4 Complex Concepts You Didn't Know Movies and TV Taught You

Whenever someone tells me that TV rots your brain, I like to look them straight in the eye and break into Wakko's 50 state capitals song from Animaniacs. I continue singing it without stopping (or blinking) until I get my point across, which is that before widespread Internet access, movies and television were how most of us got information about all sorts of different stuff ... even if we weren't always aware of it. But if you look closely at some of your favorite cinematic wastes of time, you'll be surprised at just how much you might have accidentally learned from them, seeing as ...

4The Simpsons Is Full of Math References

20th Century Fox Television

Disclaimer: The author of this article doesn't math, so you should brace yourself for any possible inaccuracies where real math is concerned. Here, let me get the ball rolling: Pi is exactly 3. OK, carry on.

If, like me, you're under 30 and so white that drinking milk is basically cannibalism to you, then there are two things you're probably really good at: sucking at math, and quoting The Simpsons. The weird thing is that the two should cancel each other out due to all the math jokes hidden in the show, like in "Bart the Genius," where the answer to a calculus problem turns out to be "RDRR," which is funny because it sounds like "hardy har har":

20th Century Fox Television
"Stop. Don't. Come back." -Me, to my sides.

Now, I'm not saying that watching that episode actually taught me calculus, but I am saying that my brain is an asshole capable of retaining only pop culture trivia and the memories of all the times I was beaten up after school. The actual stuff I learned in class, though? Mostly gone, but to this day, I remember that the buildup to the "RDRR" joke was about "determining the rate of change in a curve" expressed by y=r^3/3, and I can still replicate that whole equation from memory.

The other thing I can do is write a false-positive counter to Fermat's Last Theorem (which states that there's no solution to a^n + b^n = c^n, where n>2) thanks to this brief scene from "The Wizard of Evergreen Terrace":

20th Century Fox Television
You know -- the one with the circumcision diagram at the bottom.

See that second equation? If you verify it on a regular calculator, it will all add up, seemingly solving one of the greatest math puzzles in history. Unfortunately, because mathematics was invented on Planet Bullshit in the Galaxy of This Is Bullshit, there's actually a miniscule/magical margin of error in Homer's proof, causing the left side to be 0.000000002 percent larger than the right one, followed by the Simpsons writers having a laugh at your expense. You would think that a bunch of math geniuses could find a less embarrassing way to teach you about number theory.

20th Century Fox Television
The what geniuses?

You heard me: Al Jean, the series' showrunner and executive producer, studied mathematics at Harvard University when he was just 16, while another writer, Jeff Westbrook, first earned a Ph.D. for his algorithm research before becoming a Simpsons writer. David X. Cohen had a similar career, co-authoring a landmark research paper with a winner of the Turing Award before moving to the show to write a) a computer program that calculated Homer's pseudo-solution of Fermat's problem and b) scenes where an obese yellow man strangles his son.

Interestingly, the show's staff also includes another Cohen (Joel H. Cohen), who has a Bachelor of Science degree, and who wrote the episode "Marge and Homer Turn a Couple Play," where this piece of math porn comes from:

20th Century Fox Television
Weird ... math porn looks suspiciously like regular Internet porn.

If you know what those numbers mean, seeing them on the show is apparently like catching a Firefly reference on Castle. In mathematics, 8,128 is a "perfect number" because when you add up all of its divisors you get 8,128, while 8,208 is a "narcissistic number" because if you raise its four digits to the fourth power and add them up you get ... 8,208, and I don't care how little you know/care about math -- that's just freaking cool.

Obviously you can't get all of that information directly from the show, but like all great teachers, the best The Simpsons can do is point you in the right direction. But if you let them, maybe they'll inspire you to study mathematics and one day become a successful and respected mathemagician.

20th Century Fox Television
Did I mention that I know A LOT about The Simpsons?!

3Loads of Teen Movies Are Based on the Works of Shakespeare

Walt Disney

What would you do if you met a beautiful girl but then found out that she's not allowed to date until her older bitchy sister first gets a boyfriend? If your worldview has been irreversibly warped by movies and TV, you would probably try hiring someone to woo the bitchy sister, which is literally the only way that fiction has ever dealt with that sort of situation. Why? Because in the world of make-believe, you might actually find someone willing to go along with that plan who isn't a massive heroin addict. And also because every sitcom and stupid comedy that ever did that story was actually just ripping off Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew, like with 10 Things I Hate About You.

Walt Disney
"Wanna know how I got this girl?"

10 TIHAY is the 1999 comedy about Robin hiring the Joker to seduce Jason Bourne's girlfriend so that he can get with Larisa Oleynik, who unfortunately hasn't appeared in enough movies to get comically confused with a fictional character. Now take that story, change a couple of names (Gordon-Levitt's Cameron to Luciento, Ledger's Patrick to Petruchio, Oleynik's Bianca to ... Bianca), and you've got yourself the basic plot outline for Shakespeare's Shrew, on which the teen comedy was based. Don't be surprised. Although the works of a 16th century playwright might seem less relevant to the lives of modern teens than osteoporosis awareness, a lot of what Shakespeare wrote dealt with teenagers and the stupid stuff they do ... like pretending to be a guy and getting into a love triangle with your crush and another girl.

Yup -- even that cliche comes to us courtesy of Shakespeare and his Twelfth Night, a play about a girl named Viola putting on male clothing and acting as an intermediary between Duke Orsino and Countess Olivia. There are shenanigans and misunderstandings, but in the end everything turns out OK, so you can bet that Hollywood got a bunch of teenagers to go shake some cocaine money out of that story as well. One of the results, the 2006 teen flick She's the Man, didn't even bother changing the characters' names, but it did change the setting to a high school soccer club:

DreamWorks

Then, in 2001, Disney did its own teen version of Twelfth Night with Motocrossed, appropriately choosing a motocross background for a story about cross-dressing.

Teen comedies that rip off Twelfth Night probably go all the way back to 1985's Just One of the Guys, where the gimmicky setting was the crazy world of ... high school journalism. And yet that still makes it a more exciting adaptation than Get Over It, the 2001 teen comedy that boiled down A Midsummer Night's Dream to a story about a high school breakup. But I suppose that Get Over It does retain the original elements of a love triangle and a play within a play, so if you squint your eyes and imagine a person being turned into a donkey while watching it, you'll get the general idea of what Shakespeare was going for.

Miramax Films, Dimension Films
Man, Shakespeare was a hack.

So in conclusion: It's possible that your younger sister's horrible taste in movies has actually made her more knowledgeable about the works of the greatest English writer than you'll ever be. I recommend alcohol.

2 Your Favorite Cartoons Are a Crash Course in the Music of Edvard Grieg

What sound does this picture make?

Morning Mood
Also, what does the number 9 taste like?

I know that's a very strange question, but bear with me here: When you look at this tranquil nature scene, what music does your brain instinctively play? I bet it's a kind of soft flute melody that sounds like the beginning of a new day, perhaps something like ... this:

Whoa, how did I know that? Simple: Because I'm in your head right now, going through your thoughts, and I can hardly masturbate to all the sick stuff I'm finding there. Seriously, though, the reason you hear that specific music while looking at pictures of sunrises is because every cartoon ever has at one point used it as its score. It's "Morning Mood" by Edvard Grieg, and yes, you did misread that title.

Grieg was active in the latter half of the 19th century, and his works were reportedly crucial to popularizing Norwegian music across the globe. It's kind of a shame then that he now shares that distinction with Bugs Bunny, Ren & Stimpy, The Simpsons, and a ton of other cartoons that have used "Morning Mood," accidentally familiarizing you with (*gasp*) classical music. Once again, I recommend alcohol.

Grieg is also the author of "In the Hall of the Mountain King," aka the creepy duun-dun, duun-dun music that plays in cartoons when something dangerous is approaching.

You might have heard it in My Little Pony, Animaniacs, Tiny Toon Adventures, and other animated shows that needed a classy melody to signal an upcoming Ohhhh shiiiiit moment. And when they needed a crazy and darkish dance tune, many of them turned to "March of the Dwarfs," which appeared in everything from The Smurfs to Disney's The Skeleton Dance, a 1929 short about dancing undead monsters that not only completes your Grieg education (Griegducation), but also out-Burtons Burton 29 years before there even was a Burton.

... Burton.

And while we're at it ...

1 Every Modern Dark Fantasy Is an Example of German Expressionism

Warner Bros.

If you don't exactly know what German expressionism is, then shut up, because you actually do; you just don't know that you know it, you know? In broad terms, German expressionism is a cultural and artistic movement from the 1920s that differs depending on the medium, but with movies ... well, imagine what would happen if moody lighting and overwhelming hopelessness had a killer-clown baby and you'll be on the right track. Or you could just check out Tim Burton's Batman Returns.

Warner Bros.

Almost every part of Burton's 1992 Bat-sequel was actually the director's attempt to introduce German expressionist aesthetics to the modern age. The angular, oppressive look of Burton's Gotham, for example, is heavily influenced by Fritz Lang's Metropolis (1927), a landmark in the field of sci-fi, German expressionism, and gigantic buildings that look like dystopian headstones marking the spot where hope was buried.

Warner Bros.

Paramount Pictures

Also, the bizarre look of the Penguin in Batman Returns was apparently paying homage to Dr. Caligari from the 1920 German expressionist film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. But Ger Express isn't just about how stuff looks. It's more of a mindset born in isolated Weimar Germany and fueled by the bleak, depressing reality of the country's economic downturn. And as much as Burton would love to patent, bottle, and inject that shit into his eyeball every waking hour, he isn't the only filmmaker capable of bringing those sorts of emotions to the big screen. Take Blade Runner, which itself has taken so much from Metropolis that it could walk into Metropolis' house and fuck its wife without her noticing that something was wrong. That's because both films deal with robots passing as humans and making the film's protagonists question their own sanity in an industrial crapsack world.

Now replace robots with aliens and make the film so noir that it'll need a photo ID to vote in the South and you'll have Dark City, 1998's answer to the question: "What is German expressionism, and how can I stop experiencing joy for 112 minutes?"

New Line Cinema

Other important elements of German expressionism were themes of betrayal and the brutal bleakness of the world, as seen in M (1931) and The Student of Prague (1913) -- aka the summary of the pitch for The Crow (1994), which interestingly was directed by the same guy who did Dark City.

Interestinglier, though, it's funny how most modern examples of German expressionism are science fiction/fantasy movies, when that wasn't as common in the 1920s and '30s. Perhaps the horrors of World War II have made us less willing to explore the ideas of madness, bleakness, and terror in anything even approaching a realistic setting, preferring to take refuge in the audacity of sci-fi with its reality-shaping aliens and billionaires dressed as flying rodents. So you can make the case that, if it wasn't for Hitler, we never would have gotten Tim Burton's German expressionism-inspired followup to Batman.

Warner Bros.
I'm ... conflicted.

Cezary Jan Strusiewicz is a Cracked columnist and editor. Contact him at c.j.strusiewicz@gmail.com.