Friday, December 28, 2007

Pop Culture Anthropology ... Assignment #2

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.



Anonymous said...

Ok... count me in this discussion. Pop culture pushes my goody button.

I agree with your "three groups" postulation. I catch stuff like that all the time. It really does seem to be common in childrens' cartoons. Spongebob Squarepants is chock-full of 'em. I think you can estimate the age of the writers of such shows by the pop culture references they throw in.

I'm going to add a fourth group. People who have no idea what the reference means but still pass it along. I think "Casablanca" is responsible for more of this type than just about anything in modern pop culture. I've got into discussions of just this sort with someone who once said to me, "This could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship" but had never seen the movie.

You hear little ones say, "Doh!" made so popular by Homer Simpson without knowing the reference. "Family Guy" and "Futurama" have some great ones also.

I guess this is just an example of the oral tradition. References can be repeated with or without understanding but if repeated enough they embed themselves in the culture. I suppose that's just another way of saying what you did about them being independent of the source material.

Another thought. Even twenty years ago it might take some time for a pop culture reference to worm its way into everyday speech. But with the internet, especially such avenues as YouTube I would think, it can literally happen overnight.

All your base are belong to us!


Victor Gischler said...


Good points and interesting observations about language which is all symbolic anyway. I took my 4-year-old to Disney World recently and wondered how many people used the term "E-ticket Ride" without understanding the phrase's origin.