Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory
We're not sure how to quantify the amount of pop culture references in this book. "A lot" doesn't begin to do it justice. Beaucoup sounds a little pretentious. We'll just say there are over 350 pop culture references in this book, and that's not counting any of the literary or historical references sprinkled in. Don't believe us? Check out the "Shout-Outs" page and see for yourself. We'll meet you back here next Thursday.
A lot of the references might seem arbitrary, just to say, "Hey, look what I remember! Wasn't it awesome?" After all, "Halliday seemed to expect everyone around him to share his obsessions" (5.18). But some of them pop up at thematically appropriate times. For instance, Wade watches Whiz Kids, which he describes as a show about "a teenage hacker who uses his computer skills to solve mysteries" (18.1). Sound familiar? (Hint: It's the book you're reading about right now.)
Later, he watches the movie Explorers, about "three kids who build a spaceship in their backyard and then fly off to meet the aliens" (28.1). Wade doesn't know it yet, but this is pretty much what happens in the end when Wade and his two friends fly to Castle Anorak in their giant robots and end up playing a game of Tempest, which has plenty of alien (or at least alien-like) creatures in it. Also, as we later find out, three is the magic number needed to open the gate.
Many of the pop culture references show the camaraderie that comes with people's sharing similar interests, even obscure '80s anime. When these people come together, incredible things can happen. Like Ultraman cleaving Mechagodzilla in half. But the references also serve to show that pop culture, like popular fiction, is more than just light-hearted fluff. In the right context, they add layers of depth.