17 Simpsons Cultural References Explained for Younger Viewers

Fox
Fox

The Simpsons is great for a whole slew of reasons, not least because of the near-perfect satire it's produced throughout (most of) its nearly three decades on air. Any given episode of The Simpsons is a bombardment of cultural references, some more arcane than others. The show has been on since 1989, and allusions that were once obvious may now be opaque for younger fans who are catching up via re-runs.

These 17 favorites have been hand-picked for no real reason beyond the fact that they're favorites. There are thousands more, but this should be a fun place to start.

We're sure many of these are obvious for die-hard fans who have been watching since the late '80s, and we congratulate you. Feel free to brag in the comments, Genius at Work, or take that time to find out why, in episode 2F09 when Itchy plays Scratchy's skeleton like a xylophone, he strikes the same rib twice in succession but produces two clearly different tones.

1. Billy Beer.

Homer excitedly drinks this beer in two separate episodes. In season three’s “The Otto Show,” he finds a can in his old “concert jacket” and chugs it, and in season nine’s “Lisa the Skeptic,” Homer gulps down an old can and says, “We elected the wrong Carter.”

Billy Beer was named after and endorsed by Jimmy Carter’s younger brother, Billy. This hard-drinking, down-home first sibling owned a gas station in Plains, Georgia and became a cause celebre (and a bit of a liability) during his brother’s presidential campaign.

In 1977, the failing Falls City Brewing Company wanted to capitalize on his fame, so they approached Billy Carter and offered to partner with him to sell a beer that bore his name. At first, Billy Beer flew off the shelves, but its skunky taste and Billy’s proclivity to get hammered at promotional events and admit that he still drank PBR hurt the brand, and Falls City Brewing Company closed for good in 1978.

You can still find unopened cans of Billy Beer on eBay, but check your concert jacket first.

2. Ayatollah Assaholla.

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In season seven’s “Two Bad Neighbors,” Homer looks through the attic to find things to sell at Evergreen Terrace's street sale. Marge urges him to part with his “Ayatollah Assaholla” shirt, saying, “Can we get rid of this Ayatollah T-shirt? Khomeini died years ago,” to which Homer replies, “But Marge, it works on any Ayatollah! Ayatollah Nakhbadeh, Ayatollah Zahedi... Even as we speak, Ayatollah Razmara and his cadre of fanatics are consolidating their power.”

Khomeini became Ayatollah after the 1979 Iranian Revolution and supported the hostage crisis in which 52 U.S. citizens were held captive at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran for 444 days. In America, ticked-off citizens expressed their hatred for Khomeini in many ways, including T-shirt designs (although “Ayatollah Assaholla” looks to be a Simpsons original).

Many point to Jimmy Carter’s inability to resolve this crisis as the reason his re-election bid failed. Well, that and Billy Beer.

3. "A Young Joe Piscopo."

Narrating a flashback in season four’s “Lisa’s First Word,” Marge takes us to "the unforgettable spring of 1983” when “a young Joe Piscopo taught us how to laugh.”

In 1980, SNL creator Lorne Michaels left the show and ratings plummeted due to an unpopular cast. Two standouts, however, were Eddie Murphy and Joe Piscopo, and their talent carried Saturday Night Live through its lowest years. In 1984, Piscopo was at the peak of his fame and decided to leave the show to pursue greener pastures. His career never recovered, but he did manage to appear on a couple bodybuilding magazine covers.

4. "Just ask Claus von Bulow."

In season five’s “The Boy Who Knew Too Much,” Bart witnesses an accident that results in Mayor Quimby’s nephew being wrongfully accused of assaulting a waiter. After the mayor clumsily tries to rig the trial, Bart explains, “the system works. Just ask Claus von Bülow."

Claus von Bülow is a wealthy socialite who was accused of trying to murder his wife in 1980 by administering an insulin overdose. He was convicted of murder in 1982 but appealed the ruling and earned a second trial where his high-powered defense team managed to get that original conviction reversed.

5. The Toilet Where Lupe Velez Drowned.

While giving the Simpsons a tour of Springfield’s gossipy landmarks in season eight’s “Homer’s Phobia,” new friend John (voiced by John Waters) points out the plumbing supply store where Lupe Velez “bought the toilet she drowned in."

Velez was a Mexican actress who killed herself in 1944 by swallowing 75 sleeping pills. An urban legend propagated by a 1959 book about Hollywood states Velez’s initial suicide attempt failed when she became sick, so she stumbled to the bathroom to vomit and, as the rumor goes, plunged her head into the toilet and drowned. While proven categorically untrue, the story is still often retold as if it were fact.

6. Gerald Ford’s Clumsiness.

In “Two Bad Neighbors,” Homer and Bart clash with their straight-laced new neighbor, George H.W. Bush. After Bush moves out, Gerald Ford replaces him, and he and Homer get along swimmingly, their bond highlighted when they trip in unison while walking to get nachos.

Even though he was an accomplished athlete at the University of Michigan, Gerald Ford’s presidential term was full of highly publicized examples of physical ineptitude. He fell on a ski slope, hit his head on a train’s door frame after a speech, and, most famously, slipped down the slick stairs of Air Force One in Austria.

7. “It's you! You're him! You're Tony Randall!”

In season ten’s “Maximum Homerdrive,” the family dines at a steakhouse that features a promotion where you can eat for free if you finish “Sir Loin-a-Lot,” a 16-pound steak “the size of a boogie board." On the restaurant’s wall of fame, only two men are listed as having successfully taken down Sir Loin-a-Lot: Tony Randall and trucker Red Barclay, who Homer challenges to an eating contest (after mistaking him for the tuxedo-wearing Randall).

Tony Randall was a stage and screen actor, most famous for his role as the persnickety Felix Unger in The Odd Couple. The svelte Randall is an unlikely Sir Loin-a-Lot conqueror, but you can’t argue with the wall of fame.

8. "I Ordered a Zima, Not Emphysema."

Actor Troy McClure and Marge’s sister Selma become an unlikely couple in season seven’s “A Fish Called Selma.” When the two have dinner at a swanky restaurant, Selma smokes a cigarette, which causes a commotion and prompts a yuppie diner at the next table to say, “Excuse me, I ordered a Zima, not emphysema.”

In 1993, Coors introduced Zima, a “clearmalt” beverage meant to compete with wine coolers in the non-beer market. Zima didn't catch on, as it was perceived to be a gimmicky, effeminate drink—one that would frequently be ordered in establishments that “don’t serve contemporary California cuisine in your lungs.”

9. The Twirl King Yo-Yo Champions.

At the start of season three’s “Bart the Lover,” the Twirl King Yo-Yo Champions perform during a Springfield Elementary assembly and spark a yo-yo craze at the school.

In the ‘80s and ‘90s (primarily), yo-yo companies like Duncan would send one or more skilled “yo-yo professionals” on school tours to perform for students and drum up excitement for their product. If any questions about the academic value of these performances arose, they could always say “check out this centripetal force” while performing an around the world.

10. Laramie Slims.

In “Homer’s Phobia,” Homer tries to “cure” Bart of his supposed homosexuality by making him stare at a billboard for Laramie Slims that features two women smoking and having a pillow fight. When Homer returns, Bart asks him for a cigarette. Excited that his plan may be working, Homer asks Bart what kind of cigarette he wants, to which he replies, “anything slim,” thoroughly disappointing his father.

Laramie was an actual American cigarette company that went out of business in the 1950s, and the brand serves as The Simpsons' catchall device to lampoon the tobacco industry. Their Menthol Moose is a parody of Joe Camel, and Laramie Slims are a takeoff of Virginia Slims, a type of cigarette that was marketed to lure female smokers.

11. Red Tick Beer.

When Homer wants to depart from his usual Duff in season eight’s “The Springfield Files,” he orders a Red Tick Beer (slogan: “Suck One Dry”) at Moe’s Tavern. After Homer wonders what tastes different about it, there is a cutscene to the Red Tick brewery where dogs swim around in the beer.

Red Tick is an overt parody of Red Dog, a beer made by Miller that featured an English bulldog on its label. Red Dog was introduced in the mid-nineties and faded into obscurity before the decade was over.

12. "Don't Look at Me, I'm on Sugar Busters."

When Homer produces a tobacco/tomato hybrid—“tomacco”—in season 11’s “E-I-E-I-(Annoyed Grunt),” executives of the aforementioned Laramie Cigarette Company steal his secret formula. As they helicopter away from Homer’s farm, a sheep mutated by the plutonium Homer used to make the tomacco sneaks onboard. When the pilot says, “We seem to be carrying a little extra weight,” one of the executives responds, “Don’t look at me, I’m on Sugar Busters.”

Sugar Busters was a self-published diet book from the mid-nineties that was re-released by a larger publishing house and skyrocketed to the top of the New York Times bestseller list in 2001. The weight-loss plan in Sugar Busters! Cut Sugar to Trim Fat is pretty self-explanatory.

13. Hooray for Everything.

In season two’s “Bart vs. Thanksgiving,” Homer listens to a football game on the radio, and a cheery group of youngsters called Hooray for Everything perform a “salute to the greatest hemisphere on earth…the western hemisphere!” during halftime. In “Selma’s Choice” from the following season, Hooray for Everything is seen at Duff Gardens performing a kids’ version of “Take a Walk on the Wild Side” with the lyrics, “And all the races sing, doo bee doo, shoo bee doo bee doo!”

Hooray for Everything makes fun of Up With People, a traveling singing group that rose to fame in the 1970s. The troupe sprouted from the Moral Re-Armament movement, and its members sang cheesy songs about love and happiness with smiles plastered on their faces. Amazingly, Up With People performed at four separate Super Bowl halftime shows. (Their "Salute to the Big Band Era" from Super Bowl XIV is above.)

14. I & S Productions Logo

In season four’s “The Front,” Lisa and Bart submit an Itchy & Scratchy script using Grampa Simpson’s name. At the end of an Itchy & Scratchy episode, there’s an involved sequence where Scratchy pulls a sheet of paper from a typewriter and throws it in the air, forming an “I & S Productions” logo.

That sequence is a faithful recreation of the Stephen J. Cannell Productions logo bumper that came at the end of television shows like The Greatest American Hero, The A-Team, Hardcastle and McCormick, and many others.

15. Dolph’s Apple Newton

At a school assembly during season six’s “Lisa on Ice,” Kearney tells fellow bully Dolph to take a memo to beat up Martin on his Apple Newton. When Dolph writes “Beat up Martin” with the device’s stylus, it changes to “Eat up Martha,” so Kearney just hurls the Newton at Martin’s head.

Apple released the Newton in 1993 during a period of time when Steve Jobs was not with the company. The overpriced handheld computer proved to be a massive flop, and its lousy handwriting recognition software was just one of the reasons for its failure.

Years later, Apple's iPhone development team used the Simpsons reference as a mantra to get their keyboard perfect. "In the hallways and while we were talking about the keyboard, you would always hear the words 'Eat Up Martha,'" Apple engineer Nitin Ganatra told FastCo. "If you heard people talking and they used the words 'Eat Up Martha,' it was basically a reference to the fact that we needed to nail the keyboard. We needed to make sure the text input works on this thing, otherwise, 'Here comes the Eat Up Marthas.'"

16. "Remember ALF? He’s back...in POG form!”

Comic Book Guy is shown as a buyer and seller of Pogs in at least two episodes. When Bart wins $500 after suing Krusty the Clown in season six’s “‘Round Springfield,” Bart thinks about buying the “Steve Allen Ultimate Pog” from Android’s Dungeon. Also, when Bart sells his soul in season seven, he writes “Bart Simpson’s Soul” on a piece of paper and trades it to Milhouse for $5. When Bart seeks to get this back from his best friend, Milhouse tells him he traded it to Comic Book Guy for some ALF Pogs.

Pogs were part of a popular game in the 1990s. In it, players would stack cardboard discs (“Pogs”) and then hit with a heavier disc (a “slammer”), which would cause the Pogs to scatter. POG is a fruit drink that's popular in Hawaii, and it’s name is an acronym meaning passionfruit, orange, and guava. The original Pogs were caps from actual POG bottles.

And, while we’re at it, ALF was a popular TV show about an alien who lives with a suburban family (ALF means “Alien Life Form”), and Steve Allen was Steve Allen, former host of The Tonight Show, The Steve Allen Show, I’ve Got a Secret, What's My Line, and more.

17. Ravi Shankar

In season six's "Bart of Darkness," Bart breaks his leg and has to spend summer inside. The Krusty the Clown Show episode he watches is a re-run from the 1970s, and the special guest is Ravi Shankar, who plays "what you've been waiting for, another long raga."

Shankar was an Indian sitar player who famously inspired George Harrison's love of the instrument and taught him how to play it in 1966. The Krusty appearance is most likely inspired by the above clip from a 1971 episode of The Dick Cavett Show.

10 Timeless Facts About The Land Before Time

Universal Pictures Home Entertainment
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

Five years before Jurassic Park roared into theaters, a gentler, more meditative dinosaur film endeared itself to audiences of all ages. Initially met with mixed reviews, The Land Before Time is now regarded as an animated classic. Here are 10 things you might not have known about the Steven Spielberg-produced film, which arrived in theaters 30 years ago.

1. IT WAS CONCEIVED AS A DIALOGUE-FREE MOVIE.

Gabriel Damon and Candace Hutson in The Land Before Time (1988)
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

In the mid-1980s, executive producer Steven Spielberg began toying with the idea of a Bambi-esque dinosaur film. “Basically,” he later said, “I wanted to do a soft picture … about five little dinosaurs and how they grow up and work together as a group.” Inspiration came from the “Rite of Spring” sequence from Disney’s Fantasia (1940)—a scene in which prehistoric beasts wordlessly go about their business. At first, Spielberg wanted his own dinosaur characters to follow suit and remain mum. Ultimately, however, it was feared that a non-verbal approach might bore or confuse the film’s intended audience. As such, the animals were given lines.

2. DIRECTOR DON BLUTH WAS AN EX-DISNEY EMPLOYEE.

Don Bluth grew up idolizing Disney’s work, and began working for the studio in 1955. Over the next two decades, he did various odd jobs until he was brought on as a full-time animator in 1971. Once on the inside, Bluth got to peek behind the magician’s curtain—and disliked what he found there. “I think [Walt Disney] would’ve seen that the pictures were losing their luster,” Bluth said. Frustrated by the studio’s cost-cutting measures, he resigned in 1979. Joining him were fellow animators Gary Goldman and John Pomeroy. Together the trio launched their own company, Sullivan Bluth Studios, and began working on The Land Before Time in 1986.

3. OVER 600 BACKGROUND PAINTINGS WERE MADE FOR THE FILM.

Most of these depicted beautiful but barren wastelands, which presented a real challenge for the creative team. As one studio press release put it, “The artists had to create a believable environment in which there was almost no foliage.” Whenever possible, Bluth’s illustrators emphasized vibrant colors. This kept their backdrops from looking too drab or monotonous—despite the desolate setting.

4. LITTLEFOOT’S ORIGINAL NAME WAS “THUNDERFOOT.”

This was changed when the filmmakers learned that there was a triceratops in a popular children’s book called Thunderfoot. Speaking of three-horned dinosaurs: Cera evolved from a pugnacious male character called Bambo.

5. THE FILMMAKERS HAD TO CUT ABOUT 10 MINUTES OF FOOTAGE.

“We compromised a lot with The Land Before Time,” Goldman admitted. Nowhere was this fact more apparent than on the cutting room floor. Spielberg and his fellow executive producer George Lucas deemed 19 individual scenes “too scary.” “We’ll have kids crying in the lobby, and angry parents,” Spielberg warned. “You don’t want that.”

6. “ROOTER” WAS INTRODUCED AT THE URGING OF CHILD PSYCHOLOGISTS.

In Bambi, the title character’s mom dies off-screen. The same cannot be said for Littlefoot’s mother, whose slow demise goes on for several agonizing minutes. Naturally, there was some concern about how children would react to this. “A lot of research went into the mother dying sequence,” Pomeroy said. “Psychologists were approached and shown the film. They gave their professional opinions of how the sequence could be depicted.” Thus, Rooter was born.

One scene after Littlefoot’s mom passes, the wise reptile consoles him, saying “You’ll always miss her, but she’ll always be with you as long as you remember the things she taught you.” Sharp-eared fans might recognize Rooter’s voice as that of Pat Hingle, who also narrates the movie.

7. JAMES HORNER DID THE SOUNDTRACK.

The late, Oscar-winning composer behind Braveheart (1995), Titanic (1997), and Avatar (2009) put together a soaring score. Along with lyricist Will Jennings, he also penned the original song “If We Hold On Together,” which Diana Ross sings as the end credits roll.

8. THE ACTRESS BEHIND DUCKY PASSED AWAY BEFORE THE MOVIE’S RELEASE.

Judith Barsi’s career was off to a great start. By age 10, this daughter of Hungarian immigrants had already appeared in 70 commercials and voiced the leading lady in Don Bluth’s All Dogs Go to Heaven (1989). For The Land Before Time, Barsi voiced the ever-optimistic Ducky, which was reportedly her favorite role. Then tragedy struck: In July of 1988, Barsi’s father József murdered both her and her mother before taking his own life.

9. IT HAD A RECORD-SETTING OPENING WEEKEND.

From the get-go, The Land Before Time had some stiff competition. Universal released it on November 18, 1988—the same day that Disney’s Oliver & Company hit theaters. Yet, for a solid month, Bluth gave Oliver a box office beating. The Land Before Time enjoyed the highest-grossing opening weekend that any animated film had ever seen, pulling in $7.5 million to Oliver & Company’s $4 million. Since then, of course, The Land Before Time has long been dethroned; today, Incredibles 2 (2018) holds this coveted distinction with a $182.7 million first-weekend showing.

10. THERE ONCE WAS TALK OF A LAND BEFORE TIME STAGE MUSICAL.

“The time has come for dinosaurs on Broadway,” the late theatrical producer Irving Welzer told The New York Times in 1997. Emboldened by the recent cinematic success of Spielberg’s The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1996), Welzer expressed an interest helping Littlefoot, Cera, Ducky, and the rest of the gang make their Big Apple debut. Soon, however, the idea faded.

Billie Lourd Shares What (Very Little) She Can About Star Wars: Episode IX

Frazer Harrison, Getty Images
Frazer Harrison, Getty Images

​Nearly nothing is known about the final film in the latest Star Wars series, except that J.J. Abrams, who helmed The Force Awakens, will be returning as director, and many of the cast members from both Abrams's earlier effort and The Last Jedi will be reprising their roles. Even the late Carrie Fisher, who sadly passed away on December 27, 2016, will be included in Episode IX, through unused footage from the previous two films.

Though all the stars of the upcoming film are sworn to secrecy about it, Fisher's daughter, Billie Lourd, is spilling what she can. Lourd, who played the minor role of Lieutenant Connix in the last two films, teased what it was like being back on set.

"I gotta watch myself because the Star Wars PD is going to come get me, but it is incredible. I’ve read the script and I’ve been on set," Lourd told ​Entertainment Tonight. "I was on set for, like, three weeks back in September, and it is going to be magical. I can’t say much more, but I’m so excited about it and so grateful to be a part of it. Star Wars is my heart. I love it."

A lot of things are riding on Episode IX, especially considering how divided fans were over The Last Jedi. Though with Abrams back in the director's chair, it seems likely that the new film will be a return to form. The as-yet-untitled film hits theaters on December 20, 2019.

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