Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Ten Best Simpsons Internet Jokes

1989 the number, another summer
Sound of the funky drummer.

Fight the Power by Public Enemy the revolutionary soundtrack to a year which saw the beginning of the end of Apartheid in South Africa and the fall of the Berlin Wall. A year that would come define my generation, for three reasons in particular.

First, in came the UK the Second Summer of love, the birth of Acid House, raves and the popularisation of electronic dance music and DJ culture.

Meanwhile in Switzerland Tim Berners Lee was laying the foundations of the Internet as we now know it with the invention of the hypertext language HTML, the nuts and bolts of the Worldwide Web.

And in the United States, a then little-league broadcaster called Fox was about to take a chance on making what was then a few minutes of filler on The Tracy Ullman Show ("the nation's showcase for psychiatrist jokes and musical comedy numbers", according to Troy McClure) into a full half hour animated sitcom.

The first ever episode, Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire, was broadcast in December 1989 and, much like dance music and the Web, the Simpsons would soon become a cultural phenomenon. Not only would the Simpsons become the longest-running sitcom ever but it would also be widely regarded as the coolest and most influential TV show of all time.

How influential? So influential that prominent political figures like First Lady Obama, Tony Blair (then Prime Minister) and Al Gore (commenting on how winning the Nobel Prize made up for having his Presidency stolen) have all appeared.

The show has the world record for guest star appearances. The list is diverse with actors as such as Ian MacKellan, Kirk Douglas and Dustin Hoffman, musicians including Johnny Cash, U2, Michael Jackson and three of the Beatles. Athletes such as Ronaldo and Pele also appeared, as did astronaut Buzz Aldrin, reknowned scientist Stephen Hawking, entrepreneur Richard Branson and media tycoon Rupert Murdoch.

Indeed Murdoch is more than happy not just to appear on the show but to let the Simpsons ridicule him, his company and his politics because he knows all too well that it was the Simpsons that saved both Fox and Sky from the abyss back in the early 90s.

Over a decade since it was first aired the Simpsons are still as relevant and timely as ever. They continue to draw attention to, and poke fun at, the big issues of our times and not only are they still at the cutting edge of culture, they've been consistently on the cutting edge of technology too.

I’ve been meaning to write this up for a while but haven’t had the time. Now that Season 22 is set to air in a couple of weeks, with a guest star list that includes Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, we can pretend that this post is actually timed to coincide with that.

Also, I haven’t looked, but I’m going to assume that people have written about this before, this is the interweb after all, but what the hell, I’m going to do it again. After all it is, as I said, the combination of the two things that have come to shape and define my generation – the Internet and the Simpsons.

So without any further ado I give you the my Top Ten Simpsons Internet gags.

10: He’s gonna shoot those Google Earth folks whut caught me with my britches down.
Rednecks and Broomsticks - Season 21, 2009

I’m putting this in at number 10, it’s a very recent one and I couldn’t stop laughing for days over it. The quote is by Cletus (the Slackjawed Yokal) talking to Homer as one of his many sons walks out the room carrying a bazooka.

This one is a perfect example of how current the Simpsons can be, coming hot on the heels of the ongoing Google Street View controversy.

Also in the same episode Lisa becomes interested in Wicca and Ned Flanders catches her looking up a site called “Wiccapedia”.

9: All those strangers Googling each other, makes my skin crawl.
Bart Has Two Mommies - Season 17, 2006

Having won a FeMac computer, the so-called computer for women (one of many jibes at Apple) Ned Flanders offers to give the computer to Marge for free, because he can’t stand the idea of people “Googling” each other.

I don’t know, but somehow Ned Flanders manages to make performing a simple web search sound like the very depths of depravity.

8: The Internet, is that thing still around?
30 Minutes Over Tokyo - Season 10, 1999

When a new Internet café opens in Springfield Lisa tries to convince Homer to go. She offers to show him how to order pizza on the Internet, the above quote is Homer’s sullen reply.

(Homer isn't on best terms with the Internet at this stage, no doubt still sour after his failed online business and other Internet-related mishaps which we’ll get to later)

Bart tells Homer he knows a website that shows monkeys doing it to which Lisa replies, "the Internet is more than a global pornography network it’s a…"
But she's cut off by Homer who's already in the car beeping the horn, “Come on Lisa! Monkeys!”

As mentioned before, The Simpsons writers never miss an opportunity to take the piss out of Rupert Murdoch. During the course of his surfing Homer tells Lisa that he's bought stock in something called Newscorp, "Dad that's Fox!"
"Argh! Undo! Undo!"

In keeping with the Simpsons tradition of giving businesses amusing names, the cafe in Springfield was called “The Java Server”. Though compared with some of the names I've seen on real internet cafés, isn't anywhere near as cheesy.

Back in 1999 Internet cafés were still a worldwide phenomenon and it seemed like every town had one. I myself was involved in the Internet café business back in the day as was a friend of mine, who ran a place called Edgecom, the name itself taken from an episode I'll be getting to shortly...

7: They went belly up like all the other internet companies.
I Am Furious Yellow - Season 13, 2002

Ah the good old days before YouTube and social networks, when viral Internet memes were propigated via IRC and geeky web forums and Flash cartoons were slow and crappy and with a few exceptions, like the cutsey/violent Happy Tree Friends (itself like an R-rated Itchy & Scratchy), were just plain terrible. Yet another milestone in Web history documented by the Simpsons, hot on the heels of the Dotcom crash.

After the creator of a popular cartoon visits Springfield Elementary all the kids decide they want to create their own cartoon. Bart takes his creation to the Android's Dungeon comic shop and gets a thumbs down from Spiderman creator Stan Lee. Bart returns home trying to come up with a classic character but gets distracted when Homer looses his temper and picks a fight with a lawn chair. Bart then decides to create a new comic strip called Angry Dad, based on Homer's violently slapstick antics.

After the comic goes on sale in Comic Book Guy's store a man approaches Bart claiming that he's "from the Internet" and wants to make Angry Dad into a web series. Bart visits the company, (whose previous hits include "Bin Laden in a Blender") where the employees are playing air hockey, video games and generally goofing off. This is clearly in reference to many dotcom companies, including Google, known for their casual and quirky office environment. Lisa, ever the skeptic, questions the company's business model and is offered two million pieces of company stock if she promises to shut up.

Bin Laden in a Blender - it delivers what it promises.

Angry Dad becomes a huge sucess much to Homer's annoyance when he becomes the laughing stock of the town., however, goes bankrupt.

Repo Man: "Ah they went belly up like all the other internet companies!"
Milhouse: "Looks like the bubble burst."
Bart: "Bubbles can burst?"
Repo Man: "Yeah but it’s a golden age for the repo business, one that shall never end."

Incidentally, if anyone is interested the domain is currently parked.

6: Credit Card information may be sold to Korean Gangsters.
Marge Gamer - Season 18, 2007

The above quote is part of the disclaimer for an online adventure game similar to World of Warcraft called Earthland Realms to which Marge becomes addicted. (A similar plot was also used by American Dad). South Korea has one of the largest gaming populations on the planet and leads the world in computer game fraud as well as so-called "Internet addiction".

Computer gaming has been a big part of the Simpsons from the very beginning, from Bart Simpson playing "Nintendo for cash" in the song Deep Deep Trouble to Maggie playing online poker then tabbing to the Sesame Street website so nobody sees her. Themes over the years have included violent video games, the high price of the games and video game addiction. Indeed I could easily write another top ten list on the topic of gaming alone.This is the first episode, however, with a plot that takes place inside an actual game environment.

The episode begins at a PTA meeting where a form gets passed around and all parents are asked to write down their email address. Marge is mortified because she still doesn't have one.

Just as a side note; Homer Simpson once mentioned his email address as One of the writers of the show registered the address in advance and apparently got thousands of responses after the show was aired.

Unfortunately the actual AOL account ended up getting hacked and people suddenly started getting messages from "Homer Simpson" trying to entice them to follow links that would install malware on their computers. A scheme worthy of Homer (a.k.a. Happy Dude) himself.

Anyways, back to the story and Marge, still an online newbie, decides to Google herself. "And all this time I thought Googling yourself meant the other thing".
A reference to the Flanders joke made the previous year.

She actually turns up on the top three out of 629,000 results, one an article about her popsicle art, second for her summer camp profile and third for her former job at Springfield Realty. Top three out of 629,000 - for a newbie Marge has a pretty high search engine ranking!

As Marge ventures further into the world of cyberspace she looks at her house from space and sees that Homer is lying in his hammock naked. She also falls foul to email syndrome; sitting waiting for email and repeatedly clicking refresh. "The only thing that changes is the banner ad".

Finally, totally bored, she decides to play an online RPG. At first she has trouble with the controls (as one does) but eventually ends up pulling all-nighters.

In the game she meets other Springfield residents including Mr Burns, who appears as a giant preying mantis asking "is this the Wall Street Journal Online?" (another Murdoch aquisition). She also discovers that the dreaded Shadow Knight, the most powerful player in the game, is actually Bart.

When Marge starts cramping Bart's style with her over-mothering he accidentally kills Marge’s character. Later, feeling guilty, he sacrifices two thirds of his life energy to bring her back to life only to have all the other players gang up on him and kill him.

5: You can’t use the word sex on the Internet!
Half Decent Proposal - Season 13, 2002

Whilst drinking wine and watching TV with her sisters, Marge discovers that Artie Ziff, her busy-handed prom date, has become an IT billionaire selling a product that converts the screeching sound made by dial-up modems into new age music.

Her sisters, who always hated Homer but liked Artie Ziff, decide to send him an email which turns out to be quite racy, including the line, "I want to sex you up".

"You can't use the word sex on the Internet!", but before Marge can stop them the email is sent. There then follows a scene where the data is seen zapping along through cables before cutting to man asleep beside a battered metal box marked Cisco Systems covered in a cloud of flies.

Artie later finds the email amidst various others warning of pending anti-trust suits (one of many Microsoft jokes.) Ziff would later go bust and become wanted for fraud by the SEC

4: Computer, kill Flanders!
The Computer Wore Menace Shoes - Season 12, 2000

In a plot somewhat reminiscent of Al Bundy's battle against the home computer in Married with Children, Homer buys what he thinks is a top of the line computer for $5,000 only to end up throwing it out in the trash. (If talking into the mouse and asking the computer to kill our neighbour was all it took we'd all be doing it right?)

Marge chastises Homer for throwing out the computer so he brings it back inside. Lisa finally shows him the basics and Homer changes his mind after seeing a cheesy Dancing Jesus animation. (The animation is based on the clichéd dancing baby screensaver made popular by Ally McBeal and brilliantly lampooned by Family Guy.)

Later Homer decides to create a webpage by pasting in the dancing Jesus, and various other clichéd animations such as screaming mouths and flying toasters to create Homer Simpson's Web Page.

“You’d think all the noises would be annoying, but they’re not.”
Lisa then tells Homer that “a web page is supposed to be a personal thing, you’ve just taken copyrighted material from everyone else, they could sue you for that."
So Homer changes the name to Mr. X's Website to avoid getting sued.

Homer then becomes obsessed, like so many others, with page hits and stays up late nights staring at an old skool visitor counter wondering why his website isn’t getting hits. He asks Lisa if she knows a way of boosting website traffic.

“You have to offer people something, a joke, an opinion, an idea”.

Truer words were never spoken. In fact, I've even gone so far as to use this episode as an example when trying to explain the right and the wrong way to create a website.

The internet is clogged up with millions of say-nothing sites, bursting full of obnoxious flashing ads and banners and no content whatsoever, zero, zilch. Indeed I'll bet everyone who's read this has come across many awful websites on par with Homer's, complete with gawdy colour schemes, awful sounds and ridiculous dancing gifs. And I bet, just like Homer Simpson, they're still sitting at home refreshing their page wondering why nobody’s visiting.

So the first rule, aesthetics; don't have any sounds automatically play when the page loads, keep the colours nice and, please, no more animated gifs! You want your visitors to come back, not send them staggering away with a bad headache.

The second rule is content. Without any text content, like Homer's site, search engines won't read any keywords so your site's not going to get any visits through search engines. Those with Flash intensive sites or sites with Flash-based intro screens take note.

Finally, and most importantly, people online are looking for something interesting or useful, they want entertainment, they want value. Homer's website, on the other hand, didn't have any purpose whatsoever.

...And so, back to the plot.

Having heard a rumour that Mayor Quimby spent the town’s entire pothole repair money on a swimming pool for himself Homer turns his page into a local muckraking site. (This was a type of website which was growing in prominence at the time, particularly after the Clinton/Lewinski scandal.)

The people of Springfield react positively to the site, despite, as Principal Skinner notes, Homer's poor grammar and spelling. Kent Brockman later does a story on the Mr X site but states that the real news is on TV, delivered by journalists. (A sentiment which would be repated ad-nauseum for the decade to follow.)

When Homer runs out of stories he decides to make up his own sensationalistic ones. When he releases a story that claims the government are using flu shots as a form of mind control he is abducted and taken to a mysterious island in what becomes a prolonged spoof the 60's cult TV classic The Prisoner.

This is obviously also the reason why Homer's, sorry Mr. X's website hasn't been updated in a while.

So, the moral of this particular story is that when Homer decided to give the people content he thought they might be interested in his website traffic suddenly went through the roof.
This is the a concept that's at the very core of Internet marketing, something which Homer himself is no stranger to having run his own Internet business...

3: Welcome to the Internet my friend, how may I help you?
Das Bus - Season 9, 1998

This is probably the episode with the highest amount of Internet quoteables on the list and probably the one most people would put on their number one spot. I'm sure there's plenty who'll read this and ask why it's only number three.

Homer learns that Flanders has an online business called FlanCrest Enterprises, selling religious rugs online and that Flanders and Maude are "making good scratch too."

"Internet eh? Scratch eh? ...Maude eh?"

Homer decides to read up on the subject and buys himself a copy of Wired and Internet for Dummies. "Oh they have the Internet on computers now!"

He sets up a home office in the living room, complete with his beloved drinking bird toy and a pen holder made out of butter to write delicious memos. He tells Marge that he needs to have a name that's cutting edge, "like Cutco, Edgecom, Interslice..."
Marge suggests the name Compuglobalhypermeganet, Homer dismisses the name at first but ends up using it.

Whilst impatiently waiting for a nude picture of Captain Janeway from Star Trek Voyager (a dedicated fanboy if ever there was one) to load over a dial-up modem Comic Book Guy sees a popup add for Homer, the "Internet King" and wonders if he can provide him with "faster nudity".

Comic Book Guy is without a doubt the biggest netizen in Springfield. Back in '96 when most people were only getting to grips with the Worldwide Web, he was already a veteran of online communities such as Usenet, in particular on alt.nerd.obsessive. Whilst meeting Homer in his office (a desk in the living room) he asks Homer if he can upgrade from a 28.8k modem to a 1.5 meg line. Homer stares at him blankly and waits for him to finish then asks, "can I have some money now?"

It's hard to believe we were crawling at that speed only 12 years ago which is why this episode is such a milestone episode, not just of the Simpsons but of the Internet itself. When it first went to air the Dotcom Bubble was already dangerously close to bursting point and one might speculate whether the writers actually saw it coming or not. Either way the episode so perfectly captures the get-rich-quick-especially-on-the-internet mentality of the late 90s like nothing else.

And what of Compuglobalhypermeganet?
Well, in the end Homer never did become a Dotcom millionaire, as Bill Gates arrived at the house with two grimacing nerds offering to "buy him out." Homer tries to play it cool in his own subtle way and says he accepts. "Buy him out boys!", shrieks Bill as the nerds trash Homer's office and break his pencils. When Homer asks what's going on Bill replies, "I didn't get rich by writing a lot of checks" and starts cackling maniacally.

2: Where's the any key?
King Size Homer - Season Seven, 1995.

Fans all agree that the golden age of the Simpsons was during the mid-nineties and it's easy to say why. This episode, which appears on many people's all-time favourite lists, including mine, involves Homer deliberately gaining more weight so that he can get on disability and work from home. It also contains the "any key" gag after which I've named this blog.

Having pigged out to his hearts content and doubled in size Mister Burns donates a remote terminal to the "bloated gastropod" (his words, not mine) allowing Homer to realise his lifelong dream (of which he has had many) of working from home.

"To start press any key, where's the any key? Is see esk, cetarl and pig-up but there doesn't seem to be any any key... Phew, all this computer hacking is making me thirsty, I think I'll order a tab."

In between holding a cup up to the computer, pressing the Tab key and waiting for cola to drop out Homer runs through a series of checklists such as venting radioactive gas (venting prevents explo-zion). After a while he finds that it's easier just to type "yes" to all the answers. When he later realises all he has to do is the press Y key he tells Marge that he's tripled his productivity. Eventually he becomes bored and starts hitting the Y key with a broom whilst watching TV, however when neighbourhood kids gather around the window laughing at him he decides to go out and watch a movie. So he dons his cape, mumu and newly-softened fatguy hat and leaves the drinking bird (which he got from his estranged half-brother Herbert Powell) to bob up and down pressing the Y key.

When Homer gets to the cinema he's told the seats are not large enough to accommodate him. He returns from the cinema in a huff to discover that the plastic bird has fallen over and that the reactor core is set to explode unless he can get to the plant and release the gas manually. Unable to use the phone ("the fingers you have used to dial are too fat, to obtain a special dialing wand please mash the keypad with Your palm now") he he hijacks an ice-cream truck and races to the plant to save the day.

Ok, ok, ok... So....
You're all probably wondering now what I think the best all-time Internet reference is?

Well let's see, we laughed about many big IT names like Cisco, Google and Microsoft but what about Apple?

1. You're all losers!
Mypods and Boomsticks - Season 20, 2008

Trying to appear cool to Bart and Lisa, Homer decides to buy tickets for all three to attend the Hullabalooza rock festival. Arguing with a clichéd moody generation-Xer working in the record shop, Homer states that the only good rock festival was the Us Festival.
"The what festival?"
"The Us festival. It was put on by that guy from Apple Computers."
"What computers?"

The Us Festival was one of the many costly blunders of former Apple goofball Steve Wozniak.
Back in '96 kids didn't know about Apple computers. Except for sound engineers or graphic designers most people would have had a vague memory of there being such a company back in the 1980s. The company was ripe for ridicule.

A lot has changed since then, of course. Apple has rebranded itself and is now percieved as being hip and innovative, it's new designer label approach earning itself legions of fans; the kind who believe that buying an overpriced custom PC or MP3 player will somehow transform them into a cool individual.

As you can probably tell by now I'm not exactly a fan of Apple. In fact, for me, the only things in the world worse than Apple products are Apple Evangalists. I'll never, ever understand why so much hype and hysteria exists about a company whose product line includes phones that have to be held a certain way for them to make or recieve calls. Apple are today what Nike were to the nineties, and once again, The Simpsons nailed it.

Mapple Clerk: "I see you're admiring our Mycube, it's fueled by dreams and powered by imagination."
Homer: "What does it do?"
Mapple Clerk: "You should ask yourself what can I do for it?"

Lisa (being an annoying know-it-all and therefore a key demographic) is enamoured at all the products and later becomes a Mypod owner. Eventually she gets into debt from downloading too many songs and decides to visit Steve Mobbs at the bottom of the sea asking if she could have a reduced payment plan. Steve replies, "I know our posters say Think Differently but our real slogan is No Refunds." Eventually Steve decides to offer her a job. Lisa is thrilled until she realises she has to stand on a street corner dressed up as a Mypod handing out flyers.

The true iconoclast of this episode, however, is Bart, delivering what I think is amongst the funniest Simpsons speeches of all time.

"You’re all losers! You think you’re cool because you buy a $500 phone with a picture of a fruit on it. Well, guess what? They cost 8 bucks to make and I pee on every one! I have made a fortune of you chumps and I’ve invested it all in Microsoft!"

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Virtual Assistant Service said...

There was another funny one recently when Homer says to Bart:

"When you're out of my sight you must constantly Twitter me exactly what you're up to, even though I don't know what Twitter is and I've no desire to find out!"

Also in the same episode Homer says he loves watching Marge knit because it reminds him of watching pictures download on their old dial-up modem, then he starts making loud dial-up noises.

Reparation Mac said...

Simpsons are so cool :o) I like it !