Not quite 20 years ago, (he said, feeling suddenly ancient and desiccated) Joss Whedon developed a not terribly successful movie script into a much more successful television series and set out on a path to a billion dollars.  It’s not fair to credit/blame BtVS for the decade-plus of self-referential and recursively revampitudinous media that followed, but it is a clear standard-bearer of modern meta-textual media, referencing real-world pop-culture regularly and often, since the main characters are teenagers. The idea of using fiction in fiction is an ancient one (remember Hamlet’s play, designed to ‘catch the conscience’ of his wicked step-father?) but it can be confusing, like when cartoon Peter Venkman complained that Bill Murray looked nothing like him, or when the Shakespeare-loving girl in ‘Ten Things I Hate About You’ didn’t notice she was LIVING an adaptation of Shakespeare, leading us to today’s query about such queries…

The MS-QOTD (pronounced, as always, “misquoted”) still wonders what happened to all the praying mantis eggs, asking: Does it bother you when fictional stories go all meta and refer to OTHER real-world fictional stories?


About Author

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture! And a nice red uniform.


  1. Not particularly. If it is done sparsely or done in a way that fits the story or the character making the references, then it doesn’t bother me in the least. It is only when it is overdone for no apparent reason that it gets on my nerves.

    But I might be biased considering my all-time favorite episode of “Supernatural” was an episode where the Winchesters were sent to a parallel world where they were actors playing the Winchesters on a TV series called “Supernatural”.

  2. StellarLeader on

    I don’t mind it, as long as they don’t use that resource too much. Take The Flash TV show for example. Cisco referencing pop culture here and there was really fun, but there was that one episode in which half his lines were references and that was a little too much.
    Also related to The Flash, when I first noticed Cisco wearing The Big Bang Theory t-shirts I thought it was the best thing ever, but now I’m terribly afraid that either of the two shows is actually going to address that and everything will become a giant mess.

  3. Malone_hasco on

    Not really, if its not pretentious and done all the time. I actually like small reference here and there.

  4. It doesn’t tend to bother me, and here’s why: My favorite character in the history of forever is Deadpool. One of his main Modi Operandi is breaking the fourth wall and making references to other comics, movies, television, real world celebrities, and various other “meta-references.” But I think that’s why it works, because it’s one of the mainstays of the character, its not shoehorned into a more serious work. THAT bothers me. It’d be like watching Schindler’s List, and one of the guards making a remark to how Hugo Boss would be high fashion one day. That’s in poor taste (not just because of the source), it’s not clever, and its usually not funny.

  5. It.. bothers me a little when it DOESN’T happen. Not so much for superhero movies, or fantasy movies, or a selection of science fiction movies, because it’s more clearly established that those are their own separate universes.
    Like, they’re supposed to be set in our world…ish. But somehow in movies like.. I dunno, Kindergarten Cop, I have to assume it’s set in an alternate universe than the one where Arnold Schwarznegger(bah, should have picked a movie where the actor’s name was easier to spell) isn’t a famous movie star, so is it also a universe without The Terminator?
    Tiny little things like “Hey, you look like that guy in that movie ah-ha-ha” just make me more comfortable about it – which is why I LOVED IT when they had Julia Roberts’ character in Oceans Twelve impersonate Julia Roberts. That just felt right.

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