Pop Culture Questions We Definitely Argued About

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Vote up all the old-school debates you remember arguing about.

Everyone likes a good debate. That seems to be the case when it comes to pop culture, anyway. And it's not a recent phenomenon - for example, the meaning behind "Rosebud" has divided moviegoers since Citizen Kane first came out in 1941. The debate about "Pepsi vs. Coke" has raged on for more than a century.

More recently, TV viewers have been obsessed with discovering who shot that scoundrel J.R. Ewing, or arguing about whether being on a "break" meant that Ross and Rachel were broken up when he hooked up with the woman from the copy center. And the rise of social media has helped turn things like a simple question about the color of a dress into a meme that briefly was the No. 1 trend on Twitter worldwide.

Here are some of the more memorable pop culture debates of the past 40 years (or so) - some of which are still raging in 2022.

  • What Color Was That Dress?
    Photo: Cecilia Bleasdale / Wikipedia / Fair use
    148 VOTES

    What Color Was That Dress?

    In February 2015, Caitlin McNeill of Scotland posted a picture of a dress on the social media site Tumblr. As she explained to Business Insider:

    What happened was two of my close friends were actually getting married and the mother of the bride took a photo of the dress to send to her daughter. When my friend showed the dress to her fiancee they disagreed on the color.

    The bride posted the photo on her Facebook page, but her friends still couldn't agree on whether the dress was blue and black, or white and gold. That's when McNeill decided to post it on a fan page dedicated to talent manager Sarah Weichel to ask for help on determining the color of the dress. The post quickly went viral - not just on Tumblr, but all over the internet. For a brief time, it was the No. 1 Twitter trend worldwide. Even celebrities such as Taylor Swift and Mindy Kaling joined the debate. And media outlets like Slate.com did surveys to try and determine the dress's color.

    To McNeill and Weichel, the answer was clear - the dress was blue and black. 


  • 2
    84 VOTES

    Why Can't I See Magic Eye Pictures?

    In 1991, engineer Tom Baccei, 3D artist Cheri Smith, and programmer Bob Salitsky came up with the Magic Eye concept, built upon previous research about how the eyes and brain work when viewing a random dot stereogram.

    The Magic Eye image comprises a repeating pattern manipulated in order to control the perceived depth of the image; it hides a three-dimensional image inside a two-dimensional pattern. The idea is that when someone looks at this image, the repeating pattern provides information to the viewer's brain about the depth of the hidden image, allowing the person to perceive it.

    By 1993, the Magic Eye had become a bit of a pop culture sensation. But not everyone was able to see the hidden image. This raised the question of why some people could see it and others couldn't.

    There are two likely explanations. One is that something is off with the viewer's eyesight. A person's eyes must work together to view a 3D image. If the eyes aren't working together correctly, a person could have issues with binocular (two-eyed) vision or stereo vision (where two slightly different views from the eyes are combined in the brain). Either of these problems would prevent a person from seeing the hidden image.

    The other explanation is that the person is viewing the Magic Eye image incorrectly. As its makers explained:

    Hold the center of the printed image right up to your nose. It should be blurry. Focus as though you are looking through the image into the distance. Very slowly move the image away from your face until the two squares above the image turn into three squares. If you see four squares, move the image farther away from your face until you see three squares.... When you clearly see three squares, hold the page still, and the hidden image will magically appear.

  • Leno Or Letterman?
    Photo: NBC
    98 VOTES

    Leno Or Letterman?

    Johnny Carson ruled the world of US late-night talk shows for years. When he retired in 1992, stand-up comedian Jay Leno was tapped to be his replacement as the host of NBC's The Tonight Show.

    Some felt this was a slap in the face to David Letterman, whose Late Night with David Letterman had premiered on NBC in 1982, and who was thought to be Carson's obvious successor. Letterman even campaigned for the position, and after the slot was given to Leno, left NBC for CBS.

    Leno had been a frequent guest on Letterman's show over the years, but the two went from friends to rivals once Leno began hosting The Tonight Show. Aside for a brief period from June 2009 to January 2010 where Leno was replaced by Conan O'Brien, the pair battled for viewers and critical acceptance for 22 years, until Leno retired in 2014.

    In the early years of the rivalry, Letterman earned better ratings than Leno. But that changed after Hugh Grant appeared on The Tonight Show in 1995 in the wake of the actor's arrest for soliciting a prostitute. When Leno was replaced by O'Brien in June 2009, he was beating Letterman by an average of 1.3 million viewers. Letterman started making up this ratings gap after O'Brien replaced Leno; while O'Brien appealed to younger viewers, many older The Tonight Show viewers switched to Letterman - until Leno returned.

    But while Leno usually won the ratings race, Letterman got far more critical acclaim. He received six Primetime and two Daytime Emmy Awards for his work on Late Night with David Letterman, while Leno only received one Primetime Emmy for his work on The Tonight Show. And from 1993 to 2009, Letterman ranked higher than Leno in the Harris Poll for the Nation's Favorite TV Personality 12 times.

    Both Leno and Letterman got huge send-offs when they retired (Leno in 2014, Letterman in 2015). Although both were invited to the other's big event, neither attended their rival's farewell.

  • Who Shot J.R.?
    Photo: CBS
    90 VOTES

    Who Shot J.R.?

    Dallas was a CBS primetime drama that ran from 1978 to 1991, centered around a feud between the Ewing and Barnes families as they battled over control of Ewing Oil. The series was known for its cliffhangers, and one in particular caught the world's attention: in the third season's final episode, A House Divided, an unseen gunman attempted to kill J.R., the Ewings' ruthless, scheming, unfaithful eldest son (Larry Hagman).

    CBS coined the slogan "Who Shot J.R.?" and the mystery captured the world's attention. T-shirts printed with the catchphrase started popping up all over the place; media outlets ran "Who Shot J.R.?" contests, and the question even found its way into the 1980 U.S. presidential election, as Republicans distributed "A Democrat Shot J.R." campaign buttons.

    Around the world, curious fans placed bets on the shooter's identity. In the UK, the William Hill Organization said it took in approximately $360,000 in bets worldwide in just two days. 

    Some of the cast members were asked about the identity of the gunman. Hagman himself revealed in his memoir that he had to resist spilling the secret to Queen Elizabeth II's mother:

    Then I got to the Queen Mother, who said, "Now I want you to tell me, young man, who shot J.R.?" [He replied], "Not even for you, ma’am."

    In truth, the actors didn't know who the assailant was, as the producers filmed all the cast and crew members, including Hagman himself, shooting the gun. 

    On November 21, 1980 approximately 350 million people worldwide tuned in to get the answer to the mystery. The culprit turned out to be J.R.'s sister-in-law/former mistress Kristin Shepard, who revealed that she was pregnant with J.R.'s child.

  • Were Ross And Rachel On A 'Break'?
    Photo: NBC
    70 VOTES

    Were Ross And Rachel On A 'Break'?

    The NBC sitcom Friends was one of the most popular TV shows from the mid-1990s to the early 2000sOne of the major plot lines was the on-again, off-again relationship between Ross (David Schwimmer) and Rachel (Jennifer Aniston).

    "The One Where Ross and Rachel Take A Break" originally aired February 13, 1997; the two have a huge argument when Rachel chooses work over celebrating their anniversary. After she suggests that they need "a break from us," Ross gets drunk and is intimate with another woman.

    In the next episode, Rachel wants to get back together, but they get into another fight when she learns of his dalliance. Ross argues that he thought taking "a break" meant they had actually broken up. Rachel disagrees and decides to end the relationship.

    The gag about "we were on a break!" continued throughout the remainder of the Friends run and sparked a debate among fans and in the media about what exactly "a break" meant - a debate that continues to rage on, 25 years after "The One Where Ross and Rachel Take A Break" first aired. Media outlets polled their readers, and Schwimmer, Aniston and other cast members were asked their opinion by reporters and talk show hosts.

    Even professional couples' therapists couldn't come up with a definitive answer. All that seems clear is that Ross's and Rachel's relationship suffered from poor communication.

    But hey! The couple later had a baby together, and in the series finale Rachel gave up a dream job in Europe to be with Ross. So in the end, it all worked out for them (maybe).

  • Did Carole Baskin Kill Her Husband?
    Photo: Netflix
    77 VOTES

    Did Carole Baskin Kill Her Husband?

    In 2020, the Netflix true crime documentary series Tiger King became a viral sensation. It seemed like all across social media, people were talking about the show, which focused on a years-long feud between private zoo owner Joe Exotic and Carole Baskin, an animal rights activist and CEO of Big Cat Rescue, who claimed Exotic was abusing the animals in his care and that his zoo was not an animal sanctuary.

    The third episode offered speculation that Baskin had something to do with the disappearance of her millionaire second husband Don Lewis, who co-owned the Tampa, FL animal sanctuary Wildlife on Easy Street with Baskin. He disappeared on August 18, 1997 and was declared legally dead five years later. 

    Two months before his disappearance, Lewis filed a domestic violence injunction against his wife, telling a Hillsborough County, FL judge that she had threatened to kill him. The judge, however, dismissed the injunction. Following Lewis's disappearance, one of his daughters from a previous marriage claimed her stepmother had murdered him, then ground up his body and fed him to the big cats in the sanctuary. The claims couldn't be substantiated, and Baskin was never officially named as a suspect in her husband's disappearance.

    In 2010, Exotic, who felt harassed by Baskin's attempts to shut down his zoo, received some documents that may have been stolen off her computer. He posted them online, claiming they suggested Baskin had killed Lewis. "Carole will go to jail if it's the last thing I see in my life," Exotic announced. He even offered a $10,000 reward for any information that would lead to her arrest.

    The feud between the two spun out of control. In March 2019, Exotic was convicted on two murder-for-hire charges in connection with his attempt to have Baskin terminated. He was also convicted on 17 counts of exotic animal abuse.

    The investigation into Lewis's disappearance, meanwhile, was reopened after Tiger King aired. Baskin has continued to deny that she killed Lewis - in fact, in November 2021 she and her current husband released a statement claiming that Lewis wasn't dead at all:

    Please explain to us why you think armchair detectives, or you are better informed than the Special Agent in Charge at the FBI in this Homeland Security Document which says, "Don Lewis is currently alive and well in Costa Rica."

    The Baskins have also sued Netflix and the producers of Tiger King 2, claiming:

    Season 2, as expected and indicated in the Trailer, continues to do everything they can to falsely convince the viewer that Carole was involved in Don Lewis disappearance. Consistent with their prior lack of ethics, the producers continued with the technique they used in Season 1 of having accusatory statements about Carole followed by images or video of her chosen to intentionally reinforce and magnify the accusations....

    A spokesperson for the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office said investigators have made at least three attempts to interview Baskin as part of the still-open investigation into her former husband's disappearance, but she has repeatedly refused to speak with them.