Pop culture as it exists today is a result of the perpetual recycling of ideas. Any sort of media — whether it be music, television and film, or visual art — is constantly borrowing motifs, images, riffs, lyrics, and styles, if not creating deliberate and explicit homages to previous works.
There are certain works which, for whatever reason, are circulated widely through pop culture, constantly referenced to the point that we probably recognize them more from where they’re honored than from the original product. For example, I was a late bloomer with the Star Wars franchise and I didn’t actually watch any of the films until my early 20s.
However, I grew up watching the Mel Brooks parody Spaceballs and other comedic homages on shows like Family Guy and Robot Chicken. I even recall an episode of That ’70s Show with a fantasy sequence where the show’s characters are depicted as Luke, Leia, Darth Vader, and so forth. By the time I saw the actual movies, I was already completely aware of not only the plot, but the imagery and atmosphere of the films that it didn’t seem like I was experiencing anything new.
But it’s okay. I’m more than fine with great works popping up everywhere because I’m a proponent of fan culture in pop culture. I appreciate when creative minds drop allusions to works and artists who inspire them. And fans always get that extra special jolt of joy when something they love is referenced in something else that they love. It brings out the geek in all of us and we can appreciate the love and respect that spark such allusions, even when they are done in jest.
Possibly one of the most deeply penetrating works in pop culture might be A Clockwork Orange. While we all know that Anthony Burgess’ novel is revered in the literary world, surely it’s the 1971 film adaptation, directed by Stanley Kubrick, that has truly made its mark on pop culture. And this is where I confess something: I’ve never read the book (it’s long been on my often-forgotten “to read” list) and I’ve only seen the film once in college for a class.
Yet I find myself fascinated with the constant use of its language, fashion, and imagery in other mediums. I get excited whenever I recognize some tongue-in-cheek nod to the film. And there are so many — too many to share here. But I will share a few of my favorites.
One of the first imitations of A Clockwork Orange that I recall from my childhood was on The Simpsons. In the third installment of the show’s “Treehouse of Horror” specials, Bart is dressed up as Alex DeLarge, the film’s anti-hero as made famous by Malcolm McDowell, for Halloween. His look contains all the trademarks: bold eyelashes painted over one eye, a bowler hat, cane, and white boiler suit, complete with suspenders and codpiece. Quite the look for a 10-year-old boy.
I’ve often pondered whether Bart’s Halloween costume was chosen by the cartoon’s creators just because they loved the film or if they were trying to imply that Bart had seen the movie at that age (remember, a film full of female exploitation, rape, and “ultra-violence”), therefore enforcing the delinquent and devious nature of Bart’s character.
A later “Treehouse of Horror” episode features his infant sister Maggie slyly transforming into Alex, including a bottle of milk as a nod to the milk bar Alex and his “droogs” patronize, along with music from Wendy Carlos’ film score.
Glam and mod rock
Music has also been greatly influenced by Clockwork. In the ’70s, David Bowie was known to open his concerts with Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 9 in D Minor,” an already famous piece of classical music featured throughout A Clockwork Orange alongside Carlos’s moog compositions. And of course, off of Bowie’s seminal Ziggy Stardust album, the track “Suffragette City” contains the lyric “Hey man, droogie don’t crash here,” yet another reference to the film’s use of Nadsat, the slang language used by Alex and his friends (droogs).
The fashion of the film also seemed to inspire Led Zeppelin’s drummer John “Bonzo” Bonham, who appeared on one of their tours in a white boiler suit and bowler to match, perhaps spiritually channeling Alex DeLarge’s chaotic, violent personality into his manic drumming.
In the 1990s, British rock band Blur paid tribute to the film’s opening scene in their music video for “The Universal.” The band sits stoically in a bright white lounge (in opposition to the black walls of the Korova Milk Bar that Alex and his droogs frequent), dressed in white, with singer Damon Albarn sporting some subtle eyeliner.
Presumably set in a future that cannot be identified as either utopian or dystopian, strange characters with eccentric hair and clothes fill the bar while the band merely observes (in between performing the song). The video borrows its aesthetic from Kubrick’s Clockwork from the minimalism and monochromatic design to mannequin-like statues of women’s legs, a less risque nod to the nude female statues in the Korova. There are also hints in the video that the patrons are enjoying mind-altering beverages like the Clockwork characters who enjoy laced glasses of milk (or moloko in Nasdat).
The Mighty Boosh
The final reference I will share with you comes from one of my favorite comedies, which I’ve written about on REBEAT before, The Mighty Boosh. In the episode “Electro,” Vince Noir and Howard Moon join an ’80s-style synth band (featuring real-life girl group Robots in Disguise) who call themselves A Kraftwerk Orange, in reference not only to the film, but to the German electronic group Kraftwerk. If that clever double fandom portmanteau doesn’t tickle you, I don’t know what will.
As usual, the characters copied the film’s fashion sense with white one-pieces, a little more trendy than boiler suits, the back of which they’ve adorned with signature-lashed orange eyes. Vince sports a large black codpiece covered in polo mints, a motif Boosh fans see throughout the show.
There are too many other bows to this film to write about here. Bands from across the world have named themselves, their songs, or their albums in reference to either the film or novel. Filmmakers are often inspired by this cult classic, including the open of Trainspotting and the torture scene in Reservoir Dogs, just to name a couple. And any number of televisions series have made some kind of mention of Clockwork.
Even other forms of media have borrowed from it. For a while, Little Steven’s Underground Garage used a Clockwork poster-inspired logo on social media. There’s even a record store that just opened up in Yonkers, NY named after the film, proving that its impact still prevails (I’ve never been to the store, so no endorsement is intended, but they’re probably pretty cool).