Grand Theft Auto – How pop culture helped rise Rockstar to fame

"în International" "de POV21"

Grand Theft Auto V – the game that set the bar for many subsequent video games releases when it aired in 2013 for the first time. It was no less than monumental. With tons of activities, missions and interesting characters to boot up the franchise into a whole new dimension.


*If you have never played this game (if that is even humanly possible) consider this a SPOILER ALERT!*


One of the things the Grand Theft Auto Franchise has always been known for is for its pop-culture references generally directed to American Society.

But with the overall cultural impact the American Society has on the rest of the world, it is safe to say it has become a general parody and satire to modern life and modern issues. The game has taken it upon itself to make dozens upon dozens of pop-culture references and nods to movies, lifestyles, social media, family and many other topics that most people would consider touchy.

Here are some of the ways Grand Theft Auto chose to portray and subsequently satirize real-life things:
1. Facebook is one of the two social medias commonly used to be parodied into ‘Lifeinvander’ and the now analogous term ‘like’ was turned into ‘stalk’.

This may be one of the smallest references the franchise makes towards social media, but it serves as comedic appeal to the public who is all about devouring the references put forth. The other social media is Twitter turned ‘Bleeter’ where characters can ‘Bleet’ everything about their life just like they do on ‘Lifeinvader’.

2. The three protagonists are also nods to pop-culture.
  • Franklin Clinton is the most honest and the only protagonist. He constantly tries to make a, somewhat, honest living. Of course he fails (this is about America, after all) and we get a front row seat for an experience following the struggles of the classic Afro-American gang banger and drug dealer. The character represents the beginner, the green guy who first starts out modestly and with no experience. He sets the pace for the story as he becomes legitimized within the game.
  • Michael De Santa (or Townley) represents the veteran who’s been through all the other games. He directly represents the dysfunctionality of the filthy rich American who has a huge villa, a nice car, yet also goes to therapy because he has almost no friendly relationship whatsoever with his family. While he does have a soft core, he’s also a pathological liar who’d cheat anyone just to get away from his own problems. Michael and his family represent the American family that have too many issues to be understood even by their therapist.
  • Finally, my personal favorite, Trevor Phillips symbolises the way the game was and always will be played: pure fucking insanity and shootouts. He is the ultimate desire to create mayhem and is also a nod to another eponymous figure within pop-culture, Walter White. Trevor, however, is Walter taken to a whole new level and is also the only Grand Theft Auto character to have higher education as he did train to become an Air Force pilot to “maybe, just maybe drop the nuke.” While anyone would say he is absolutely insane, which isn’t out of the question by any means, he is also one of the most loyal characters in the franchise who never betrays his friends.
3. The cities, naturally, are also nods to Los Angeles, New York, Miami, Las Vegas and San Francisco through their counterparts of Los Santos, Liberty City, Las Venturas and San Fiero.

They are also overly exaggerated counterparts and even the pedestrians are nods to the way people used to live, dress and act during different periods of time from the Cocaine Boom in Miami, shown in Scarface (1983), to the ‘Plastic Society’ we can see in Grand Theft Auto V, phony, fake and made to feel like Hollywood, sorry I meant to say Vinewood.

4. ‘It’s Britney’!

Yes, you read right. One of the things that came along with the game was a pop station which now gives you the option of running over pedestrians while Britney or Rihanna sing on the radio. That’s more metal than pop, but who am I to judge?

5. The FBI and CIA didn’t escape parody either.

In fact they’re central to parts of the story as the FIB and IAA. All three protagonists work for them, hoping that their criminal records will be cleared in ‘a haze of patriotic fervor’.

6. Phones? Sure, why not. Each character has a different phone.

An Android for Franklin, iOS for Michael and Windows phone for Trevor. IFruit is also seen and mentioned throughout the game. This is a nod at Apple and the ‘brick wall’ theme for Trevor’s phone referencing Nokia.

7. What about cars? I mean, this game is called Grand Theft AUTO

Quite literally what they did. Technically all cars in the game were modeled, but not strictly faithfully after real ones. Some accuracy was withheld for the sake of creative freedom… and copyrights.

8. If you thought religion was the one who got away, it didn’t.

There’s even a character on the pier that looks and acts like a Jesus figure and talks about his ‘father’. Personal Jesus, anyone?

9. Sex is still a taboo subject after the ‘Hot Coffee’ scandal.

In case you have been living under a rock for the past twenty years here’s a rundown. Hot Coffee was a mod implemented in 2004’s Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. It featured some remarkably interesting sexual content between the protagonist and several women he hooks up with throughout the story.

10. Sexual insecurity and femdom are also subjects approached in the game.

Trevor shows off to Floyd who flat out declares “I ain’t got a very big penis. Some girls laugh when they see it.” It doesn’t get more pop culture than this when you get poke fun at male insecurities about the hardware.

My, personal, favorite thing about the game were the representations of American culture, going from harsh and poor to idyllic.

The Plastic Culture and the falseness that is so transparent to everyone and anyone. You don’t have to be a gaming veteran to see how it treats and satirizes absolutely everything related to the American people. From the way they walk to the way they dress. Even the way they speak and treat other people. Okay, but if this is the USA we’re talking about, why are all games on islands in the middle of an ocean?

The answer can’t be simpler than this. It was meant to represent the closed mindedness of American people along with their self-absorbed attitudes towards the rest of the world. On the talk-show station of another Grand Theft Auto game you can hear Americans complaining that “Europe is not the real world, this is!” thus underlining this idea.

That being said, even with the parody and fun poked around, it’s still a cult classic which is always worth getting hands on for a play-through. Try to hunt down the many other references or just to make the life of pedestrians a living hell with Trevor. From visiting the shrink with Michael to stealing cars with Franklin, it is endless fun.

It’s one of the games that aged well and still has content being updated even today after six years. Kudos Rockstar games!

Written by: Tudor Rusu

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