Mainstream Obscurity

"A classic is something everyone wants to have read and nobody wants to read."

Mainstream Obscurity is what happens to a famous successful work intended for a wide general audience, that succeeds so well and becomes so known, that paradoxically, despite its fame, it remains relatively obscure to the general public. Sure it lands on every critic's top 10 list, has fantastic word of mouth on many amateur review sites, and is one of the most truly well-known works in media and some part of the media (the Iconic Outfit, Iconic Item, Signature Scene) is known by Pop-Cultural Osmosis. These elements become so overexposed that a lot of people might think they've seen it, or might even feel they don't have to see it, but individuals can't name things about it beyond these famous well-known aspects. A good example is the famous witticism that an intellectual is someone who can listen to Gioachino Rossini's William Tell Overture without thinking of The Lone Ranger on account of the fact that the finale of Rossini's overture became a Standard Snippet used by the famous TV Show, becoming associated with The Wild West despite the fact that it derives from an Italian Opera about a Swiss Rebel, which being that it's an opera has a smaller audience.

When the work has become so famous that "everybody else knows about it" —- yet no one has actually read or been exposed to that work, that work is wallowing in Mainstream Obscurity. People, groups, art movements, and entire genres can also be swallowed by Mainstream Obscurity. A "famous author" can be widely read, best-selling but largely unread, widely quote-mined or just well known for "being an author". Iconic movie stars have their image reproduced in so many other places that it is easy to recognise their faces, or get what part of them is being parodied and alluded to, without having to ever watch any of the movies they starred in. If a character portrayed by an actor (or that version of a character, if an adaptation) becomes more famous than their portrayer, the actor's name may be completely unknown to all except trivia buffs and paradoxically lead to extreme typecasting to the extent that an actor can't escape being pigeonholed, or rather mine it for the rest of their life. Likewise, people can be widely aware of an artistic movement or genre, but unable to describe what it was about.

For this trope to hold meaning, a few conditions need to be met. It must be mainstream. Defining the mainstream is hard but a workable definition is that what is mainstream is the general knowledge and awareness in a culture and society that people can have without having to go out of their way. A work for general audiences appeals to people who may not have for instance, played other games, known or seen or heard of other works in said genre or other works in said franchise, and likewise never have read a comic book, or listened to albums and artists of the given music genre. Likewise, one should not assume that a work is more famous than it actually is. Some works are likely not intended for mainstream appeal or mainstream audiences in the first place. For instance, works of philosophy, science, anthropology and other social sciences, are not intended to be best-sellers, they are meant to be read and perused by peers and educated readers, and are likewise published in philosophical and scientific journals. Some scientists and philosophers owing to their great social and political influence end up becoming famous, their witticisms become proverbial in society by Memetic Mutation and so become a "known name" to people outside their field, but the fact is their works were never reasonably and realistically expected to be read unhindered by the non-specialist. So for instance, while Darwin is a famous scientist, and one cannot call him obscure simply because the majority of people who know his name haven't read his works. It would only be obscure if he is unknown among scientists and biologists, which obviously is not true.

Works from obscure fields or appealing to a rarefied demographic such as exploitation films, children's cartoons, Le Film Artistique are likewise not intended for mainstream appeal. The fact that some works become famous and known outside their intended audience is a case of coming Out of the Ghetto or having a Multiple Demographic Appeal rather than truly being obscure. Likewise, School Study Media features works and authors include bestselling authors from the 19th Century, and while many of them were once mainstream and obscure today, their appeal is strictly True Art Is Ancient.

The reverse of Fan Myopia. Often happens when a Cult Classic becomes so well known for being a cult classic (due to Popcultural Osmosis) that the cult classic becomes mainstream. They may have started as an Acclaimed Flop. This can of course lead to Adaptation Displacement and Beam Me Up, Scotty!. See also Praising Shows You Don't Watch, where people, well, do exactly that. Some of these can also be well-known for historical controversy. See also Small Reference Pools. Likewise, The Greatest History Never Told for eras and periods which are known about to various degrees but go under-represented. Also see Unbuilt Trope, where works which are well known and famous tend to surprise people who decide to actually learn about stuff, likewise, Lost in Imitation where certain works are adapted so often, and often based on certain well-known additions rather than the original work. See also, The Theme Park Version which describes how certain events, people, and figures are Flanderized to a series of signs.


Examples:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • Studio Ghibli:
    • Spirited Away seems to be pretty well-known since the Oscar win. Still seems to be eternally waiting around on people's Netflix queues.
    • Grave of the Fireflies is a famously brutal depiction of the horrors of war, conveniently explaining why no one ever gets around to watching it.
  • Osamu Tezuka is considered the "God of manga." However there are many people (including anime fans) who know of his legacy and works, but have never read any of them; especially Astro Boy, who is one of, if not the most recognizable manga characters of all time (and the first one to have a successful mainstream anime adaptation).
  • Digimon is well-known as Pokémon's rival series note  — and that's about it. It's rather impressive to be able to even name one Digimon, much less several. note . To add, Digimon itself is only seen as a "rival" of Pokémon in America. In Japan the people know the two are completely different franchises with different focus despite having Mons.
  • Bokurano is well known as "Evangelion but even more depressing", along with being very philosophical, but few people have actually seen or read it.
  • This trope even works in Japan: Ghost in the Shell was met with critical acclaim in Europe and the USA, yet in Japan not so much. So it's no surprise that when Japanese actually talk about it, praising it about its greatness so they can associate with westerners, they might admit to have never actually seen the movie.
  • Air: Everybody knows that Misuzu dies, but not many have actually watched a single episode of the series.
  • Detailed information about Kanon doesn't come up very often either, outside of internet memes like the infamously-Off-Model "am I kawaii uguu face" (which was actually the 2006 version edited to look like the lower-budget 2002 version). At least with the other two in the series, people can name one or two plot points or characters, but they don't even know that "uguu" is actually from something.
  • Monster is regarded as one of the best anime of all… but not watched by many.
  • Now and Then, Here and There is mentioned a lot, but watched as much as Grave of the Fireflies.
  • Unsurprisingly, Texhnolyze is so dark and depressing that only a handful of people ever bring themselves to watch it.
  • Everyone knows the famous Falcon Punch scene from F Zero GP Legend, but how many have actually watched the series?
  • Within Belgium you have one based on Bakugan Battle Brawlers. Many people in Belgium have heard of it (though not necessarily liked it) and at least know that Bakugan is a game, but it is rare to find someone who has actually played it, let alone has the materials that are necessary to play with it. When a Belgian says that they exclude someone for not having a Bakugan they are simply searching for an excuse to exclude someone without outright telling the reason.
  • Despite being one of the more popular anime series in general, Neon Genesis Evangelion doesn't seem to have been really watched by a lot of people, even many of its so-called "fans". A perfect example is how many fan/hentai artists, on both sides of the Pacific, draw Asuka & Rei alongside each other, friendly with each other, or having sex with each other, when in the actual series not only do they dislike each other, they're almost never even seen in the same scene together (and the longest such scene is the current page image for Leave the Camera Running). They share no scenes in End of Evangelion.
  • Wolf's Rain is likely writer Keiko Nobumoto's most famous work after Cowboy Bebop, but falls into the category of critically acclaimed and well-known but little seen outside of a small core of diehard fans due to its reputation for being really cryptic and really, really sad.
  • Sure Saikano is known for being depressing, but it isn't actually watched or read that often.
  • Narutaru has a bit of a reputation for its graphic violence and Lolicon and Shotacon-ish elements, but the quality itself is rarely discussed, probably since there aren't a lot of people who have actually read it.
  • Haibane Renmei was a well-known anime during the 2000s and was frequently cited on "must watch" lists. However, few people that praise it actually got around to watching it. Official streaming and home rereleases have helped this a bit though.

    Comic Books 
  • If you ask any random person on the street across the English Speaking World, to name a superhero most could identify Batman, Superman and Spider-Man. The fact that the latter belongs to a different company and universe (Marvel Comics) was not a widely known fact (at least until the Marvel Cinematic Universe). Indeed non-comic fans will often wonder why Batman can't team up with Spider-Man or so on. A lot of superhero comics like Fantastic Four, X-Men, The Avengers, Captain America, Captain Marvel (the original, now Shazam), The Flash, Wonder Woman, Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon, Judge Dredd... are better known through their movie and TV series adaptations than the comics they originally appeared in. Most of the general audience- especially outside North America- knows up to nothing about these characters but: "yeah, they are superheroes who fight crime, I guess." Compare them to series like Superman, Batman and Spiderman, where a majority can at least tell you something about the characters or the back story.
  • If you name a female superhero, Wonder Woman shows up often as an instant response, and most would know that she's Greek, has a Lasso of Truth, and flies an invisible plane (at least to those who remember the Lynda Carter TV show), but ask people about her Rogues Gallery, about her supporting cast, and where people can name multiple aspects of Batman and Superman's thanks to, the success of multiple iterations but Wonder Woman had one TV Show devoted to her, and then an appearance in Justice League which streamlined her background (making Hades her Arch-Enemy and not Ares) and largely used her as an ensemble cast of Shared Universe rather than a hero in her own right.
  • Relatedly, everyone has the same general concept for the storylines of the heroes, but said concept is stuck somewhere in the 1970s to 1980s, and in the case of a large number of Retcon, confusing even among comics fans.
  • Superman:
    • Superman is arguably the most famous super-hero around. Most of traits people associate Superman with (godlike power, the Fortress of Solitude, the Phantom Zone, Supergirl, Krypto, Zod, the Legion of Super-Heroes, multiple varieties of Kryptonite) were created during the Silver and Bronze Ages. The general public ignores that most of them were retconned out when DC rebooted Superman in 1985 and made their way back to the comics very slowly. Later additions to the mythos are mostly unknown by mostly everyone.
    • They'll know that Lois Lane is Clark Kent's friend and Superman's girlfriend who has no idea they're one and the same, unaware that they've been married for a long time in comics media and that in Rebirth, they came back to the married (and with a child) status. In the introduction to The Death and Return of Superman omnibus, Mike Carlin noted the easiest way to shut down reporters complaining that they were "stealing" Superman from the people was to respond "Well... when's the last time you bought a Superman comic?"
    • Most of people are aware of the existence of Supergirl and most of them know her name's Kara and she's Superman's cousin. Even before being given her own show she had showed up in a live-action film as well as several animated features, shows, cartoons and video games. But ask them about her Rogues Gallery, supporting cast and relevant storylines and they'll be hard-pressed to name one. The'll be too unaware that the character remained dead for eighteen years during which DC tried and failed to replace her with several non-Kryptonian Supergirls.
  • Batman:
    • Unless they've been in a coma for a decade or two, they'll know who Batman is. But you'd be hard-pressed to find someone outside the hardcore fandom who knows that he now has a ten-year-old son with the daughter of one of his enemies, and that he's a Child by Rape to boot. Likewise, said enemy and daughter of said enemy, Ra's al Ghul and Talia were themselves highly obscure in Batman media (being that they are recent, created in The '70s) and when they were finally adapted in The Dark Knight Trilogy they were radically altered from their comics counterparts.
    • For example: Ask anyone on the street who Robin is, and if they know at all, it'll be Dick Grayson, who's been Nightwing for the last 30 years. They'll likely be completely unaware that there's been up to five other Robins since then, depending on which comics you're talking about.
    • Ask anyone on the street who Batgirl is and they'll name Barbara Gordon if at all. She's made appearances in live-action shows, movies and cartoons. No one will know Barbara wasn't Batgirl for twenty-three years, and they'll be completely unaware of her successors.
  • Green Lantern gets this too.
    • He's known as a member of the Justice League and as "Space Police" but most people wouldn't know anything about his character and origins. The fact that Green Lantern is not a superhero name, but a job title, that there are multiple Green Lanterns of multiple species and multiple planets, but probably won't know that there are now lantern-themed characters for every color in the rainbow.
    • It was particularly notable when the Justice League TV show was launched in 2001 using John Stewart as the Green Lantern. Some were upset about them changing Green Lantern for a black man out of Political Correctness. People didn't know that the character was nearing 30 years old, having taken up the ring in the '70s. Which, due to the popularity of the Justice League show, led to a large number of people confused by the Green Lantern trailer, wanting to know why Green Lantern wasn't black!
    • Likewise, Hal Jordan, the Green Lantern with the longest appearances in comics, is the "second Green Lantern". The first is Alan Scott, and the original Green Lantern had magic-based powers. Hal Jordan also disappeared from comics for nearly a decade with his replacement Kyle Rayner actually becoming "the" Green Lantern for many new readers. Of course, the failure of the Green Lantern films means that Hal Jordan remains overshadowed.
  • If you ask a random person who the quintessential Avengers are, you'll probably be told Iron Man, The Mighty Thor, Captain America and Incredible Hulk.
    • The problem comes is that the Avengers for a long time did not have a regular cast and roster. The first ten issues of the comics so repeated defections. The Hulk left the Avengers early and was a member of the team for exactly two issues, and unlike other team members did not rejoin for over 40 years after quitting (the team which Hulk had a longer membership in was The Defenders, which was finally made into an In-Name-Only Netflix series). Captain America wasn't a founding member of the team, he was thawed out of ice in a later issue, and joined the team after that and for a long time, the two most common founding members were Ant-Man and The Wasp who were not only Adapted Out from The Avengers (2012) but when finally adapted were made into Scott Lang and Hope van Dyne, both of whom are Legacy Character.
    • A weird reversal of this occurred when The Avengers was released. A large number of fans believed that the film was odd for not featuring Wolverine or Spider-Man, even saying it's not the Avengers without them. Despite the fact that they were largely the two Marvel heroes most recognizable to the general public, both of them had only been full-time Avengers since 2005, and in fact a good 40 years of Avengers history barely included either of them (Spider-Man became a reserve member in the early 90's but was rarely used unless all team members were being called in).
    • Likewise, many see the Avengers as the Alternate Company Equivalent to the Justice League, and the prominent super-team. In actual fact, Fantastic Four are canonically the greatest team in the Marvel Universe and were originally intended to be the Marvel take on the Justice League. For most of its publication, The Avengers were far less popular and respected than the Fantastic Four and especially the X-Men and the reason for its regular roster was that it was seen as a dumping ground for B and C-Listers who generally couldn't carry a book or title on their own. Where in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Spider-Man wants to be an Avenger, in the original comics he wanted to join the Fantastic Four (rejected because Reed said they were a family first and team second) and his closest relationship with anyone in the Marvel Universe was Johnny Storm.
  • The Barry Allen version of The Flash is widely credited with kicking off The Silver Age of Comic Books in 1956 but for most of the actual Silver Age he was never a top seller — through out the 1960s all of the Superman stable outsold him by very heavy margins, with even the spinoff Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lane titles selling nearly twice as many copies per year. Likewise while the Flash is the Super Speed hero and his Rogues Gallery is the Trope Namer and Trope Codifier (i.e. his group of villains called themselves "the Central City rogues" and that led it to spreading), a list of his villains (Captain Cold, Captain Boomerang, Weather Wizard, Gorilla Grodd) usually draws blank stares. Compounding the issue is the Justice League cartoon where the Flash is the Legacy Character Wally West and there are multiple people confused by why Flash has different names.
  • Matt Groening's Life in Hell strip, an obscure precursor to his more famous offerings. Most Simpsons fans know it exists, or can at least recognize the art style, but far fewer could name any characters or state what it's about. This is lampshaded in one of the comics, where Groening meets a fan who claims to love all his work, but doesn't even recognize Life in Hell.
  • Many of the iconic newspaper comic heroes of the 20th century, especially from non-English and non-American nations, fall into this category:
    • Bécassine: In the French speaking world Bécassine is an icon, one of the oldest comics around. But even though she is easily recognizable in France, most people of later generations have likely never read any of her stories and she is unknown in the rest of the world.
    • Krazy Kat is a cat who gets zipped with a brick by a mouse. Most comic book fans know this, but how many people have actually read these comics of an acquired taste?
    • Little Nemo: Everyone knows the scene where his bed is flying through the night or that he falls out of bed in the final panel, but how many people beyond that have ever read the stories?
    • Little Orphan Annie is a well-known early 20th century comic strip with an iconic art style. Despite this pretty much everything anyone knows about it comes from the first film of the musical adaptation.
  • The phenomenon can also be spotted in comic strips that have ended due to Author Existence Failure and are better known as publicity stills than for the comics themselves, which are only read by hardcore comics fans or older people who grew up with them. Examples are: Tom Poes, Pogo, Nero, Corto Maltese, ...
  • Robert Crumb is widely considered to be one of the most influential and important comic strip artists in the world and by far the only underground comics artist to still be a household name. That said, most of the general audience knows him more as that geeky Dirty Old Man in the hat and glasses, an image mostly derived from his comics. In the documentary Crumb (1994) the man himself is giving a slideshow explaining to a college audience the three things he is most famous for, all of them not indicative of the entire scope of his personality and oeuvre: Fritz the Cat, the album cover of Cheap Thrills and the Keep On Truckin emblem. Fritz the Cat is better known nowadays for Ralph Bakshi's film adaptation Fritz the Cat, which Crumb hated and caused him to kill Fritz off permanently in his next comic strip. Cheap Thrills has lead him to be associated with the hippie culture, a subculture he never liked, especially not the music. And Keep On Truckin also gave him legal problems because tax administrators thought he held the copyright, which he didn't. Needless to say: all these three things are more indicative of Crumb's work in The '60s than the more mature and personal, autobiographical work he has made since The '70s.
  • Cartoonist Ronald Searle is best known for St. Trinian's, a cartoon series he only drew for four years in a versatile career that spanned more than half a century. Try to ask anyone what else he has done in his life and you probably get a blank stare.
    • Similarly, most people in the USA may know that The Smurfs, Tintin, and Astérix are universally popular European comics, but know next to nothing about it.
    • On an international scale Manga has the same effect. It has gained in international popularity since the 1980s, but if you aren't a fan of Manga and Anime you probably only know AKIRA, Pokémon and Dragonball Z and even in those cases just the names and a few of the characters.
      • This is particularly noteworthy with the Pokemon manga. No one but hardcore Pokemon fans would even know a manga exists, much less that it doesn't star Ash Ketchum or Pikachu. True there is several that do, (The Electric Tale of Pikachu being the most noteworthy.) But the longest running and most popular adaptation is actually Pokémon Adventures, which shares next to nothing in common with the anime and is actually quite darker and more graphic than one would expect from a Pokemon adaptation.
  • Archie Comics is an American icon and the characters are well-known in pop culture. But how many people have read over five issues, excluding popular spinoffs like Afterlife with Archie or Archie vs. Predator? The fact Reggie is often forgotten by people despite being one of the main five characters really shows people that genuinely read Archie vs casuals who know them from word-of-mouth or adaptations.
  • Not too many people will think of The Walking Dead comic book without immediately thinking of the show.

    Film 
  • The Godzilla films are a particularly good example of this. Due to pop culture status (as well as being one of the biggest movie franchises of all time), it's safe to assume that the majority of people actually know who Godzilla is. That being said, however, try asking someone who isn't a die-hard fan to name at least one Godzilla film and see what happens. Even fans of the genre might not realize that the original Gojira was a dark somber allegory rather than a cheesy "monster on the loose" film, since its original American release as Godzilla (with Raymond Burr) was recut to be exactly that. A subtitled release of the film the Japanese saw back in the 1950s was not available to Americans until this century. It doesn't help that, due to Western media's overbearing popularity, not to mention accessibility, over Japanese productions, a lot of people are only familiar with the 1998 American remake (which, while mostly hated in its native country, was actually quite successful in international markets) and have little to no idea that the franchise in reality originated from Japan and has had a firm fanbase way before that movie. This was mitigated a bit with the release of the more recent American film — at least in that more people know about its roots, not that they would actually want to watch any of the "shoddy Asian rubber monster movies".
    • Even the 2014 film still receives the effect of this. For instance, plenty of people tend to complain about Godzilla's short appearances, which is actually as much as how he appeared in the earlier films.
  • Many Academy Award-nominated films are like this, particularly ones nominated for Best Picture. The titles and (usually) the premises become known in the American conscience when they're nominated, and yet, few people can say they've seen more than a couple, maybe even any. This results in many people buzzing about films they have never seen, and probably never will, and this carries on into a new batch of films the following year as the previous winners and nominees are largely forgotten.
  • The Rocky Horror Picture Show. American pop culture status has made it so that mainstream audiences are somewhat familiar with the basics of the film. And everyone knows it's the uncrowned queen of Cult Classic films. That, and, playing the Time Warp every Halloween helps. However, again, ask someone who isn't a fan what the plot of the movie is. Most likely, the answer you'll get is, "Tim Curry in drag." The Audience Participation within the film also counts. Sure, people in general know you're supposed to use props and yell certain lines when watching the movie. But, ask anyone who isn't a die hard fan what you're supposed to say and when.
  • How many people have actually seen Soylent Green? But everyone knows that it's made of people.
  • Film Noir is well known. Few can even list some titles like The Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep and Murder, My Sweet. But even these famous titles are little seen except by parody and they give a false impression of Noir Cinema since most of them were B-Movie and only a smaller number of them have private detective as heroes (most of them have Villain Protagonist). In the case of The Maltese Falcon, the final line, "The stuff that dreams are made of" has even been used in jewelry commercials, which considering the context of the original scenespoilers from the film , this is Comically Missing the Point. For a bonus point, the "Stuff that dreams are made of" line originates from The Tempest but in Pop-Cultural Osmosis, it is associated, as in the case of the Lone Ranger and Rossini, with the Maltese Falcon.
  • Plan 9 from Outer Space is the most famous cinematic example of So Bad, It's Good. Yet more people are familiar with it thanks to Tim Burton's Ed Wood than those who've actually seen it. Outside the USA most people who saw "Ed Wood" are probably not even aware Ed Wood really existed and his films were ''really'' that badly made.
  • Certain actors from The Golden Age of Hollywood were once so ubiquitous that they are little seen by the general public but remain famous on account of countless imitators of their voices, personas, and references to their famous roles:
    • On an individual level, James Dean's career. He's one of the most iconic actors of America, someone who codified the bad boy teen hero seen in endless American movies. But ironically, the people who tend to see his movies — Rebel Without a Cause, East of Eden, or Giant — are actually quite old, and in some cases, of a much nerdier disposition (i.e. cinephiles) than the archetype Dean embodied and inspired (i.e. the Big Man on Campus cool kid).
    • Can you describe what one of Shirley Temple's films was about without saying something like, "Well, she sang 'Animals Crackers In My Soup' in some movie I don't know the name or plot of"?note  She is more recognizable as a 1930s Hollywood glamour icon than the amount of people who saw her movies. Ironically enough, it's likely she is now more famous for her turn in John Ford's Fort Apache known among Western fans and movie-buffs who generally tend to deprecate her work as a child actor (whose Unfortunate Implications were mocked by Graham Greene).
  • Many young people in general will often associate a certain actor or director with their latest work, because they never bother to watch any of their earlier and better works or are even unaware of it. As a result certain iconic actors and directors will often be perceived by younger people as "old, uncool hasbeens" of which they don't understand what made them so important or celebrated in the first place? A good example would be Robert De Niro and Jack Nicholson, who once appeared in a lot of intelligent cinematographic masterpieces and/or good movies in general, but are nowadays cashing in checks by playing parts in forgettable movies where they just play themselves. (Not to mention playing gimmicky, Large Ham comic-book roles that were often completely anathema to their former screen personae, which many film historians claim began with Marlon Brando's star turn in Superman.) So in that regard they are still recognizable to many people, but mostly for being a tabloid mainstay or someone interviewed at the red carpet, not for their most acclaimed work.
  • This applies to famous comedians from the silent era, many of whom originated iconic bits of slapsticks and visual gags that still get a laugh decades, and even a century after they are introduced. These gags are reused in countless movies and TV-Show but few have seen the original:
    • Everybody is able to recognize Charlie Chaplin and knows he starred in slapstick movies. But for modern audiences: how many people have actually ever watched and enjoyed any of his films compared to his international fame? Let alone those who know he didn't really look like the Tramp in real life.
    • The scene in Safety Last! where Harold Lloyd is hanging from a clock is far more famous than the rest of this film, let alone Lloyd himself. Only a few genuine trivia buffs can tell that Clark Kent's famous look was based on Llyod's "glasses persona".
    • Buster Keaton: He is most famous today for the landmark gag in Steamboat Bill, Jr. in which the front of a house's facade falls on him, but his character survives because he neatly fits in to a small opening. This gag is repeated countless times and still shows up in visual comedy but his films are more obscure, especially the less well known ones (like The Cameraman).
    • The Marx Brothers are famous to their dedicated fans and people who actually sat down and watched any of their movies. To the modern, general public Groucho's face may ring a bell, his and Harpo's names may too, but that's about it. Some of their scenes are well-known, like Why a duck?, the mirror gag from Duck Soup, and the crowded stateroom scene in A Night at the Opera, but not everybody may be able to point to them as the originators. Some younger viewers may know them from being references in Woody Allen movies, and even Woody Allen complained when he made Sweet and Lowdown and his lead actress Samantha Morton claimed not to know who Harpo Marx was.
  • Being John Malkovich has an in-universe example with the titular actor (who plays himself). Everyone in the movie admires John Malkovich immensely, and they seem convinced that he's one of the world's greatest living actors. None of them can actually name a movie that Malkovich has been in (except "that jewel thief movie," which Malkovich insists he wasn't in).
  • King Kong (1933) remains one of the most iconic and famous films ever made, but few have actually seen it, especially since the many remakes that followed have kind of worn off the novelty. However put certain images and Signature Scene together — A giant chimp in Manhattan who climbs a tall building, beats his chest in defiance and fights off planes while holding a blonde girl in his fest, and dies by dropping off the tallest building in the world, which at the time it was the Empire State Building. Empire State no longer holds that honour but it remains an iconic building thanks to Kong and is still remembered for being "the tallest" at one point.
  • Places in the Heart — a.k.a. the movie that won Sally Field the Best Actress Oscar in 1985 is far less famous today than her embarrassingly narmy Oscar acceptance speech, which thanks to Beam Me Up, Scotty! is remembered as "You really like me!" (And who remembers the first film that won her the same honor, 1979's Norma Rae?)
  • Scent of a Woman won Al Pacino his only Oscar, and is seen as controversial due to being seen as a Consolation Award or as snubbing the likes of Denzel Washington and Robert Downey, Jr. It's also known less for the content of the film itself and more for the "HOO-HA" Verbal Tic that the central character utters, something that later became synonymous with Pacino's many late-period bombastic performances.
  • Conrad Veidt originated multiple tropes and lent his face to some of the most memorable villains in popular culture, but few people apart from film buffs and goths have actually watched his films, particularly outside his silent horror ones. Yet everyone knows who Jafar and The Joker are, and has seen characters that look like Cesare. Yep, they're all him.
  • Many people will very easily identify RoboCop and even the ED-209. A fair share of them remember the fact that it was a pretty violent series. What can come off as quite a bit of a surprise to newcomers to the franchise are the very overt elements of satire throughout the first two films.
  • More people probably know that Jason Voorhees wasn't the killer in Friday the 13th (1980) because of that fact being referenced in the opening act of Scream (1996) than because they remember the plot from the original.

    Literature — Prose Fiction 
  • War and Peace is very well known primarily for two things: first, for being an absolute masterpiece, and second, for being a doorstopper over half a million words long. The sheer length scares people away from reading it, though it was a major bestseller in its day, and among Leo Tolstoy scholars is actually not considered among his best work.
  • Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov is a virtual household name. Her name isn't actually Lolita in the story. It's a nickname for Dolores (Haze), and not even her predominately-used one. Her other nicknames include Dolly & Lo. The book doesn't really live up to its scandalous reputation, either, being that it's a richly written, highly allusive novel about the clash between decadent Europe and modern America.
  • The Beat GenerationJack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, Neal Cassady — a rebellious band of teen overturning The '50s with works like On the Road, Naked Lunch or Howl inspiring many rock musicians of The '60s. Certainly, more people know the origin of Steely Dan's name than have actually seen it in Burroughs's book. These guys are often pictured wearing black turtlenecks and Cool Shades and playing bongo drums but this is in fact a visual stereotype of a "beatnik" most of the Beats would never have taken any part in. The actual characteristic Beat "uniform" would more aptly be blue jeans and a plain white t-shirt! note  Likewise, the Beats were not all as rebellious as advertised. Jack Kerouac, the most famous of the beats, was a conservative Republican who supported the Vietnam War.
  • Gulliver's Travels: Everybody knows the scenes where Gulliver visits Lilliput which is often reproduced as children's literature or adapted as a cartoon for all ages. The remaining three sections is obscure, mostly because it can't be watered down for kids and it's more obvious as a satire that appeals to older readers.
  • Don Quixote by Cervantes. Although a household name, the classic novel of all time, and the source of the iconic windmill scene. It tends to be more talked about than read, even among literary scholars.
  • Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ by Lew Wallace. Yes, the films were based on a book. No, the book is a well-researched but original work of historical fiction and title character Judah Ben-Hur was not based on a real person of that era. Everyone knows there was a rather brutal chariot race near the end, but that's often as far as it goes. As for actually reading the book or even knowing about it... that's rather less common. And the classic films themselves possess a similar Mainstream Obscurity to Casablanca or Citizen Kane — many people just know that the 1959 film has Charlton Heston, a chariot race and is long as hell.
  • Arabian Nights. Made even worse by the facts that many old translations were heavily bowdlerised. And well known tales like "Aladdin" and "Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves"? Yeah, they weren't originally part of the work, but were added by European translators. So think twice if you think you know Arabian Nights or if it is as popular or beloved among Arabic speaking peoples as it is in the West (the latter prefer poetry first and foremost, thank you very much).
  • Zorro presents an interesting case. In the book The History of Mystery by Max Allan Collins, Collins asserts, on page 51, that Johnston McCulley's Zorro rivals Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan for influence. While one can easily find Burroughs novels in mainstream bookstores today, Johnston McCulley's work has fallen out of print. This seems baffling, considering that values dissonance would seem to apply less to Zorro, given that having a Latino (albeit a white Latino) protagonist who seeks retribution for injustice against Native Americans seems progressive. It also seems baffling considering that in the last twenty years, Zorro has had two feature films in theaters, as well as a few TV series, while other properties set in the Old West such as The Lone Ranger and Hopalong Cassidy have remained cinematically inert.note  Also, Zorro costumes still remain quite common for children. Despite all of that, Johnston McCulley's books are now rarely in print.
  • The Sherlock Holmes stories. Plenty of people have read them, but far, far more people are aware of him than have read any of them, or get the wrong impressions from adaptations and sundry works that make him a Victorian superhero. The original Sherlock was a Small Steps Hero who largely tackled small cases and mysteries than solve murder mysteries. Someone like Jack the Ripper is far above his pay grade. He also didn't wear a Deerstalker Hat, likewise The Watson is the true protagonist of the books and not Sherlock, and the original Holmes was an Asexual opium addict.
  • 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Most people know it's about a guy named Captain Nemo who goes in a submarine and meets/fights a giant octopus. Few could tell you who the narrator and his two friends are, or that Nemo himself is a Sikh.
  • The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson. Most people know the names and the basic premise, and the expression for dramatic personality shift that it spawned. There have been over a hundred full adaptations made, and countless references in popular culture, usually involving people quaffing potions and becoming monsters. And how many people know that, unlike in any adaptation in any medium, whether serious or parodic, Jekyll and Hyde being two sides of the same man was a surprise ending? This was, reportedly, the basis for the now-lost film The Janus Head, starring Conrad Veidt. The film kept the story intact but changed the characters' names, so nobody in the audience even realized it was a Jekyll and Hyde adaptation until the end, thus preserving The Reveal.
  • Les Misérables is far better known as a musical and a vast number, mostly millennials, wrongly think that it is set during The French Revolution. It's actually set in the June Uprising of 1832, which ironically would itself be completely forgotten today if not for the actual readers of Les Misérables.
  • Dracula: Obvious, seminal classic of horror, launching an entire and enduring sub-genre, spawning hundreds of adaptations and imitators, and subject to a century's worth of concentrated Adaptation Displacement and Flanderization. Everyone knows Dracula and yet few read it or appreciate its Unbuilt Trope, namely that it suffers from Protagonist Title Fallacy. The true hero is Mina Harker and not the Vampire.
  • Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus. Although the book is sometimes read in schools, most people know so little about the original story that they confuse the names of the creator and the creature. Many people would be surprised to learn that Frankenstein's monster is actually a genius, or that the original text is much more tragedy than horror, or — most startlingly of all — that there is no Igor.
  • Few novels are namedropped in political discussions as often as Nineteen Eighty-Four. According to one survey, it's also the novel most Brits lie about having read.
  • Conan the Barbarian. Thanks to various movies, TV shows, comic books, video games, Frank Frazetta paintings, Terry Pratchett fans, and countless parodies, everyone knows who Conan is. His name has become synonymous with the big, burly, not-too-bright Barbarian Hero who carries a Cool Sword and runs around in a Loin Cloth. Relatively few of those people have heard of Robert E. Howard, let alone read any of the 21 short stories and novellas featuring his most famous character (who's actually a broodingly philosophical and extremely crafty polymath). Even among the few who have read Conan stories, many of them are more familiar with the Bowdlerized versions by L. Sprague de Camp and the later Expanded Universe books written by Robert Jordan than they are with Howard's originals. Most people who haven't instantly think of the film.
  • Played straight with Ian Fleming's novels and short stories featuring James Bond; everyone is familiar with the suave superspy, but comparatively few have actually read any of the original series of books. Averted with the movies, as the great majority of moviegoers have seen at least one of the Bond films at some point during the last 50 years. And even for the people who haven't read the books or seen the films, "James Bond" is still synonymous with "sexy British spy who wears a tuxedo and sleeps with countless beautiful women". Such is the mainstream obscurity that the casting of Daniel Craig outraged many fans with the prospect of a blond Bond. In the book Casino Royale, however, he's not only blond, but he's got a mustache.
  • Catch-22 is much better known for the term it coined than for the novel itself.
  • The Catcher in the Rye. It doesn't help that, in recent years, the novel is more famous (or infamous) by association with Lee Harvey Oswald and Mark David Chapman than for any actual content in the novel. It's truly a shame, because many people who have actually read the book have found it life-changing, thanks to its rather philosophical meditations & ruminations on childhood innocence. It's not just a "dirty" book.
  • Sax Rohmer and Doctor Fu Manchu, in that cultural sensitivity has hindered keeping the books in print, though Zebra, Dover and Titan have made efforts, but references to a "Fu Manchu" mustache still occur. Of course, Asian-American civic groups have kept the 1960s Doctor Fu Manchu films off broadcast television, and for the most part, nobody's missing much.
  • The Christmas 2012 issue of The Economist described Le Grand Meaulnes by Henri Alain-Fournier as "the most influential unread novel."
  • Many more people have watched the movies based on The Lord of the Rings and now The Hobbit than have ever read the original Cult Classic books.
  • There is an in-universe example in the Hyperion series. Martin Silenus wrote a poetry book which became extremely popular and sold three billion copies. Yet another serious poetry work of his — according to him and the publisher, a much better one — only sold twenty four thousand (in a society with over a hundred billion population). His publisher explains that there are less people reading books at all than the number of books sold — but it simply became a fashion to have it at home. Lampshading the trope, she even calls it "Pilgrim's Progress Effect."
  • While "Kafkaesque" is a popular adjective, most people haven't read Franz Kafka's stories, or know much about his writing except that someone turns into a cockroach.
  • Pinocchio, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, The Wind in the Willows, Mary Poppins, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory? They all originated as novels. Peter Pan? A stage play, but books followed. The Jungle Book and Winnie-the-Pooh? Short story collections. And ALL of them are best-known to the public via a particular film adaptation (or maybe two, these days) and/or the Disney Animated Canon. Coming to the original texts after those can yield a lot of surprises. (Silver Shoes instead of Ruby Slippers? Peter Pan and Pinocchio are colossal jerks?) So few people realize that there are original, definitive versions of the stories that they become, in the public consciousness, fairy tales and folklore rather than the work of individual authors. Moreover, all of these works have other media adaptations and variations, some to the point of Adaptation Overdosed — especially in their countries of origin — which haven't been subjected to Pop-Cultural Osmosis. (While the best known adaptations of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Alice in Wonderland are still respectively the 1971 musical film and 1951 Disney animation, you might know that Tim Burton directed his own adaptation of Chocolate Factory and a re-imagining of Alice...but what about the stage version of the former Sam Mendes helmed in London?) Some even have sequels by the original author or authorized by their estatenote  that fly completely under the radar. (Willy Wonka took on carnivorous blob aliens in outer space and won? Dorothy and her family moved to Oz?)
  • James Fenimore Cooper was the first American writer to achieve massive commercial success abroad and to exert an influence on the leading writers of his day. The Spy is considered the first substantial novel of American literature and The Leatherstocking Tales are considered classics that for instance shaped The Western. Yet all the average American reader today will remember is that Mark Twain lambasted him in a polemic essay, but never read one of Cooper's books, let alone checked if Twain's sweeping claims are factually correct or not.
  • The Shadow knows...but virtually no one knows The Shadow. These days, it's a rare bird indeed who has experienced the original Walter Gibson novels, or any of his numerous radio, comic-book, and film adaptations (even the Alec Baldwin joint was ill-attended).
  • Pity Uncle Tom's Cabin, now known only as the origin of the slur "Uncle Tom", which actually has little to do with the anti-slavery novel and everything to do with the pro-slavery minstrel parodies of it. Ironically, Uncle Tom's Cabin was, after The Bible, the best-selling book of the nineteenth century in the U.S.
  • War of the Worlds: Everyone knows that the aliens are downright unstoppable by normal means but get sick and die. Few know that the novel was written in, and set in, Victorian London in the late 19th Century, and that the bulk of the novel is actually a realistic account of a city and its people attacked by aliens. Thanks to later adaptations which gave it a Setting Update, many assume that it's written in The '50s or originated as pulp fiction, when it was actually quite respectable and valued by readers across genres in its day and age.

    Literature — Other 
  • Hamlet is one of Shakespeare's best known plays, many people will probably be able to quote a couple of scenes, like "To be or not to be" or Alas, Poor Yorick. But most will never have read the play or seen it performed on stage. They just know that everyone dies, and it had something to do with Yorick. This can be extended to all Shakespeare plays, though a few of them (including Hamlet) are often taught at schools in English-speaking countries (frequently accompanied by field trips to see them performed). The most blatant Shakespeare example is actually Romeo and Juliet. It seems to be remembered by pop culture as a tragic tale of true love, and the "Wherefore art thou Romeo" scene, but otherwise you'd be hard pressed to find someone who knows the plot in any kind of detail.
  • Everyone knows about Sun Tzu's The Art of War, which could arguably be the most well known military book ever, mostly after it was discovered and adopted by corporate schools and businessmen and repurposed as a self-help book. But they almost certainly haven't read it in full, and probably don't even know that it's very short and reads mostly like a poem.
  • Likewise, Clausewitz' On War and Guderian's Achtung - Panzer! are known for just two things. That they are important works about military strategy and tactics and that they were written by Germans. In the case of "On War", maybe someone will be able to recall its most famous quote — War is the continuation of politics by other means.
  • The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer, though it's pretty common reading in colleges, although even there, a few of the Tales tend to be skipped, since for logical reasons, it is incomplete and only a few of the tales are even really good (and some of them are anti-semitic).
  • Paradise Lost. Most people know the name and can quote "Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven," though they don't know from the context that it's not supposed to be taken at face value, especially since Satan doesn't really reign anywhere; by the end of the book, Hell is his prison, not his palace.
  • Even among communists, Karl Marx was hardly widely read. Anti-Communists frequently act as if Das Kapital (it is famous for its German title as opposed to "Capital", its English title) is the Bible for commies. In truth, the most widely read work of Marx is The Communist Manifesto precisely because it is short, and it was a summary intended for general readers and so simplifies Marx's complex ideas. Das Kapital is an incomplete work, only the first volume was published in Marx's lifetime, and it's a 500+ page book of dense economic theory full of tables and formulae, not amazing socio-economic rhetoric.
  • Niccolň Machiavelli. Everyone has heard of him, or at least the adjective that he spawned. Few have actually read the treatise that earned him his reputation, The Prince, and even fewer have read any of his other stuff. This is perhaps the reason why so many people seem to believe that the man was an evil genius who wrote an instruction manual on being a tyrant, when in fact it's considered quite likely that The Prince was a work of satire.
  • Dante Alighieri's The Divine Comedy is known for its basic plot structure, and for its first episode Inferno overshadows Purgatorio and Paradiso note . Even most people who have read Inferno never bother to read the other two books. Bonus points if they know it's 'Inferno' written by Dante, and not just Dante's Inferno. More points to people who are aware that it isn't official church canon; then again, it is the (co-)Trope Namer for Word of Dante.
  • Classical authors, and any work by them that you can name. Many people know the plot of Homer's The Odyssey, but few have actually read a translation of the epic poem. You probably already know what manner of nasty surprise awaited Oedipus Rex, but how many know the rest of the story, or even the name of the author? Homer's Iliad, Virgil's Aeneid, Ovid's Metamorphoses — all famous works, but few get further than the names. Only one classical author comes anywhere near managing to avoid this trope — our old friend and multiple trope namer Aesop, whose fables, Bowdlerised as they might be, are still read to kids all over the world. The Coen Brothers managed to adapt The Odyssey into O Brother, Where Art Thou? without ever reading it.
  • It should be noted that in most of Europe (meaning France, Belgium and Germany for instance) Latin works avert this due to being taught in Latin classes, which are popular with students seeking higher forms of language education. With Greek works however it is played straight, while they get passing reference in Latin and some excerpts are read in their translated forms they are only feverishly analyzed and studied in Greek lessons, which scare most people off due to the foreign alphabet.
  • Faust isn't a straight example, being derived from German folk legends, with no definitive, seminal work moving it into the literary canon. However, most subsequent works did derive from the plays by Marlowe (The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus, 1604) and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (Faust, 1808/1832), and, more importantly for this trope, the majority of people know Faust entirely through Popcultural Osmosis, and few have read any of the source material. Unless you're German. Unlike most classic works on this page, Goethe's Faust is the one book everyone has to read in school in Germany. Even if it's just a few passages. Bonus points for the fact that the younger generationnote  is more likely to link the name Faust with various Western Animation series of the 2000s and The New '10s.
  • The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon. It is a rather hefty beast, running to six volumes. Historians do read it, as it is still considered authoritative in many respects, and also because it is the earliest such work to actually reference and cite sources. We tropers tend to pick up the title through Popcultural Osmosis, amplified by the fact that every title with "decline and fall" or "rise and fall" is, ultimately, a Shout-Out to it.
  • Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time has sold more than 9 million copies and is probably the first thing people think of when anyone mentions Stephen Hawking (aside from his voice), but is often cited as an example of an "unread bestseller". Hawking mentions this in his 2013 autobiography My Brief History, stating that "It has been suggested that many people bought the book to display on the bookcase or on the coffee table, without having actually read it". Those who have read the book tend to mock others for making a big deal since it is indeed a "brief" history, a short book on physics for the general reader, with highly simplified language free of jargon, and many simple analogies.
  • Hunter S. Thompson is the first name that anyone thinks of when the term "Gonzo journalism" is thrown about, and "Fear and Loathing in X" has become a veritable pop culture snowclone, but you'd be hard-pressed to find many who've read the book in question (there's also an element of Adaptation Displacement at play here) or any of his other works. In fact, many so-called "fans" of Thompson like him more for the fact that he was a Cool Old Guy who liked to smoke, drink, take drugs and shoot his gun a lot, rather than having read any of his novels.
  • In the same vein there is William S. Burroughs. Loved by many Rock and Punk Rock fans for being an openly heroin user, yet most have never been able to get past a few more pages of Naked Lunch and are thus unaware that even Burroughs himself wasn't always that positive about being addicted to heroin.
  • Oscar Wilde is best known for being jailed for being gay and a lot of witty sayings. His work? Not that famous to most people, who seldom read it. Even The Importance of Being Earnest, which still turns up quite frequently in stage and screen adaptations, is little known, and most know the gimmick of The Picture of Dorian Gray.
  • George Bernard Shaw: A man with a Badass Beard who liked to Refuge in Audacity. Does anyone know or attended any of his plays? That is, besides Pygmalion, and even that one probably mostly to film adaptation which has arguably itself moved into Mainstream Obscurity.
  • Samuel Beckett is known for Waiting for Godot and most people know two characters wait for Godot, who never arrives. His other plays are not as well known, and the novels, which is what defined his literary career...well they tend to make James Joyce look accessible.
  • Many fairy tales also fall into this trope. Most people know only the classic stories and not the more obscure tales by The Brothers Grimm, Arabian Nights, Charles Perrault, Hans Christian Andersen and/or Joseph Jacobs. Even the more iconic stories are better known in bowdlerised versions, made popular by Walt Disney and Shrek, which often have little to do with the originals. The general public has never read the entire collected fairy tales of these authors from the first page until the last and would probably be amazed that a lot of these stories aren't exactly that child friendly due to Values Dissonance.
  • Nostradamus' Prophecies: Many people have heard of Nostradamus and know he predicted future events, but the amount of people who've actually tried to read his "Prophecies" (even in translation) is much, much lower. Anyone who ever did quickly comes to the conclusion that none of it is as clear, accurate and specific as his reputation pretends it to be.
  • Most people have heard of Edgar Allan Poe, a.k.a. the guy who invented the gothic horror genre. Not so many have actually read any of his works. Even fewer know of his poetry (except The Raven), parodies, detective storiesnote , or fondness for cryptography.
  • Rosemary Wells is known as the creator of Max and Ruby. But not that many people have read the original book versions or read other books written or illustrated by Wells.

    Live-Action TV 
  • This is true of virtually the entire Joss Whedon oeuvre: his film of The Avengers was his very first work to achieve mainstream popular success. The foremost example is Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Because of its attractive star and support from critics, it's not exactly ignored by the press. The name also makes it very memorable. Finally, there's generally a lack of A) canonical vampire slayers, and B) female leads in genre programs, so Buffy the character usually finds a niche in pop culture conversations. However, the show itself was never highly watched in its prime. People also don't remember some of the highlights of Whedon's early career, such as writing a good deal of the dialogue for Toy Story. And practically no one has ever heard of his father and grandfather, even though they were also television writers (and the grandfather actually wrote for Leave It to Beaver!).
    • Ironically, the above also applies to the 1992 film that introduced the world to the Buffy character in the first place. There are probably plenty of non-Buffy fans who are vaguely aware of its existence, having maybe seen it in a video store once or twice...but they couldn't mention anyone who was in it, despite one of those people being Luke Perry. Or another one of those people being Paul Reubens. Or two more of those people being Ben Affleck and Hilary Swank!
  • The CW seems to be all about this. "TV to talk about," but not necessarily TV to see. Gossip Girl, for all its buzz, rarely draws more than a couple million viewers a week. Averted with Supernatural and Arrow to an extent.
  • Likewise, AMC's Mad Men and Breaking Bad are standard name-dropping fare for people wanting to seem cultured, but continue to get mediocre audiences (even for cable) for shows with so many Emmys. Though the latter ultimately averted this near the end of the series note  Having its first 5 seasons streaming on Netflix and excellent word-of-mouth no doubt helped to promote it to a wider audience in time for the Series Finale. AMC's third hit series, The Walking Dead, on the other hand, averted this from the beginning.
  • There are very few people who have seen acclaimed shows like The Wire in full, yet because it is the general opinion of critics, they immediately proclaim them "the greatest TV show ever made" after watching the first few episodes. Which is silly, given that it's a very slow-burning show which takes several episodes to get going. In general, shows on HBO and Showtime tend to have this problem, in part because they are higher tier networks which people have to pay extra for, thus meaning that most people can't see them legally until they come out on DVD.
  • This often occurs with certain episodes of some TV shows, many people have probably seen these shows since they often relive in syndication and on TV Land long after cancellation, but not necessarily episodes often cited as classics.
    • Most people could probably say that "Lucy Does a TV Commercial" is commonly considered the best I Love Lucy episode, but not anything beyond about it besides the obvious said in the title.
    • Similarly The Mary Tyler Moore Show episode "Chuckles Bites The Dust" has often been cited as one of if not THE funniest TV episode of all time...but how many who are aware of that "fact" have even seen it or any episode of the show? In a similar vein the show's theme song and opening sequence are far more recognizable than anything about the actual show.
    • Even the case for more recent shows. Everyone who was born before or during Seinfeld was on the air has seen an episode in syndication at least once, but that's not necessarily "The Soup Nazi". However everyone can state the basic premise of the episode or quote the character's famous catchphrase.
    • Ellen is almost always thought of as "that show where the lead character came out". If you were very young or not yet born in the '90s, you might be forgiven for assuming it was, from beginning to end, a show about a woman coming to terms with her sexuality, when in fact for three seasons it was a somewhat run-of-the-mill Seinfeldian "comedian gets a sitcom"-type show, and it wasn't until the end of the third season that she came out, then spent exactly one season focusing on her being an out lesbian before being cancelled.
  • Everyone knows Twin Peaks was weird and focused on the question of who killed someone named Laura Palmer, but not much beyond that is remembered. This may be for the best, since it prevents the killer's identity from becoming common knowledge, allowing new viewers to properly experience the mystery for themselves. And it actually got terrific ratings in its day, and its third season "The Return" is seen as a fitting Grand Finale.
  • The Prisoner was the show with the guy and the giant balloon, right? And he had, like, a jacket, and he was a number or something?
  • Monty Python's Flying Circus: most people know Monty Python only for their films and even in that case solely for Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The amount of people who actually watched the TV series is far lower. It's safe to say that although Monty Python has a small, but dedicated geeky fan base the general public has probably only watched about half an episode of the in total four seasons before deciding it's too weird or they just didn't get it. Probably more people are familiar with their most popular and accessible individual sketches, like the Dead Parrot, Lumberjack Song, Nudge Nudge and The Ministry Of Silly Walks, which are frequently compiled out of context — and often heavily edited — on DVDs or web video channels than the more obscure Reference Overdosed Anti-Humor sketches.
    • Similarly John Cleese and maybe Michael Palin are the only Pythons most people can recognize by face and name. The others' faces will ring a bell if you've watched any of their episodes or films, but only dedicated fans will be able to name them.
    • There are also many (primarily non-British) people who have never seen the TV show or the films, and are (passingly) aware of the Python phenomenon as merely a crude pastiche of countercultural Deranged Animation and quirky humor that only nerds could possibly understand. Many assume it's all completely incomprehensible and don't bother to ever watch it.
  • Star Trek: The Original Series: Despite being extremely popular among geeks most general audiences will likely only recognize Spock and Captain Kirk and be familiar with the phrase "Beam me up, Scotty", not much else. But at least these characters have some fame among people who don't watch the series. Compared to the original Star Trek the follow-up Star Trek: The Next Generation is far less well known and the only character who might be recognized is Captain Picard.
  • Just about everybody in the world knows who the Power Rangers are, but the only incarnation everyone can identify is Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers, to the point that if you mention "Power Rangers" to somebody it will probably be the first thing that comes to mind. But with that being said, it's extremely difficult to find non-fans who can name any of the other seasons. And while most people will recognize the color-coded ranger characters, far fewer will be able to know the human identities behind them.
  • Hannah Montana is an even bigger victim of this than Victorious or Wizards. Even when the show was still running, it was famous for being Disney Channel's flagship franchise, and the pop idol it spawned with the title character, but not a lot more. It was to the point that people would call Miley Cyrus "Hannah Montana" even when the show had nothing to do with it. Nowadays, it's best known for being the show Cyrus was on before she later became a solo pop star and was Overshadowed by Controversy in 2013 for her infamous behavior. To this day, few people can actually name any of its characters besides the title character (including the "normal" persona of the lead character, Miley Stewart) or its other five lead actors (with the possible exception of Billy Ray Cyrus; in the context of being the "Achy Breaky Heart" guy or Miley's dad rather than being on the show), or know anything besides the basic premise, yet they know it exactly for what the show would spawn into.
  • That '70s Show: Although it still is a Cult Classic, mainstream audiences probably know it better as the show that Ashton Kutcher, Mila Kunis, and "that girl from Orange Is the New Black" (Laura Prepon) were on before becoming more famous.
  • The Mickey Mouse Club is overall mostly known for the theme song and "Mouseketeers". The '90s version is only known to the mainstream for Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, and Christina Aguilera appearing on the show before they became household names. (It isn't nearly as well known that Ryan Gosling was on the show as it is with the former three). Amusingly, not only were none of them original cast members (the show actually premiered in the very late '80s), but the first three weren't even the first pop stars who had their careers launched by the program. ("The Party", anyone?) The 1950s original? Good luck finding anyone under the age of 65 who remembers it for anything other than Annette Funnicello boob jokes.
  • Anything related to Doctor Who prior to its revival in 2005. More people know it for scaring kids enough to make them hide behind the sofa despite its cheesy special effects than for its plot lines. Additionally, there are a number of individual stories that suffer from this as well. For instance, more people can tell you that "The War Games" introduced the Time Lords in its final episode than can describe the plot of the first nine episodes of the story leading up to it.
    • Post-revival most people only know specific plots and characters from the David Tennant and Matt Smith eras as the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors respectively — Series 2 through 7. Christopher Ecceleston's one season as Nine is only remembered in relation to the characters and plot points that carried over into Ten's tenure. Peter Capaldi's tenure as Twelve, despite lasting three seasons, is similarly obscure. This can be "credited" to the show's merchandising, which primarily references characters and dialogue from Ten and Eleven's seasons (and sometimes Nine's) while virtually ignoring Twelve's. For instance, the Weeping Angels still stand alongside Daleks and Cybermen as signature villains of the franchise even though the Twelfth Doctor never faced off with them onscreen and their last appearance was in 2012.

    Music 
  • Classical Music generally suffers from this. The composers have become proverbial household names, their famous works are reduced to a few famous pieces that are repurposed as ad-jingles, ringtones, or Standard Snippet and are often known or heard via "Weird Al" Effect and Pop-Cultural Osmosis.
    • Johann Sebastian Bach is widely seen as a high point of classical music, but the most recognized work by him is the opening tunes of Toccata and Fugue in D Minor. Among aficionados, the authorship is still up for debate to be attributed to him on that piece.
    • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart has a huge body of work, but is mostly reduced to the first few notes of "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik", the "Requiem", the "Queen of the Night" chorus from The Magic Flute, his 40th Symphony, his 25th Symphony and Rondo Alla Turca. To most people he is just a Child Prodigy in a wig. And Amadeus hasn't done his reputation much good either. The general public nowadays has the impression he was a cross between a genius and a Man Child with an Annoying Laugh who spoke with a very thick American accent.
    • Most people can recognize the first few notes of "Für Elise" and his Ode to Joy from the Ninth Symphony, but have never heard the rest of the music that follows. Everyone knows Beethoven's grumpy face and knows he was deaf.
    • Antonio Vivaldi is best known for The Four Seasons, but usually only the opening movements of Spring. That he wrote other music too is totally unknown.
    • Also Sprach Zarathustra by Richard Strauss is best known for the "Sunrise" segment, famously used in 2001: A Space Odyssey and by Ric Flair, but the rest of the score is totally unknown.
    • Edvard Grieg's score for Peer Gynt is often reduced to simply the "Morning Mood", "Aase's Death", "Anitra's Dance" and "In the Hall of the Mountain King". That the work has more pieces than that is usually not known, let alone that he composed other stuff too. On the flip side, his music is far more famous and reproduced more often than Henrik Ibsen's masterpiece, so there's that.
    • Igor Stravinsky is well known as one of the most famous, important, influential and versatile classical composers of the 20th century. Despite that he is just known for snippets from The Firebird and The Rite of Spring and in the case of the latter only for the huge riot that broke out during the premier in 1913. That he also composed less brutal music is mostly unknown, let alone that the majority of his oeuvre was in fact quite accessible neoclassical music.
  • Richard Wagner. You definitely know "Ride of the Valkyries" from Die Walküre and the "Bridal Chorus" from Lohengrin (though probably without the words), and you might know "The Pilgrims' Chorus" from Tannhäuser (though it isn't performed in one chunk like that in the opera) or the "Liebestod" from Tristan und Isolde, but that will be about it. He wrote 113 compositions, including 13 operas (most of which were rather too long, making their Mainstream Obscurity understandable).
    Wagner has great moments but dull quarter hoursGioachino Rossini
    • What little most people know of Wagner's music is because it's been used in other places—Apocalypse Now and the Looney Tunes cartoon "What's Opera, Doc?" for "Ride of the Valkyries," and weddings for the "Bridal Chorus". Check out the Classics section of Standard Snippet for these and other bits of Wagner that you never knew you knew.
    • "Liebestod" is an example on its own. It is one of the more famous bits of Wagner, a notable finale and dramatic death scene from someone who put a lot into his dramatic deaths. It is a true test of both the musical director and the female lead to be able to do it justice. Now, how does the tune go?
  • Maurice Ravel: Known for solely the "Boléro", which is almost a Black Sheep Hit, as the rest of his oeuvre sounds totally different.
  • Camille Saint Saëns: Apart from "Danse Macabre" and "Carnival Of The Animals" it almost seems as if he didn't do anything else in his life.
  • Erik Satie: Hailed as one of the great innovators of classical music, yet apart from "Trois Gymnopédies", which can be heard on soundtracks once in a while, his music isn't that well known to the general public.
  • Edward Elgar: In the UK he is known for the "Land Of Hope And Glory" march from "Pomp & Circumstance", which is still played annually to bring up Patriotic Fervor during the Last Night of the Proms and other official UK national manifestations. In the US he is known for the same melody, but associated with college graduations and Macho Men. So it's safe to say that that one section of the entire "Pomp & Circumstance" march is more well known than anything else he ever did.
  • Gustav Holst: "The Planets" is one of the most popular musical works of all time and has been plagiarized so often by other composers, especially on movie soundtracks that depict science fiction or battles that most people probably assume he stole it from them instead of the other way around. It's also his only famous work, more well known than the composer itself.
    • Within "The Planets" itself, everybody knows how Mars and Jupiter go, and there must presumably be another five, but...
  • Aaron Copland is one of America's most celebrated composers, yet only "Hoe Down" and "Fanfare For The Common Man" may ring a bell when played on CD.
  • Swan Lake by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: the first name people think of when it comes to ballet, note  but that's often as far as it goes. Music-wise, the Overture, the Waltz, and the Cygnets Dance get out in the public consciousness somewhat, but that's out of a running time of around two hours. Comparatively few people have seen the entire ballet (even on TV), or are aware of its characters, plot or composer.
  • Jazz: Many jazz icons are well known, but when it comes to attributing individual works to them most people are unable to name one. Even in Louis Armstrong's case they'll probably name "Hello Dolly" and "What A Wonderful World", which are just songs, not jazz compositions, and Armstrong is well known for his distinctive singing voice and not as a trumpeter which is what his work in Jazz is based on.
    • Miles Davis is that guy in the Cool Hat, Cool Shades who faced his audience backwards during concerts. Some may be able to name Kind of Blue, but that's about all most people know about this iconic jazz legend.
    • Dizzy Gillespie's face with the bulbous lips when he played the trumpet is more iconic than the amount of people who can identify his name, let alone one track by him.
    • Glenn Miller: One of the most famous big band leaders of all time, yet apart from "In the Mood" and "Moonlight Serenade" most people wouldn't recognize much of his work, and if they know about him, it's for his mysterious disappearance.
  • Steve Vai is probably the most well known example in rock, since he is constantly cited as one of the best guitarists ever, and yet none of his songs or albums are well known by anyone who hasn't specifically looked them up. Not far behind is Joe Satriani, often compared to Vai, whose album Surfing With The Alien is more famous, yet is not known for any particular tracks.
    • Vai and Satriani are well-known as sidemen and band members, Vai as a member of David Lee Roth's band from 1986-88 and as a one-time member of Whitesnake, and Satriani as a sideman for Mick Jagger and as a member of Chickenfoot. Then again, Chickenfoot is probably best known as that supergroup with Joe Satriani in it, so we're right back to where we started.
  • Swans were merely a cult band for awhile. But in 2012 when The Seer was released to great acclaim and in 2014 when To Be Kind hit #37 on the album charts, they became shorthand for "that one obscure rock group with Gira and stuff".
  • Many of the most critically hailed rock and pop albums of all time are mostly known either for their cover artwork, their name, or the one hit song on the record:
    • Most people recognize The Velvet Underground & Nico for its Andy Warhol banana cover, but only rock fans can name any of its tracks ("I'm Waiting For The Man" is the only track to get airplay despite not being a single). Thanks to covers such as R.E.M.'s versions of "There She Goes Again" and "Femme Fatale" and Japan's version of "All Tomorrow's Parties", tracks from the album are known by people who were already fans of those bands before they checked out the Velvets.
    • The cover of Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols is the iconic image of punk but any tracks other than "Anarchy in the UK", "God Save the Queen" and "Pretty Vacant" are fairly obscure. "Holidays In The Sun" was a single at the time, but has not managed to get the airplay the others did, even after their renewed popularity. Outside Punk Rock circles most people who know next to nothing about the genre have all heard of the Sex Pistols and will likely namedrop them if they have to talk about punk music. Yet in many cases it will be wrong assumptions. For instance: nobody within the Sex Pistols ever wore a punk mohawk or had a safety belt through his nose, yet many people assume they did, because, hey they are punkers right?
    • Radiohead's OK Computer has been named the best album of the '90s, but, again, few people can name a single track from it except "Karma Police" or "Paranoid Android" (or maybe "No Surprises"). It remains fashionable to list Kid A as one of the best albums of the 2000s, yet nobody comments on that many of the tracks.
    • Not just individual albums, but the whole of a band's oeuvre can suffer from this. Jethro Tull for example. Epically long and prolific career, but known only for (a) the image of Ian Anderson playing the flute standing on one leg, and (b) the opening guitar riff from Aqualung, and (c) Living in the Past — a song which the band have often said that they are sick and tired of and regret having written, exactly because it's all many people ever think of when thinking of Tull (made worse by the fact that it was an Old Shame song that didn't become a hit until several years after it was recorded).
  • Richard Thompson, with or without Linda, is a world renowned guitarist and always has several albums on best-of lists, but few people can name any of his songs. He has been called "the best guitarist nobody has heard of".
  • Slayer: "The most talked about band that no one actually listens to." Reign in Blood is hailed as their best, but how many people outside the metalhead community have ever tried to listen or analyze it?
    • Similarly, Anal Cunt are a band well known for their (jokingly) obscene titles and noisy screaming (ironically more well known than many legitimate grindcore artists), but very few people have bought one of their albums.
  • You know the Epic Riff from "Smoke on the Water" from Machine Head If you know anything at all about music or have ever heard anyone learning the guitar, or even just play rhythm games, you know that riff. However, Deep Purple is surprisingly obscure nowadays for such a prolific and popular band. And the riff itself is lifted from a Gil Evans jazz piece.
  • Marilyn Manson is known mostly because of how offended the collective Moral Guardians of the 1990s were at his very existence. A lot of people will know his cover of Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) and his song The Beautiful People, but nobody will know that The Beautiful People is from a concept album, Antichrist Superstar, that there were two more after that, that they tell a continuous story when listened to in reverse from release order, or who the protagonists of those albums are. Even less will know about Manson battling depression and suicidal thoughts for most of his life, his history of self-harm or his relationship problems.
  • The song "Linus and Lucy" (the unofficial theme for the Peanuts animated specials) actually has a jazz section in the middle that most people never noticed (and it is a shock when people learn to play it).
  • Leonard Cohen's name comes up frequently as one of the top songwriters of the past 50 years. But ask the average person on the street if they can name even one song he wrote; don't be surprised if the responses are mostly blank stares. There is a good chance your average person would at least recognize "Hallelujah" if played it due to its frequent covers or uses in TV shows and film, though they might not be aware it's by him. The most famous cover version of it — by Jeff Buckley on his album Grace — is in itself a cover of John Cale (ex Velvet Underground)'s own cover arrangement from one of his solo albums, a fact which very few know about, even though Cale's version was featured in Shrek (as done by Rufus Wainwright).
  • The most popular bands in metal (System of a Down, Megadeth, Iron Maiden, Slipknot, Metallica (possibly the biggest metal band), etc.) are generally able to be named by the average person. However, it's rare to find a non-metal or non-rock fan who's actually listened to them.
  • Cannibal Corpse. There are few people out there who haven't heard their name before, but the average music fan's knowledge of them is ignorance at its finest. It's not uncommon to hear fans of mainstream metal call them out as noisy trash, meaning that despite being the most famous name in death metal by far, only those who actually like death metal know anything about their actual music rather than just about their controversial cover art.
    • Their current singer George "Corpsegrinder" Fisher is one of the most famous people in death metal music, if partially due to his huge neck. What most non-fans don't know is that he was not their original singer or songwriter; Chris Barnes was. In fact, Barnes was responsible for the band's most famous and controversial material, so it's entirely possible that the average person associates Corpsegrinder with songs that weren't even his!
  • Frank Zappa: An instantly recognizable rock musician, down to his Badass Moustache, and widely hailed as an innovative and creative musical artist, whose scope goes well beyond the narrow boundaries of rock alone, with influences from Jazz, Classical Music, Doowop and World Music. That said, he is still mostly ignored, overlooked or misunderstood by the general public, rock fans and critics. The amount of people who actually listened to his work, let alone enjoyed it, is staggeringly low. Mostly because he never received much airplay on radio and TV and never had any real hits, besides "Bobby Brown Goes Down" from "Sheik Yerbouti" in Europe, which was a number 1 hit in Norway at the time. His biggest hit in the USA was "Valley Girl" (1982) note , which even led to the Valley Girl phenomenon, much to Zappa's hatred. When "Valley Girl" became an unexpected national phenomenon with a lot of Misaimed Fandom from people who didn't get that it was meant as a Satire Zappa regretted ever recording it. He never released it on single nor performed it live. None of these two songs give a good scope of Zappa's iconoclastic style as they are both pretty straightforward novelty songs. Even among those who actually like Zappa there are still fans who only like a couple of his albums and downright dismiss some parts of his gigantic and versatile oeuvre. Or they only know him for naming two of his children "Dweezil" and "Moon Unit"note 
  • Hank Williams: the most important and influential country musician before Johnny Cash, but how many music fans are familiar with his work? Time Magazine even put a compilation album by him, Turn Back The Years: The Essential Hank Williams Collection in their Time All Time 100 Albums list, which praises the most essential and timeless music albums of all time. Yet outside the USA and country music fan circles most people don't know anything about his work.
  • Carole King: This artist has the best-selling solo album by a solo artist on her name note . King's Tapestry has been bought by millions of people, praised by critics, yet has never reached the same amount of mainstream notability other famous albums did. Nowadays most people younger than 40 have probably never even heard of Carole King!
  • Captain Beefheart: One of the most influential alternative musicians of all time, widely praised as one of the great innovators and frequently namedropped, covered and respected by the biggest names in Indie, Punk Rock, New Wave Music, Grunge, Avantgarde Music or Alternative Rock. Yet he is virtually unknown to the general audience. Most people who listen to his music find it to dissonant to listen to. Even his fans won't listen much more than a few times a year to stuff like Trout Mask Replica.
  • Many artists who are generally seen as groundbreaking, innovative or important and pop up in a lot of historical chronicles and/or Top 100 lists are sometimes only music critics' darlings and virtually unknown or nothing more than a name to other listeners: The Residents, Sonic Youth, MC5, Thelonious Monk, Lee Scratch Perry, King Tubby, John Zorn, Joni Mitchell, Bonnie Raitt, The Electric Prunes, Can, Neu!, Os Mutantes, JJ Cale, John Cale, Velvet Underground, Holger Czukay, David Sylvian, Jah Wobble, Public Image Ltd.,...
    • Even with pop music acts this can be the case. Most people are only familiar with the pop music they grew up with during their childhood, teenage years and perhaps college period. As they grow older and don't quite listen to much hitparade music anymore they may be aware of the newer pop stars, but more because of their coverage in the popular press. At this moment, for instance, people can be aware of Madonna, Justin Bieber, Rihanna or Britney Spears more because they frequently make headlines, without actually having heard one note of their music.
  • While Dave Brubeck may be well known for his composition "Take Five" (actually by Paul Desmond), much of his other work is not well known outside of jazz circles. Brubeck composed more mainstream jazz pieces in addition to his wild metered signature piece.
  • The Grateful Dead: If you have to name a cult rock band they are perhaps the best example, due to their fanbase even having a special nickname ("Deadheads") and many of them religiously attending their concerts. They are also most people's idea of hippie music. Yet, when all of that is said and done: how many songs or albums can you name by this group? That's right, the Grateful Dead are nowadays actually more famous as an iconic hippie band,stoner band and/or concert experience than for their songs or albums.
  • Lou Reed's album Metal Machine Music is notorious among rock fans, but the amount of people who actually listened to it, let alone from beginning to end, is practically nil. And not surprising, really: It's a double LP with nothing but guitar feedback and continuous droning.
  • John Lennon's first solo album with Yoko Ono, Unfinished Music No. 1: Two Virgins, is probably better known for the Contemptible Cover than the content on the record. Back in 1968 many people listened to it once, then never played it again. It's literally nothing but an uninterrupted recording of them talking and making noise. But at least this album has some notability, while the two experimental follow-ups Unfinished Music No. 2: Life with the Lions and Wedding Album are almost entirely forgotten. Snippets of recordings are sometimes used in documentaries about Lennon and Yoko, but that's about it.
    • The same goes for Yoko Ono herself. She is the most recognizable Avant-garde Music and performance artist in the world, but almost nobody has listened to any of her albums. And if they did they usually didn't like it.
  • The Fugs are one of the better known counterculture bands of The '60s, notorious for their Refuge in Audacity lyrics which even got them shadowed by the F.B.I., yet to the average music fan they are fairly obscure nowadays.
  • Hell, take any famous easy listening melody that you frequently hear on the radio, in advertising spots, movies or TV series and chances are that most people will instantly recognize the melody and sing along to it, but won't be able to tell you who wrote it, who sang it and/or what the title is. In some cases they are quick to associate it with the film, commercial or TV series they saw it in and assume it was specifically written for the occasion.
  • Shaman is Santana's most successful album of the new millennium, but aside from "The Game of Love" and "Why Don't You & I" (and don't expect people to remember the Chad Kroeger version), good luck finding anybody's who's actually taken the time to listen to the album. Heck, the same problem exists with Supernatural; aside from the #1 mega-hit "Smooth" nobody can name any other songs on the album (including its other #1 "Maria Maria")
  • Anyone who has spent any amount of time watching movie trailers can recognize "O Fortuna," the Standard Snippet of the Carmina Burana. The vast majority of these people will not know that said snippet is actually just the first (and last) movement of 25. The full version is made up of medieval poetry in German and Latin.
  • The Roots are among the most acclaimed and respected hip hop groups in existence, and have also been Jimmy Fallon's house band since 2009. Yet, aside from "The Seed (2.0)" and the Grammy winning "You Got Me", you're unlikely to find a non-fan who's familiar with any of their music. Todd in the Shadows, in fact, described them as "a group people say they like but don't actually listen to."
  • Al Jolson was one of the most famous and popular singers of the first half of the 2Oth century, but today he is only remembered for appearing in The Jazz Singer, the first "talkie" ever made, and being the best example of a Blackface singer.
  • Ravi Shankar: The world's most famous and recognizable Indian musician. Most people will know him through his association with The Beatles, but are unaware that he already had a long career before he met them and/or that he didn't simply vanish from existence after the 1960s were over. Classic movie fans know him for his work as a composer on Satyajit Ray's films.
  • Tech N9ne is one of the most famous figures in Hip-Hop, who even non rap fans can probably name. Yet, his sales and chart placement show the far fewer people listen to him. He's sold two million albums but released a total of 16, and none of his songs have ever charted on the Hot 100. Chances are, if someone has heard his music, it's probably through one of the many movies, TV shows, and video games his music has been featured in.
  • El-P has been a longstanding figurehead of underground hip-hop whose various projects have all been highly celebrated and whose rapping and production work are both held in high regard, while Definitive Jux (which he ran) was home to numerous other major figures in the underground, namely Del Tha Funkee Homosapien, Aesop Rock, Cage, Cannibal Ox, and Mr. Lif. However, as far as the mainstream is concerned, he's one half of Run the Jewels and nothing else.note 
  • Weezer's second album Pinkerton. When it was released in 1996, it was widely considered to not only be inferior to their debut, but also one of the worst albums of that year, period. However, over time it grew to be considered their best work. Its release got a perfect 100 score on Metacritic. That being said however, it still only barely reached Gold status, and you'd be hard-pressed to find a non-fan who can name one song off the album. Not helped by the fact that its lead single "El Scorcho" actually got banned from many radio stations and MTV. Its only other single, "The Good Life", actually did get some recognition in The New '10s for being featured in Watch_Dogs. But still, few people talk about any specific songs on the album when compared to how much they talk about the album itself.
  • Lana Del Rey is known primarily as a celebrity and cultural icon rather than a singer. That, and her remixed "Summertime Sadness" radio hit.
  • Björk is well-known to the public for being weird, being from Iceland, and her infamous swan dress. That's it. You'd be hard-pressed to find someone who can name one song from her. In fact, she's only had two songs enter the Hot 100, and both of them fizzled out in the 80 range.
  • The only thing most people know about girl group G.R.L. (aside from maybe their feature on Pitbull's "Wild Wild Love") is that one of its members committed suicide.
  • Rock and roll singer The Big Bopper is remembered for exactly two things: his hit "Chantilly Lace" and dying in the same plane crash that killed Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens.
  • Almost everyone in the world knows who Skrillex is and what he looks like, but not too many have actually listened to his music. Compare that to DJs like David Guetta, Calvin Harris, Zedd, DJ Snake, and The Chainsmokers, whose songs are known to everybody but have far less a public image — most people will be hard-pressed to visually identify anyone in the latter category.
  • On that same note, Deadmau5. He's very well-known to the public for his iconic mask, being Canadian, and well, being a DJ. Most people however can't even name one of his songs.
  • Nero is seen as the Ensemble Darkhorse of dubstep. Not bad, considering that their album never charted on the Billboard 200.
  • Avicii is one of the biggest EDM names in the world, but mainstream audiences will be hard-pressed to name a song of his that isn't "Wake Me Up!"
  • The Wu-Tang Clan is a unique kind of band where the general public is more likely to be familiar with their logo and for being influential to Hip-Hop than they are with any of their songs.
  • Kiss. They wore weird makeup and costumes and sang "Rock 'N' Roll All Nite" and "Shout It Out Loud." Which means their only albums remembered by anyone (if even that) are Dressed to Kill and Destroyer, respectively. Neither was the band's earliest or even most popular album. People also don't much remember that their career went through a non-makeup phase between 1983 and 1996, during which they had at least a handful of radio hits. Amusingly, their 1980 concept album Music From the Elder is so obscure that the band members themselves can't remember how to play it!
    • KISS is so affected by this that most of what people think they know about the band is actually false. Gene Simmons is often thought to be the front man. That was actually Paul Stanley, though Simmons did have a memorable persona and took lead vocals often. Few people remember that they made a film (KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park) or that there were more members than just Stanley, Simmons, Ace Frehley and Peter Criss. Some believe that they were, or at least pretended to be, Satan worshipers, a rumor starting that their name was even an acronym for "Knights in Satan's Service" (the band members have routinely said the name isn't an acronym for anything). Finally, KISS is often thought of as a "heavy metal" band, when in fact their music could be, at best, considered "hard rock", and often included soft, gentle songs like "Beth" or "Forever".
  • Derek Taylor is a deceptively influential figure among guitarists whose approach to tapping and legato (accomplished through what he refers to as the "Spock technique") has been copied by many, many players over the years. However, most guitarists using his techniques would be hard-pressed to name anything that he released even though they're familiar with his approach.
  • Hollywood Undead is very well-known for their creepy masks, the fact that they combine rap with rock, being a Myspace band, and for making party tracks. But not too many people can actually name any of their songs, nor will they know about their serious tracks in their later albums that go hand-in-hand with the party tracks. The fact is, they haven't had any hit on any format, but are still well known for their appearances.
  • The Eagles of Death Metal are best known in the mainstream for being the band playing at the Bataclan Theatre in Paris on at the time of the November 13, 2015 terrorist attacks. Far fewer people will be familiar with their music.
  • Great White — best known for being the band playing from the dead Rhode Island nightclub fire.
  • Wiz Khalifa. He's well known for being tall, skinny, and tatted up, and that he loves cars, pot, and bitches. Not too many people outside his audience actually know about his music, other than his Black Sheep Hit "See You Again", made for the soundtrack of the billion-dollar blockbuster Furious 7, as a tribute to the late Paul Walker. They probably won't be able to name his other songs, such as "Black & Yellow" (his first #1 hit), "Roll Up", "No Sleep", "Young, Wild, and Free", "Work Hard, Play Hard", and "We Own It", despite the fact that these songs all reached the Top 40. In fact, his best known contribution to the music world to mainstream audiences besides "See You Again" is not even his song, but his guest spot on Maroon 5's "Payphone."
  • Despite being a highly prolific producer, British musician Mark Ronson is known outside his home country for one thing: being the actual lead artist on the 2015 megahit "Uptown Funk!", which is almost universally associated first and foremost with its far more well-known guest star Bruno Mars.
  • Destiny's Child was massive back in their late-'90s to early-'00s prime, but nowadays they are known solely for being Beyoncé's former band. Even people who do remember their music won't be able to name its other members (even Kelly Rowland, who had a successful career of her own.)
  • Conway Twitty was one of the most enduring figures in Country Music in The '70s and The '80s, with a huge catalog of 40 #1 hits (second only to George Strait). But could anyone in the modern day say anything about him other than "that guy that they kept doing Cutaway Gags to on Family Guy" or possibly "that guy with the really deep voice who sang 'I'd Love to Lay You Down'"?
  • Nitty Gritty Dirt Band is one of the longest-lasting Country Music bands, having performed without interruption since 1966, with multiple albums and awards to their name. But could your average person name any song of theirs not named "Fishin' in the Dark" (except maybe "Mr. Bojangles" or "An American Dream", both of which were big pop hits that predated their full-on transition to a country band, or "Colorado Christmas" if you've ever listened to a radio station in Colorado at Christmastime, though that song isn't very popular in the other 49 states), or even name one of the band's many members? Some people may not even know anything about them except that time George W. Bush mangled their name at an awards ceremony (as referenced by Dave Barry).
  • DJ Khaled is known for being "that fat Arab guy who has tons of rappers on all his songs" and for being a Snapchat phenomenon. While he has a huge following in the rap community, his only well-known song in the mainstream is "All I Do Is Win".
  • Willie Nelson is an American cultural icon widely known for his hippie appearance, distinctive vocals and predilection for marijuana. However, the only songs of his most people can name (assuming they can name any) are "Always on My Mind", a polished pop ballad that's something of a Black Sheep Hit, and Signature Song "On the Road Again." Almost no one outside of hardcore country fans has heard the landmark '70s albums like Phases and Stages, Shotgun Willie and Red Headed Stranger that made him an outlaw legend.
  • Flo Rida is a rapper mostly known for his top 40 hit songs about partying in clubs like "Right Round", "Low", and "Club Can't Handle Me" but you'd be hard pressed to find someone who's actually listened to an entire album from beginning to end or someone who can name any songs besides his hits. The same deal can be said for Pitbull, really.
  • Motörhead is very well-known across the world, even to non-metal listeners, for it's frontman Lemmy, who had a well-documented appearance and lifestyle, having themes about sex, drugs, and gambling, their song called "Ace of Spades", being influential to metal in general, and Lemmy ultimately dying at 70. That being said, considerably fewer people have actually listened to their music or can name any other song besides their "Spades", even if they know about the band. As an example of this, the band if often thought of as being "Lemmy + 2", as if the other two were throwaway. While it was true that he was the only original member, the final lineup was stable for over twenty years.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • Chris Benoit is a household name to wrestling fans yet the only thing mainstream audiences know about him is his murder-suicide case. It doesn't help younger fans that WWE has done all they can to erase him from history.
  • WCW was once on-par with WWE (then WWF) on the mainstream pro wrestling scene, but then they went out of business in 2001. While some things about it are common knowledge, such as Hulk Hogan's Face–Heel Turn, the New World Order storyline, a few high-profile matches and the catastrophic mismanagment that caused it to go out of business in the first place, there probably aren't very many wrestling fans under the age of 30 that have actually watched a WCW match, unless its due to Bile Fascination (since anytime the promotion is mentioned today, it's almost never with kindness) or they walked in on their parents' nostalgia trip.
  • Don't expect anyone who is not a Smart Mark to have seen ECW, the distant number three to WWF and WCW in the 1990s, and not many more have heard of it. The best one can hope for is maybe "that guy with the ponytail who was named after Jean-Claude Van Damme, and really did look a lot like him."

    Radio 
  • Radio dramas such as The Lone Ranger and Dragnet featured prominent adaptations in other media which have helped perpetuate the prominence of these franchises. While these show generally had high ratings as radio shows in their initial runs, syndication of these radio shows in later decades (after the 1960's) did not seem as prominent.
  • The Goon Show is hugely influential; it launched the careers of Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan, inspired most of the Monty Python team and their contemporaries, and codified many of the "zany Sketch Show" tropes. But does anyone actually listen to it much these days?
  • TheWarOfTheWorlds by Orson Welles is known for the famous panic attack that convinced people of New Jersey that a real alien invasion was imminent. Not many have actually heard the broadcast or appreciated how radical and revolutionary its use of sound and narrative is, or that it's a fairly faithful adaptation of H. G. Wells' book.

    Religion 
  • Christianity:
    • A lot of quotes are attributed to The Bible that are actually by others. Many people think certain sayings, such as "The Lord helps those who help themselves," or "Cleanliness is next to Godliness" are Biblical, when they really aren't.
    • Most people could probably summarise pretty well the first two books of the Bible — in other words, from Creation to Moses coming down from Mount Sinai with the Ten Commandments. What happens for the rest of the Old Testament, when exactly does Christianity cut off from Judaism. That part is much less well known.
    • And about that Creation story: most people don't tend to know off the top of their head that there are two accounts of creation, and most English-speaking Christians don't know that Noah's "two animals of each kind" were actually fourteen in one (canonical) verse.note 
    • Stuff like the Ten Commandments, and other parts of the Book, as well as the Christ-Narrative told in The Four Gospels and which parable and episode comes from which is a little obscure. Then there's the issue of translations, since the most widely known version of the Bible in the English Speaking World is the King James Bible, which modern Biblical scholars consider inexact as a translation, albeit accomplished as a work of literature and important for the influence on the English language.
  • For Judaism, there's the Talmud, a text that everyone is aware of but almost no one has actually read. Then again, just because this particular collection of jurisprudence is concerned with religious rather than secular law doesn't make it not a bunch of legal briefs.
  • Islam:
    • In a lot of countries, especially nations like India, and even parts of the West, it's quite a surprise that Islam is an Abrahamic religion, and that Muslims consider Jesus or Isa, one of their prophets. This is because on account of colonialism, Islam is considered an Eastern religion, within Asia and Europe, while Christianity, and to a lesser extent Judaism, is considered a Western religion, and the origins of Islam tends to blur those distinctions.
    • It's common to assume that the Quran is to Muslims what the Bible is to Christians or believe that Islam is similar to Christianity in practise and institutions. In actual practise, Islam in multiple societies tends to be far looser in doctrine and practise, having little in the way of organization and centralization common even in Protestant sects. As such there are not many Muslim adherents have read their Holy Book all the way through. ** In the case of the Quran, one must make a distinction between reading the Quran and understanding the Quran. You see, the Quran is conventionally read in Arabic, even in Muslim-majority countries where Arabic is not the local tongue. In Afghanistan in particular, this issue is compounded by the problem of widespread illiteracy. In rural Afghanistan, you can expect to find that the mullahs — that is, the people who are supposed to be interpreting the Quran for the local people — are illiterate themselves. For those who are curious, the three largest Muslim-majority nations: Indonesia, Pakistan and India are not Arabic nor do they have Arabic speaking Muslims.
  • Hinduism is one of the world's largest practising religions, and the only classical polytheistic religion still being practiced uninterruptedly (as opposed to Graeco-Roman and Norse paganism) having adherents that are more than a billion worldwide. Yet most in the West know very little about the religion, or its famous epics, and the few times Indian religion is represented in Western media, it's either in the context of British colonialist fiction (which is swallowed uncritically by Western Anglophilia) or something like Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom which is entirely inaccurate from beginning to end, or its conflated with Buddhism which has far less in common with it than say, Christianity has with Judaism.

    Tabletop & Card Games 
  • Call of Cthulhu is essentially the tabletop cultural shorthand for Total Party Kill, so the relative dearth of people that have actually played it is possibly more a matter of intentionally avoiding it than anything else.
  • Many gamers have heard of "Friend Computer" and "Commie Mutant Traitors," but few of them have actually played Paranoia.
  • For the public at large, Dungeons & Dragons and Magic: The Gathering. Everyone's heard of them, but non-gamers are unlikely to know anything about how the games are played and probably couldn't identify which one is which.
  • Rifts has been dubbed "the most popular game that no one plays." It has interesting world and cool artwork, so lots of gamers own a few of the books, but Palladium Books' Metaversal System is generally considered rather clunky, so few people actually play it.

    Toys 

    Video Games 
  • The entire gaming medium in general, and prominent Triple-A video games titles who have "name recognition" in particular (such as Grand Theft Auto, The Legend of Zelda, Assassin's Creed, Bioshock are more known about, or heard about, than actually played. Thanks to advertising, commericals, billboards, their brands are "known" to the general public who know they are games and you can play them, but they aren't actually widely played. The developer Patrice Desilets noted that as commercially successful as Grand Theft Auto V was, it pales when compared to James Cameron's Titanic in terms of audience reach:
    • Among the general public, if you ask people to name video games, or think about what they think of when they play games, they will usually think of arcade games of The '80s, Tetris or Super Mario Bros. and Sonic the Hedgehog. If they mention PC gaming, they will remember Doom. A large number of recent movies such as: Wreck-It Ralph, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World and the upcoming Ready Player One still focus on this era and as such most general audiences still think this classic bygone era represents all games, or that modern games are like that.
    • Unlike other media, like movies, books, TV, and music, video games can only be experienced provided people shell out additional money to have access to consoles, or in the case of PC, the appropriate graphical requirements (and of course some titles are console exclusives and so on, further straining accessibility). Mobile gaming which exploded in The New '10s, is the first real common platform, and it has a bigger active gaming audience on a sheer numerical headcount than console than AAA console titles with titles such as Temple Run being played by more people than say, Crash Bandicoot and Uncharted (both of which can be said to be in the same genre) but getting less critical commentary than both. While Pokémon Go has a bigger audience than any Pokemon title before it.
  • Thanks to No Backwards Compatibility in the Future, many early generation video game classics are relatively underplayed. This applies to titles like Metroid (1985-1986), or even games as recent as Final Fantasy VII (1997). Both Nintendo and Sony have taken some steps to avert this through the Virtual Console and the PlayStation Store respectively, but not all titles have been made available through these systems (most notably, EarthBound until April 2013). The growth of Digital Distribution and services like GOG.com that provide ports of retro games to modern operating systems has helped in recent years.
  • Metal Gear Solid was the PlayStation's Killer App. A heavy sense of Continuity Lockout, however, renders newer games' plots, in a plot-heavy game franchise, almost incomprehensible to newcomers. A lot of younger gamers only know Snake from Memetic Egoraptor parodies or Super Smash Bros. Brawl. Digital Distribution of older titles eases this somewhat, but there's still a time and money commitment for new fans.
  • Harvest Moon fans are quick to cite Harvest Moon 64 as the best game in the franchise, and as one of the better games on the Nintendo 64, but few fans have actually played it. Most fans began around Friends Of Mineral Town or later. It took a long time for the game to be released on Virtual Console and it is an expensive Nintendo 64 title, so Keep Circulating the Tapes was a problem for fans who wanted to play it.
  • Zero Wing entered the mainstream because of its hilariously bad translation of the intro...but very few people know anything about the actual gameplay, or have ever played the game itself.
  • Panzer Dragoon Saga at least was this. It was visible on many top 100 games lists and is considered to be the best game on the Sega Saturn, but many have not played it. It helps that only 10,000 copies were printed in the US, making it a hard find even then (although to be fair it fared better in Europe and Japan).
  • Ace Attorney has a large fanbase, but to the general public it's only known for Phoenix Wright and the Objection! meme. Good luck finding someone who isn't a fan that can name any character besides Phoenix Wright, or knows anything about the gameplay.
  • Tomb Raider is one of the few franchises known to the public and Lara Croft is a gaming icon with as much visibility and recognition as say Mario and Sonic, becoming an embodiment of the Male Gaze and a symptom of the adolescent tendencies of the gaming public. Yet relatively few have played the original Tomb Raider games that are known among gaming aficionados for their platforming and tricky puzzles as much as its polygon count, and the more critically regarded reboots (Tomb Raider (2013) and Rise of the Tomb Raider) which dial down the Male Gaze are likewise little played or less well known than Croft herself. Among non-gamers, Lara Croft is Angelina Jolie, and a good portion of the movie audience probably didn't even know her origins in gaming.
  • Platform-exclusives get this big time:
    • God of War, Uncharted, Bloodborne and other Sony exclusive games are widely known in gaming circles but are only played by those who have access to the Playstation consoles, or those few who can afford multiple consoles to play multiple games. The same applies to games like Wii Sports, Halo and other Nintendo and Xbox exclusives.
    • Even Nintendo's flagship titles are not immune to this. The most widely known and celebrated Mario and Zelda titles tend to be older, such as the 2D Mario Bros' and as for Zelda, it's still The Legend OF Zelda Ocarina Of Time which was the 3D Game. The reason is that each console generation gets more competitive than the last, and makes each new title more and more exclusive on account of Console Wars.
    • GoldenEye (1997) is considered a landmark first-person shooter released on the Nintendo 64 console and often shows up on the best-of lists. Yet most people who play FPS games are more familiar with other landmarks like Doom or Half-Life than that game.
    • Crysis is famous for its insanely high graphics, equally infamous for the insanely expensive PCs needed to run them, and that's about it. Conversations about Crysis that don't involve its graphics are rare, and Crysis is the go-to example to use for the "PC Master Race" in a forum argument. It's been described as "the only game that gets talked about more than it gets played".
    • The System Shock series is considered one of the best horror-themed shooters to be released on the PC. However, almost nobody has ever played the series prior to its rerelease on Steam and GOG in 2013. There are many reasons to why the series didn't achieve mainstream success from its PC-exclusivity to it's lack of physical copies since 2001. In fact, most are more familiar with its SpiritualSuccessors Bioshock (i.e. System Shock UNDER THE SEA) and Dead Space which were released on both PC and Consoles.
  • Chrono Trigger is one of the most beloved games on the SNES, as well as one of the most highly acclaimed RPG's of all time. While it sold an at-the-time respectable 300,000 copies in the US, its commercial success and mainstream recognition (read: recognition among casual gamers) aren't anywhere near its popularity with hardcore gamers and old-school JRPG fans.
  • The entire fighting game community knows Street Fighter II as the grandfather of fighting games, but it is relatively untouched by the younger generation.
  • Capcom's Darkstalkers has a cult following over the years, but is solely known for Morrigan Aensland, the sexier-than-sex succubus who has appeared in more crossover games than her own. Good luck finding someone who can name any other characters besides maybe Lilith, her moe sister or Felicia, a near-nude Cat Girl. Possibly Hsien-Ko as well due to her appearance in Marvel vs. Capcom 3. They probably won't know anything about the gameplay either. The series is Best Known for the Fanservice, and not much else.
  • The Bullet Hell genre is well-known for its displays of beautiful enemy-projectile art, and the notorious lengths to which Final Bosses, True Final Bosses, and Bonus Bosses will go on the hardest difficulties to push the player and the hardware to their limits; just look up videos of Touhou or CAVE Final Bosses on YouTube and you'll find some videos with hit counts of at least 7 digits showcasing the hardest bosses in various games. Perhaps because of the sheer intimidation factor, comparatively few are willing to actually play the games and get familiar with each game's specific quirks and gimmicks.
  • Kingdom Hearts. Most people remember that there was a video game back in 2002 that involved a bunch of spiky-haired anime characters palling around with Goofy, Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse, and a decent number of people remember playing that game. Considerably fewer people could actually tell you anything about the plot of the series past the first game, or name any of its many original characters (Sora, Riku, Kairi, Ansem, Xehanort, etc.). This is perhaps understandable, since the series' infamous Kudzu Plot can be rather alienating to newcomers, and (until very recently) you needed to own four different consoles and a smartphone to get caught up on the story. note 
  • Inverted with Casual Video Games. Series like FarmVille, Just Dance, Candy Crush Saga, and Wii Fit are played by millions of people worldwide and are amongst the most popular series out there. Despite this, video game fans and websites almost never discuss these games. If they do, it's usually either to complain about casual games or to talk about some kid who spent their parents cash on a free-to-play game. It doesn't help that few casual series have dedicated fandoms.

    Western Animation 
  • With the disappearance of nearly all western animation from North American television that's older than the late 90's or early 00's, even on channels dedicated to legacy programming like Boomerang (if they do air, it's during hours when most children are either asleep or in school), a great many classics, like Looney Tunes and the classic Disney shorts, have fallen into this. Kids used to familiarize themselves by watching them on TV, but with them gone, and with them hidden deep away on streaming services such that you need to actively hunt for them to find them, few kids today will have watched them directly, only seeing them on merchandise or as references by newer media.
  • Bambi gets this for similar reasons to Old Yeller. Everyone remembers the first half of the movie, or at least the iconic scene where Bambi's mother is killed and he leaves the forest with his father. What many people don't remember is the second half, in which Bambi returns to the forest as an adult and has to save the animals from a human-caused wildfire.
    • Maybe, if anything else comes to mind, Thumper reciting, "If ya can't say nuttin' nice...don't say nuttin' at all" is what most remember.
  • Betty Boop is more known today for appearing on merchandise than for appearing in short films. Ask anyone what Betty ever did in her cartoons, besides saying "boop boop a-doop" and getting stalked by horny old geezers, and you'll get a blank stare.
  • Casper the Friendly Ghost is a friendly ghost who doesn't want to scare others... and that's about it. Ditto Richie Rich who is known... for being rich.
  • Fantasia: Adjusted for inflation it's the fourth highest-grossing animated film ever, widely praised as a masterpiece of cinema and art, but not many people today can actually name a segment from it aside from "the Mickey Mouse part", "the one with the mushrooms", "the dancing hippos" and maybe "that scene with the devil guy".
  • Felix the Cat: One of the oldest, most iconic and enduring cartoon characters of all time. Yet, how many people under 30 have ever seen one of his cartoons of the silent era? Apart from that: how many people could actually tell you anything about Felix's personality? The reason the series even remains known is simply by the power of inertia, since the series is so firmly rooted in the public consciousness and animation culture.
  • Popeye the Sailor: People know that Popeye is strong, eats spinach, has a girlfriend named Olive Oyl and an archenemy named Bluto. They may also know that he has a friend named Wimpy who loves hamburgers and an adopted son named Swee'pea. They may not know that he starred in both a comic strip as well as over 200 short cartoons from the 1930s to the 1950s, much less be able to name any of them or tell you what happens in them outside of "he gets into fights".
  • Steamboat Willie: Most people know this is Mickey Mouse's first sound cartoon and the film that launched the Disney empire. The opening scene with Mickey whistling and steering the boat has since become the ident for Walt Disney Feature Animation early in the 21st century, but how many are familiar with the rest of the plot?
  • Woody Woodpecker: Everyone recognizes the character and can mimic his iconic laugh, but actually being able to name any of the side characters or stories is less easy. Many kids today seem to know him more from his association with the Universal Studios theme parks than from having watched his short films.
  • Yogi Bear: He is a bear who is smarter than the average bears, has a friend named Boo Boo and steals pick-a-nick baskets. That's about all the general public of today knows about these cartoons, and they know even less about his fellow Hanna-Barbera TV stars of The '60s onward such as Huckleberry Hound, Quick Draw McGraw, etc.
  • The Pink Panther: Once a very famous cartoon character thanks to the film franchise around Inspector Clouseau, but since no new movies in this vein are made and the old Pink Panther cartoons aren't shown on TV anymore (nor is his short-lived 1993 reboot), he is probably better known as some vague advertising character.
  • The number of people who've actually watched Donkey Kong Country for its plot likely pales in comparison to the number of people who know about the show due to its Fountain of Memes status, courtesy of its bizarre animation, zany quotes, and surprisingly catchy songs.

     Sports 
  • Cricket is a major sport in the Commonwealth, with its World Cup being the third largest sporting event after the FIFA World Cup and the Summer Olympics. In America, it is usually seen as a very slow game or seen as a quaint British past-time and colonial white-man game.
    • This is a major surprise to actual cricket fans since in international cricket, the English Team is widely considered a Paper Tiger that tend not to do well in major tournaments (having never won the World Cup)note . Likewise, some of the most famous teams in cricket history are the West Indies (an all-black team that won major titles in Test and ODI titles and set most of the records), while the International Cricketing authority inaugrated the first sporting boycott on apartheid South Africa in 1968-69 over their refusal to allow England's Basil D'Oliveira to play on tour. While in modern times, the biggest cricketing nations, and the line's share of viewership comes from the Indian Subcontinent, where cricket is played by street-kids across all villages and cities, and in numerical terms, is played by more people, and more non-white people, than Baseball and Basketball.
    • Part of the reason is that while Cricket is a major international sport it is only played by a small number of nations (for a long time it was 9, recently it has become 12), the fact that these nations include England, South Africa, Australia, the West Indies, and the very large population center that is the Indian Subcontinent allow it to punch far above its weight in terms of viewership and coverage, but with the exception of Australia and England, most cricket-playing nations aren't developed nations so they tend to be under-reported in global sports coverage, and the few cricketers that are known in the Anglophone, are from Australia and England.
  • Golf is a proverbial sport for rich people, politicians, and those with time on their hands. The Golf club is an Iconic Item (often used in movies as a weapon), and the most famous golfer is Tiger Woods but most people can't tell you the nuts-and-bolts aside from the fact that getting a hole-in-one is a big deal, since it's not as visually dynamic as other games (even Chess usually has opponents facing one another across a playing field).
  • Football or Soccer as Americans call it is the biggest game in the world, played by more countries and more people than anywhere in the world, and bigger than the Olympics, and yet from watching say American movies and TV Shows (which tend to be the biggest media in the planet), you often find little references to major players and events from the Football world. In America, the game is known if at all for the corruption scandal of FIFA and its president Sepp Blatter, and for the So Bad, It's Good United Passions film that became a proverbial Box Office Bomb.

    Other 
  • You could find fifty people with opinions about Roe v. Wade strong enough to provoke violence before you met a single one who'd actually read it. Or know what the ruling was actually about besides just "abortion". Or that there was a companion decision the same day called Doe v. Bolton which was just as influential if not more so.Summary 
  • Almost every single journal article about autism references Leo Kanner's original description of autism. Many of them go on to summarize his paper with comments that make it obvious that they haven't read it, such as claiming that he described low functioning autism (in reality, his subjects showed a wide range of ability, with one being clearly high functioning). Hans Asperger's article gets this a bit too, since no one seems to notice that modern criteria for Asperger Syndrome are noticeably different from his conception of the condition.
  • Unless you're talking to an actual Constitutional Law scholar, odds are that most people who talk about the Constitution and what different Amendments mean in different contexts have not actually read the entire document or can tell you what all the different Amendments are. This is also true for many European constitutions; you'd be lucky to find an average person on a German street who knows at least 3 articles on the Grundgesetz (the first and most important of them being "Human dignity is untouchable.")
  • Among language-learning circles, this trope tends to go for languages without a large speaker pool but that are tied to an oppressed or otherwise romanticized population. On language-learning websites, many users have languages like Basque, Irish, Ainu, Catalan, Icelandic, and Navajo in their "wanted" lists, or claim a low degree of proficiency, but never get any further because it's so difficult to find materials and, well, they don't really care that much.
    Navajo has less to do with the Navajo being romanticized—they're not, they essentially have no real presence to the rest of the world's consciousnessnote —and more to do with Navajo being a sampler of "weird" linguistic features. Learning Navajo is linguistics on Legendary, so people pursue knowledge of it for the sake of bragging rights.note 
  • There are many celebrities out there who often appear in tabloids, media, and TV shows, and whose faces and names will be recognized by many, despite most people not being able to actually explain why they are exactly famous. Socialites like Zsa Zsa Gabor, Paris Hilton and people who became well known due to just appearing a lot in the media without actually doing something for it are a good example. But the phenomenon can also be observed with other celebrities. Often people will recognize somebody and want an autograph or take a picture with him, despite the fact that they don't really know who this person is or what he is famous for. They just know him from somewhere. In some cases, they even confuse them with other celebrities.
  • Salvador Dalí once told a reporter that he didn't really feel like "the most famous painter in the world", because most people who encountered him did recognize him, but weren't sure "whether he was a singer, a film star, a madman or an author."
  • If you follow the news regularly, there are many people whom you might recognize as "a politician", but if they're not the head of state, it can often be tough to recall precisely who they are and what their official function is. For example, the only member of Barack Obama's cabinet that most people can name is John Kerry;
  • Anna Nicole Smith could have been an exception to the "socialite" stereotype above. Many forget that she was famous from the very beginning of her career, and not for showing up in the tabloids for no reason. She was Miss May for Playboy Magazine in 1992 and Playmate of the Year after that, and then became a model for Guess Jeans - despite being nearly 6 feet tall and weighing 150 pounds (making her the single tallest and heaviest Playmate in the magazine's 60+ -year history), and thus totally anathema to the "waif" models so popular in the 1990s. These were noteworthy accomplishments, relatively small though they were. But then her (much older) husband died, and the court battle for his estate overshadowed everything else...and then came the grotesque weight gain, and the reality show...
  • Lenny Bruce is universally acknowledged as the ur-figure of modern stand-up comedy. Every comedian points to him as the original "transgressive," anything-goes humorist whose seminal routines begat Richard Pryor, George Carlin, Steve Martin, Andy Kaufman, and everything else that differentiates modern stand-up from the days of Bob Hope & Danny Thomas.
  • La muette de Portici is one of the most recognizable opera's in Belgium ever due to its influence on the Belgian fight for independence. During the 20th and 21st century it was rarely performed there. Now pretty much everyone knows what it accomplished, but no one can tell what was in the opera to begin with.
  • Pinball as a whole. Everybody can recognize a pinball machine, with its iconic shape. Everybody can recognize the classic bells and chimes they emit.note  Everybody knows that when the ball comes back down, you push a button to engage a flipper to send the ball back up so it can bounce around things. But ask a random person on the street to name even one machine, and chances are they cannot. Sometimes, you'll get The Addams Family. On rare occasions, you'll get Terminator 2: Judgment Day or Jurassic Park. If anyone can name anything past that, then they're either 1) a pinball fan, 2) a trivia person, 3) saw a machine when younger and remembered it fondly, or 4) stumbled across a machine by accident and remembered its name. Because of the near extinction of arcades, pinball is notoriously difficult to find—even veterans who have been playing pinball for decades have trouble knowing where to find them—and so most people are unaware that pinball machines are still being designed and manufactured today, and by at least five companies.note 
  • Non-American media and media in another language tends to be under-reported simply because Global Ignorance filters everything by the perceptions and received ideas of Eagleland, who define the "global mainstream" rather than the regional and local mainstream of various nations:
    • The English language has a global population of 460 Million people, the population of China, and so the population of Mandarin speakers is more than a billion, and yet Chinese-language media and Chinese-language culture is far more obscure globally than even, Japanese-language media (whose population is barely a tenth of China's and is aging and shrinking moreover) to say nothing of Western-media.
    • Bollywood is one of the world's biggest movie industries and produces more movies on a yearly basis than Hollywood does, and it's big stars such as Shah Rukh Khan is the eighth highest paid actor in the world and listed by Newsweek as one of the fifty most powerful people in the world and he is famous across India which has a population of 1 billion plus (twice that of America's population), yet he's still obscure by global standards than say the up-and-coming cast of the latest Spider-Man movie.

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/MainstreamObscurity