My favorite episode of all time of my favorite TV show of all time includes an outstanding number of memorable elements to it, but the one that seems to have lodged the deepest within the collective consciousness of the viewing public is a tiny little snippet lasting less than half a minute that has absolutely nothing to do with any portion of the plot. One could well make the argument that no ten seconds of an American TV show having less to do with the narrative storyline have ever lived on as long and stimulated such widespread debate as to the meaning and origin of its dialogue. Which ten second clip am I talking about?
Bart Simpson: “So then I says to Mabel, I says…”
After a brief interruption of an anecdote that Bart Simpson is sharing with his sister Lisa at the breakfast table, Bart then repeats the same line of dialogue. This little snippet quite literally takes up less than ten seconds of screen time and in no way impacts the unusually single-minded plot of the episode of “The Simpsons” titled ” El Viaje Misterioso de Nuestro Jomer.” Bart’s anecdote is not part of a B-story and is, in fact, referenced neither before or after the scene in question. Bart’s relation of what he says to Mabel, the interruption and the continuance of the story that is cut short before completion for the viewing audience might well be considered an example of Zen comedy at its purest.
It just is.
And it is that patina of Zen self-awareness in the moment that may be responsible for “So then I says to Mabel, I says” taking on such a life of its own. ” El Viaje Misterioso de Nuestro Jomer ” first aired in January 1997. And pretty much since then–and especially with the expansion of the internet’s ability to widen discourse on even the most trivial and narrow of subjects–the line “So then I says to Mabel, I says” has become the center of debate over its origin.
If you conduct an internet search using terms like “The Simpsons,” “So then I says to Mabel, I says” and “phrase origin” you will almost certainly come across a solution so widespread and filled with and almost Bush/Cheney-like bravado of confidence that if you lie with enough authority, people don’t just believe the lie…the lie becomes the truth. The solution to the ongoing mystery of the origin of Bart’s phrase “So then I says to Mabel, I says” supposedly can be found by doing something as simple as reading “The Great Gatsby.”
Here is an example of the debate over the origin of “So then I says to Mabel, I says” being cited with utter authority to “The Great Gatsby” despite the unpleasant intrusion of the truth that there is absolute no such scene to be found in the novel.
So if the phrase “So then I says to Mabel, I says” does not reference back to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” then to what does it reference? And it is possible to understand why the phrase is so darn funny and memorable without having any sort of historical frame of reference? As to the former, suggestions have forwarded ranging from Bugs Bunny to Gracie Allen . As to latter: heck no! You can’t explain why “So, then I says to Mabel, I says” is funny and knowing what it references would most likely remove a significant chunk of the ineffable quality of that phrase and its placement into the episode that makes it so darn funny.