A Facebook page with 75K members masters biting, astute social and political commentary using the iconic American cartoon
Brexit negotiations had been fraught with tension and this moment was no different. In a gesture of goodwill, Boris Johnson implored Theresa May to have faith in their interlocutor, Gerry Adams – himself a seasoned, shrewd negotiator – if any resolution was to be had concerning Northern Ireland.
“Mrs May, I think we can trust the president of Sinn Fein,” Johnson said, imploring the Prime Minister to let Adams take a closer look at the six counties. She handed them over. A moment passed.
“Now give it back,” May asked, tentatively. “Give what back?” responded Adams, as he nonchalantly folds up the counties and places them in his pocket.
Above is one of thousands of memes posted in the Facebook group ‘Ireland Simpsons Fans’ (ISF), which has steadily become a critical part of Irish political discourse since its inception three years ago.
A behemoth that has amassed over 75,000 members, today ISF provides a forum for its mostly millennial members to discuss everything currently going on in Irish pop culture, politics and news – from the 2016 general election, to the recent referendum on legalising abortion, no event has been left un-memed.
Recently, the group has pulled no punches in turning its attention to Brexit, with Britain’s evident lack of knowledge about its own history in Ireland, its lack of commitment to the Good Friday Agreement (which brought peace to Northern Ireland), and the sheer bumbling incompetence of the Tory party all recurring themes. The British Monarchy, the DUP, and even Jeremy Corbyn are all mocked, too. In short: anyone or anything is fair game, and there’s a Simpsons reference for all.
“I think when you see a country that was once your colonial master put itself into such a mess… there’s naturally going to be some kind of ridicule going their way,” Brian Quinn, a moderator for the page, tells me. “There are so many memes that that depict this. Like Homer in the bath (representing the Brits) is about to be hit with a chair (Brexit) by Bart (also the Brits). Or Bart (the Brits again) with a hammer (Brexit) smashing some ketchup packets (the Brits) on the living room carpet.”
Watching the Tory establishment navigate Brexit has fostered a peculiar mixture of schadenfreude and anxiety among young Irish people, if the memes are to be believed. Unsurprisingly, the impact of Brexit on both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland comes up quite a bit.
“Brexit isn’t solely a British issue. It affects this island too and we don’t want them to forget that,” he continues, directing me to a meme he feels explains the current dynamic between both countries: it’s The Simpsons opening credit sequence, where Lenny is changing the Power Plant’s days since an accident counter, but it now reads ‘Days since the Brits were at it again’.
“I think when you see a country that was once your colonial master put itself into such a mess… there’s naturally going to be some kind of ridicule going their way” – Brian Quinn, Ireland Simpsons Fans
In recent years, in the absence of conflict, Irish Twitter, Facebook, and meme pages have seen phrases formerly associated with explicit support for dissident republicanism (‘Up the Ra’; ‘Brits out’ etc) sapped of their original meaning, today connoting a kind of vague leftism and anti-colonial sentiment rather than explicit support for the IRA. There’s a lot of that going on here, too, in Simpsons meme form. Think Gerry Adams prank calling a Moe’s Tavern owned and operated by the Queen.
Brexit-wise, a collective familiarity with The Simpsons among young Irish people has fostered a common language through which the biggest self-own in modern political history can be interpreted and mocked; a rare shared frame of reference which Quinn says may not be replicated ever again in the age of cyberspace.
“I think the next global lexicon will probably be just things that became memes or are famous because of the internet. 10 years on we will still know what it means to Rick Roll somebody or say, ‘Keyboard Cat, take it away,’” Quinn affirms.
Worldwide, other Simpsons shitposting pages – like the brilliant ‘CompuglobalHyperMeganet Australia & New Zealand’ – offer similar glimpses into young people’s opinions on politics and current affairs. Quinn says that the participatory nature of such groups has changed the face of satire itself – now anyone with an internet connection is a potential satirist with a mass audience.
“The nature of memes is probably of some detriment to the wider satire community in the same way that social media and online news has had an effect on print journalism,” he says. These days, TV now has trouble keeping up with the internet: “Shows like Have I Got News For You and Mock the Week still air, but by the time they go to broadcast a lot of people have already made the same jokes online and have moved on to the next topic.”
That said, the reach of such pages goes beyond satire – Quinn has on occasion first learned of news stories by seeing them memed on ISF, before he’s had a chance to read about them elsewhere: “Sometimes it's something major like Brexit developments or a celebrity death or a football transfer. Our members are so quick to react.”
A Northern Irish native himself, Quinn says he has learned quite a bit about his southern neighbours from his tenure as a mod on ISF: “My overview was that Fianna Fail (Ireland’s government) did irreparable damage during their time in power and the country responded by voting in a party with almost identical policies (Fine Gael). There was a recent meme that captured this very well,” he says.
“It was captioned ‘Every Irish election ever’, which used the scene from Homer's Stonecutters initiation, where they detach the stone of Fianna Fail and attach the much bigger stone of Fine Gael.”
Whatever happens next in Irish politics – with Brexit negotiations or otherwise – one thing is certain: it will be dissected, mocked and memed in this cromulent corner of Irish political discourse.