Blessed are the memes, for they shall inherit the earth.

Cast your minds back, kids, to the vaguely quaint days of the turn of the century.

High-speed Internet had teething issues, your average mobile phone resembled a cartoonist's exaggerated interpretation of communication, and many people consumed news via printed paper that left literal impressions behind.

Pop culture was discovered organically. SEO was word of mouth. Limitations dictated the flow of entertainment.

Perhaps the standard-bearers of the era had it easy. They had time and room to breathe. Maybe they never would have been so successful today. We don't know.

Frankly, we don't want to know.

Instead, we will take a brief look at one such titan of industry - 2001 video game Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty - and how it sharply foresaw the rise of social media, fake news and, but of course, memes.

Clip via L33T GUY

Spooky enough, only the visionary mind of Hideo Kojima wasn't exactly patient zero.

Nor was the late David Bowie, who famously outlined just what the Internet was capable of back in 1999 during a Newsnight tête-à-tête with Jeremy Paxman.

"I think we're actually on the cusp of something exhilarating and terrifying," Bowie offered, before dismissing Paxman's assertion that the Internet is "just a tool" by noting, with a grin, that it was more akin to an alien life-form.

"The actual context and the state of content is going to be so different to anything we can envisage at the moment, where the interplay between the user and the provider will be so in simpatico it's going to crush our ideas of what mediums are all about," explained the Thin White Duke.

23 years prior, Richard Dawkins penned The Selfish Gene, a book on evolution that introduced the term 'meme' and the general conceit of a cultural item that is easily replicated, altered and dispersed as a means of communication and commentary.

For once, The Simpsons didn't do it first.

Long before it became its own graceless punchline by simply continuing to exist, the yellow-tinted comedy so often provided the birth of enviable inspiration and incisive observation, archly lampooning society and the world at large week after week.

For the writing team of the golden era - seasons three through eight, for this writer's money - it seemed to be as easy as breathing.

What one would give to be in the room with them during this period. The mind conjures up baskets full of crunched-up paper, endless reams of rejected gags, plot lines and entire characters that were no doubt still of the highest quality.

Halcyon days long gone.

The Simpsons cannot die, though, even when a sharp-suited executive at Fox finally pulls the trigger and puts Springfield's first family out of their misery.

You can't fully lose the goodwill for the great times. It was too smart, too quotable, too relatable, too funny, too real. The show made you laugh, made you cry. Raised you up, punched you in the chest. Made you smile. Made you care. Felt like a friend.

Yeah. That good.

It lives on in hearts, minds and... memes.

Image via Ireland Simpsons Fans / Facebook

Image via Ireland Simpsons Fans / Facebook

Which brings us to the homegrown phenomenon that, for many, represents the sole reason to retain a Facebook account these days - Ireland Simpsons Fans.

What started as an attempt to outdo a UK equivalent - an unintentional foreshadowing of the kind of unflinching content and sentiment that floods the page in the grip of the omni-shambles that is Brexit - has, in just three years, evolved into a forum for quick-fire wry narration of topical matters.

"I thought it was shite," notes ISF co-founder Jack Leahy, referring to the aforementioned UK Simpsons II page.

"I recognised lots of Irish people on it and thought we could do better. And we did."

Over 78,000 people count themselves as members of this Stonecutters-esque conclave, gathering daily to apply precisely specific Simpsons imagery and context to, well, just about everything.

As noted, Brexit is big business. Same rules apply for Donald Trump. Ditto political ideologies in general. Recent eyebrow-raising headlines involving Azealia Banks, Liam Neeson and Ballybrack reincarnation sensation Fernando Nuno La-Fuente generated much in the way of controlled chaos.

Hell, even your pals at JOE have fallen under an unforgiving microscope from time to time. It's not all that personal. Just the cost of doing business.

The template is simple enough that even Homer himself could excel; mix familiar animation aesthetic with a few lines of Comic Sans-reminiscent text and a jolt of imagination and wait for the likes to roll in.

Image via Ireland Simpsons Fans / Facebook

Image via Ireland Simpsons Fans / Facebook

Above, a riff on Liam Neeson's spectacularly troubling confession with a helpful assist from Lee Carvallo.

Below, a summary of Theresa May's continuing efforts to embiggen Britain's most noble spirit.

Image via Ireland Simpsons Fans / Facebook

Image via Ireland Simpsons Fans / Facebook

You get the gist.

For Leahy, running the show as one of over a dozen admins is a labour of love.

Everyone involved has a full-time job or student status outside of Ireland Simpsons Fans.

Inside, the demands are real.

With an average of 300 posts per day, a seemingly endless amount of disputes to deal with - some on the notably hostile side - an uncertain future for its chief hosting platform and no real discernible method of making money, the role of custodian isn't all fun and games.

A shift system was in place on Christmas Day. Contributors don't take kindly to their work being questioned or, God forbid, deleted. Life itself moves pretty fast.

The juice, however, seems to be worth the squeeze. You could write a book on just how and why The Simpsons has found a permanent home within our bloodstream, but the very essence of the page presents its own armchair psychology.

"It’s so reactive," says Leahy. "There’s something about The Simpsons where everyone has just enough of an understanding to get the reference.

"That’s why the same scenes are always reproduced, I think. I was talking to a UK journalist recently; he was asking why is it so popular with regards to Brexit and Trump and so on.

"It feels real-time, fantastical - so many things hitting you at once that you never expected to happen and maybe it’s the only way to react to it."

Where does Ireland Simpsons Fans belong in the wider conversation of today's zeitgeist, though?

Leahy takes a moment to consider the question.

"Recently, I was thinking; this is what young people do, this is how young people understand the world, this is how they talk about it and this is a really interesting phenomenon in that sense.

"I then read an article in The Irish Times by Sean Moncrieff which was saying, ‘Yeah, satire is great, but it won’t change anything’, so I took a step back.

"Maybe he’s got a point. But it was one of those, ‘I have an opinion, I don’t need to explain it in much detail, but I’m going to say this’, kind of articles."

Naturally enough, the 26-year-old sees the value of memes as legitimate societal discourse.

"It does genuinely affect how people relate to certain concepts," he nods.

"Certain things are made easier to understand in how they’re expressed through memes. Not even necessarily just Simpsons memes, but things like a united Ireland and the Repeal movement, of which there was a lot of conversation around.

"What I felt the page’s role there was that you learned how many of your friends were pro-choice based on what they liked and shared, meme-wise.

"It didn’t give anyone the language to talk about sensitive issues around abortion, but it did expose, for a lot of people, how overwhelmingly popular an opinion is."

The idea of the page as a barometer for the general public is shared by fellow admin Michelle Ní Chonaill, who, having started out as a contributor - "one of the early agitators" who wasn't shy about pointing out the gender disparity at the top - understands the distinct mechanics.

"Our biggest advantage over mainstream news sites or any news sites is that we don’t need to generate the content ourselves," she says.

"If something massive happens, you guys have to get someone from your team to sit down and physically write that, whereas while you’re doing that, 12 people have already posted about it on ISF.

"There is an excitement there," Ní Chonaill continues. 

"The amount of times that we hear people say that a) we’re their primary news source or b) the only reason they still have Facebook is Ireland Simpsons Fans - that’s such a sign of how big the page has become."

The rising numbers also illustrate a microcosm of young Irish people and their various political and social allegiances. As Ní Chonaill frames it, ISF presents "the best Red C poll you’ll ever see."

In a blue light-flecked age of rushing to be first, it is understandable that bite-sized information makes for more agreeable consumption.

News breaks on Twitter in under 280 characters with the story fleshed out and packaged properly later. The copy may be clean, clear and correct, but by the time you hit 'publish', people may have moved on, with or without accurate details.

"I think one of the places where traditional media has failed to keep up is that it tries to get to the bottom of everything that is happening," argues Leahy.

"The thing that people are doing is saying, ‘Holy shit, look at this!’ Food shortages, flights falling out of the sky and all that kind of stuff is, for our generation, anyway, completely unprecedented.

"We grew up in a world order of completely stable governments and now it’s all collapsing. I’m sure our sense of how ridiculous it is is probably augmented a bit by the fact that we experience it all through memes now."

What about when something of a notably difficult nature begins to dominate the news cycle? Ní Chonaill cites 2018's high profile Belfast rape trial as an especially anxious moment.

"When a particularly big talking point happens, we get worried," she says.

"It can have that flip side. I remember in the lead-up to that case, we were very nervous. It was a divisive issue.

"For some people - myself included - it wasn’t, but I think we lost a lot of members during that time. We lost very few members during the Repeal movement."

During that time, ISF merchandise was created and sold with proceeds going towards the Repeal campaign, though there was no explicit instruction for members to vote one way or another on referendum day.

"A Simpsons meme page just isn’t part of that conversation, where it’s all done by activists and organisers over decades," Leahy explains.

"Being the forum for the discussion was enough. If we made a pronouncement, I think it would have looked like an attempt to insert yourself into the conversation way too late."

And it is all one big dialogue, which can cut both ways.

Put enough random people inside one place, be it a gig, a sporting event, a cinema screening room or a community-powered machine such as ISF, and a certain tension is almost guaranteed to permeate.

Ní Chonaill is quick to emphasise that the work that she and her fellow admins carry out in monitoring the page is rarely, if ever, personal.

Posts are deleted, regularly enough, because they either don't meet guidelines and standards, or because someone else made the same joke hours earlier. Sounds reasonable, but not everyone agrees.

"The amount of times I’ve been called a Nazi in the last year is shockingly high," Ní Chonaill notes.

It's gone further than that, too.

"I got doxxed [to search for and publish private or identifying information about a particular individual on the Internet, typically with malicious intent] once," she says.

"I’ve had people making fun of my cultural heritage. I’ve gotten abuse based on the fact that I’m a woman. I’ve gotten rape threats.

"You get people going, ‘Ah lads, can you not take a joke?’ and sure, we get it if you’re just being light-hearted and making a joke, but what happens is you are fuelling other people who aren’t."

"Anything that we might do that might piss off one guy, to know that we’re helping a group of people who are happy that we’re sticking up for them, makes it worthwhile."

Michelle Ní Chonaill, Ireland Simpsons Fans

By her own admission, Ní Chonaill and her cohorts adopt strict measures in running ISF. The page wouldn't run as efficiently or enjoyably if they didn't, she contends.

Not only that, but there is a genuine effort to provide a safe space to those vulnerable and to be respectful of inclusivity.

Ní Chonaill recalls an instance in which a regular contributor was shut down for making a transphobic joke. That user later complained about a lack of freedom of speech before becoming outright abusive.

Ultimately, the decision was made to remove his presence from the page.

"We asked ourselves, ‘Was that too harsh?’ and then that night I got two messages; one from a trans man who was quite young, about 19, and one from a trans woman in her late 20s saying that it was so amazing to see a page that is so huge show them that kind of support.

"Anything that we might do that might piss off one guy, to know that we’re helping a group of people who are happy that we’re sticking up for them, makes it worthwhile."

Combating the more aggressive element is just another part of the job.

"We’ll mute them for a day and that urge that they might have to call someone a Nazi will pass," says Leahy.

"Very, very rarely we’ll get someone messaging us and you can articulate to them why you don’t want this on the page before they call you Nazi scum. It happens maybe once a week. I hate to say it, but it’s always dudes. It really is."

In terms of the demographic of Ireland Simpsons Fans, the breakdown is roughly 70% male / 30% female, with the majority of those who engage aged between 18 and 34.

"Guys are usually more confident in posting memes and putting themselves out there on the Internet," Leahy posits.

"I once went through the last 40 messages we’d directly received as admins, and it was 39 guys asking why their memes had been deleted and one woman asking for permission to post a meme.

"That’s just an interesting trend, I don’t know if it’s [a thing]."

Nothing lasts forever in this life.

Not even memes.

If the shambling corpse of its inspiration doesn't register as enough of a memento mori, the ambiguous fate of ISF's foundation gives cause for concern.

"I’m sort of waiting for the arse to fall out of Facebook," Leahy says.

He admits that the deluge of people professing that they would have deleted their accounts if not for a daily diet of Simpsons memes is a tenuous enough place to be at.

"You have to feel that there’s definitely some other scandal that we don’t know about that’s really going to turn people off. I’m at that point, as well."

In a way, that Zuckerberg-coated ambiguity feels about right.

The Simpsons has spiralled out of control, so why shouldn't its meme-laden descendant?

Or perhaps ISF will wind up as a twist on the hallowed run that saw Homer rebel against religion, Sideshow Bob pay tribute to Robert DeNiro, and the brief yet brilliant rise of Hank Scorpio, and actually get out at the right time.

There's talk of a possible book in the works, but they want to get it right. Other platforms like Twitter and Instagram are utilised, to varying degrees of success.

As for the legacy of Ireland Simpsons Fans... well, that's up for debate.

Right now, it bounces into timelines and WhatsApp groups as its own unique push notification. What comes next is tough to predict.

If the last three years has taught the ISF heads anything, it is to keep revising the ceiling in their heads.

That, and to take pride from the work that everyone puts in.

"It’s a great thing to be part of," Leahy smiles.

"It’s a great thing to be associated with. It’s one of those things that brings people together in a time when it’s very easily to be torn apart by stuff and I just love being along for the ride."