When People Don’t Get Your Pop Culture References

The other night, after a particularly busy burger night, I was commiserating with a fellow employee about how dirty and tired we were.  I noticed a layer of ash covering my hands and arms, which prompted me to say “They look like good strong hands, don’t they?  I always thought that’s what they were.”  This brought about a lot of concern and reassuring comments from my co-worker, who told me what a great job I did all night, and that my hands were very strong indeed.

I guess she did not know that I was just quoting the rock biter from The Neverending Story.  I suppose I could have explained it, but when you have to explain your references, there is really no point to them.  Sadly, this happens to me all the time.  I spend half my time feeling like Abed (and if you don’t get that reference because you don’t watch Community then there is no hope for you).

My references have gotten me into a certain amount of trouble in the past, and I have to consider that perhaps the problem lies with me, and not the confused parties.  Maybe I should not be quoting random things to people all the time during normal conversation, but when I think of some odd connection between what we are talking about and some sort of media that I really enjoy, I just want to say it!  And that’s not always a good thing.

When I was in first or second grade, and I was heavily diving into my Dad’s old comic books, my mother came up one night to put me to bed and asked me if I was okay, because I had seemed a bit upset that day I guess.  I told her “I think maybe I just don’t have the capacity to be happy.”  Now, this was the last line of a Spider-Man comic I had just read, and Peter Parker was moping as usual because Spider-Man was ruining his life, however my mother did not know that, and she took this comment very seriously.  I was an inch away from spending all of my free time at the psychologist’s.

I also remember another time in middle school when I was playing with a fellow comic lover, and I don’t remember at all what we were playing, but somehow she came out ahead, or did something that was bad for me, and I (completely jokingly) said “God must really hate me to stick me with a friend like you.”  Now, in hindsight, this is never a good thing to say, but to be fair it was something that Wolverine had just said in an X-Men comic that she had just let me borrow.  I thought for sure she would get the reference because it was from her comic, one of her favorites, that she made me read!  Instead she burst into tears and ran out of the room.

So I have learned not to use my quoting powers for any sort of evil.  Put downs and psychologically troubling remarks are rarely seen as clever or funny, even if they are from a book or a movie.  The other thing I have noticed, and let me assure you that this is not meant to be sexist but just an observation, is that most of the people who do not get my references are female.  In fact, I have some guy friends whose whole conversations with each other will sometimes just be quotes from movies and television shows.  I don’t know why this is, and since I am only using my own limited experiences and have not conducted a formal study, I cannot conclude that guys quote things and girls do not.  But the guys I know quote things.  And some of the girls I know get confused when half of the things I say are from Ghostbusters.

I guess the trick is to just know your audience, but sometimes that isn’t always possible.  So you have to decide, is it worth the risk?  You want to appear knowledgeable and clever, which will happen if people get your references, but you do not want to appear confusing and weird, which is the downside if people do not get your references.  It’s up to you.  There is a big payoff in awesomeness, but an even bigger weirdo-risk-factor when you fail.  So I guess, just quote with caution, and may the force be with you!  (I’m pretty sure you all got that one…)

Posted in Comic Books, Ghostbusters, Movies, Quotes, Spider-Man, The Neverending Story.


  1. I totally knew you were referring to The Neverending Story. I guess that’s why we’re friends.

    I actually bought that DVD a few years ago and made my wife watch it because she had no idea what it was. Unfortunately, she doesn’t have the same appreciation for it that I do.

  2. Tenor Dad you are insightful and your references are good as a reference can be when used. I have not either conducted a study on whether or not females do or do not get references to media culture. From my own personal study, all I can say on that is that my wife smiles at me very much perhaps I infer too much than she implies. Happy marriages are good and I do not wish to rock the boat (which is a fairly common and understood reference we get). Failure can indeed be equal to (or greater than) being weird.

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