In an unseasonable but incredibly informative video essay, Tom Scott (previously) explains an interesting experiment that he conducted regarding the verbiage used in the children’s parody song “Jingle Bells, Batman Smells”.
Scott surveyed over 64,000 people and discovered that there were multiple versions of the songs. The next line of the song provided the most pronounced difference between the two most popular versions. 98% of respondents from the US said it was “laid an egg”, while respondents from the UK sang “Robin flew away”.
In 1993, however, legendary vocalist Robert Goulet appeared in “$pringfield (Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Legalized Gambling)”, the tenth episode of the fifth season of The Simpsons. During his performance, Goulet sang the distinctly US version of the parody song.
Two different bird jokes. And here’s the hypothesis that I want to test: that the Simpsons measurably changed which version of that song was popular. That kids who saw that episode, either when it first aired or in reruns, either learned it for the first time from there, or it replaced the version they knew.
This led Scott to his posit the question “Did The Simpsons change how people outside the United States learned the song?”. As it turns out, it did or at least appeared to do so.
Only someone who grew up outside the US would ever think that sounds wrong. But “Robin flew away” is clearly the British version. … But the Simpsons was one of the most important pop-culture shows in the UK in the mid-90s, But remember, the answers were also broken down by year of birth. For the US, it’s always a very high percentage, of course. But if the Simpsons had an effect in the UK, then we’d expect to see that 90s kids, which means people born from the early eighties onwards, they would be more likely to know the “egg” version. …I could not ask for better proof of that hypothesis. Can I 100% trace that back to the Simpsons? No, of course not, there could be some other factor.
Scott, with the musical help of Jack Douglass, made several unrelated but salient points that came out of this study. He specifically noted that “You can’t get 98% of Americans to agree on anything”, “children are monsters” and that “time is meaningless”.
Here’s the great Mark Hamill performing the US version as The Joker.
And here’s the animated version voiced by Hamill.