Will You Get the Reference?

The recent ice storm that crippled Atlanta had me thinking about The Walking Dead. The lines of stranded cars do evoke scenes from the zombie apocalypse, but my mind drifted to one small line from the show. In “18 Miles Out,” Rick recalls that when his cousin got stuck on I-85 for a whole day, “He just sat and ate birthday cake and listened to the Lord of the Rings book on tape.” In addition to having water and warm clothes, I was hoping that the stranded Georgians had some birthday cake and epic books on tape.

This line about the Lord of the Rings books made its way into one of my media marathoning book chapters because it is an example of the intertextuality between commonly-marathoned stories. There are dozens of others examples in which one story references another from my marathon canon. How I Met Your Mother is replete with these references—to Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Indiana Jones, The Godfather, and, of course Star Wars. The HIMYM Star Wars references are so numerous (and interesting?) that a certain “Ginger Jedi” has thoroughly cataloged them (with screen shots and dialogue) in this tumblr.

But what’s the value of this intertexuality, these references between texts?One key answer is that viewers and readers feel good when they understand the references.

Do you know the answer to these questions?

  • In what commonly-marathoned television show does one brother refer to another as “the boy who lived under the stairs” (because of the family’s mode of transportation)?
  • What is the “Ewok Line?”
  • What classic film does Weeds mimic in the final scene of its first season? (I’ll give you a hint: Shane plays the role of Kay.)

If you know the answers, you might be pleased with yourself. If you don’t know the answers, I may have already lost you to IMDb or another website as you do your research.

We see this intertextual delight modeled in The Avengers. After being frozen for decades (and missing a lot of popular culture), Captain America’s face lights up when he understands Nick Fury’s reference to depression-era film, The Wizard of Oz.

Marathoners might feel like they have accumulated a store of useless information about fictive worlds, but the enjoyment one experiences by noticing intertextual references (or even simple, fun-facts) has a real existence. Consider my delight upon observing that no less than 7 actors from Love, Actually also appear in commonly-marathoned series. And on that note, enjoy your upcoming visit to IMDb.




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