Created By: Maklodes on October 20, 2011 Last Edited By: Westrim on March 24, 2013
Nuked

Humans are Western, Fantastics are Nonwestern

Humans have European or American-based culture, while fantastic races or aliens have a culture based on different humans

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Trope
In many Medieval European Fantasy settings, humans are basically Western Europeans with a few modifications. Correspondingly, in the Standard Sci Fi Setting, humans are basically Americans with a few modifications. What about the other fantasy races and sci-fi species? Well, Starfish Aliens might have a totally alien culture -- or might have a biology which renders the notion of "culture" itself dubious (such as a Hive Mind), as might some rather alien fantasy races such as an Elemental Embodiment. However, for Rubber-Forehead Aliens or the humanoid Five Races and Fantasy Axis of Evil, often their culture will be based on some non-European or non-American human culture.

Effectively, the cultural diversity of humans is streamlined to some roughly European or American culture, but human cultures which don't fit the European or American mould are re-assigned to non-humans. Subtrope of Fantasy Counterpart Culture, which includes more cases where the non-European counterpart culture is human, and of Write What You Know.

Examples

Film

  • In Avatar, humans are American, while the Na'vi culture appears to be a pastiche of American Indian or New Guinean hunter-gatherer tribes.

Tabletop Games

  • In Eberron, the orcs of the Shadow Marches seem to have an aesthetic and culture similar to Vietnamese peasantry, tending swampy rice paddies in conical asian-style hats and living in thatched huts. Khorvese humans are largely European.
  • In Warhammer, Chaos Dwarves seem to be vaguely Babylonian.

Video Games

  • In Age of Wonders I and II, the Azracs and Nomads, respectively, seem to be culturally Middle-Eastern. Humans seem vaguely Western European.
  • In Wing Commander, the Kilrathi have a resemblance to Imperial Japan. However, in the case of the humans, this is largely averted, with humans hailing from all of Earth's cultures from American to Maori. It's still somewhat American-centric, but hardly exclusive of other aspects of humanity.

Community Feedback Replies: 67
  • October 20, 2011
    Kurtulmak
    Isn't this just Fantasy Counterpart Culture?
  • October 20, 2011
    somerandomdude
    This seems to be a specific form of that in which humans (in the Five Races sense) nearly always have a Renaissance/Colonial-era Western European based culture. I've noticed this as well.

    The humans of the Warcraft Expanded Universe have a culture obviously based on late medieval Europe.
  • October 20, 2011
    Bisected8
    • Averted in The Elder Scrolls, while the "Imperial" race is quite clearly a counterpart to the Roman empire, there are several different human races with their own distinct culture; Nords (the Norse), Bretons (Essentially a race of Half Elves) and Redguards (a mix between Spartan militarism and Persian traders). Along with the mer (elven) races and miscellaneous beastmen races.
  • October 20, 2011
    Daoloth
    Dragon Age. The humans are medieval europe, but the Daelish elves are more or less molded after Roma (with celtic accents), the dwarves has a caste system and the Qunari are... well, I'm not sure actually.
  • October 20, 2011
    Trotzky
    Literature: Disc World: Thudd and Fifth Elephant: Human culture is European, Dwarf culture suits miners.
  • October 20, 2011
    Chabal2

  • October 20, 2011
    Ryuuma
    Played with in Warcraft where several non-human races can be associated to a non-european civilization (eg: Orcs are a pastiche of Africans and Japanese, Trolls are Jamaican/Haitian like, Taurens are Native Americans, Dwarves are Scottish looking). Averted in the Drakensang series, where the only other culture that can be compared to Real Life ones are still made of humans (namely the Novadi [Middle East], Thorwalians [Norse] and even people from a Wutai equivalent are mentioned but never shown).
  • October 20, 2011
    TwinBird
    Star Trek: At least in the original series, humans clearly represent the United States and allies, and the Klingons and Romulans are Chinese and Russian, respectively. It gets less obvious in the spinoffs, when human society has become more utopian, Klingon and Romulan society more nuanced, and attitudes toward the United States and capitalism have soured.
  • October 20, 2011
    dangerwaffle
    No, this should definitely be a trope. The human=European bit has some serious Unfortunate Implications.

    The title's sort of weird, though - I've never seen Japanese dwarves; dwarves are Scottish, Viking, Russian, or (more rarely) Jewish or Muslim.

    ^I have always, always heard TOS-era Klingons equated with Russians, and Romulans usually with Chinese.
  • October 20, 2011
    KingZeal
    In terms of accents, the dwarves in Dragon Age actually speak North American English while most humans in Ferelden speak with a Commonwealth accent.
  • October 21, 2011
    nman
    This isn't too rare to trope, but you should change the title, because it's long and way too specific.
  • October 21, 2011
    PacificState
  • October 21, 2011
    Bisected8
    Western Humans would probably do. Possibly Our Humans Are European?
  • October 21, 2011
    Duncan
    A lot of the aliens in Star Wars (especially the three prequels) were criticized for appearing to be coded racist caricatures- e.g. the Black Jar-Jar Binks and the Japanese fish-people. Which is not to say that this was done on purpose, but that considering white humans as the norm can lead to Unfortunate Implications.
  • October 21, 2011
    Frank75
    ^^^ That's better.
  • October 21, 2011
    fulltimeD
    Babylon Five: The Earth Alliance is like a combination of the European Union and the United States, though it's implied that other major economic powers like China and Japan play a role too, it's usually off-screen. On the other hand, alien cultures, traditions, religions and customs are noted for being exotic, even though in many cases they parallel non-western human cultures. Examples being: the collectivist sensibilities of the Minbari; the Narns changing their names based on major life decisions like which prophet of theirs to follow; the Brakiri "Day of the Dead" being very similar in concept to holidays from several Earth cultures. For any alien trait in B5 that's not explicitly tied to Bizarre Alien Biology, one can probably find a parallel in some human culture.

    Broadly one could say that the Minbari are "eastern," the Narn are "middle-eastern," and the Centauri are the Second World, former colonial powers compared to the Earth Alliance's USA (especially given the Centauri relationship to the Narn as their former oppressors).
  • October 21, 2011
    dangerwaffle
    ^ In the case of B5 I know I've seen a Word Of God statement that Minbari are specifically Japanese and Centauri are (pretty obviously) Roman.

    Another thing worth noting, Earth Alliance ships on B5 invariably have names from Western history and mythology - Agamemnon, Alexander, Churchill, Hyperion. You never, ever see a ship with a name like Lu Bu or Shivaji.
  • October 21, 2011
    pokedude10
    Personally, I think that humans being European is a trope on it's own.

    Humans Are European might work for a name.
  • October 21, 2011
    FastEddie
    Yeah, leave the dwarf reference out. The main point is that the humans are European.
  • October 21, 2011
    lamoxlamae
    Maybe add in to the description that it's actually the "race you're supposed to be rooting for" that's european? I've noticed that in some fantasy/scifi settings that the good guys, regardless of species, always try to be "European"

    ... The Good Guys Are European ?

    • Furcadia's furres are all basically European except for the exotic Egyptians.
    • Shadow Run's runners are typically European or American in thought and action regardless of if they are human or not. The corporate empires are always Japanese or Chinese.
    • Flash Gordon fights Emperor Ming on a regular basis.
    • Johnny Quest's whole team except Hadji is very, very European. They even have an English bulldog!

  • October 21, 2011
    ChimbleySweep
    Klingons are an interesting case. While in The Undiscovered Country they were given aspects of Japanese/Samurai culture, during the Next Generation era and beyond they increasingly resembled ancient vikings.
  • October 22, 2011
    SomeSortOfTroper
    ^^ There's examples that don't obey that + examples which do = That's a different trope.

    And Flash Gordon isn't European.
  • October 22, 2011
    fulltimeD
    How about Humanity Is Western rather than Humanity Is European? That would be more accurate, methinks, since Humanity in sci-fi is often a stand-in for the UK or the US.
  • October 22, 2011
    TwinBird
    @ChimbleySweep: V and VI were made during TNG's run; that's why Worf's grandfather gets a cameo.
  • October 22, 2011
    DRCEQ
    I'm slightly confused here. The trope in a nutshell is "Fantasy races are based on various real life cultures, but Humans are medieval European"? Or is it something a little more specific?
  • October 22, 2011
    NoirGrimoir
  • October 27, 2011
    TBeholder
    Well, specifically Dwarves usually are German-ish, only more clannish, but yeah.

    So it's a supertrope of United Space Of America and a subtrope of Most Authors Know Little Other Than Talking Points And Can't Be Arsed To Conduct Research?
  • October 27, 2011
    ChunkyDaddy
    • Subverted in Star Trek Deep Space Nine, the Ferengi culture is shown to be closer to Western culture, whereas a Federation culture is shown to be an evolved form of western culture. In one of the interviews, one of the creators also mentions that Ferengi is derived from Firangi, which the creator says means White person in Persian (actually Firangi means foreigner in Hindi and Urdu too). The creator mentioned by portraying Ferengis as "us", it agave them freedom to tackle contemporary social issues like women's equality
  • October 27, 2011
    Bisected8
    Discworld averts it too. While the protagonists live in what amounts to a Schizo Tech fantasy version of Europe and America there's also Middle East and Far Eastern human cultures who were featured in other books.
  • November 5, 2011
    Likely
    @Ryuuma: Not sure that Warcraft really plays with this trope at all; it seems to just be a straight-up use of it.
  • November 5, 2011
    dangerwaffle
    I'd actually say rather than "Western or American," it's "Western, American or English." I suspect I've actually seen Humans-are-England most often.

    @Chunky Daddy: Note on the DS 9 example that although the Ferengi are clearly portrayed as 1980's American capitalists in their first appearances in TNG, by the time of DS 9 there's a fair argument often made that they're being portrayed more like Space Jews.
  • November 5, 2011
    Maklodes
    Trotzky writes: "Literature: Disc World: Thudd and Fifth Elephant: Human culture is European, Dwarf culture suits miners."

    Not picking on Trotzky in particular here, but rather just a general note: this particular YKTTW is about cases where the nonhumans have a culture inspired by non-Western humans. If the aliens or fantastic races have a culture which is unidentifiable with any actual human cultures, then I think it might go with some other trope.
  • November 7, 2011
    ChunkyDaddy
    @dangerwaffle: I think you have it the other way around. The criticism of Ferengi being portrayed as Jews started with TNG, not DS 9. If you go by Word Of God, in several interviews on the DS 9 DV Ds, the creators have mentioned that they made a serious attempt at portraying Ferengis as capitalists. Armin Shimmerman (the actor who played Quark) even said that the reason he joined the cast of DS 9 was because he personally felt responsible for the harm that his one dimensional portrayal of Ferengis in TNG which set the template for Ferengis throughout TNG.
  • November 9, 2011
    ladyofprocrastination
    Maybe mention that, in western works, it's often caused by Creator Provincialism.
  • January 9, 2012
    Noaqiyeum
    ...bump.
  • January 10, 2012
    peccantis
  • January 11, 2012
    Noaqiyeum
    I note that even in Discworld, Ankh-Morpork - a cosmopolitan city that is nonetheless ruled and run principally by humans and was probably founded by them - is explicitly based on a combination of London, New York, and Seattle from various centuries.
  • January 11, 2012
    johnnye
    The Warhammer example listed doesn't nearly cover how much it fits this trope. There are three human cultures featured, and all of them live in the geographical analogue of Europe. The rest of the world is populated by nonhuman races, whether they're Fantasy Counterpart Cultures or not. The only exception would be that there are hinted to be more humans in the far East, but they're not featured in-game.
  • January 14, 2012
    Maklodes
    I declare this YKTTW Up For Grabs.

    I think I've personally lost faith that this is a trope, owing to the stretching required for many of the examples I've seen to fit (IMO), but if anyone else wants to launch it, I'm not going to stop them.
  • January 16, 2012
    Westrim
    *grabs*
  • January 16, 2012
    aurora369
    In The Elder Scrolls, humans are either Roman (Cyrodiils), Norse (Nords), Generic Medieval European (Bretons) or Moorish (Redguards, somewhat an exception from the rule). Nonhumans are Hebrew (Dunmer), Middle Eastern (Khajiits), some kind of jungle savage (Argonians) and so on.
  • January 16, 2012
    LarryD
    This is a writer/audience effect. Foreign cultures will be used as models for the more alien societies, while more familiar cultures will be used for protagonist cultures.

  • January 19, 2012
    TBeholder
    ^^^ still didn't settle on the name.

    Humans are Western Europeans?

    United Space Of America is either a subtrope or heavily overlaps.
  • February 26, 2012
    Westrim
    Bump.
  • February 27, 2012
    Rognik
    Well, in the case of fantasy, the humans tend to be in a Medieval Statis culture, which is western-based. The other races may or may not take elements from other cultures at various points in the timeline.

    In the case of sci-fi, human culture seems to be more geared towards American and the "great pastiche" that it is (with its melting pot and no remains of diversity), while the foreign cultures take a theme and go to extreme.

    There's no really good way to sum those two ideas up in 10 words or less, even though they share the same basic idea: our world is western, and these foreign people are right/wrong/different/silly/whatever.
  • March 8, 2012
    TBeholder
    ...and specifically elves almost always are Celts + Sioux mix.
  • March 8, 2012
    Vidor
    The Lord Of The Rings. Peter Jackson got into a little bit of trouble in some quarters when he decided to cast the dudes riding the elephants as dark-skinned and looking vaguely African, which was quite a contrast with all of those white Gondorians and Aragorn's "Stand, men of the West!" speech. I know JRR Tolkien conceived of his books as Anglo-Saxon myth but I'm not sure if this was as obvious in the books.

    Then there's A Song Of Ice And Fire and the associated Game Of Thrones television adaptation in which the Dothraki, while not strictly the bad guys, are savage dark-skinned tribesmen, kind of Mongol-style, while the folks of Westeros are lily-white and have "West" in the name.

    I think there is a trope here but I would not limit it to aliens. It would seem that in fantasy settings the good guys, or at least the dominant society, are going to be portrayed by white western European actors, while the "other" society is often going to be a different, darker-skinned race. Not sure how to boil that down into a trope name.
  • April 18, 2012
    Westrim
    bump
  • April 18, 2012
    HeartOfAnAstronaut
    I'd argue that "Western" is the right word to use, or split it into two tropes for Humans Are European and Humans Are American. Because some tropes reference one and some reference the other and they're both different kinds of, er, imperialism.

    In Futurama, America runs Earth and Nixon is the president. It's kind of an ironic take on this trope.
  • April 19, 2012
    fulltimeD
    Could we call this one The Clash Of Interstellar Civilizations? In reference to the famous essay.

    (half-joking, of course)
  • April 19, 2012
    zarpaulus
    • Most of the countries in Tales Of MU are Dungeon Punk versions of modern nations. Goblinoids are the rough equivalent of Native Americans, their version of Japan is populated by Yokai, and nearly all humans are "caucasian".
  • April 19, 2012
    h0mfr0g
    • In Doctor Who New Adventures: Night of the Humans by David Llewellyn, the Sittuun are basically an alien race of Muslim dolphins, one of them having the distinctly Islamic name of Baasim al-Jehedeh. (But most people call him Charlie.)
  • April 20, 2012
    Archereon
    We already have Humans Are White, which is essentially the same thing, all we'd need to do is rewrite it a bit to reflect that it's not just a sci-fi trope, but a general Speculative Fiction trope.
  • April 20, 2012
    jatay3
    Centauri in Babylon Five always seemed to me more like Renaissance Italians then anything else.
  • April 20, 2012
    AlexeiMundhenkvorYaruk
    I think things are ready to go here.
  • April 20, 2012
    kuyanJ
    • In the Doctor Who serial Power of Kroll, the humans are generally Western, while the alien Swampies are obviously based on stereotypes of "savages".

    • In Discworld, human cultures are based on non-western as much as on western cultures, but when it comes to interactions between cultures, non-human cultures' place in Ankh-Morpork society is often modelled on non-Western cultures' place in Western societies.
  • April 21, 2012
    fulltimeD
    As an aside, the Narns always struck me as Arabs, with the Centauri as their former oppressors (the fading ex-Colonial European powers like England, Spain, France, Italy, Portugal, etc...) and the Earth Alliance as the upstart USA, the newest superpower on the block. The Minbari then are the Chinese/Russians, with cordial but chilly and sometimes tense relations with Earth. The League of Non-Aligned Worlds is, quite obviously, the League of Nations crossed with the later Non-Aligned Movement.

    @Archereon: I completely disagree, this is not Humans Are White. It carries a completely different set of Unfortunate Implications. This is not a race trope at all.
  • April 21, 2012
    fulltimeD
    I still think the description needs help RE: cultural contexts for example like in the UK, Australia, other European countries... and probably special mention should be made of when this trope occurs in Japanese media, as there's a different cultural context there and historical context that goes all the way back to Japan's experience with the Atom Bomb in WWII. When these things have been addressed, I'll gladly give this my hat.
  • April 28, 2012
    fulltimeD
    ok this prob ready for launch now
  • February 3, 2013
    Westrim
    I'm bumping this, but it seems off. Perhaps with more eyes, some cleanup, and more examples it could become a candidate for launch, but it really should not have as many hats as it obtained.
  • February 26, 2013
    johnnye
    This just seems to be a rather indistinct mishmash of Creator Provincialism, Most Writers Are Human and Fantasy Counterpart Culture. I'm not really sure it's tropable.

    People want human culture to look accessible to their audience, so base it on the culture their primary audience is familiar with. They want alien cultures to look alien, so they make something up which often includes aspects of real-life Earth cultures because it's pretty hard to invent an entirely new culture from scratch.
  • February 26, 2013
    MissKitten
    Not only does it need more examples but its description could use some work.
  • February 27, 2013
    StarValkyrie
    There's no way this is ready to launch when people are still throwing examples in that do not fit. Like people keep mentioning Discworld when, of the main non-human species, 5 are Western analogues (werewolves, vampires = Russian/Slavic; Gnomes, Nac Mac Feegle = Scottish; Drawves = European Jews) and 1 has no analogue culture (trolls). Compared to the humans who are shown to be European, Middle Eastern, Asian, and African. If multiple people are making this error, the description is not clear enough to launch.

    Though frankly, it seems to me like several non-human species are almost always associated with a particular European culture - dwarves, vampires, elves, and werewolves, for example. So I'm not sure this is actually a thing. Are there examples where humans are Western and non-humans are Non-Western? Sure, because there's a limited number of cultures to create fictional worlds off of and most fictional cultures are going to bear vague resemblance to something real anyways but that doesn't mean this is the convention. Because its really not for several major non-human species.
  • February 27, 2013
    Larkmarn
    I agree wholeheartedly with johnnye.

    Mostly, it's just Creator Provincialism and Most Writers Are Human as it relates to Fantasy Counterpart Culture. There's really not anything else at play here.
  • February 27, 2013
    Tzintzuntzan
    Chiming in late, the reason it seems confused is that most commentary (not the OP so much) is two different things, and I'm not sure both are tropeable.

    First is that humans in fantastic settings obey Creator Provincialism -- the military in Star Trek and Babylon Five is very American in look, rank names, and style. Definitely a thing, but this may already be covered by United Space Of America. And in fantasy (where various European cultures are often swiped for nonhumans)it doesn't really work.

    The second is that nonhumans often resemble non-European cultures. This is actually less true that it seems, especially in older work. Kirk-era Klingons weren't really based on any foreign culture (the Samurai/Viking bit came very late), except that they filled the role of "the Russians as seen by a Cold War American" (little to do with actual Russian culture).
  • February 28, 2013
    Westrim
    I'm frankly not sure how to proceed with this, so I'm putting it up for grabs again.
  • March 24, 2013
    MissKitten
    Well its Up for grabs if anyone wants to take a shot at it. Otherwise this can be discarded.
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/discussion.php?id=2gsorfa420ixhetmsi1ebo1l&trope=DiscardedYKTTW