Mark Lieberman at Language Log pointed out how many things you need to know to get the comic:
...you can't understand why this is strip is funny unless you know that Piaget was a psychologist who developed a theory of the stages of children's cognitive development, that the NHC is the National Hurricane Center, and that the APA is the American Psychological Association [or the American Psychiatric Association, or the American Pediatric Association].That reminded me of something I noticed about the Rolling stones song "Sympathy for the Devil" when I wrote about it earlier this year. Of course you can enjoy the music without understanding the lyrics, but to really get the song, you have to know something about
The New Testament:
And I was round when Jesus ChristThe Russian Revolution:
Had his moment of doubt and pain
Made damn sure that Pilate
Washed his hands and sealed his fate
Stuck around St. PetersburgWorld War II:
When I saw it was a time for a change
Killed the Czar and his ministers
Anastasia screamed in vain
I rode a tankEuropean religious wars:
Held a general's rank
When the Blitzkrieg raged
And the bodies stank
I watched with gleeThe Kennedy assassinations (although they were more news than history at the time):
While your kings and queens
Fought for ten decades
For the gods they made
I shouted outAnd Thuggee (apparently; this one's pretty obscure; I had to Google it):
"Who killed the Kennedys?"
When after all
It was you and me
And I laid traps for troubadoursNot to mention that you have to know what "politesse" means.
Who get killed before they reached Bombay
Obviously, it's possible to write things that require more esoteric knowledge (I once wrote a song parody that only people who have been Mormon missionaries in Japan can understand), but I'd say that both the xkcd comic and "Sympathy" are on the high end of required general knowledge in pop culture.
Can you think of any other good (or better) examples of comics and songs and so on that require a similar amount of general knowledge?
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