What story and cultural references have outlived what they referred to?
November 21, 2011 11:52 AM   Subscribe

Can anyone think of cultural references that have replaced what they are referring to?

I was watching 'Lady and the Tramp' last night, and I realized that 'Peg's' performance in the dog pound was an extended reference to Peggy Lee, the woman who voiced that and other characters. I also remembered reading that Bugs Bunny's schtick (carrots in a cigarette case, eating the carrots, 'What's up, Doc?') was a direct reference to an earlier movie. The audiences of these works would, at the time, be familiar with their references - but today, less so.

Are there other cultural/entertainment references that have surpassed their referents? That is, are certains things known more for being alluded to than in and of themselves?
posted by the man of twists and turns to Media & Arts (51 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
 
Chief Wiggum's voice is an impression of Edward G. Robinson, but I'll bet more people know who Wiggum is over Robinson.
posted by griphus at 11:57 AM on November 21, 2011 [4 favorites]


Check out the TV Tropes page for "Older than they think"

(Warning...any TV tropes link can/will end up sucking you into what ends up to be several hours of wasted time)
posted by Captain_Science at 12:07 PM on November 21, 2011 [10 favorites]


A lot of people use the (mis)quote, "Badges? We don't need no stinking badges!" without knowing anything at all about where it originally came from. I'd bet most of them just assume they're quoting Blazing Saddles.

I have no idea who Rex Harrison is but I guess Stewie Griffin is based on him.

There are lines in the movie Airplane! that are hilarious in that film even though they're taken word-for-word from the film Zero Hour, which is not a comedy, and which hardly anyone has ever seen.
posted by bondcliff at 12:11 PM on November 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


See also Pop Cultural Osmosis.
posted by Faint of Butt at 12:11 PM on November 21, 2011


This Wikipedia page has some examples that fit your criteria: List of Comic and Cartoon Characters Named After People.
posted by amyms at 12:11 PM on November 21, 2011


Andy Warhol's Campbell's soup cans.

Spinal Tap.

Dana Carvey's impression of George H.W. Bush has become more of a reference point than anything about how Bush actually speaks or acts.

A lot of the Beatles' genre parodies are probably direct influences on people who don't bother to go back to the originals: "Honey Pie," "When I'm 64," "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite," etc.

Quentin Tarantino movies?
posted by John Cohen at 12:12 PM on November 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Not sure if this counts: David Letterman and Jon Stewart often imitate Jerry Lewis. I'm sure some of the younger viewers see this as their own comic style and not an allusion to Jerry Lewis.
posted by John Cohen at 12:14 PM on November 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Funny little example of this phenomenon from Community.
posted by Lorin at 12:14 PM on November 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


"Beam me up, Scotty" is said by people who never saw Star Trek TOS and in fact the line never appeared in the series phrased that way. (Was usually more like "Two to beam up, Mr. Scott")
posted by drjimmy11 at 12:20 PM on November 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Jon Stewart often imitates Johnny Carson imitating various older comedians.
posted by mikepop at 12:22 PM on November 21, 2011


Debatable whether "The Flintstones" or "The Honeymooners" is more well-known.

I love watching Bugs Bunny cartoons with my mother, because she can tell me what some of the more obscure references are.
posted by Melismata at 12:22 PM on November 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


Speaking of Carson, he's the guy that made up the "Bullions and bullions" thing that everyone assumes Carl Sagan said all the time.
posted by bondcliff at 12:23 PM on November 21, 2011


The Simpsons' depiction of Bill Cosby is more exaggerated than Cosby's actual stand-up routines (yes, I too once thought it was impossible) and that version has become the definitive one for others performing parodies of Cosby.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 12:25 PM on November 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


About 75% of Lil Wayne's lyrics, apparently. This is also not infrequent in hip hop.
posted by cashman at 12:28 PM on November 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Foghorn Leghorn (the rooster from Looney Tunes) is much better known nowadays than the old-time radio character he was based on, Senator Beauregard Claghorn.
posted by Johnny Assay at 12:48 PM on November 21, 2011 [11 favorites]


The comic move where you're being a little pretentious and self-important, and you do an exaggerated sniff with your cheek muscles pulling your mouth into a frown while you hitch up your pants? Don Knotts. He could very well be doing somebody prior, but I don't know who it might be.

From politics, "what did he know and when did he know it" as well as "follow the money" -- those come from Watergate.

From Spinal Tap -- turning it up to 11
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 12:58 PM on November 21, 2011


"Wink wink, nudge nudge!"

Which I've heard people saying who I know have never heard of Monty Python, much less Eric Idle.
posted by droplet at 1:04 PM on November 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Referring to "dialing" a phone.

Referring to an "album" of music when such a collection of nine to twelve songs is now most commonly downloaded or bought on a compact disc (as opposed to a large cardboard sleeve with a vinyl disc and a paper inner sleeve).

Calling a web site with a series of auto-advancing images a "slideshow" when no one I know has handled an actual film (positive) slide in more years than I can guess.

Saying "regular" gasoline when you mean "unleaded" -- but actually mean "non-premium unleaded" -- since leaded gas isn't legal for sale in the U.S. any more. (I understand that people with sufficiently old cars can purchase a lead additive to keep their powerful, smokin' beasts on the road.)

Jokes about makign someone stand in one partocular spot in order to chieve perfect television receiption though over-the-air high digital broadcasts may have given this one new life.
posted by wenestvedt at 1:12 PM on November 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


Buck naked.
posted by MrMoonPie at 1:14 PM on November 21, 2011


I'm not talking about anachronisms in the sense of calling the phone company 'Ma Bell' or other holdovers from previous technologies. I meant more like 'characters that entered culturual conciuosness through parody or reference, and now the original reference is lost.'
posted by the man of twists and turns at 1:20 PM on November 21, 2011


(The Bugs Bunny eating carrots thing in the OP is a reference to Clark Gable in It Happened One Night, by the way.)
posted by shakespeherian at 1:23 PM on November 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


Jumped the shark.

It has been 34 years since Fonzie did it.
posted by jgirl at 1:52 PM on November 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


(OT)

Referring to an "album" of music when such a collection of nine to twelve songs is now most commonly downloaded or bought on a compact disc (as opposed to a large cardboard sleeve with a vinyl disc and a paper inner sleeve).

Referring to an "album" of music as a large cardboard sleeve with a vinyl disc and a paper inner sleeve, as opposed to a collection of 78's housed in a book-like outer jacket.
posted by anagrama at 1:53 PM on November 21, 2011 [10 favorites]


For that matter, Happy Days has overtaken actual 50s sitcoms as far as depictions of the 1950s are concerned.
posted by griphus at 1:53 PM on November 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


A lot of the iconic images from Kubrick's films have been appropriated by newer films and television shows (the War Room/Slim Pickens riding the bomb in Dr. Strangelove, HAL singing "Bicycle Built for Two"/the stars blurring into coloured streaks of light in Keir Dullea's face in 2001, and more that don't come immediately to mind). I would have found it hard to believe that people couldn't spot those references, but it seems there are a lot of people who haven't seen the original films and don't get the joke.
posted by the luke parker fiasco at 2:34 PM on November 21, 2011


"the shot heard round the world" - I learned (in Canada) that this was the assassination of Archbishop Ferdinand which started WWI, but apparently it was originally use to refer to the first shot of the American Revolution. I believe this confusion means there are two correct answers to a Trivial Pursuit question (at least I've successfully argued for the alternative answer twice).

"round the horn" - I am horrified to learn this is now a baseball phrase. I was all excited to watch a program about the history of sailing but no, baseball. I assume that it sarcastically compares sailing through a dangerous passage to the other side of the world with throwing a ball around three/four bases for no reason other than you feel like it. But googling the phrase it's very hard to find reference to the original meaning.
posted by hydrobatidae at 2:40 PM on November 21, 2011


Catch-22
There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one's safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn't, but if he were sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn't have to; but if he didn't want to he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle. (p. 46, ch. 5)
posted by theora55 at 2:44 PM on November 21, 2011 [4 favorites]


I imagine that if you whistled the theme from "Bridge Over the River Kwai", most people would identify it as either "that song they all whistle in The Breakfast Club" or the "Comet, it makes your teeth turn green, Comet it tastes like gasoline" song.
posted by 23skidoo at 4:06 PM on November 21, 2011 [4 favorites]


There's tons of stuff in Alice in Wonderland that parodied contemporary poems that are now essentially forgotten. See Gardner's Annotated Alice for the originals.
posted by Mapes at 5:01 PM on November 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


Jim Morrison got the name for the Doors from Huxley's book The Doors of Perception (1954). Huxley got the phrase from William Blake in poem The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. Not sure if that counts since all three are very well-known.
posted by costanza at 5:20 PM on November 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


I imagine that if you whistled the theme from "Bridge Over the River Kwai", most people would identify it as either "that song they all whistle in The Breakfast Club" or the "Comet, it makes your teeth turn green, Comet it tastes like gasoline" song.I imagine that if you whistled the theme from "Bridge Over the River Kwai", most people would identify it as either "that song they all whistle in The Breakfast Club" or the "Comet, it makes your teeth turn green, Comet it tastes like gasoline" song.

Ah! But the original viewers of The Bridge Over the River Kwai would probably have identified the tune as Hitler Has Only Got One Ball, most of them not realizing the music had in fact been written in 1914 as the Colonel Bogey March (which, according to Wikipedia, alluded to "the presiding spirit" of the game of golf, which in turn referred to a 19th-century scoring system . . .).
posted by Orinda at 5:22 PM on November 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


"Drink the koolaid." This is used in contexts that really grate on those who know that it comes from the cause of death of hundreds of people at Jonestown. The marketing director of my employer is fond of using it to indicate how dedicated his team are to the company.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:03 PM on November 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


The 'save' icon on a computer program is a floppy disk that no one uses. 'Rewind' on DVDs, when there's no tape to be wound. A magnifying glass icon to show zoom, when most people never use a real one.
posted by twirlypen at 7:21 PM on November 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Of course, "drink the Kool-Aid" is like "beam me up, Scotty", "we don't need no stinkin' badges", and "play it again, Sam". (Also "that Samsonite commercial with the gorilla".)
posted by Lexica at 9:10 PM on November 21, 2011


Isn't Lady and the Tramp itself an example of this? Sure, "The Lady is a Tramp" hasn't passed into complete obscurity, but I'd say the song is a heck of a lot less widely-known than the movie.
posted by threeants at 10:26 PM on November 21, 2011


Do song covers/samples count? Until now I had no idea that "Tainted Cell," made famous by Soft Cell in the '80s, and covered by Marilyn Manson in 2001, was originally a soul song performed by Gloria Jones in the '60s. (Now I get why the Soft Cell' longer version segues into "Where Did Our Love Go.")

But at least I've known for a few years now that "Always Something There to Remind Me" dates to the '60s. But it does make one lose all confidence upon hearing a modern cover of an old song, because that old song might have been a cover in the first place Especially when the lyricist was relatively unknown.

But I think two more famous examples might be MC Hammer's "U Can't Touch This" borrowing heavily from Rick James' "Super Freak," and Vanilla Ice's "Ice Ice Baby" borrowing from Queen/Bowie's "Under Pressure."
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 1:01 AM on November 22, 2011


Also, fictional characters with seemingly made-up names that are based on older works, or real names. Yoda, for example, is a fairly common Japanese surname. The character is surmised to have been named after the screenwriter Yoshikata Yoda.
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 1:11 AM on November 22, 2011


23skidoo: ""Comet, it makes your teeth turn green, Comet it tastes like gasoline""

Which brings to mind Bart Simpson trying to write a birthday song for his sister, singing "Lisa, her teeth are big and green, Lisa, she smells like gasoline..."
posted by IndigoRain at 3:22 AM on November 22, 2011


My friend (who sometimes overreacts) came home fuming the other day after a colloquium in which the speaker said, "And now, to quote Aldous Huxley, it looks like we are entering a Brave New World".
posted by Acheman at 4:16 AM on November 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Of course, "drink the Kool-Aid" is like "beam me up, Scotty", "we don't need no stinkin' badges", and "play it again, Sam". (Also "that Samsonite commercial with the gorilla".)

I am not following you. How is a term originally derived from a mass murder like any of those derived from entertainment?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:26 AM on November 22, 2011


Because no one in Jonestown drank actual Kool-Aid. Like the other examples, this is a mis-remembering of the actual event that has passed into popular culture.
posted by MrMoonPie at 6:27 AM on November 22, 2011


That's right, it was supposedly "Flavor Aid".
posted by galaksit at 6:53 AM on November 22, 2011


Largely irrelevant to the point that the common use of the phrase trivializes a monstrous act of mass murder.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 7:14 AM on November 22, 2011


I would imagine more people, in the US at least, are more familiar with Top Cat than with Phil Silvers. (Phil Silvers was repeated a lot on BBC during my childhood.)

Sadly, too, Big Brother is probably better known now as a reality TV incarnation. And Duran Duran is remembered as a band, not a character from Barbarella.

Oh yes - does Boobarella from The Simpsons count? Or is Elvira still well known in the US?
posted by mippy at 7:21 AM on November 22, 2011


Meanwhile, the Kool-Aid thing is also one of those weird cases where the general ironic use of a negative phrase slowly becomes an occasional non-ironic positive phrase.
posted by griphus at 7:22 AM on November 22, 2011


Until now I had no idea that "Tainted Cell,"

You mean "Tainted Love."

If cover songs count: many people think of "I've Got My Mind Set on You" purely as a George Harrison song because of his 1987 cover. It was written by Rudy Clark and originally recorded by James Ray in 1962.
posted by John Cohen at 9:50 AM on November 22, 2011


Largely irrelevant to the point that the common use of the phrase trivializes a monstrous act of mass murder.

Gosh, and here I thought the question asked by the OP was "Can anyone think of cultural references that have replaced what they are referring to?" not "What common phrases trivialize monstrous acts of mass murder?"

*scrolls back up* Oh, look — it was!

Since the question was, in fact, "Can anyone think of cultural references that have replaced what they are referring to?" I think it was perfectly appropriate for me to point out (obliquely, but clearly enough that at least one other person got it) that the cultural reference "Drink the Kool-Aid" has replaced the actual historical reference of Flavor Aid being used at Jonestown. Similarly with "beam me up Scotty", "we don't need no stinkin' badges", and "play it again, Sam". And the gorilla has become so tightly linked with Samsonite in many people's minds that I've seen complaints that the commercial can't be found on YouTube, even though it's all over the place.
posted by Lexica at 10:54 AM on November 22, 2011


Along the same line as the Chief Wiggum\Edward G Robinson thing, the voice of Ren Höek of Ren and Stimpy was a demented impression of Peter Lorre. Not sure to what extent anyone remembers either Ren or Peter Lorre though.
posted by JaredSeth at 1:38 PM on November 22, 2011


Oh yes - does Boobarella from The Simpsons count? Or is Elvira still well known in the US?

A dwindling few of us even remember Vampira.
posted by Devoidoid at 4:18 PM on November 22, 2011


Oh yes - does Boobarella from The Simpsons count? Or is Elvira still well known in the US?

A dwindling few of us even remember Vampira.


More layers of the onion: "The idea for the Vampira character was born in 1953 when Nurmi attended choreographer Lester Horton's annual Bal Caribe Masquerade in a costume inspired by Morticia Addams in The New Yorker cartoons of Charles Addams. . . . Nurmi's characterization was influenced by the Dragon Lady from the comic strip Terry and the Pirates and the evil queen from Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs."
posted by Orinda at 7:51 PM on November 22, 2011


You mean "Tainted Love."

Yes, I do. Mental autopilot.

Along the same line as the Chief Wiggum\Edward G Robinson thing, the voice of Ren Höek of Ren and Stimpy was a demented impression of Peter Lorre. Not sure to what extent anyone remembers either Ren or Peter Lorre though.

And wasn't Stimpy somewhat based on Larry Fine? On a similar note, I think a lot of people grew up recognizing those old-time WB actors (like Robinson) based on their Looney Tunes caricatures, but I kinda doubt kids even stumble upon those cartoons anymore.
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 8:02 PM on November 22, 2011


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