Entertainment

A Brief History of All the Times Ted Cruz Botched a Pop Culture Reference

Cruz never misses a chance to drop references to 'Watchmen,' 'The Avengers,' and other pieces of pop culture he doesn't understand at all.
February 5, 2021, 5:44pm
ted cruz how do you do fellow kids
Illustration by Ashwin Rodrigues

In the summer of 2015, journalist Ana Marie Cox talked to then-Presidential candidate Ted Cruz about his decades-long love for comic book characters and sci-fi franchises. Their conversation turned to Star Trek, and Cruz shared some unsolicited "psychoanalysis"—his word—about characters James T. Kirk, Jean-Luc Picard, and Will Riker. After Tedsplaining the differences between the OG Star Trek and Star Trek:The Next Generation, he confidently stated that Kirk would be a Republican, while Picard would be a Democrat.

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Captain Kirk actor William Shatner responded almost immediately on Twitter. "Star Trek wasn’t political," he wrote. "I’m not political; I can’t even vote in the U.S. So to put a geocentric label on interstellar characters is silly.” Wil Wheaton, a TNG regular, was less judicious in his assessment. "Speaking as someone who served under Picard: Ted Cruz is a jackass who doesn't know what he's talking about," he commented on Reddit. (I don't know what Cruz expected, but it probably wasn't getting wrecked by Wesley Crusher.)

Whether it's name-dropping Star Trek captains, quoting The Princess Bride, or doing a series of truly cursed impressions of Simpsons characters, Cruz never misses a chance to talk about his nerdy fandoms, possibly because he thinks that it's a way to connect and engage with Very Real Humans. Sometimes it works—like when someone gave him a toy lightsaber during a campaign event—but a lot of times it doesn't. 

A lot of times, he's totally wrong. Ted Cruz can come across as the equivalent of feeding a thousand IMDB summaries to an AI, and then challenging it to make pop culture references. 

During the most recent episode of his podcast, Verdict with Ted Cruz, he tried to clown liberals for "virtue signaling" and for, um, not wanting Earth to be reduced to an uninhabitable pile of ash or whatever. "Have you noticed in how many movies how often rabid environmentalists are the bad guys?" he says. "Whether it's [The Avengers villain] Thanos—or go to Watchmen, where the view of the left is people are a disease [...] I mean, Thanos wanted to eliminate 50 percent of the life forms of the universe with one finger snapping." 

It's hard to know where to start with that, but we'll go with how Cruz seems to think that Thanos was like a taller, swoler Greta Thunberg, whose plan was to...save the environment through genocide??? It's also a safe bet that "The Left" picked up on the fact that Thanos was not an environmental advocate, nor were they pulling for him. As for that Watchmen reference, well, your guess is as good as ours. "Watchmen writer/producer here," Lila Byock tweeted. Literally what the fuck are you talking about?" 

Cruz previously demonstrated that he didn't understand Watchmen—not in print, and not on television—when he named the ultra-violent vigilante Rorschach as one of his "five favorite superheroes." The comic's author, Alan Moore, has said that he wrote Rorschach as kind of a real-life version of the Batman archetype, minus the high-tech gadgets, the trust fund, and the social skills. 

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"I wanted to kind of make this like, ‘Yeah, this is what Batman would be in the real world.’ But I had forgotten that actually to a lot of comic fans that smelling, not having a girlfriend—these are actually kind of heroic," he said in a 2008 interview with LeJorne Pindling of Street Law Productions. "I meant him to be a bad example, but I have people come up to me in the street saying, ‘I am Rorschach! That is my story!’ And I’ll be thinking, ‘Yeah, great, can you just keep away from me and never come anywhere near me again for as long as I live?’"

Here are a few other things that Cruz has gotten wrong: 

The Simpsons, Again: During an appearance at CPAC, Cruz did his whole "let's decide which political parties fictional characters belong to" thing, and he said that "The Democrats are the party of Lisa Simpson, and Republicans are happily the party of Homer and Bart and Maggie and Marge." 

But, as the Daily Beast pointed out, in one 2008 episode, Homer tried to vote for Barack Obama, but a voting machine malfunction gave two votes to John McCain instead. During a 2016 short, Homer says that he "became a Democrat" because Marge threatened to leave him if he voted for Trump—but it's still weird that Cruz would be happy about seeing something 'Republican' in Homer Simpson, a man who once got both of his arms stuck inside a vending machine. "I like that Mr. Cruz enjoys The Simpsons, but I think his understanding of the characters is weak,” showrunner Al Jean told the Daily Beast at the time. 

Star Trek, Again: Last spring, Cruz invoked Captain Kirk to call out then-National Security Advisor Susan Rice. "In Star Trek II (Wrath of Kahn [sic] - the best of the series), when Kirk says 'by the book' it’s code to mean he’s lying," he tweeted. Trekkies were quick to point out that nah, that's neither what it meant, nor who said it.

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"It's Spock, the (half) Vulcan who cannot lie, who initially says, “by the book”, indicating their communications are unencrypted and that, PER REGULATIONS, they should expect Khan will be listening and to speak in code," one person responded." Another added that Kirk was "referring to Starfleet regulations that state that all communications must be coded when there is a reasonable suspicion that they may be monitored." 

And in late January, Cruz compared journalists to TNG baddie The Borg after 100 Politico staffers expressed their displeasure with the site's decision to turn its "Playbook" section over to right-wing commentator Ben Shapiro for a day. "We are the Borg. There is only one view. Any contrary view does not exist, or must be assimilated," Cruz tweeted. "Journalism does not exist. Only orthodoxy. And conformity." 

Unlike other Next Generation villains, the Borg didn't try to end their enemies, they just tried to assimilate them into their Collective hivemind. But as The MarySue pointed out, Cruz's analogy doesn't work—especially not when it comes to journalism—because conservatives have plenty of outlets that are willing to give people like Shapiro (or Josh Hawley or the My Pillow Guy) a platform for their "contrary views." 

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"The Borg for one did not give a rat's [ass] about politics, all they cared about was biological and technological material," one person responded on Twitter. "The only thing to stop them was a society built on the idea of bettering one's fellow man and i'm sorry, socialist ideas." 

Star Wars: In 2017, then-FCC chairman Ajit Pai posted a video of himself with a lightsaber for the conservative Daily Caller, and Luke Skywalker actor Mark Hamill called him out for that, and for his efforts to kill net neutrality. "You are profoundly unworthy 2 wield a lightsaber-A Jedi acts selflessly for the common man-NOT lie 2 enrich giant corporations," Hamill wrote. "#AJediYouAreNOT" 

Cruz responded by misspelling Hamill's name and writing that "it was Vader who supported govt power over everything said & done on the Internet," because everyone's biggest takeaway from the Star Wars franchise was Darth Vader's side gig with the Galactic Empire's ISP. Cruz later doubled-down by sending Hamill a Yoda quote from The Phantom Menace, which did not feature Hamill or Luke Skywalker. (Also, The Phantom Menace is shit.)

Trying to be a Relatable Pop-Culture Guy seems to be one of Ted's things, so he'll undoubtedly misunderstand a Marvel movie or miss the point of a sci-fi show within the next week. On the bright side, that means that some other showrunner or supporting actor will roll into his mentions to tell him what a melt he is—and that's good entertainment for the rest of us.