References are usually pretty easy to catch. Just know a thing or two about pop culture's past and present and you should be able to keep up with the way characters speak. But some references are ridiculously difficult to catch. Sometimes you can watch a scene over and over and never understand what's being alluded to. So let's pull back the veil and expose the true meaning of some moments you've seen in your favorite pop culture properties.
5Slipping on a Banana Peel Is a Reference to Filthy 19th-Century Streets
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Let's start off with a gag you've seen so many times that you've probably wondered if it was a real-life epidemic: slipping on banana peels. It's right up there with a pie in the face and whoopee cushions in the Comedy Hall of Fame. It seems like a logical conclusion: Banana peels look silly and slippery, so of course they'd be the cause of countless comedic pratfalls. What isn't so obvious is why banana peels, specifically, were used for the joke.
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Because it has the best sense of humor of all the fruit rinds?
It's because banana peels came to symbolize the growing problem of trash-filled streets in late-19th-century American cities, and they became the go-to reference point Vaudevillian comedians used to satirize the issue.
From here, the origin of the reference splits in slightly different directions, but they're all still centered around people in major cities slipping in their own filth. In one proposed origin, a banana peel is symbolic for a much less stage-friendly real-life problem: mounds of shit in the streets. Literal shit. Between the trotting horses and the wild pigs that once roamed free, the streets of New York were a giant septic tank. Comedians wanting to reference it in their acts were a bunch of pussies who didn't believe in the true meaning of art, so they substituted a banana peel for poop, because those, too, were everywhere.
That leads me to the second possible origin: Everyone tossed their trash on the streets because, to hell with everything; let's all just live in a rotting wasteland of our own garbage. Bananas were gaining in popularity and people were disgusting, fancy-dressed animals, so they'd toss their peels on the streets along with everything else.
Either way, the lovable doofus on stage who slipped on a banana peel wasn't just slipping on a banana peel. He was slipping on biting social commentary about the sorry state of 19th-century waste disposal.
4HAL 9000 Singing "Daisy Bell" in 2001: A Space Odyssey Is a Reference to a Singing IBM Computer
HAL 9000's ominous singing of the tune "Daisy Bell" in 2001: A Space Odyssey is an iconic moment in film history. In its death throes, the homicidal AI reverts back to an earlier programmed memory and sings a happy little tune it was taught by its creator. It's disturbing. It's also a direct reference to a major breakthrough in computer science that occurred seven years before the release of 2001.
We've previously covered the weird connection HAL shares with the computer company IBM. For a long time it was believed that HAL 9000 was some kind of stand-in for IBM, but what that meant and what it represented was never fully understood. That is, until you watch the video of a little trick IBM engineers taught the IBM 7094 computer back in 1961:
They taught it to sing "Daisy Bell." This was a landmark moment in the history of computer engineering. It was the first time a computer was taught to do something distinctly human; it expressed itself via song. Not only does this strengthen the connection between HAL 9000 and IBM (which Kubrick and Arthur C. Clark vehemently denied), the reference adds a new layer to Kubrick's intention when he created the movie version of HAL. He's not only using HAL to warn us of the evils of sentient AI, he's telling the audience that this crazy shit is real. It's already here.
And it's behind you!