Though The Simpsons will often homage, parody or skewer popular music and TV, when they do so it's easily recognizable. It's a little trickier when they tackle classic historical photos, though. While these still images are seared in the public consciousness, the nature of animation means that any tribute or reference will fade in seconds in favor of an inevitable shot of Homer's asscrack. They might be harder to catch, but there are still scores of historical photo references throughout The Simpsons' decades-long run.
In the above episode "Lisa the Beauty Queen," the Simpsons' eldest daughter is sworn in as the new Miss Springfield; the framing and tone of the shot eerily echoes Lyndon Johnson swearing in as President of the United States after the assassination of JFK. A lot of work went into the details to Simpsonizing that moment in time, from Homer's bowtie and dopey onlooking expression to Marge's distinctly Jackie O-style outfit.
And that's not even close to the only meticulously-recreated photo.
This time it's almost as if we get an alternate angle on a classic snapshot, with a grumpy Grandpa Simpson sulking in his lawnchair just behind a canoodling couple at Woodstock in 1969.
The Fall of Saigon was a harrowing, tragic moment in world history, and no photo better encapsulated the desperation of those left behind more than one stark black and white photo. The creators of The Simpsons were so struck by this photo that they decided it was a good fit for that time the family ran away from angry Austrailians.
This classic shot of President Nixon and Elvis is the most-requested photo at the National Archives, so you know The Simpsons had to have a take on it. It looks as though Mr. Burns was next in the photo op line.
"The Weeping Frenchman" captured the heartbreaking plight of a man whose country was overrun by Nazis in World War II. He makes for a pretty good Milhouse.
In a classic episode, Homer, Barney, Principal Skinner and Apu form a barbershop quartet that takes the world by storm in a way that mirrors the meteoric rise of The Beatles. Towards the end of their run, Homer's dejected Be-Sharps meet in a studio and evoke the deflated John, Paul, George and Ringo. Yoko's band-ruining aura even infects cartoon characters.
Lou and Eddie are the kind of bit players in Springfield that you usually only see during reaction shots after Chief Wiggum blurts "Bake 'em away, toys." It's hard to see them as anything other than background players, always dressed in uniform.
Until you look closely at this crowd shot from "Lisa on Ice."
That's them behind Homer. It's bizarre and uncomfortable to behold, like seeing your teacher at the grocery store. While it's interesting to see Lou and Eddie out of their work duds, it doesn't explain why they're hanging out at a pee-wee hockey game in their spare time.
Nobody ever accused Homer of being a genius, but the creators behind the show just might be. In the episode The Wizard of Evergreen Terrace, Homer becomes obssessed with becoming an inventor like his idol Thomas Edison. At one point we cut away to Homer writing away on a chalkboard, with a set of numbers and symbols we assume to be gibberish. But here's the deal: That formula is fucking mindblowing.
The equation on the chalkboard not only predicts the weight of the "God particle" known as the Higgs Boson, but Homer beat the scientific community to the solution by a full fourteen years. The equation on the chalkboard comes out to a number only slightly larger than the actual Higgs Boson, and I'm pretty sure in the math world that "slightly larger" is synonymous with "exactly the same."
The sharp wit of The Simpsons has attracted actual geniuses to guest star on the show, like Stephen Hawking.
It's hard to tell through his computerized voice, but you'd probably guess that Hawking was humoring an oblivious Homer about his doughnut-shaped universe theory. It really does sound like something a child would come up with, or at the ramblings of a man who sleep-eats 52 slices of American cheese on a regular basis.
In reality, the doughnut-universe theory is considered valid and credible within the scientific community.
The doughnut-universe theory hinges on the universe being ring-shaped and finite, as opposed to vast and infinite, and there's evidence to back it up. We definitely won't know for sure if Homer is right during our lifetime, so we're free to believe in the theory from the guy who thinks a "saxomophone" is a real instrument.
The phrase "A-113" has shown up in several Simpsons episodes over the years, never spoken but still often in plain sight. It doesn't correlate to coordinates for a hidden bunker or a secret order at the In N' Out Burger; rather, it's actually the room number for the animation workshop at the California Institute of the Arts, where a lot of Simpsons mainstays got their start.
It's pretty blatant in Bart's mugshot above, but it's a bit more subtle when it comes to Krusty's inmate number on his chest.
Krusty was found innocent of any wrongdoing in this early episode, and it just so happens that the real culprit inherited that inmate number...
The callbacks have endured over the years, even making its way into the newer episodes. You can find A-113 on this license plate just behind Chief Wiggum.
But it's not like A-113 was just "The Simpsons Room" at the California Institute of the Arts. Lots of big names in animation studied in that same room, like Toy Story director John Lasseter.
Word has it that you can find A-113 in every single Pixar movie. They might be even harder to spot than all those Pizza Planet trucks.
Each Simpsons episode is almost always self-contained, so there's not a lot of room for long Arrested Development-style setups. So if you saw an offhand visual gag about Moe ordering mail order brides partway through season nine, you don't think anything of it -- and you might not notice it was directly referenced eight episodes later.
It's not a huge mindblowing easter egg, but it's a pretty neat nugget for hardcore fans to find on repeated rewatches. It implies that there are these unseen exploits and unaired adventures for each of these characters between episodes, which has been a really big boon to my Milhouse/Nelson slashfiction.
Making movie references is sort of The Simpsons' thing. Besides jabbing at pop culture and making the family travel to exotic new places, referencing classic films is the show's bread and butter. Even so, while it's easy to recognize Bart as Indiana Jones and Homer as the flabby boulder chasing after him, there are other movie callbacks that are slightly more subtle.
Like when Homer picks up Maggie at daycare in A Streetcar Named Marge, we see an eerie recreation of Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds.
Like a lot of the best Simpsons movie references, they go so far as to emulate exact shots from the film.
Fans of classic cinema probably also spotted the references to It's a Wonderful Life after Ned Flanders' failing Leftorium finally found some business.
Note Ned hoisting his curly haired spawn in triumph, just as Jimmy Stewart does. And then there's Chief Wiggumon, on cue as the the police officer wielding the accordion. Heck, Maude Flanders even does a quicker version of Donna Reed's joyful face spasm while wearing the same outfit.
Maybe the most infamous Simpsons references is a cheeky nod to an R-rated scene in A Clockwork Orange, wherein female breasts are subtituted for a pair of cherry-topped cupcakes.
It fits, considering that A Clockwork Orange inspired one of Bart's most memorable halloween costumes.
You're probably familiar with the show's main creator Matt Groening, in part because his name is emblazoned on every kind of Simpsons merchandise imaginable, from toys to towels to Kids Cuisines. Though it might be harder to put a face to the name, you probably saw Groening's mug in several Simpsons episodes without realizing it.
That's him up front with the beard and glasses, along with several other Simpsons creators whose names are not featured on Krusty the Klown silly string.
Here's Groening again in "The Boy Who Knew Too Much," this time as a sketch artist who seems to be uh, trademarking his courtroom doodles.
That's young Groening though. He's aged somewhat over the 68 seasons the show has been on the air, and as a result his cartoon version now bears a striking resemblance to Col. Sanders' fuckup brother. Here he is in the recent Simpsons crossover episode, along with Family Guy creator Seth McFarlane.
Time hasn't been kind to Matt, however, as we all know his last recorded appearance.
Technically, Matt Groening is in every episode of The Simpsons ever made. That's because he's inside Homer's head. Well, on the side of it.
Homer was designed to have Matt Groening's initials on the side of his head at all times. the M is his single hair, and the ear is the G. It's adorable and also extremely vain at the same time!
Before DVR and digital streaming, it was sort of useless to pack so much background detail into something, but The Simpsons knew it had a hardcore audience of VHS enthusiasts who would pore over every inch of every episode. So that's why they included a huge list of mini-jokes in Homer Badman, when the Hard Copy-esque tabloid news show Rock Bottom exonerates itself by quickly scrolling through a bunch of retractions.
The Simpsons writers plugged these in for a select few die-hards who weren't afraid to break their VCR's pause button, but the advent of the internet has allowed for everyone to enjoy these goofy easter eggs. Here's just a few of Rock Bottom's apologies.
You can read the rest over on the Simpsons Wiki, or preferably dig out your DVD collection and marathon all of season six.
Some claim that The Simpsons lost some of its luster around the time its sci-fi sister series was hitting its stride, but Futurama was a part of Springfield long before its 1999 debut. Check out the foreshadowing on Uter's shirt, in an episode from December 1998.
To sneak that logo into the episode, the production team would have had to plug it in there several months ahead of time, making this a pretty prescient piece of product placement.
But yeah, that was only a few months before Futurama aired. There's way more compelling stuff in say, an episode from 1993:
And of course we know that sassy robot went onto become Bender Bending Rodriguez, Futurama's most marketable star. But in a way, Bender was around even before that, in front of Springfield's premier comic book shop.
The storefront robot is lacking an antenna, a mono-eye-socket and an in-your-face attitude, but I'd bet my shiny metal ass it had at least some influence on Bender's creation.
There are even a few familiar Futurama faces on the cover of this (otherwise putrid) NES video game.
Futurama as a whole probably wasn't formulated way back in 1992 at the time of the game's release, but it's kind of neat to see that the ideas for Zoidberg and Lrrr of Omicron Persei 8 were kicking around in Matt Groening's head for so long. If you're going to have an idea for a wacky alien almost a decade ahead of time, then why not Lrrr?
For my money, the epic two-parter "Who Shot Mr. Burns?" is the real Simpsons movie. It had everything, from super-sharp writing to a genuinely compelling mystery that kept you guessing until the end. The reveal that Maggie pulled the trigger after a struggling with Mr. Burns over a lollipop seemed like a typical Simpsons non-sequitir, but we were actually given a ton of subtle clues pointing to the infant assailant.
The cliffhanger's biggest clue came in the way that a ventilated Burns fell on the town sundial. As explained in the conclusion, his arms pointed to W and S (or rather, M and S), pointing to the initials of the culprit.
But W.S./M.S. could be several people in Springfield. In order to finger Maggie Simpson as the M.S., you have to rule out the other suspects. And the show did that, even if you didn't notice it.
See, at the very end of the episode, Mr. Burns blocks out the sun and angers the entire town at 3pm -- which, as we saw earlier in a tiny corner of Moe's Tavern, is exactly the airing time of the Comedy Central crapfest Pardon My Zinger.
And the episode also shows that Springfield has one particular Pardon My Zinger zealot.
Wayland Smithers (W.S.) was by far the biggest suspect of the shooting, having been spurned by Mr. Burns earlier in the episode. But if we know that Smithers never misses Pardon My Zinger, and Pardon My Zinger is at 3pm, he wouldn't have been around to cap his old boss.
Though not a W.S. or an M.S., Homer Simpson was another suspect with a clear grudge against Mr. Burns. But the animators snuck in a major clue that pointed away from Sector 7-G.
Homer's head is blocking the road warning, and all we can see now is "NO" -- and just in case that wasn't clear, there's a big arrow pointing to his head.
Though many of the possible suspects were seen locking and loading their firearms, one freeze-frame hint in particular discounted basically all of them.
Before Mr. Burns was shot, he lifts his jacket to reveal a gun, which he had bought for protection. But after Mr. Burns was shot, we see for a brief moment that his gun is no longer in its holster. So it was obvious whoever popped Monty did so with Burns' own gun -- and it wouldn't make sense for the culprit to be someone who was packing their own piece.
As for hints towards Maggie Simpson, we do see her first when Mr. Burns is picking through his novelty photo-frame chocolate box.
But that's neglible compared to the most damning evidence of all. Keep a close eye on this crowd when Mr. Burns asks if anyone has the guts to stop him from going through with his nefarious plan.
Everyone looks away, unable to summon the courage to stop this monster. Everyone, that is, except for Maggie Simpson, who keeps a dead-locked stare on her mortal enemy. You really shouldn't take candy from a baby.