Today “that’s what she said,” may be best known as the signature catchphrase of Michael Scott, but the phrase and its various iterations were around long before it was first used to point out a double entendre on The Office.
Which goes to show just how easily a simple joke, song, image, or other cultural nugget can spread through pop culture—a phenomenon that Joe Sabia is determined to make with The Office Time Machine. Sabia, along with programmer Aaron Rasmussen, has created an interactive allowing you to navigate and watch just about every pop culture reference ever made in the series, organized by the year in which that movie or song or other cultural property was released.
Type in 1994, for instance, and you’ll get a short YouTube supercut filled with all the mentions of (to name just a few) Forrest Gump and the George Foreman grill. Enter a year from about 2,000 to 3,000 years ago, and you’ll hear the employees of Dunder Mifflin expound upon quotations from Alexander the Great and Sun Tzu. As you’ve probably guessed by now, the project was very time-consuming—especially when it came to determining a precise year for something as ambiguous as the origin of the jazz funeral.
All of this painstaking work was done in the name of bringing awareness to copyright reform and fair use, Sabia says. “To prove culture is not only everywhere,” he writes, “but that certain references to films, songs, and works of art are critical for our collective understanding of comedy and to the importance of relating to content.”
And in the spirit of freely sharing creative work, Sabia encourages anyone to correct his potential oversights and help him pinpoint the few references from the show he wasn’t able to decipher:
Whether that’s a cause you want to support or not, it’s worth taking the time machine out for a spin.