When it began “The Simpsons” wasn’t an institution, it was…kids, it was the GTA of its day: a funny, violent bit of satire, much smarter than it looked. Best of all, it was dangerous. The kind that made parents uneasy. The kind that had politicians tearing their garments, pulling their hair, and driving their high priced escorts mad with boredom. Oh, how they rolled their eyes at the plastic hysterics. “The Simpsons” was the next big thing to ruin America, placing it in an elite list of super-predators. (For those keeping score at home, I’m talking about Native Americans, Black People, The Irish, The Polish, More Black People, Rock and Roll (black people), Asians, The deadly hips of Elvis Presley, Super Hero Comics, Tales From the Crypt, Pornography(Black People??), Dungeons and Dragons, Heavy Metal (good for you, white people!), Hip-Hop (black people with an assist from the white suburbs), television (Jews), movies (mostly Jews), Four Loko (frat boys), meat, fruit, vegetables, protein, fat, carbs, Omegas 3-6-9, Atheism, GLBT cultures, Islam, and, of course, The Methodists). Nothing retains its cool forever though. Like its brethren in the Fraternal Society of Super-Predators, “The Simpsons” has seen the value of its cultural currency wax and wane. The last time anyone was seriously talking about the show was when The Simpsons (2007), a film Fox had been talking about releasing since the show was roughly five years old, finally made it the big screen. Best of all, it was good! Not great mind you, but good enough to have everyone smiling. We all pined, just a little, to eat the blue, chewy denim of Bart’s shorts. Since then, there hasn’t been much to discuss. That changed this week when Fox dropped a video for the opening credits of “Treehouse of Horror XXIV”, that has left nerds screaming.
Directed by Guillermo Del Toro, I think this credit sequence deserves to be grandfathered into his oeuvre. It’s just that good. It works as both a love letter to the show and to the various works and auteurs of horror and science fiction he homages. When was the last time you saw someone deftly tie Simpsons’ characters to Stephen King, kaiju, and my lord and master the hypno-toad? (Not once, damnit.) This alone does not warrant the video serious consideration into Del Toro’s body of work. He made a delightful stream-of-conscious series of nerd references, so what? Anyone can do that. Heck, look at “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” The show treats allusion and homage like a desperate rambling magical chant, convinced that if it does it long enough it will transcend mediocrity. I’ve heard some spoken nerd, a style of slam poetry, that makes this very same mistake. You can build on the past. You can embrace the past. You can ignore the past, but you cannot use the past as a crutch.
This qualifies as great because Del Toro has done something no one has done in years: he makes The Simpsons dangerous again.
Horror excels at critiquing social institutions, at reconfiguring our support networks into a hostile matrix. In a mere 10 seconds the video positions the unwashed masses of zombies against a military force guarding a nuclear power plant obviously gone awry. Who do you root for? It’s the apocalypse, and we can’t tell who the good guys are. The military is supposed to be a government force representing the will of the people, fighting on behalf of the people, yet here they are defending a major corporation run by a demonic pale man who eats his fairy assistant (and oh my god, I just got that Smithers joke.) Meanwhile, the townsfolk could sure use some guns! If only there was a military force somewhere that could help them.
The video moves into a jazzy riff of science fiction, fantasy, and horror homages, both to Del Toro’s own work and the passions that shaped him as a director. It’s the presence of the first two, however, that allow the video to transcend the doom-and-gloom of the zombie apocalypse. If horror is about the dissolution of social structures, then fantasy and sci-fi offer us the promise of that broken society re-imagined as a dream made real. It made be weirder. It’s probably just as dangerous–okay, it is just as dangerous–but it is a society regenerated. Death is the act of creation.
This is why the video is such a sensation. It has something to say, and it says it with Del Toro panache, with screams, with passion, with nerdy zeal, and a touch of optimism.
Written By David Arroyo