The conversation began when The AV Club and Ars Technica gave less-than-great reviews to the TNG episode “Darmok.” The reviewers don’t appreciate the species that communicates through references and metaphors. The commenters on the articles and my friends were flabbergasted. How can one not have an inherent appreciation for Darmok? As the commenters point out (and yes, I’m actually encouraging you to read the comments section on something on the Internet), references are how Nerds speak.
If you know nerds you know Monty Python references. If you think I’m exaggerating that, I can show you a person who has never seen Holy Grail (I’m sorry, my DVD is scratched so I couldn’t fix that when I found out), but he can quote the entire movie because he knows nerds. In fact, you probably can’t watch a movie without someone saying “Its only a model” or get into a car without someone saying “Lets not go to Camelot”. And thanks to the magic of the Internet, even the references are referential.
One of the reasons The Princess Bride is so popular with nerds of a certain age (aside from it being perfect in every way) is that it was one of the first really quotable movies that we had all seen. It was one of the first nerdy bonding experiences that we had to make friends. If someone was saying or doing something repetitively you could say, “You keep using that word.” If someone said “No more rhymes now, I mean it” you knew to say, “Anybody want a peanut?” And if someone was bold enough to say “As you wish” you knew it was the appropriate time to swoon.
The Avengers is a great example. Cap gets excited when he finally catches a cultural reference he recognizes – the flying monkeys from The Wizard of Oz, so he’s in the know. He’s not just an outsider anymore. He found common ground, a footing for a relationship. And that sounds melodramatic, but that’s how you make friends. That’s how you understand people who are different. That’s the moral of “Darmok”: finding a common ground. It asks and answers: How do you communicate with someone who doesn’t understand your references?
And because The Supernatural Fandom has a gif for everything. Seriously, they do. Even not knowing a reference is a reference.