades anyway. The show’s ongoing decomposition has taken place online, in communities on YouTube, reddit, Instagram and beyond, where familiar jokes, faces and sounds are effectively being mulched and used as fertilizer to create new life that contains some deranged spark of the divine. It’s a macabre way of venerating the show’s golden era–which roughly means the first 12 seasons or so–while constantly reworking familiar jokes into new forms.

What does that look like in practice? Well, it means subreddits dedicated to preserving idiosyncratic Simpsons facial expressions, most of them captured as single frames through meticulous pausing and unpausing. It means spirited musical remixes of Simpsons dialog, set to some of the most catchy original EDM you’ll ever hear. And of course, it means more YouTube poop and video remix shitposting than you can possibly conceive, pumped out over the last few years by a veritable army of accounts seemingly dedicated to nothing but recontextualizing jokes that first aired on TV close to 30 years ago.

Observe, for instance, the enduring obsession with Steamed Hams, a segment from season 7’s classic anthology “22 Short Films About Springfield,” about Principal Skinner’s disastrous luncheon with Superintendent Chalmers. The sequence sprang to life online as an enduring meme in 2016, but it then refused to stay in 2016. People, it is seven years later and creators are still coming up with increasingly devoted and frightening interpretations such as the below, a nightmarish vision of what Steamed Hams might look like in the style of a cartoon from the USSR in the 1960s.

Consider for a moment not just the technical abilities being brought to bear in the creation of this weird bit of animation, but also the historical expertise needed to do it in the first place. This person has perfectly emulated the style of something like the Zagreb school of animated films–a niche I once pored over in a cinema studies course a lifetime ago as a college student–in service of a joke about steamed hams of all things. The vast majority of viewers will never even be able to determine if the reference is an accurate one, but that didn’t stop this person from committing however many dozens of hours necessary to bring this monstrosity to life. Simpsons shitposters don’t allow the practical burdens of the flesh to get in the way of laboring over these questionable works of art.

Nor does a Simpsons shitposter need to be some kind of animation savant in order to pull off a hilarious twist on the same themes. Go down the rabbit hole of something like Steamed Hams and you’ll come across recent gems like this entry, where the creator has managed to swap the roles of Skinner and Chalmers by editing new dialog using only the words originally spoken in the scene. And once again, it’s an entry from 2023. If anything, Steamed Hams has only gained strength, becoming less a meme and more an artistic genre of its own.

You could go on forever with just this one prompt. Steamed Hams, except every frame is accompanied by an AI-generated companion of the scene. Steamed Hams, except it’s inexplicably in the style of 2001 Game Boy Advance title Mega Man Battle Network. Steamed Hams, except all the dialog is assembled from Seinfeld clips instead. It’s as if the creators are all entered into a secret competition, with a prize for the individuals who can bolt on the ephemera of The Simpsons to the most obscure, upsetting or surreal elements of pop culture, past and present.

Other subgenres of Simpsons shitposting include tasks such as working a single throwaway gag or line of dialog into numerous other scenes from the show, transforming them into absurd mishmashes. Observe, for instance, Itchy and Scratchy creator Chester J. Lampwick’s line about wanting “liver and onions,” and subsequently licking his lips in season 7’s “The Day the Violence Died,” turned into a veritable obsession by this YouTuber, who can find a way to cram it into any other Simpsons joke without missing a beat. This is more or less a visualization of what I would expect to see while experiencing a psychotic break, so why am I laughing again?

And then there’s the musical virtuosity of a creator like the prolific Dankmus, who for years made sport of creating the most arrestingly catchy Simpsons earworms on the web, although he’s finally slowed down a bit more recently after more than 100 compositions. The typical style of his YouTube bangers is to fixate upon a specific line of dialog in a chosen Simpsons episode, and then build out from there, layering electronic dance influences over a rhythmic stream of Simpsonian non sequiturs. Individually, they’re all impressive … and then you stumble on a masterwork like “Out of Ideas,” a remixed version of Flanders’ father from season 8’s “Hurricane Neddy,” scatting and hitting his bongos like Gene Krupa, and before you know it you’re obsessively replaying it in your head for a week or more afterward. Something about the synchronized actions between the music and clips has a way of making these weirdly satisfying.

Please accept my sincere apologies for embedding that series of “boom boom ba ba bas” into your brain, as I know from experience how inconvenient it’s going to be when you wake up thinking of it every morning for the conceivable future.

On the network TV airwaves, The Simpsons stumbles on through its truly ridiculous 34th season, having just surpassed its 750th episode and likewise having obliterated any kind of precedent for long-running animated series more than a decade ago. Its viewership has dwindled to a fraction of a fraction of what it once possessed, but in an era dominated by streaming media, FOX has long since resolved to take whatever it can get. It doesn’t matter that the cast is entirely depleted, grimly soldiering on through their vocal performances with a cynical acceptance that the show once would have eviscerated. There’s not even a suggestion that The Simpsons will end at this point, society having seemingly come to a universal, defeated stance on its undead status.

But for me, and so many others like me, The Simpsons simply doesn’t reside on network TV at this point. It lives on the internet, co-opted by a generation of creative weirdos with love in their hearts and entirely too much time on their hands, turning one of the most popular TV shows of all time into outsider art that only the most passionate oddballs would attempt to understand. They’re out there as we speak, translating the dialog of Steamed Hams into Swahili and Esperanto, dreaming up more material to provoke, confuse and delight. They’ve embiggened the legacy of The Simpsons with their cromulent creations, and I salute them.

Jim Vorel is Paste’s resident genre guru. You can follow him on Twitter for much more film and TV content.

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