The Simpsons: Starting the Reference Revolution | NowThis Nerd

Hey guys I’m Mike and yes, I still watch ‘The Simpsons’ Not so much the new stuff, but there’s not a day that goes by without watching at least a clip of Our Favorite Family

Hi, Super Nintendo Chalmers! I started watching when I was a kid, and back then I was pretty much in it for Homer and Bart’s whacky hijinks But as I got older, I started to wonder about all the jokes and gags that I just didn’t have the context for Why is Grandpa Simpson making potatoes dance? What’s up with those tattoos on Sideshow Bob’s hands? And why is the show so fixated on some old guy with a snow globe? To answer those questions, I had to expand my horizons and discover an entire world of pop culture that I had no idea existed Let’s take a look at how ‘The Simpsons’ kicked off the reference revolution, starting with the power of pop culture references Lousy speedbumps! All right, bear with me, we're gonna get a little heady, because In the decades leading up to ‘The Simpsons,’ postmodernism tore down the walls between fancy-schmancy high art and mass-produced pop culture

Matt Groening? What's he doing in a museum? He can barely draw! Artists like Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein got famous by re-interpreting lowbrow stuff like soup cans and comic books into capital-A “Art” By tapping into nostalgia, their work transformed our old familiar feelings into something completely new Their work is the primordial pop culture reference, and ‘The Simpsons’ brought that same sensibility to TV Despite being a cartoon, early ‘Simpsons’ was one of the more realistic shows out there The family struggled to pay the bills, fought with depression (and eachother) And just like us, they watched a ton of TV

Hey Lis, wanna join us? Room for one more! We're watchin' the TV! In the days before cable and VCRs, everyone pretty much grew up watching the same stuff, the same reruns and the same old movies And so did the nerds in the ‘Simpsons’ writers room They poured their shared pop culture experience into the show, and used references as shorthand for characterization and exposition Excuse me, what are you doing? I'm giving you the beating of your life! When ‘The Simpsons’ debuted, there was a lot of skepticism about an animated sitcom for grownups So they stuck close to the tropes of the very first one

I mean, right from the get-go you can make an argument that the entire show is a reference to ‘The Flintstones’ Simpson, Homer Simpson, he's the greatest guy in history He's about to hit a chestnut tree! Both star a lunkhead, bowling-obsessed father with a shitty job, His frazzled but loving wife who’s always decked out in pearls, And a best friend named Barney You stole my idea There's nothing wrong with a little healthy competition! ‘The Simpsons’ got you in the door with the familiar old cliches, And used that nostalgia to subvert your expectations Aw nuts I mean Aw, nuts I mean, I never heard of Citizen Kane until I read about it in that Simpsons episode guide And when I actually saw the movie for the first time in film school, all I could think was: “Holy shit, I’ve basically seen this entire movie on ‘The Simpsons!” The show expertly uses Orson Welles’ masterpiece to fill in the backstory of Mr Burns

It can be explicit, like the episode ‘Rosebud’ that gives Burns the same tragic origin as Kane, or his ill-fated run for Governor mirroring Kane’s electoral failure And even subtle visual shout-outs are enough to superimpose Charles Foster Kane’s values on Charles Montgomery Burns So let me ask you this! Does your money hug you when you come home at night? And does it say "I love you?" No, it doesn't Nobody loves you, nobody loves you, you're old and you're ugly, nobody loves you! They’re ruthless, power-hungry millionaires, And they both end up as miserable, desperately lonely old men ‘The Simpsons’ writers could have come up with some elaborate backstory on their own, But they didn’t need to, because Orson Welles nailed it decades before And Mr Burns isn't even part of the original family, so the fact that he has this elaborate backstory is awesome It’s like how they use Travis Bickle to illustrate Moe’s pathetic rage, Are you talking to me? There's no one else here, you must– Well That was an antique Or how they initially established Mrs Krabappel’s series-long thirst for love when she came on to Mr Bergstrom, Whose voice actor bore a suspicious resemblance to Benjamin Braddock

Mrs Krabappel, you're trying to seduce me From Itchy and Scratchy to Glengarry Glen Gil, ‘The Simpsons’ uses archetypes and inspirations from the past to paint a more vivid portrait of the world of Springfield Good afternoon and welcome to the Do What You Feel Festival! By the way, this young lady is not my wife, but I am sleeping with her! Let’s take a closer look at how the show uses references in one of my all-time favorite episodes: Season four’s 'A Streetcar Named Marge' After Marge gets bit by the acting bug, she lands the lead in the Springfield Community Center’s musical production of ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ But when Homer scoffs at her dreams, she channels that anger into a powerhouse performance that wins his respect

[HORN HONKING] Marge! Move it or lose it! I twist this bottle in your face! Ned, you're supposed to overpower her! I'm trying, I'm trying! First off, the idea of a cheerful broadway musical of Tennessee Williams’ intense social drama is just hilarious on its face, Especially the closing number, which desperately misses the point of the play’s bleak ending : I have always depended on the kindess of strangers You can always depend on, the kindness of strangers! But the ‘Streetcar’ connection is more than a joke It goes right to the core of the story the writers are trying to tell

Whoever you are I have always depended on the kindness of strangers Marge plays Blanche Dubois, a faded Southern belle at odds with her sister’s brute of a husband Aw, isn't that cute? Me without a camera! And her arc mirrors Marge’s struggle to connect with Homer and make him see her as an individual with talent, hopes and dreams Marge, you were terrific It made me feel bad

The poor thing got hauled to the nuthouse when all she needed was for that big slob to show her respect At least that's what I thought I have a history of missing the point of stuff like this Homer, you got it just right If you’ve seen ‘Streetcar,’ it’s downright genius

And if you haven’t, you’ll probably realize it at the same time Homer does Of course, that’s not the only reference involved in the intricate tapestry the ‘Simpsons’ writers wove There’s a b-plot involving Maggie and a tyrannical daycare that’s a direct homage to ‘The Great Escape,’ It just replaces the Nazis of the film with a Jon Lovitz-voiced babysitter who’s a devotee of Ayn Rand’s obnoxious philosophy Mrs Simpson

Do you know what a baby's saying when she reaches for a bottle? Ba ba? She's saying "I am a leech!" Our aim here is to develop the bottle within The whole episode is like a pop culture buffet, with random shout-outs to Hitchcock and, of course, more ‘Citizen Kane’ Even if I didn’t understand half the references when I first saw it, I wanted to find out Because if it was something on ‘The Simpsons,’ it was something worth knowing From damn near day one, ‘The Simpsons’ became an institution just as important as the cult classics it loved to name-drop

And as its influence grew, so did entertainment’s reliance on references Animation was built on plagiarism! If it weren't for someone plagiarizing 'The Honeymooners,' we wouldn't have 'The Flintstones!' As the artists of Generation X grew up and started to find their own voice, They embraced ‘The Simpsons’’ referential style I can’t believe I’m mentioning Kevin Smith and Quentin Tarantino in the same sentence, But both of their careers owe a lot to referencing, re-mixing and recontextualizing nostalgia for their past The ending of 'Return of the Jedi' My friend here is trying to convince me that any independent contractors who were working on the uncompleted Death Star were innocent victims when it was destroyed by the Rebels

It is reminding a f*ck machine what it was once like to be a virgin Hence, 'Like a Virgin' Plenty of TV shows have gotten in on the racket, too, and it’s been great for business I mean, without references, what are all those big red arrows in YouTube thumbnails going to point to? Shows like ‘Community’ and ‘Arrested Development’ built their reputation on pop culture callbacks, And animation has embraced it even more Ground Control to Major Tom! Your circuit's dead! There's something wrong

Can you hear me?! Major Tom!!! Probably because it’s easier to make a Battlestar Galactica joke when you don’t have to build expensive robot costumes for a three-second cutaway gag Look, I’m not here to relitigate ‘Family Guy’s’ vapid use of references in lieu of actual jokes You remember

I remember Remember that one time ‘South Park’ pretty much nailed that one 'Family Guy' is written by manatees? Of course

It all makes sense now Don’t get me wrong, Matt and Trey aren’t stingy with the shout-outs But unlike your ‘Robot Chickens’ and your ‘Big Bang Theories,’ they tend do it in service of a story Of course, ‘The Simpsons’ did it! 'Simpsons' did it! 'Simpsons' did it! There’s an argument to be made that ‘The Simpsons’ is too dependent on the pop culture of the past That in the years and decades to come, no one will remember what an Apple Newton was, Or how Joe Piscopo taught us all to laugh But that kind of thing didn’t stop me from falling in love with the show

And it didn’t stop Little Yachty from writing that dope-ass rap, Skinner, servin' up steamed hams for dinner and he wasn't even born until season nine, which is when the show started to jump the shar Li'l bit Li'l bit Look, ‘The Simpsons’ is an institution unto itself

You don’t need to understand every reference to appreciate its brilliance But thanks to the Internet, the entire century of pop culture that led to the show is right at your fingertips If you feel like exploring, I promise it’ll be worth your while Google a reference you’ve never heard of Download that weird old movie

That journey into the depths of endless entertainment, is how ‘The Simpsons’ made me the nerd I am today

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