Dictionary of Popular Culture References

Introduction: Years from now, will our kids be able to understand the stuff we thought was funny? Probably not. After all, look at all the references to wartime rationing in all the Bugs Bunny cartoons. So here's an attempt to collect contemporary popular culture reference for future generations. See something similar on MST3K or SNL? Send it to me!




Original source: Perhaps the ultimate example of someone becoming famous simply by being famous. Angelyne has appeared in only three movies (most tellingly, her role in "Earth Girls are Easy" was "Blonde."), Angelyne has become know to all Hollywood for her billboards, showing her in a bikini or Lolita-type sunglasses, emphasizing her against-the-laws-of-physics assets. Angelyne has parlayed her fame into an international fan club, video documentary, and personal appearances in her Barbie-pink Corvette.

Usage: Angelyne's billboard over Hollywood Boulevard was destoyed in two movies within one year: "Escape from L.A." and "Volcano."



Original source: Among the many supporting characters of the Superman comic books was Bizarro, an "imperfect duplicate" of the Man of Steel, whose face resembled white faceted stone, and who spoke in tortured English constructions like "Me am going away now." Originally intended as a tragic figure, Bizarro eventually settled on his own planet, renaming it Htrae, and peopled it with thousands of imperfect duplicates of himself, Lois Lane, and the rest of the Superman family. In later encounters with Superman, and in a series of solo stories, the Bizarros demonstrated the great lengths they went to to live up to their Bizarro Code: "Us do the opposite of all Earthly things! Us hate beauty! Us love ugliness! Is a big crime to make anything perfect on Bizarro World!"

Usage: A mid-80's "Saturday Night Live" (NBC, 1975- ) sketch by Michael O'Donoghue portrayed the working of an imagined Bizarro White House, occupied by a Bizarro President Reagan: "It am an international crisis! Quick, Bizarro President! Go to sleep!"

Comedian Jerry Seinfeld, a big Superman fan, peppered his Seinfeld TV show (NBC, 1988- ) with Superman references. When the sitcom Jerry is pitching a sitcom pilot to NBC, his pal George decides they should get at least as much as Ted Danson, but his negotiating skills result in, first, the pilot being cancelled, and then, reinstated for less money. Jerry berates him with, "You don't negotiate to get a lower salary! That's negotiation on the Bizarro World!"

In a later episode, ex-girlfreind Elaine meets someone who is just like Jerry, only courteous and informed on matters other than Superman and cartoons. Jerry refers to him as the "Bizarro Jerry." Elaine discovers this is too true when she visits the Bizarro Jerry's apartment, a cleaner mirror image of Jerry's, and his friends, versions of George and Kramer who behave exactly the opposite or Jerry's friends. At the end of the episode, we see the Bizarro Newman giving ballet tickets to the Bizarro Jerry and his friends, leading a group hug and the Bizarro Jerry proclaiming, "Me so happy, me could cry!"



Original source: The Democratic National Headquarters at the Watergate Hotel in Washington DC was burgled in 1972 by operatives of the Committee to Re-elect the President. The resulting investigation revealed many crimes committed or sanctioned by members of Richard Nixon's circle, which led to jail time for many Cabinet officers, and the resignation of Nixon himself. The suffix "-gate" has become attached to many investigations of possible wrongdoing, most often those involving the President. By creating a "-gate," of course, political enemies hope to equate the current President's indiscretions with the ones that disgraced Nixon. Thus Reagan was subjected to Irangate, Bush to Contragate, Clinton to Filegate, Travelgate, Nannygate, etc., and Dustin Hoffman subjected audiences to "Billy Bathgate."


Lord of the Dance, Riverdance

"Riverdance," the Branson of Irish traditional dancing shows, has become as much a part of PBS pledge weeks as a Peter, Paul & Mary concert. This popularity has inspired one of the show's stars to start his own show, "Lord of Dance." A video is already being advertised showing the star, chest hair exposed, dancin' up a storm. This shot had already been dupplicated in a "Mystery Science Theatre 3000" bit, and an in-house commercial for "Dexter's Laboratory" (Dexter: Duke of the Dance!) on the Cartoon Network.


Justice League #12Monologuing, Monologging (v)

The practice of cartoon or comic book villains to launch into extended harangues or exposition at the least opportune time, such as when they have the hero at their mercy and a moment from a sure death. Though vital to establish the villains' backstory or motivation, it also either betrays the villains' weakness, or gives the hero a few precious seconds to escape their predicament.

Source: Although the unnecessary monologue has long been a convention of superhero comics and was used in the Austin Powers movies, it was The Incredibles where the practice was actually named:

Frozone: So now I'm in deep trouble. I mean, one more jolt of this death ray and I'm an epitaph. Somehow I manage to find cover and what does Baron von Ruthless do?
Mr Incredible: [Laughing] He starts monologuing.
Frozone: He starts monologuing! He starts this, like, prepared speech about how "feeble" I am compared to him, how "inevitable" my defeat is, how "the world will soon be his," yadda yadda yadda.
Mr Incredible: Yammering.
Frozone: Yammering! I mean, the guy has me on a platter and he won't shut up!

Usage: Scott Tipton's Comics 101 column on Moviepoopshoot.com can't help but use the word, here describing Doctor Light's subduing of the Justice League of America:

"As Snapper Carr arrives at the Secret Sanctuary in response to his JLA signal device, he finds not the League but Dr. Light, who engages in some serious monologuing for the benefit of the confused JLA mascot. Dr. Light, logically enough, has mastered all the secrets of light, and planned to use these scientific techniques for – what else? – world conquest."

Regrettably, it's not Snapper who saves the day while Light is monologuing, but Superman and Batman, who had suspected something was fishy and switched costumes before Light transported them to their respective death traps. Note that most DC Comics of the 1960's featured plenty of monloguing on every cover, too.


Shocked, shocked!

Original source: "Casablanca" (Motion picture: Warner Brothers, 1942)

Events at Rick's Cafe Americain have become uncomfortable for Casablanca's Vichy government: Freedom fighter Victor Laszlo has led employees and patrons in a rendition of "La Marseillase" to drown some boisterous German soldiers singing "Die Wacht am Rhein." Major Strasser orders the happily corrupt Vichy constable Renault to find a reason to shut Rick's down. When asked by Rick what's going on, Renault replies, "I am shocked! shocked! to find that there is gambling going on here!" At that moment a croupier presents Renault with his own gambling winnings, which he politely accepts.

Usage: In a year-end piece recalling the revelation that many of Chicago's aldermen, policemen and city officials had accumulated thousands of unpaid parking tickets, the Chicago Reader recalled that; "The mayor (Richard M. Daley) was shocked, shocked to learn that so many trusted elected officials and civil servants were taking the city for a ride. He was even more shocked that city clerk Jim Laski blew the whistle." "Uncivil Servants," Dec. 27, 1996. Sec. I, p. 25.

Often used to refer to someone, often a government official, who professes outrage at some unsavory activity performed by another, yet of which he himself is often guilty or obviously has full knowledge.


Warning! Warning!

Original Source: "Lost in Space" (TV series: CBS 1965-68)

The wandering space family Robinson were notified of impending danger by Robot, a contraption similar to Robby the Robot, which delivered its warnings by flailing its corrugated plastic tube arms and saying "Warning! Warning!" Dr. Smith, whose machinations caused the Robinsons to become lost in the first place, was usually the person being warned about, owing to his attempts to cut a deal for himself with the alien of the week.

The phrase is usually delivered with an imitative waving of arms, or at least in a flat "robotic" tone of voice, to alert others of impending travail.

Sample usage:

Panel 1: Dilbert's Boss: "We need to finish your program twice as fast, so I'm adding a person to help you."

Panel 2: Boss, walking away from cubicle: "You might need to train him a little before he's productive."

Dilbert, waving his arms unseen (thought balloon): "Warning! Warning! Dr. Smith"

Panel 3: Added person, simian in aspect, and pointing to computer: "Tell me again what the big glowing thing is."

"Dilbert," by Scott Adams. March 7, 1995