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The Simpsons and Argentina, Part 2

Social media and politics can't escape the influence of the Springfield family.

By | [email protected] | October 26, 2018 3:28pm

Simpsons 2

This is part two of a series about the influence of The Simpsons on Argentine pop culture. This last part focuses on the proliferation of Simpson memes that have become the go to resource when discussing anything from everyday issues to politics in social media in Argentina. To read part 1, click here.

Hello, neighboreenos, and welcome back to The Bubble’s exploration of Argentina’s relationship with The Simpsons. We’ve already discussed the ways in which this revolutionary show seeps into the everyday life of Argentines who, through weekly five-hour marathons, grew up watching it more frequently and intensely than a lot of comparably-aged North Americans. The show’s one-liners – modified through the Mexican dub – have become an inextricable part of the popular parlance. Call out the first half of a Simpsons quote in public, and you’ll immediately hear the rest of it recited by enthusiastic strangers, like yelling “echo!” into a vast canyon.

But, of course, it’s not just about quotes. There’s another way in which The Simpsons’s influence is keenly felt in the everyday life of Argentines (and Argentine-adjacents). It’s an inevitable consequence of having been in the public consciousness for over 20 years. In fact, it’s the collision of two trends that feel increasingly all-encompassing for Internet denizens young and old. We are referring, of course, to Simpsons memes.

I remember a time, long before the word “meme” (and its Spanish pronunciation, “mehmeh”) was being co-opted by marketing executives working for large corporations to appear hip in the eyes of their customer base, back before your third favorite aunt ever even heard of the Minions, let alone flooded your Facebook news feed with hastily-assembled image macros featuring the obnoxious characters… A time before Bad Luck Brian, Good Guy Greg, Doge or Rickrolling.

Back then, a “meme” was simply a piece of text copied from Livejournal post to Livejournal post. Going back even further than that, the term was originally coined by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins way back in 1976. He was looking for “a noun that conveys the idea of a unit of cultural transmission, or a unit of imitation.”

Dawkins may have had something slightly different in mind, but that definition still holds more or less true. Though often absurd, outrageous, head-scratchingly surreal, and featuring a healthy amount of influence from mid-20th century post-modernism, memes have become a medium all of their own. Any large enough cultural touchstone will eventually be ripe for meme-ing.

And, in Argentina, The Simpsons are a shared cultural reference point that feels strangely tied to their identity. This is why, when another larger-than-life cultural figure such as Maradona inexplicably went after The Simpsons in the press, Twitter exploded with Simpsons memes about the situation. It’s also why, when a woman allegedly broke up with her boyfriend through Simpsons memes, it immediately went viral.

In our survey, the overwhelming majority of respondents (93.3 percent) stated that they have shared Simpsons memes at some point. The most popular platform for this is by far the messaging app WhatsApp, which 82.7 percent of respondents say they’ve used to distribute Simpsons-related memes. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are not far behind.

If it’s your first time on the Internet – first of all, welcome! And what an honor to have you on The Bubble when there are so many other stranger, sexier sites you could be browsing on your very first day on the World Wide Web. But also, you might need a brief explainer on the kinds of Simpsons memes and GIFs you are expected to use when navigating the perilous waters of social media.

So make sure to take notes, open up Frinkiac, and get ready to post.

I’m Nope-ing Out of This Conversation

If you’re friends with (or related to) more than one exact type of person, odds are you have at least a couple people on your list who hold pretty dramatically differing political beliefs. These can range from silly, relatively innocuous stuff, to the kind of ugliness that makes you wonder out loud if it’s even worth keeping that person in your life at all. And because human beings have been conditioned to perceive the Internet as a Whack-a-Mole of opinions that they absolutely need to squash down as soon as they pop up, this will inevitably result in a pretty heated debate.

If you’re like me, you’ve learned that extended political debates on social media rarely accomplish much beyond agitating all parties involved, so you might be tempted to peace out. A good way to communicate “I want nothing to do with this” without risking your friendships or coming off as the coward that you are, is to drop this pearl of a GIF: Homer slowly backing into the bushes.

Originally from the episode Homer Loves Flanders, the original actually has very little to do with how it is currently used (it was more of a creepy horror-movie-stalker type thing), but Homer’s unnerving, unblinking visage slowly backing out of view works wonderfully in this context.


I’ll Take a Pass on This One

Along the same lines, we have this excellent GIF of Abe Simpson walking into the town’s only burlesque house and immediately turning around and leaving without saying a word as soon as he recognizes his grandson at the door. Originally from the episode Bart After Dark, this GIF can be used to express a similar idea of “nope-ing the hell out of a conversation,” but to me there is a slight difference: where Homer backing into the bushes can be used in any scenario where you want to completely disappear from the interaction, Grampa’s entrance-turned-exit has more of a feeling of stepping into a debate that is already well underway and that you have nothing to do with.

So, imagine you check on your friend’s post about #NiUnaMenos, you agree with what your friend has to say, and then you scroll down to the comments to find a 78-comment thread where a group of butthurt machirulos are complaining about how #NotAllMen are bad, and the conversation has devolved into all sorts of bizarre, tangential nonsense. You are Abe Simpson now. You have strolled casually into the conversation. And upon realizing what’s going on, you are nope’ing the heck out. Because you are a reasonable person.

You’re Being a Grouch / Your Reasoning is Outdated

Hey, speaking of Abe Simpson! We all have people in our lives who are a bit, uhh… curmudgeonly. You know, the kind who are always grumbling about this or that. They’re either complaining about how things aren’t the way they used to be, bemoaning some hot new trend, or simply having a tough time dealing with the fact that the world is quickly leaving them behind, we all know (or are!) a cantankerous crumb-bum.

Originally from the season 13 episode The Old Man and the Key, this handy little reaction meme is a quick and easy way to completely disarm one of those hopeless grumps after they’ve gone on some long-winded tirade. It might also open their eyes to the fact that they’re being like this. Sometimes people need a little help to realize how their behavior is coming off, and there’s nothing worse than feeling like the grumpy old guy at the party. After all, in the immortal words of Abe Simpson, “I used to be with ‘it’, but then they changed what ‘it’ was. Now what I’m with isn’t ‘it’ anymore and what’s ‘it’ seems weird and scary. And it’ll happen to you!”

Forever Alone

Poor Milhouse. The boy is a living meme. The long-suffering, somewhat oblivious sidekick to the much-cooler Bart, sometimes it seems like all he ever lives for is to be a punchline. This GIF comes from the episode Pranksta Rap, where Milhouse is under the impression that his best friend Bart has been kidnapped. So he plays frisbee by himself.

It is a bummer, but so is Milhouse. This GIF is a perfect response for when a comment thread has moved on without you, or you lay down a joke that nobody else thinks is funny. Sometimes we are all Milhouse.

Steamed Hams

You know, there was a period in early 2018 where I didn’t do much but share Steamed Hams videos with my brothers. This is a bizarre meme that brought a lot of joy to my life. I don’t really have the words to explain Steamed Hams, so I’ll try to be as concise as possible: The Simpsons once had an episode titled 22 Short Films About Springfield, which featured several little vignettes featuring secondary and tertiary characters going on their own brief little adventures. One of these scenes was Skinner and the Superintendent, a sitcom-style comedy sketch featuring Seymour Skinner and Superintendent Chalmers (or “Inspector Archundia,” depending on how the dubbing team felt at that given moment).

The set-up is simple: Skinner is having the Superintendent over for dinner. Skinner accidentally ruins dinner. Obsessed with projecting an image of success, Skinner refuses to admit his error and secretly runs off to buy fast food and pass it off as his own cooking. This inadvertently results in his house burning down.

Seems simple enough. But sometime in late 2017, someone decided to effectively “re-mix” the scene, which – of course, this being the Internet – snowballed into a cavalcade of increasingly bizarre and surreal remixes. So you have: Steamed Hams But It’s Only Every Other Word. Or Steamed Hams But They Both Have Crippling Social Anxiety. Or Steamed Hams Read Phonetically by an Argentine.

Or, probably my favorite, this incredible version, which adapts it beautifully into a version of the Gorillaz song Feel Good Inc. The point being: this one is a little more high-effort, but if you really want to master Simpson memes, your quest is not complete without tackling Steamed Hams.

Multiuse Faceswapping Memes

And finally, we get to this one. Easily the most authentically Argentine of these meme approaches, and one of the weirdest. Hang around the Argentina subreddit long enough, and you’ll venture into these. It’s probably the most hands-on type of Simpson meme you can use, since – instead of simply picking a vaguely germane scene from an old episode and pasting it into a conversation – you are literally opening up screencaps of the scene in Microsoft Paint, slapping other faces on top of the characters’, and modifying it to say exactly what you want it to say. It can be used for just about any situation, but, strangely enough, its most popular use in Argentina is politics.

It makes sense, though. At the risk of sounding like an old man yelling at a cloud, there is so much hilarious ineptitude and corruption in Argentinean politics that you’d think our leaders were all yellow-skinned, four-fingered fictional characters. Figures like Mayor Quimby (or, in Spanish, “Alcalde Diamante”) are meant to be broad caricatures of ridiculously incompetent, blatantly corrupt politicians, but he feels uncomfortably real in today’s climate. Tell me that whole throwing-sacks-of-money-over-a-convent-wall thing doesn’t sound like something Quimby would do.

The point is: there is no limit to this kind of meme. You can make any news story into a meme if you remember a Simpsons scene that vaguely resembles it! The Facebook page Simpsons y la Politica is littered with excellent examples of how to do this. There are so, so many different Simpsons memes available to us. After all, we’re on season 30 of a show that shows no signs of stopping, and living in Argentina often feels like one big meme anyway.

As part of our survey, we asked people why they thought The Simpsons lent itself to memes so well. One of our respondents offered: “It’s because they depict such a broad range of situations, we have a lot to choose from.” Another said: “Because their writing transcends cultural barriers. The humor is so amazing and precise that any time we need a source of humor, we can simply turn to a Simpsons episode.”

Meanwhile, this other person opines: “I’d be wary of saying it’s because of the quality of the writing. It is simply a matter of accessibility and nostalgia. Since we have been watching The Simpsons for such a long time, we all have it as a base for references, and we can draw from it easily.”  More succinctly, this clever person put it thusly: “Memes are silly, and The Simpsons are silly. It works.”

Whatever the case may be, and whatever the precise reasons for this bond between the people of Springfield and the people of Argentina, I’m grateful to live in a country that has such reverence for this strange little show — a show that started off as a bunch of ugly scribbles and went on to become a pop culture juggernaut, and that we can now draw on to as a reference point for our own little goofs.

Viva Springfield, y viva los Simpson.