While watching a children's cartoon (something with bunnies for the under 9 crowd) I noticed that the show used the Bionic Man sound effect when one of the bunnies attempted some sort of giant leap. It occurred to me that the vast majority of children would not get this reference. My sister-in-law's husband and I concluded that these references were inserted to amuse long-suffering parental units.
But the incident got me to a-wondering.
How are pop culture references passed along?
Example: There are two obvious groups watching the bunny cartoon. 1. Older folks who have seen The Six-Million Dollar Man and understand the reference, and 2. Younger kiddies who haven't and don't. But I postulate a 3rd group. A middle group who haven't seen (and don't particularly want to see the show) the show but understand the reference nevertheless. I think many of these references have become part of a common mythos and live on independently of their source material.