1212: Interstellar Memes
Title text: The strongest incentive we have to develop faster-than-light travel is that it would let us apologize in advance.
A larger version of this picture can be found by clicking the comic on xkcd.
Randall highlights various memes from popular culture. A meme is a phenomenon, often in this scenario in the form of a movie quote, a musical reference, a catchphrase or other notable saying that spreads quickly by word-of-mouth. Memes become popular because people hear about them and repeat them to others. Randall points out that if the assumed intelligent life from other star systems were listening to the things we said, then they would just now be hearing and popularizing memes started years ago on earth. The delay is due to the time that it takes for expressions of the meme to travel (presumably via radio waves) to distant star systems.
Our solar system, from where the electromagnetic waves are emitted, is located just left of the center of the picture. The other star systems are arranged roughly according to their distance from the sun, while their size corresponds to the size of the star compared with that of the sun.
The meme for Sirius is a pun; it refers to Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, in which Bellatrix Lestrange kills Sirius Black.
Radio waves travel at the speed of light. The title text jokes that these memes are so annoying that it would give us further incentive to develop the technology to travel faster than light, just simply to be able to outrun the radio waves, reach a distant star system, and apologize in advance to the "residents" about the memes, before the memes arrive.
Table with memes
The table below lists all the memes described, and the star at which the comics states those memes should be heard by the time when the comic was released in 2013. The year of the meme plus the number of light years to the star should end up close to 2013.
Most end up within the range 2011-2013 which may indicate the meme became popular one or two years later (on Earth or at the distant star system.) Two memes reach the targets in 2014. Some of those errors may be caused by the inaccuracy of the distances.
The The Spanish Inquisition from Monty Python would have reached its destination in 2006. Because they're still watching Monty Python's Flying Circus in 2013 it must be very popular or maybe it took seven years to decipher that British humour.
|Meme||Star||Origin||Year||Distance to star||Sum year|
|Yabba dabba doo!||Castor||The Flintstones||1960||51 ± 3 ly||2011 ± 3|
|You've got to ask yourself one question: "Do I feel lucky?"||Lambda Aurigae||Dirty Harry||1971||41.2 ± 0.1 ly||2012|
|Where's the beef?||HR 1614||Slogan for Wendy's||1984||28 ly||2012|
|And now for something completely different.||Capella||Monty Python's Flying Circus||1969||42 ly||2011|
|Here's lookin' at you, kid.||Kappa Reticuli||Casablanca||1942||70 ly||2012|
|My spoon is too big!||Kapteyn's Star||Rejected||2000||12 ly||2012|
|May the force be with you.||Delta Trianguli||Star Wars||1977||35 ly||2012|
|Peanut butter jelly time!||Luyten's Star||an Internet meme||2002||12 ly||2014|
|Rosebud.||Alpha Hydri||Citizen Kane||1941||71 ly||2012|
|Oh my god, they killed Kenny! – You bastards!||AD Leonis||South Park||1997||15.9 ± 0.2 ly||2013|
|...God kills a kitten! – A what?||Procyon||an Internet meme||2002||11.5 ly||2013|
|I still can't believe Bellatrix– – Dude, get over it.||Sirius||Harry Potter (book 5)||2003||8.6 ly||2012|
|Ninjas fight all the time!||Epsilon Eridani||The Official Ninja Webpage||2002||10 ly||2012|
|D'oh!||HR 753||The Simpsons||1989||23 ly||2012|
|Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!||Beta Virginis||Monty Python's Flying Circus||1970||35,6 ly||2006|
|All your base are belong to us.||Tau Ceti||Zero Wing||2001||11.9 ly||2013|
|Take me to your leader! – No, Steve.||Caph||Take me to your leader (phrase)||1957||55 ly||2012|
|Chuck Norris doesn't sleep. He waits.||Wolf 359||Chuck Norris facts||2005||7.8 ly||2013|
|♬ Numa numa ♪||Lalande 21185||Numa Numa song||2004||8.3 ly||2012|
|I can haz?||Luhman 16||Lolcats||2006||6.6 ± 0.5 ly||2013|
|Internets!||Gliese 65||George W. Bush Internet meme||2004||8.7||2013|
|Look at the tiny dancing Earth mammals!||Gliese 1||Hampsterdance and/or Dancing Baby||1998||14 ly||2012|
|Wasssuup!?!||Van Maanen's star||Budweiser Beer advertising campaign||1999||14 ly||2013|
|Yippie-ki-yay, motherfucker.||Beta Hydri||Die Hard||1988||24 ly||2012|
|I pity the fool!||Groombridge 1830||Rocky III (Mr. T)||1982||30 ly||2012|
|The cake is a lie!||Alpha Centauri A/B||Portal||2007||4.3 ly||2011|
|♪ Never gonna give you up ♫||Alpha Centauri A/B||Rickrolling||2007||4.3 ly||2011|
|I'm on a boat!||Proxima Centauri||The Lonely Island||2009||4.243 ± 0.002 ly||2013|
|♫ Chocolate Raaaiiin ♫||Barnard's Star||Tay Zonday: Chocolate Rain video||2007||6 ly||2013|
|Leave Britney alone!||Barnard's Star||Chris Crocker: LEAVE BRITNEY ALONE!||2007||6 ly||2013|
|You're the man now, dog!||Epsilon Indi||YTMND||2001||11.8||2013|
|More cowbell!||Kruger 60||Saturday Night Live||2000||13 ly||2013|
|Hasta la vista, baby.||Gliese 892||Terminator 2||1991||21 ly||2012|
|Let's get ready to ruuumble!||Zeta Tucanae||Michael Buffer||1984||28 ly||2012|
|You talkin' to me?||Arcturus||Taxi Driver||1976||36.7 ± 0.3 ly||2013|
|Did I do that?||Boötis||Family Matters (Steve Urkel)||1989||21.89 ± 0.07 ly||2011|
|Welcome to Good Burger, home of the good burger. – What's a burger? – I don't know.||70 Ophiuchi||Good Burger slogan||1997||16.58 ± 0.07 ly||2014|
|Badger badger badger badger||Ross 154||Badger Badger Badger||2003||9.7 ly||2013|
|Live long and prosper. – OK.||HD 211415||Star Trek||1967||44 ly||2011|
|Name's Bond. James Bond.||51 Pegasi||Dr. No (James Bond)||1962||50.9 ± 0.3 ly||2013|
|Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn.||Alpha Serpentis||Gone with the Wind||1939||74.0 ± 0.3 ly||2013|
|Mr. T ate my balls!||Altair||an Internet meme||1996||16.7 ly||2013|
|I want the truth. – You can't handle the truth!||Delta Pavonis||A Few Good Men||1992||20 ly||2012|
|I'm going to make him an offer he can't refuse.||Beta Trianguli Australis||The Godfather||1972||40 ly||2012|
|Resistance is futile.||Vega||Star Trek (Borg)||1988||25 ly||2013|
|Oh... My... Gaawd||Sigma Draconis||Friends (Janice Goralnik)||1994||18.8 ly||2013|
|Ehh, what's up, Doc?||Gienah||Bugs Bunny||1940||73 ly||2013|
|EXTERMINATE!||Alderamin||Doctor Who (The Daleks)||1963||49 ly||2012|
- [On a black background yellow circles and white bubbles are shown. Caption above the picture:]
- If other star systems are listening in on our pop culture, given the speed-of-light delay, these are the jokes and catchphrases they just learned about and are currently repeating way too much:
- [On a black background a map of star systems in relation to the Sun, which is roughly in the center, sending out radio waves is shown. Each star is a yellow circle of differing sizes, with a speech bubble (or more). The list is ordered from closest to furthest.]
- Proxima Centauri: I'm on a boat!
- Alpha Centauri A B: The cake is a lie! – ♪ Never gonna give you up ♫
- Luhman 16: I can haz?
- Barnard's star: Leave Britney alone! – ♫ Chocolate Raaaiiin ♫
- Wolf 359: Chuck Norris doesn't sleep. He waits.
- Lalande 21185: ♬ Numa numa ♪
- Sirius: I still can't believe Bellatrix– – Dude, get over it.
- Gliese 65: INTERNETS!
- Epsilon Eridani: Ninjas fight all the time!
- Procyon: ...God kills a kitten! – A what?
- Epsilon Indi: You're the man now, dog!
- Tau Ceti: All your base are belong to us.
- Luyten's Star: Peanut Butter Jelly Time!
- Kapteyn's star: My spoon is too big!
- Kruger 60: MORE COWBELL!
- Gliese 1: Look at the tiny dancing Earth mammals!
- Van Maanen's star: WASSSUUP!?!
- Ad Leonis: Oh my God, they killed Kenny! – You bastards!
- 70 Ophiuchi: Welcome to Good Burger, home of the Good Burger. – What's a burger? – I don't know.
- Altair: Mr. T ate my balls!
- Sigma Draconis: Oh ... my ... gaawd.
- Delta Pavonis: I want the truth. – You can't handle the truth!
- Gliese 892: Hasta la vista, baby.
- Xi Boötis: Did I do that?
- HR 753: D'oh!
- Beta Hydri: Yippie-ki-yay, motherfucker.
- Vega: Resistance is futile.
- Zeta Tucanae: Let's get ready to ruuumble!
- HR 1614: Where's the beef?
- Groombridge 1830: I pity the fool!
- Delta Trianguli: May the Force be with you.
- Beta Virginis: Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!
- Arcturus: You talkin' to me ?
- Beta Trianguli Australis: I'm going to make him an offer he can't refuse.
- Lamda Aurigae: You've got to ask yourself one question: 'Do I feel lucky?'
- Capella: And now for something completely different.
- HD 211415: Live long and prosper. – Ok.
- Alderamin: EXTERMINATE!
- 51 Pegasi: Name's bond. James Bond.
- Caph: Take me to your leader! – No, Steve.
- Kappa Reticuli: Here's lookin' at you, kid.
- Alpha Hydri: Rosebud.
- Gienah: Ehh, what's up doc?
- Alpha Serpentis: Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn.
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