If you’ve seen lots of Simpsons on your social media timelines the last few days, it’s because this week marked the arrival of Frinkiac, a site with a database of over 3 million screencaps from the first 15 seasons of The Simpsons (season 11 has problems for some reason) searchable by quote. Aside from potentially allowing Simpsons nerds like myself to communicate solely in meme-d moments from The Simpsons, the results page of the searches, thanks to the automated nature of the site, allows for some interesting experiences with juxtaposition.
Moments are removed from their place in time, space, and narrative continuity. We are left with what feel like storyboards to episodes that never were, as if we are seeing storyboards from automated TV episodes culled and remixed from the history of TV’s longest running scripted show.
One of the most famous and foundational early studies in film was conducted by Soviet filmmaker Lev Kuleshov who demonstrated the importance and suggestive power of editing by showing simple sets of images. Each time the first photograph remained unchanged, for instance the image of the neutral expression of an actor. The next image did change, and from the juxtaposition between the two images, the viewer will have made assumptions about meaning linking the two arbitrary, unrelated (in space and time) photographs. So 1) we assume just from proximity that the two images are related, that the man is looking (and responding) to the second image and 2) we infer meaning between the two images. So, we assume the man is sad if he’s looking at a corpse, hungry if we assume he’s looking at a bowl of soup, etc.
What the results in the Frinkiac machine can do is present its user with an automated Kuleshov effect of Simpsons moments. It’s more effective because they are not entirely random. The image results are based off of a keyword search, and the resulting images are ordered by the time the frames appear related to the keyword’s appearance in the script of an episode. So it’s this almost-logic, this automated near-contiuity, that makes these results so interesting (and fun).