No Such Thing As Alien Pop Culture
Aliens have deep, complex societies rooted in ancient traditions... but no mass media or pop culture


(permanent link) added: 2011-10-24 09:32:37 sponsor: fulltimeD (last reply: 2011-10-28 10:01:59)

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The tendency for alien civilizations (and sometimes futuristic human civilizations) to be portrayed as having no analog of contemporary popular culture, even when it would make sense for an advanced planetary or interplanetary civilization to have some kind of mass media. Sometimes this can be due to The Law of Conservation of Detail, but frequently these cultures are exquisitely detailed: the creator of the 'verse has written a rich, deep, complex culture with its own religions and traditions... but absolutely no equivalent of popular culture.

In practice, this means that while Klingons have their own culture complete with Proud Warrior Race Space-Jesus and Vulcans have their Proud Scholar Race Space-Socrates, there's no such thing as the alien equivalent of "The Simpsons" or "The Three Stooges." These rich, detailed cultures, spread over dozens of planets and actively exploring the galaxy, seemingly have no literature that isn't ancient and part of their mythology. They have no comics, no TV shows, no newspapers, no satirical essays, no novels; only epics, myths, legends, sacred scrolls and ancient tomes. Frequently, the entirety of an alien culture is equated with its religious mythology and traditions, completely excluding the existence of a secular mass media. This leads alien characters to interpret human popular culture along religious lines, for example when G'Kar in Babylon 5 asks if Daffy Duck is one of Garibaldi's household gods.

If an alien culture is explicitly detailed as being rooted in its theology, extremely isolated and/or controlled by an authoritarian government (and these are almost always examples of planetary monocultures), this may be justified. It is a mystery as to how a civilization can purposefully develop starships and faster-than-light communications (and presumably print, radio and the technology for visual broadcasts) without also developing, at least by accident, a mass media independent of their ancient traditions.

Sometimes it is justified by high culture being the sort of thing that gets noticed by outsiders, or that the aliens are on their best behavior when in diplomatic situations. After all, when works by one culture are translated to another on Earth they usually give a misleading picture: more people know about Homer then Aristophanes, and the Byzantines did do more for entertainment then making glorious mosaics. Imagine an alien judging our culture having only knowledge of the "Great Books" curriculum without Family Guy or The Simpsons, the New York Times Best Sellers List, or even the World Wide Web.

When this trope is in effect, an alien Cultural Rebel may find that when Klingon scientists get no respect, Earth becomes the general direction of interstellar brain-drain.

NOTE that this trope, common to Space Opera films and television, is usually remedied in Expanded Universe material like novels and comics which attempt to show more realistically diverse alien cultures. Also note that while this trope also covers futuristic human societies, it should not overlap with Outgrown Such Silly Superstitions, which is a separate trope. Please limit examples to aversions, subversions, and instances in which the trope is sufficiently played around with to warrant mention. Finally, note that instances in which aliens assimilate popular culture from Earth are not true aversions, but this trope being in effect is what makes Earth pop culture so irresistible to E.T. in those cases.

Aversions, Subversions, and Not-So-Straight Examples:

Live-Action Television:
  • The colonies of Man in the 2000's Battlestar Galactica have pop music and indications of different subcultures. They also have sports, card games, nude magazines and novels that have nothing to do with the Sacred Scrolls.
  • The Minbari in Babylon 5 nearly count as a straight example, but that's because outside of the Religious Caste, we know nothing about Minbari culture. However, most of the Minbari we got to know were either Religious or Warrrior Caste, so the largely unseen Worker Caste may have their own separate cultural roots. Also, Minbari humor (not specifically Religious caste humor) is said to be based around failure to attain spiritual enlightenment.
  • Another Babylon 5 example: the alien parents in "Believers" appear to come from a planet like this. Somewhat justified as it's specifically mentioned their planet is backward and isolated and their contact with aliens limited. They're not even members of the League of Non-Aligned Worlds.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation and afterwards: Klingon Opera. (And Shakespeare, best appreciated In the Original Klingon.)
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine's Ferengi are the mercantile traders of the galaxy, so naturally they come stocked with holonovels like "Vulcan Love Slave" and other gems of the 24th-Century entertainment complex. Their children also collect action figures presumably based on a popular culture franchise, Marauder Mo (TM).
  • One episode of Star Trek: Voyager featured a Klingon romance novel called Women Warriors at the River of Blood.

Literature
  • The Glatun and the Horvath, two alien species from John Ringo's Troy Rising series, have rich pop-cultures that include popular music, trash literature, movies and so on (the Glatun even have the same sort of advertsing spam we get on their computer networks). The Horvath, on the other hand, are portrayed as being unimaginative to the point that their lack of a popular culture is justified: they're simply not creative enough to have developed one.

Video Games:
  • Mass Effect has some popular alien films, but most of them are relatively recent. Examples include Fleet And Flotilla and Blasto: The Jellyfish Stings (although that sounds more like a human production than a Hanar one).

Anime:
  • Robotech has an interesting example. There's an aversion with the future human society, since they still have pop stars and things like that (they're only Twenty Minutes into the Future). But the invading Zentraedi don't have anything like that; they are an entirely militaristic society. In fact, this becomes a plot point later on. The Zentraedi, having never been exposed to singing or anything like it, are rendered stupefied by a recording of a singing pop star. The humans actually seize on this and use it as a tactic in battle, making the pop star both a weapon and a morale booster.

Role-Playing Games:
  • In Traveller Interstellar Wars it is specifically stated that there is an aristocratic Vilani culture and a commoner Vilani culture.
  • In Warhammer 40K, there are many mentions of Imperial pop culture, including the popular if historically inaccurate holo series Attack Run and the children's song The Tracks on the Land Raider Crush the Heretics.
    • Never any mention of alien pop culture, but that's because no Imperial citizen cares what the filthy xenos do with their free time.
  • Part of the background of the Teenagers from Outer Space role-playing game is that Earth has the best pop culture in the galaxy. There may be some pop culture put out by alien races, but it's our Hat and the reason all the aliens have come to Earth.

Other:
  • Homestuck is also an aversion. Alternian pop culture is highly advanced - they have video games and TV and tabletop RPG lore and bad books about vampires. In fact, the troll movie industry has been running for so long that they've run out of titles, and instead describe films with a list of the tropes that appear in them. This is appropriate because the characters are all Geeks into varying fandoms. Karkat is even into an Alternian Expy of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Played for Laughs, mostly.

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