197: Ninja Turtles

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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Ninja Turtles
The henchmen Bebop and Rocksteady have hijacked the musical genres for us just like the Lone Ranger hijacked the William Tell Overture for our parents.
Title text: The henchmen Bebop and Rocksteady have hijacked the musical genres for us just like the Lone Ranger hijacked the William Tell Overture for our parents.


The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, or Ninja Turtles, are a pop-cultural phenomenon especially prominent in the late 1980s and 1990s. The four turtles are named for four artists of the European Renaissance: Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni, Donato di Niccolò di Betto Bardi, and Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino. Due to the popularity of the Ninja Turtles in a variety of media, some of the names are now better known through their Ninja Turtle connection than their original artist forebears. The pie charts provide an approximation of this effect - Leonardo da Vinci remains one of the most notable artists of the period, and thus "Leonardo" is depicted as more notable for the artist. Donatello is the most obscure of the four as an artist, and consequently the majority of the current notoriety of "Donatello" is as a Ninja Turtle.

The colors used in the comic correspond to the primary colors of the turtles (green for the body, brown for the shell), especially in the original series from the 80s.

The title text alludes to a similar phenomenon, as two villain characters from the same Ninja Turtles show called "Bebop" and "Rocksteady" are now better known as the characters than for the musical genres they are named for. Similarly, the William Tell Overture became so closely tied to the character of the Lone Ranger in media for the previous generation that, to many, the William Tell Overture is in effect "The Lone Ranger Theme."


[Four pie graphs, each colored green and brown.]
[Almost one-half green.]
[More than one-half green.]
[Five-sixths green.]
[Roughly half-and-half.]
[A legend]
Notoriety as a
[Brown.] Renaissance artist
[Green.] Ninja turtle

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Regarding the William Tell Overture's popular re-imagining, it has been said that "An intellectual is someone who can listen to [it] without thinking of the Lone Ranger," or very similar. (Wikipedia currently has a reference note about this that chiefly attributes it "... to Jack Guin writing in the Denver Post in 1962. (Brooklyn Barrister (1962), Volume 14, p. 107).", but it was an very well known anonymous pithy (and snobby?) statement a decade or two later, as I recall.)

The explain is wrong! This comic refers to this: Multi-Purpose Logistics Module. NASA did name that modules by real scientists and after that it was matched to this: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.--Dgbrt (talk) 19:05, 22 June 2013 (UTC)

I dispute that. The MPLM was named after the TMNTs, and thus would contribute to their notoriety as such. There are no direct references to the MPLM, however, so the passage about them is at best overkill (at worse, useless). The main point is that the modern popular culture "hijacks" classical figures. --Quicksilver (talk) 05:09, 24 August 2013 (UTC)
Randall did work at NASA in the past, if he wouldn't have the MPLM's in his mind while drawing this comic he must suffer on short term memory loss. He is joking about this coincidence.--Dgbrt (talk) 18:36, 24 August 2013 (UTC)
Again, I dispute the relevance of MPLM to an explanation of this comic. To someone who doesn't know who the TMNT are and haven't heard of Donatello or Raphael, it seems overkill to have to introduce them and then pile on the MPLM layer. The title text refers to similar pop-culture characters, neither of whom have anything to do with NASA, and while the readers of xkcd tend to have a science-y bent, the MPLM is a very specific, technical thing that very few are likely to know about. Furthermore, this comic came out in December 2006, months after the previous MPLM mission. --Quicksilver (talk) 04:31, 25 August 2013 (UTC)
"There were 34 Space Shuttle missions to the ISS. MPLMs were flown twelve times". The first mission was Leonardo on March 8, 2001 at STS 102. The joke is just about the coincidence of the Ninja Turtles and the MPLM program.--Dgbrt (talk) 18:45, 25 August 2013 (UTC)
Which joke? The joke in the comic or the joke in the comments? The comic makes absolutely no hint of any reference to NASA, the ISS, or the MPLMs. The joke is that the TMNTs hijacked the importance of the four Renaissance artists. I see no reason (apart from Trivia, which can be its own section) for including MPLM into an explanation. --Quicksilver (talk) 21:32, 25 August 2013 (UTC)
It's possible that Randall as inspired to some degree by the phenomenon of the MPLM. The modules named after the artists/turtles were built by the Italian space agency, and named by them for great Italian artists. When NASA received them, it seems that the folks at NASA identified with those names as much as or more as the names of Ninja Turtles than as the names of Renaissance artists, to the degree that the mission badge featured a Ninja Turtle. Still, this whole MPLM topic is more a "possible/likely theory" about one aspect of the inspiration for the comic, not an "explanation" of the comic. The comic makes 100% perfect sense without any reference to the MPLM whatsoever. 11:13, 3 September 2014 (UTC)

There is absolutely nothing in the comic that suggests it is related to the MPLM. I have removed this as it is off-topic for the explanation. If this was what the comic was about Randall would have put some sort of hint. Rocksteady and Bebop contradict this theory.

If someone wants to re-add it they should do so in a trivia section, as it is trivia not directly related to the comic. 02:18, 27 August 2013 (UTC)

Oh, put it into trivia section if you like, but that names are not only some random names from Ninja Turtles. Randall is a smart guy from NASA.--Dgbrt (talk) 21:35, 27 August 2013 (UTC)
So what? Smart guys at NASA only care about NASA stuff? What about the Bebop and Rocksteady, then? The whole point is that NASA went along with the hijacking of the four artists' names into pop culture by the TMNT. They came before the modules, and were immensely popular. They probably influenced his childhood more than the MPLM influenced his life. --Quicksilver (talk) 02:45, 28 August 2013 (UTC)

The comic compares the notoriety as a "Renaissance artist" or "Ninja turtle", but the MPLM is missing. Because I do not know much about the Ninja Turtles this was the first on my mind when I read this comic for the first time. And I'm pretty sure that I'm not the only space flight fan. Officially the MPLMs are named after the Italian artists, but we can speculate if it were the Ninja Turtles in the beginning. NASA used comics in the past for naming their vehicles: Peanuts for Apollo 10, the launch patch for mars rover Spirit, featuring Marvin the Martian, and the launch patch for Opportunity, featuring Duck Dodgers (Daffy Duck). There are probably more. Why the hell this issue is banned here?--Dgbrt (talk) 18:22, 2 September 2013 (UTC)

MPLM is mentioned nowhere in the comic. It's a reference to TMNT, which does not necessarily mean that further references to the cartoon are also references to MPLM. This comic is not a reference to a NASA program. Give it a rest. Davidy²²[talk] 03:54, 3 September 2013 (UTC)

The whole MPLM thing is unrelated to the comic. To be part of the explaination there would need to be some sort of reference to it in the comic, any reference. Rocksteady and Bebop are not missions so the whole theory falls flat on its face. 06:39, 20 January 2014 (UTC)

OK, when I get a chance I'll make a version with the percentage notoriety taken up by MPLM. However as a spaceflight fan and engineer who grew up in the 80s who has never heard of the MPLM, the percentage will be quite small :). Forgen@ 00:21, 29 January 2014 (UTC)

Personally, I'm really curious how he came up with the breakdown of public awareness between artists and turtles. When you ask a random person who Leonardo was, I'd have to imagine that the most typical answer would be the turtle, as the artist is typically used either exclusively as Da Vinci or as Leonardo Da Vinci. Leonardo by itself would most often lead to the turtle. Michelangelo I could see being a tossup as the artist was known mainly by that name. Raphael and Donatello would almost be exclusively recognized as turtles. People may recognize Raphael's cupids, but I would hazard a guess that they're unlikely to know the artist who created the style. I took Art History, and even I'm having a hard time recalling something explicitly by Donatello. :lol Donny2112 (talk) 05:47, 20 May 2017 (UTC)

I would like a third, small section on the Leonardo pie chart to say "90s AC Milan footballer"

I find the comic itself is wrong. Michaelangelo and Raphael should really have their diagrams swapped, as more people are aware of Michaelangelo's David and the Sistine Chapel than anything Raphael did. -Donatello