For an entire generation, watching The Simpsons was something akin to a religious experience. Day in, day out, we would watch reruns of The Simpsons as they aired in syndication, we would rewind and rewatch original run episodes we'd taped on VHS (that had the extra bits later cut for syndication), and - most importantly - we would relentlessly quote and reference the show to one another. "Referencing The Simpsons" became second nature to a certain subsection of the population - practically a language all of its own. Impenetrable and jarring to anyone not familiar with "classic run" Simpsons episodes (roughly seasons 1-10), but as familiar and understandable as anything to those in the know.
And for years and years, that's how it was. The same seasons, the same references, the same...everything.
Something was bound to change eventually - you can only say "bake 'em away, toys" so often before it starts to grow a little stale (that's not actually true, but bear with me) - and once the change began to happen, it made total, perfect sense, although no one could have predicted that THIS would be the path things would go down. Of course, I'm referring to (what's generally known as) "Simpsons shitposting."
"Simpsons shitposting" had simple roots - ugly, blurry screencaps of Marge krumping in a (semi)-recent run episode, simple faceswaps, awkward screencaps that would capture mid-frame movement, replacing everyone's face with Hans Moleman, etc. But as of the past two years or so, they've evolved into something more sophisticated (on the whole). They've evolved into cross-reference masterpieces:
The basic essence of the modern version of Simpsons Shitposting is that instead of a SINGLE reference from The Simpsons, you give the people MULTIPLE references bizarrely interwoven with one another in inexplicable ways...that still leave both (or MORE) references intact. It's a delicate act - but the beauty of it is that it brings SURPRISE back to Simpsons references.
That was the problem (I use that term very loosely - there was no actual "problem" with some of the best TV ever produced) with Simpsons references - they had all become too familiar and rote, so every reference was anticipated and expected. It was dull - there was no way to actually catch anyone by surprise with a reference, unless you were just pulling some random never-talked-about moment as some kind of ironic joke (I had a friend who used to reference Wendell frequently). But Simpsons Shitposting was able to bring that surprise back to the references and jokes we all know and love, free of irony. And hell, it REWARDED the kind of deep Simpsons knowledge that is otherwise only utilized at bar trivia nights - not only did you have to understand individual moments from Simpsons episodes, you had to be able to juggle multiple ones at the same time.
Of course, there grew certain GENRES within this already seemingly niche subgroup of memes, primarily around specific references that could be twisted and and repurposed in a multitude of ways:
- Moe's "dissing your fly girl" class speech
- Burns' false identity "Snrub"
- Todd Flanders' shocking "I don't want any damn vegetables" reply to his mother
- Lenny's drunken thumbs up to a terrified Mr. Burns after a company-sponsored drag race night
- The angry dad who warns his kids that it'll be "back to Winnipeg" if they don't calm down
- and there was a good day or two where the Simpsons subreddit was ALL ABOUT the Tungsten guy.
But none of these hold a candle to the KING of Simpsons Shitposting: STEAMED HAMS.
"Steamed hams" is - of course - in reference to the Skinner and Chalmers story from 22 Short Stories About Springfield, showcasing a seemingly disastrous dinner date that manages to work out (mostly) well, thanks to Skinner's completely unbelievable lies and Chalmers' surprising acceptance of said lies. If you've read this far, hopefully I don't need to actually EXPLAIN the scene to you - you know it like the back of your hand. And the reason you know it is because it's possibly the most perfect sequence The Simpsons ever produced.
- It's short - only around 2 and a half minutes. But in that short timespan, it packs in jokes and character moments so densely, it's nearly unbelievable. There is not a single ounce of fat in this scene - everything moves lightning fast and no beat goes to waste. It's a masterclass in comedy writing that we should all feel blessed we were able to witness.
- Career best voice acting from Harry Shearer as Skinner and Hank Azaria as Chalmers. You can hear Skinner's increasing desperation (and impossible attempts to maintain an aura of calmness, like when he tries to get his terrified mother to go along with the lie that the house burning down is "just the Northern Lights") with every new fib, and each one of Chalmers' quietly disbelieving "uh-huh"s is a work of art (to say nothing of the "AURORA BOREALIS?!" section ending in a meek "...may I see it?").
- The way the bit plays off of an established rhythm between Chalmers and Skinner taken to the most absurd degree possible. Sure, Chalmers may shrug off hearing a student ask "what's a battle?" with Skinner's awkward interjection of clarifying Ralph was asking "what's that rattle?" or that there would be an unrelated article within the banner headline of the newspaper - but those lies never compounded beyond one or two questions. Here, the lies begin piling on top of each other and growing in absurdity, until Skinner's desperately trying to claim grilled hamburgers are called "steamed hams" in upstate New York (specifically Albany) and that the raging fire within his kitchen is actually just aurora borealis. At each turn, you expect the flimsy house of cards Skinner has built to finally collapse (because how could it not?), and at each turn Chalmers just accepts Skinner's blatant cover and moves on.
Through this scene, the term "steamed hams" entered the lexicon and "aurora borealis" was forever given a new connotation forever - seriously, I would imagine an enormous chunk of people on this planet would immediately associate it instantly with the fire raging in Skinner's kitchen ahead of the atmospheric lights visible in the higher latitudes. And having these two unbelievably memorable terms made for perfect shitpost fodder: all it really takes to make a solid shitpost out of it is to replace two faces with those of Skinner and Chalmers and swap one key phrase with "steamed hams." The results are...magical.
And the nature of these shitposts continues to evolve - someone composed the ENTIRE "steamed hams" sequence for piano. And it works...surprisingly well.
There's also someone who edited 10 different versions of the scene (each getting progressively faster) so that they would all sync up when Chalmers says "AURORA BOREALIS!", a version that plays as normal except that all of Skinner and Chalmers' lines are reversed (it makes sense if you watch it), a version where the dialogue is translated into Chinese and then back into English using Google Translate, and so on.
Basically, "steamed hams" has become the ultimate source of inspiration for Simpsons shitposters all around the world (as it deserves).
INTERVIEW: BILL OAKLEY
We managed to get ahold of Bill Oakley to answer some questions, because I will take ANY opportunity to pester my writing heroes about utterly nonsensical memes they inspired. In case you didn't know, Oakley is the individual responsible for the "steamed hams" segment, and is thus responsible for the spread of this genre of shitpost. I wanted to know his feelings on the matter:
Have you ever heard of or seen "Simpsons shitposts"? Specifically the trend of mixed-reference shitposts? Sorry for typing "shitpost" so much.
Yes, I have seen hundreds and hundreds of them and I love almost all of them.
What's your take on Simpsons shitposting?
I think your analysis is spot-on. It is remixing references which have grown pretty tired after 20 straight years and putting them together in new and delightful ways. Actually my only quibble is that I don't think they are shitty so I think the term is a misnomer.
I agree that the term "shitpost" isn't really ideal for this subgenre, which feels like an honest-to-goodness art form, if a highly specific one. Maybe "fishbulbs"?
I like fishbulbs!
When you originally wrote the "steamed hams" sequence of 22 Short Films About Springfield, did you feel you had struck something meaningful?
No, I had no idea whether it was funny or not. I thought there was a possibility it might be terrifically unfunny, in fact. It was extremely self-indulgent of me to write the longest segment in the entire episode and not include a single "traditional" joke and I thought there was a huge possibility it might get cut. When I turned the script into Greg Daniels, who was coordinating the episode, I seem to recall he read through it without laughing once. And the table read was a pretty big failure at the time too. It seems to have gotten a lot more popular as time went on -- which I appreciate.
When did you start realizing "steamed hams" had become a legitimate meme unto itself?
I feel like I first noticed it three or four years ago, on Twitter and to a lesser degree on Facebook. Then when this happened about 18 months ago (https://www.buzzfeed.com/bradesposito/thousands-of-people-keep-asking-this-grocery-store). I knew the whole thing had taken off and since then it has been feeding on itself. I have a feeling "Inventor of Steamed Hams" is going to be on my tombstone now.
Do you have a favorite "steamed hams" meme, shitpost, or video? There are a ton - someone even turned the scene into a track in Guitar Hero.
My favorite one is the one my kids made me two years ago for Christmas, which is a live action reenactment of the entire segment, word for word and shot for shot, starring them. They even had steam coming out of Seymour's oven (my actual oven) for the flaming roast. However I am never putting this online because it shows how messy my house is.
Besides that one, I like the one where Seymour never answers the door and Chalmers just remains standing on the porch forever. But there are so many other good ones too, I just can't recall them at the moment.
However my favorite shitpost of all, which is not steamed hams-related, is the super-cut of the all the "You got the Dud" mash-ups which I believe it so incredibly hysterical it may have given me a slight brain aneurysm.
Have Simpsons Shitposts given you any deeper appreciation of old jokes that otherwise were semi-forgotten? Moe's "here's the 4-1-1" bit is now one of the MOST FREQUENTLY-CITED Simpsons jokes - a bit that wasn't even on most fans' radars before a few years ago.
I had no idea people liked the lemon stuff that much, or Kirk's drawing of dignity. And till you sent me this, I didn't think anyone remembered the "paint my chicken coop" bit.
Do you (or any other former/current Simpsons writers) send EACH OTHER these mash-up shitposts ever? Would love to know if anyone is sending these to John Schwartzwelder.
To my knowledge we don't send them to each other, no, but we might tag each other in them in twitter or cc' one another sometimes. Mainly for me it'd be Josh or Dan Greaney on Twitter, I am not in touch with most of the others
What's the next rich vein of Simpsons Shitposting people should be diving into? Moe's "Oh, dear god, NO!" from Bart's Comet? Homer's "It's pretty big...I guess." from Bart vs. Australia? Something completely different? In other words, what's your favorite Simpsons reference that you don't see get referenced ENOUGH?
I would like to see more Itchy & Scratchy stuff but I realize that's hard to mash-up. But I guess most of all I would like to see a lot more of the McCrary twins on their minibikes.
For more Bill Oakley, follow him on Twitter - and get ready, because he's got a new animated show coming to Netflix next year (along with writing partner Josh Weinstein and Matt Groening) called 'Disenchantment', which looks to do for fantasy what Futurama did for sci-fi. In short, you should be in a state of nonstop excitement for the next several months.
And because Bill Oakley richly deserves this and more, we went ahead and made some McCrary twins shitposts (aka "fishbulbs"):
btw - here's the PNG of the McCrary twins if you want to make your OWN surprise witness shitpost pic.twitter.com/sjCYQ6up1c-- Andrew Bridgman (@PubeGoldberg) December 11, 2017
For some incredible repositories of Simpsons Shitposts / Fishbulbs, check out:
...and basically EVERYWHERE on the internet where The Simpsons is being discussed in any way.