Friday, October 4, 2013

On THE SIMPSONS: Deconstructed

The homegirl Nikki Loehr directed my attention recently to a video by one JK Keller, posted last month by blogger Jason Kottke.  The video is a formalist experiment that throws The Simpsons episode "Mom and Pop Art" (in which Jasper Johns and Isabella Rossellini make guest appearances, although most know it as the "Everything's coming up Milhouse!" episode) through digital filters until its representational coherence is all but entirely obscured.

You don't need me to point out that the result is rather extraordinary.  (While I'm reluctant to reduce the experience of psychedelic drugs to lazy shorthand, this video is one instance where I'd concur with the description "bad acid trip.")  Keller's claim that it "retains the full character of the show" is debatable, since that "full character" arguably consists mainly of the many features comprising its narration - screenwriting, voice acting, stories, gags - and the cheerfully ironic tone that coheres them.  "Realigning My Thoughts on Jasper Johns," on the contrary, is a disconcerting, even creepy, sustain of audiovisual noise, rhythmically invertebrate and a challenge to sit through.  What keeps it from being entirely an art-school chore are the unmistakable vestiges of the show's aesthetic that remain.  The tracking shots that open the theme song, for example, are instantly recognizable despite the reduction of Springfield to splashes of lines and colors.  Somehow, the integrity of space remains intact: although I haven't seen the original episode, and the audio sounds like a Nurse With Wound demo tape, it becomes clear very quickly that the first scene takes place in the Simpsons' backyard.

But the characters are the most striking feature.  You'll only follow the filtered opening if you know the original well enough, but you don't have to have watched a single full episode, really, to pick out Homer, Bart, Marge, Lisa, even Maggie, from the visual detritus: they're iconic down to their most basic geometry (Bart's spikes, Marge's hair, Homer's gut).  Then there's their garish yellow complexion, ostensibly the show's substitute for Caucasian - people of color, by contrast, are verisimilarly rendered - but cheekily identified on several occasions during the series as simply yellow.  Although I'd be interested to see a similar test applied to another show - South Park, perhaps? - I suspect that it would be far more vulnerable to visual indistinction.  Only a text as eternally current in the pop culture canon as The Simpsons could survive this kind of video art vandalism.   

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