'The Simpsons': Hans Moleman's Man Getting Hit By Football Was A Cinematic Masterpiece
In 1995, The Simpsons aired an episode that was decades ahead of its time, for better or worse: "A Star is Burns," in which the town of Springfield is visited by a character from a completely different, soon-to-be-canceled Fox show called The Critic. This gives the episode the dubious honor of being the first official crossover in the series, predating the Family Guy and Futurama episodes by nearly 20 years (and the X-Files one by two, but something tells us that one wasn't supposed to be canon for Mulder, Scully, Chewbacca, or ALF).
This episode was also the inception point for a number of phrases that have gone on to become hugely popular internet idioms. We're not just talking about genius jokes like "They're saying Boo-urns" and "Get me his non-union, Mexican equivalent!" which, as the AV Club once pointed out, are immensely useful in everyday life. There's also the "That's the joke" gag, which evolved into the thatsthejoke.jpg meme (this sounds like a sentence from a bad futuristic novel, but it's true) ...
... and Krusty's "I said the quiet part loud and the loud part quiet," which has become a permanent fixture in present-day political commentary, or at least Twitter's snappier, more ADHD-friendly version of political commentary.
On the other hand, this episode, while packed with classic Simpsons moments, is seen by many fans as an omen for the inevitable arrival of the show's not-so-classic years. This was the first episode written by future Futurama writer Ken Keeler, who clearly favored ideas that were more outlandish than the ones The Simpsons was known for in its (relatively) more grounded early years. He went on to write "Two Bad Neighbors" (Dennis the Menace but with Bart and George H.W. Bush), "El Viaje Misterioso de Nuestro Jomer" (an idea pitched years earlier but deemed "too odd" for the show at that point), "Brother from Another Series" (basically a mirror universe version of Frasier) ...
... the basic idea for "The Simpsons Spin-Off Showcase" ("Can you imagine if The Simpsons had bad writing?!"), and, finally, "The Principal and the Pauper," the episode so meta that it predicted its own backlash and ended with everyone agreeing not to mention it ever again.
All of these episodes contain quality Simpsons material, but they demonstrate how the show slowly went from "Homer getting high and seeing a talking fox is too weird" to "Sure, let's say he has a little alien sidekick now." Was "A Star is Burns" the beginning of the end for The Simpsons, or at least the non-sucky Simpsons? It doesn't really matter. Even if the episode did put the show on a rail and push it toward a downward slope, it would still be a net positive because it included one of The Simpsons' greatest contributions to human culture: Man Getting Hit by Football (a.k.a. Football in the Groin).
Why did Hans Moleman submit a video of himself getting hit in the groin by a football to the Springfield Film Festival? Was it scripted or did he happen to have a camera pointed at him at that moment? Who threw the ball? Does Hans Moleman's groin really make a "boing" sound or was that added in post? All of these mysteries only add to the film's enduring mystique, but the fact that there's no effort to discuss the obvious questions is what truly elevates the piece to timeless status.
See, the critic from The Critic may liken this moment to America's Funniest Home videos, but this is a much more transcendental experience. Even more so than the proto-memes in the episode, this is a direct portal into the future -- into the world of Jackass, YouTube, r/funny, and beyond.
The other characters are blind to the fact that Homer is a pioneer. While everyone else is stuck arguing about Barney's pretentious black-and-white film and Boo-urns' grandiose Oscar bait (two already cliched gags in Hollywood spoofs by the time this episode aired), all Homer wants to do is sit in that dark theater watching those glorious four seconds over and over. It's almost as if he's had a divine revelation and foreseen that this is the way we would consume content in the future: in short, out of context, often incredibly stupid bursts. He is a digital mind in an analogue world.
Homer has become addicted to the dopamine hit only a short, dumb video can provide. He has developed TikTok brain decades before TikTok was a thing. Yes, Barney's movie had heart ... but Football in the Groin had a football in the groin.
But don't cry for Homer: he's already dumb. If anything, we should weep for Hans Moleman, the humble (he was yelling "Boo-urns") content creator who had his work swallowed by the entertainment industry and spat out as a soulless product for mass consumption, not just via the remake starring Hollywood boy-toy George C. Scott ...
... but also through the mobile game that turned the once artful act of throwing a football at Hans' groin into a way to unlock digital currency and squeeze money out of children and adults with impulse control issues. He probably should have read the Springfield Film Festival's terms and services before submitting. At the same time, it must be gratifying for the original author to know his work has been honored hundreds of times using Legos, hand-drawn animation, video game engines, Veggietales characters, and even human flesh and blood:
Curiously, Man Getting Hit by Football has, for the most part, been spared from the relentless remixing pretty much every other well-known Simpsons scene has undergone in recent years -- perhaps because the scene doesn't really need any editing to fit the disjointed, surreal tone that characterizes Simpsons sh*tposting. Most efforts to make it weirder can only backfire. There are some worthy remixes out there, though, like the sublime and poetic Football Getting Hit by Man.
Man Getting Hit by Football may have lost the Springfield Film Festival's jury award, but it won the culture war. We are now living in the absurd world imagined by that four-second cartoon clip. The man is our society, the ball is the schizophrenic (social) media machine of late-stage capitalism, and the groin is still our groins, being busted by what we just said. That "boing" you hear? That is the whimper of the world as we knew it coming to an end.
Or something. We'd probably need to watch Man Getting Hit by Football about a million more times to probe all of its hidden meanings, so please join us as we do that (no cheating and watching them all at once in the video below).
Thumbnail: 20th Century Studios