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 ...

#4. The 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?!

#3. Loads 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:


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.

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Cezary Jan Strusiewicz

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