Cultural reverse peristalsis

There is an alarming tendency for pop cultural references to double back on themselves, reversing cause and effect. This is understandable. Pop culture is, by nature, a vulturous beast, consuming gobfuls of source material in its insatiably cavernous maw, as it digests anything and everything in its massive gelatinous path to a soft syrupy pulp.

Which sometimes results in an odd sort of reverse peristalsis. The very food upon which pop culture feeds becomes regurgitated and turned upside down. When this happens, people can become confused.

Case in point: In the era when “Star Trek, the Next Generation” was on the air, that intrepid Starship captain Jean-Luc Picard was the man of the moment. I remember students, upon first encountering the films of Jean-Luc Goddard, being amused that this french filmmaker had the same first name as the captain of the U.S.S. Enterprise.

Of course they had it all backwards. J.J. Abrams and his associates had named Jean-Luc Picard in homage to the great nouvelle vague director, a point that was missed entirely by these students.

Similarly, people who were raised on “Pinky and the Brain” cartoons might be taken aback the first time they see a performance by Orson Welles. “Gee,” they might think, “this guy sounds a lot like that little cartoon mouse.” Same goes for anybody who watched “Ren and Stimpy” as a child, upon first encountering a Peter Lorre movie. Or anybody who sees a film with Lionel Barrymore only after having watched “Underdog”.

People introduced to Bach after hearing the intro to Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” might wonder whether this guy ripped off her style. Young people with a bad sense of chronology might wonder whether Dylan Thomas was named for Bob Dylan, or whether Richard Burton, the geographer, explorer, translator, writer, soldier, orientalist, cartographer, ethnologist, spy, linguist, poet, fencer and diplomat, was named for Richard Burton, the actor.

And of course, anyone under a certain age, upon visiting a Scottish castle for the first time, will probably be astonished at how faithfully somebody managed to recreate Hogwarts. :-)

4 Responses to “Cultural reverse peristalsis”

  1. Sharon says:

    Hah. I somehow missed that little Bach-like intro to Bad Romance. I’m not sure the version they played on the radio has that part (which is mostly where I’ve heard it).

    You didn’t mention the Barry Manilow/Chopin Prelude connection. (I only know this because I was learning to play the Chopin piece on the piano around the time that Barry Manilow’s “Could it be Magic” was popular).

  2. Simon Evans says:

    J.J. Abrams was not involved in making The Next Generation (he was only 21 at the time). The name you’re looking for is Gene Rodenberry (the same guy that created the original series).

    Hang on, was a this a deliberate buried example of the phenomenon you were describing? If so, well played.

  3. admin says:

    Yes, it was deliberate, but I wasn’t sure anyone would be clever enough to catch it. Nicely done!

  4. One of my animators at Pacific Title was a fan of Army of Darkness. In Army of Darkness, our hero needed to remember “Klatu, Barada, Nicto”. He had no idea that this was a reference to something else.

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