Monday, February 15, 2016

Core Post 2: Frinkiac and the Codification of Fan Discourse

The screencap posted above comes courtesy of, the internet's newest and greatest repository of Simpsons images/quotes, all searchable down to the individual word. Frinkiac claims to contain over 3 million screenshots encompassing the shows 27 (and counting) seasons, all easily accessible and customizable for Simpsons fans across the globe. While such a resource is a boon to fans in search of the perfect quote to punctuate a moment (there is an appropriate Simpsons quote for every moment in life), the creation and quick ascent of this website speaks to the specific sort of fan engagement the show inspires, especially in contrast to Star Trek and other shows that attract engaged, obsessive fans.
Unlike Gene Roddenberry’s indelible creation, The Simpsons does not inspire much in the way of fan fiction and other supplemental writings. Very few Simpsons feel compelled to dive further into the world of Springfield, a diegetic universe defined at once as mundane and replete with possibility. In fact, the majority of highly-engaged Simpsons fans choose to whittle down the canon of the show to its most creatively fertile period, roughly the first ten seasons of the show, while largely ignoring the remaining 300+ episodes. As with Star Trek (and other genre shows such as Doctor Who and Game of Thrones) there is a cultural capital amongst fans doled out through a mastery of the text of the show, but the form that this mastery takes speaks directly to the different ways that fans engage with different genres and the ways that different shows engage their audiences.
Unlike many of the shows known for vociferous fan communities, The Simpsons is a comedy. Moreover, the show trades in near-constant social satire, reaching out not only to audiences at home, but to the greater world around them. The world of The Simpsons does not require exploration and extrapolation because it is fundamentally a slightly exaggerated (cartoonish, one might say) version of our own world. Where Star Trek couches its social discourse in genre trappings, The Simpsons’ rhetorical strategy is more direct. Fans of the former can get lost in the tangible details of its environment (Klingons! Phasers! Starfleet!), while, for fans of the latter, the social engagement itself (in the form of jokes) is the text of the show. Thus, fans of The Simpsons display their mastery of the text not through a detailed understanding or interpretation of the show’s universe (which is elastic from week to week), but through an application of its jokes in their daily life. It is a display of both knowledge and comprehension, finding the perfect sentiment to elucidate a real-world situation.

This trading in quotable nuggets of wisdom has found a natural outlet in the culture of social media, in which a social dialogue is often reduced to bite-sized nuggets of culture (otherwise known as memes). Online, those looking to articulate a complex set of emotions or situations (especially those of a certain age that The Simpsons was an important part of their cultural education) can express those feelings in a manner that is witty, brief, and often packed with layers of textual meaning. Thus, the vital resource that is Frinkiac demonstrates a form of fan engagement that may be unique to comedy and to a degree that is undoubtedly unique to The Simpsons.


  1. This is an interesting path to follow Lance, and it has me thinking. Jenkins posits the fan as a somewhat subversive type, or a group that is partially defined by their bending of the text. This gets to the difference in how the discourse gets used in the common day. Simpsons fans define themselves by a perfectly timed quote in an every day situation. Which is to say, in integrating the discourse into every day life. The Star Trek fans Jenkins describes seem to be specifically those who not only are marginalized, but whose work engages issues of marginalization. So what is the Simpsons fan, besides (to put it bluntly, though I self-describe in this category) a quote machine? Maybe this is the limitation of Jenkins positive reading, which is to say there is also a more dominant, quotidian fandom that has to be accepted in order to promote the alternative communities that exist as well.

    1. Thanks for the reply, Peter. There's definitely a lot to chew on here, especially the deeper question of what defines a Simpsons fan, especially in the modern era where the show is no longer the cultural phenomenon it was in the 1990s

    2. Perhaps if the Trekker is defined by marginalization, the Simpsons fan is defined by a self-designated status of observer or commenter (truly a role that is becoming for prominent in the internet era) that looks down upon the day to day drudgery of life with a sarcastic, cynical point-of-view (albeit one cribbed from their favorite TV show)