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Pop-Cultural Osmosis Failure
Soujirou: Oh, back then, Bisonnote  was dressed up as Mike Tyson. Pretty cool.
Konata: Who's Mike Tyson?
(later that day)
Soujirou: Today, I felt the generation gap in a deep and very personal way.
Lucky Star Manga vol. 6

What was whose sled?

This is a subversion of Pop-Cultural Osmosis. When used in-universe, it's usually as a means of showing the difference between people from two different groups (usually generations) in which a character from Group A makes a pop culture reference (or mentions a famous person or movie or work) and one of four things happens:

  1. "Who's X?" — The person from Group B doesn't get it at all because of a failure of Pop-Cultural Osmosis. This seems to be the most common.
  2. "Oh, X! He was in Y, right!" — The person from Group B gets it wrong because of a failure of Pop-Cultural Osmosis (and he's guessing).
  3. "Wait, Y was based on a real X?" — The person from Group B gets it wrong because of a clash of Pop-Cultural Osmosis, and he's referencing something that referenced the original, referenced a reference of the original, etc.
  4. "Impressive, you know X... oh, you don't" — The person from Group B gets it wrong because of a clash of Pop-Cultural Osmosis, when person A is referencing something more recent (the reverse of 3).

This can happen because the person from Group B:

  • A) is a bumpkin or is otherwise cut off from modern pop culture;
  • B) is an outsider of the clique or subculture or is an immigrant or foreigner;
  • C) is old-fashioned and not knowledgeable of current popular culture;
  • D) is young and the bit of pop culture is (relatively) old;
  • E) is amusingly displaced from the time of origin;
  • F) simply is not familiar with a genre or a work;
  • G) the work itself is thought to be so popular that all who know it think it will be passed on through Pop-Cultural Osmosis — with the result that it isn't.
  • H) just is not interested in pop culture.

Note that A—F can go both ways (for example, someone too old to know Britney Spears or The Backstreet Boys may have fond memories of I Love Lucy or Herman's Hermits), and G is the natural conclusion of Pop-Cultural Osmosis, when even All There Is to Know About "The Crying Game" is forgotten (along with The Crying Game itself) except for the trope name itself, rendered a Non-Indicative Name.

This, by the way, is the reason character-named tropes are often renamednote . For example, if you're not familiar with original Sherlock Holmes tales, you won't know who Inspector Lestrade is; if not well-read in 19th-century French literature (or Broadway musicals), Inspector Javert may be unknown to you.

With the advent of cable television, the Internet, and more things to do in less time, this is becoming more and more Truth in Television. Most everyone in the US watched I Love Lucy because it was one of three television choices; not everyone watches American Idol because it's one of a thousand television choices (and hundreds of thousands of entertainment choices).

One of the many, many reasons for Not Self-Explanatory.

Compare Seinfeld Is Unfunny, Adaptation Displacement, Forgotten Trope, It's Been Done, Fleeting Demographic Rule, Recognition Failure, Pop-Culture Isolation, Informed Real Life Fame, Lampshaded the Obscure Reference, and Technologically Blind Elders.

Contrast: It Was His Sled, All There Is to Know About "The Crying Game", and especially Pop-Cultural Osmosis.


Examples

    open/close all folders 

Type 1

    Audio Drama 
  • In the Big Finish Doctor Who audio story Destiny of the Doctor: The Time Machine, the companion character, Alice Watson, is established early on as never having read fiction, even as a child, because she doesn't see the point in made-up things. Since the Eleventh Doctor's scattergun approach to conversation frequently covers fiction, and in particular he can't resist comparing her to Alice in Wonderland and Dr Watson, this is the result.

    Comic Books 
  • In Birds of Prey #1 (2010 series), Lady Blackhawk (a time traveller from World War 2) doesn't get a reference to "Putting the Band Back Together". However, she has been in the present long enough to understand one to Twitter.
  • Agent 355 from Y: The Last Man never gets pop culture references; at the end, when Yorick brings up Moonlighting he explains what it is "before you ask". In the Distant Finale, set 60 years after the rest of the story, when Yorick asks his young clone, if he knew that Elvis had a twin brother, he asks: "Who's Elvis?"
  • Using in-universe media, Transmetropolitan sees this happen to Spider Jerusalem. When a band comes up on the TV, he mentions an earlier musician that did the same genre better, then asks Channon if she's heard them:
    Channon: My dad liked him...
    Spider: Christ. Never tell me I'm old.
  • The Flash's Rogues sit around drinking beer playing the game of "which musician would you kill." The popular choice is apparently Abba, to which Axel, the young punk of the group replies, "Who's Abba?"
  • Two-Face once saw that one of his mooks was obliviously standing in the way of somebody he was trying to shoot. Two-Face asked him to get out of the way, saying he couldn't afford to lose any more Red Shirts. When the confused mook asked what that term meant, Two-Face incredulously asked him if he had ever watched Star Trek. When the mook said no, Two-Face called him too stupid to live and killed him on the spot.

    Comic Strips 
  • FoxTrot: In one strip, Jason is musing about winter and makes references to The Empire Strikes Back, The Abyss and Terminator 2; none of which mean anything to his father. Roger then remarks on how one particular cloud looks like Trigger. Which is strange, because in another strip, Roger said that he was a Star Wars fan when he was Jason's age. (The two strips appeared at least a decade apart, with Comic-Book Time seeing Roger and Andy's younger years having shifted forward with time.)

    Fan Works 
  • Rosario Vampire: Brightest Darkness: On two different occasions, a member of Tsukune's posse remarks on how their lives are becoming like a manga or an anime, to which Dark asks what a manga/anime is. Both times, the others just give him confused stares before letting the matter drop.
  • Frostbite: Eleya, a Bajoran, apparently has no idea what a Christmas tree is.
  • Emergence: Team RWBY finds themselves on Earth and are given shelter by some fans. There are occasional people who have never heard of the show.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Zombieland:
    • Little Rock doesn't know who Willie Nelson is, much to Tallahassee's horror.
    • Or who Bill Murray is, ALSO to Tallahassee's horror.
      Little Rock: Who's Bill Murray?
      Tallahassee: Alright, I've never hit a kid before. I mean that's like asking who Gandhi is.
      Little Rock: Who's Gandhi?
    • Also done in reverse with a hilarious scene where Little Rock is trying to explain the concept of Hannah Montana to Tallahassee, which crosses into Real Life, as that scene was, in fact, the two actors just talking as they left the camera running.
  • The Running Man:
    • "Who's Mr. Spock?"
    • Likewise, when Killian has to explain what Gilligan's Island was.
  • In Sister Act 2, Delores wants to hear her students sing, so she singles them out and has them sing "Mary Had a Little Lamb". One girl doesn't know it. Yet oddly enough, she does know the theme from The Love Boat. This is truth in television for a lot of first and second-generation immigrants.
  • Live Free or Die Hard: Generational differences are a major theme in this belated sequel, and so variations of this come up frequently. For instance, Justin Long's character fails to understand what "Fortunate Son" by Creedence Clearwater Revival is — to him, it's noise. (The writers and McClane are hit with Isn't It Ironic? here, but oh well...)
  • Armageddon: Owen Wilson's character says he hates when someone says Jethro Tull is the name of the lead singer. The psychiatrist asks back "Who is Jethro Tull?"
  • This exchange from Notting Hill:
    William: Is this your first film?
    Actress: Well... actually, it's my 22nd!
    William: Any favorites among the 22?
    Actress: Working with Leonardo.
    William: DaVinci?
    Actress: DiCaprio.
    William: Of course. And is... is he your favorite Italian director?
  • In How Do You Know, George tells Lisa how his mother left his father after watching Kramer Vs Kramer, but she's never seen the movie, and doesn't get why his story was supposed to make her see him in a different light.
  • Occurs in Jolly Roger: Massacre at Cutter's Cove when a character brings up Dirty Harry ("Dirty who?")
  • Dirty Harry also causes puzzlement in Red Heat.
    Ridzik: Captain Danko, congratulations. You are now the proud owner of the most powerful handgun in the world.
    Danko: Soviet Podbyrin, 9.2 millimeter, is world's most powerful handgun.
    Ridzik: Oh, come on, everybody knows the .44 Magnum is the big boy on the block. Why do you think Dirty Harry uses it?
    Danko: Who is Dirty Harry?
  • In I Am Legend, Anna doesn't know Bob Marley (but apparently knows his son Ziggy).
  • The Avengers: Fish out of Temporal Water Captain America has only a blank expression when Phil Coulson drops Stephen Hawking's name in a conversation. Used from the other perspective when Thor mentions an animal from Asgard that Coulson has clearly never encountered (Thor incorrectly assumed we had them on Earth, too). Later, Cap is happy when he gets a Wizard of Oz reference that is lost on Thor.
  • Subverted in Taken.
    Bryan Mills: Who's Beyoncé? (beat) Just kidding.
  • In Freaky Friday (2003), Tess (in Anna's body) complains that she "looks like Stevie Nicks." Anna replies, "Who's he?"
  • In Ted, John's ringtone for his girlfriend Lori is "The Imperial March". And even though that basically became a Standard Snippet for evil characters:
    Lori: Is that my ringtone? What is that? Cause it sounds negative.
    John: No. I-it's from The Notebook.
  • Denis Domaschke in Goodbye Lenin is a West Berlin amateur filmmaker showing off his talent to Alex Kerner, his East Berliner co-worker just after the fall of the Berlin Wall. He displays a wedding video he made referencing 2001: A Space Oddity - which Alex has never seen or heard of due to cultural isolation.
  • The World Of Henry Orient is about two young teenage girls, Valerie and Marian, who develop a crush on concert pianist Henry Orient. Valerie's mother finds out and gets Valerie into trouble, which Marian doesn't appreciate. Boothy brings up her own childhood crush on John Barrymore, and Marian asks, "Who's he?"
    Boothy: Excuse me, it's later than I think.
  • Many people over the age of 50 were reportedly upset when, in the year 2000, a survey was taken of younger moviegoers in which one of the questions asked them to name the film in which "Round up the usual suspects!" was uttered, and hardly any of them guessed right. In defense of the youngsters, though, many would naturally assume the quote was from The Usual Suspects.

    Literature 
  • This is both the title and the subject of Robert Cormier's Bunny Berigan — Wasn't He a Musician or Something?, much to the dismay of the Berigan fanboy who serves as the protagonist.
  • Crysis: Legion:
    Barclay grunts softly. "War of the Worlds."
    Gould blinks. "Huh?"
    "Nineteenth-century novel," Barclay says.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In a Scrubs episode, the Janitor tells Eliot that he changed the address in his personnel file to "1 Cemetery Lane" because Dr. Kelso keeps calling him "Lurch". Eliot just looks at him in polite incomprehension. He follows that up by stating it used to be "1313 Mockingbird Lane." When she doesn't get that either, he mutters "I'm old."
  • Community:
    • This conversation:
      Shirley: You remind me of Sam and Diane... I hated Sam and Diane.
      Anne: Who are Sam and Diane?
      Shirley: (furious) Okay, I get it! You're young!
    • Another example is when they are suggesting Abed change his personality:
      Abed: You're gonna Can't Buy Me Love me. You know, transform me from Zero to Hero, Geek To Chic?
      Troy: Ohhhhh, he wants us to Love Don't Cost a Thing him.
      Shirley: Ohhh!
      Troy: Can't Buy Me Love was the remake for white audiences.
      Shirley: That's so uncomfortable when they do that, I can't believe they didn't insult anyone.
      Jeff: Nobody here is Can't Buy Me Love-ing or Love Don't Cost a Thing-ing anyone... because we've all seen enough After School Specials — Fat Albert — to know that Abed only needs to be himself.
      Pierce: (anxiously chuckling) Sure glad there's no old people here — this conversation would probably be total gibberish to them!
    • Shirley gives bracelets that read "WWBJD" (What Would Baby Jesus Do?) to the others, who look puzzled — Pierce snorts "If this stands for 'What Would Billy Joel Do?' I'll tell you right now, he'd write another crappy song." and fist-bumps Troy, who shares a bewildered look with Annie.
  • Temperance "Bones" Brennan's Catch Phrase for virtually any Pop Culture reference: "I don't know what that means." (She notably did know who Stewie was when it came up.) She is sliding from Type 1 to Type 2, albeit slowly. In one episode, she tries to console Sweets (who's just broken up with his girlfriend) by offering to take him to the "bowling rink"....
  • LOST:
    • Sawyer constantly uses pop-culture references in his sarcastic quips and derisive nicknames. This backfires when he calls another character "Bobby", and specifies that he's referring to The Brady Bunch, only to get the response "What the hell is The Brady Bunch?" This exchange implies that the character grew up on the island and has little knowledge of the outside world.
    • Sawyer himself fell victim to this in a Season 6 episode where Hurley mentioned to bring someone "back from The Dark Side like Anakin", prompting a response of "Who the hell is Anakin?"... despite Sawyer having made Star Wars references before.
  • Quantum Leap:
    • Sam occasionally fails to get Al's pop-culture references, such as in "Glitter Rock", when he doesn't know who Pete Townshend is, leading to a Who's on First? exchange. This is mostly due to time-travel-related memory loss, although (as in this example) it might occasionally occur just because Sam is a huge nerd.
    • This gets Averted or even Inverted when the plot of the episode calls for it. One example is when Sam just happened to know Man of La Mancha by heart because he listened to it obsessively while building his time machine.
  • Angel :
    • The scene (which, not by chance, is similar to the Captain America example, above) where the green-skinned demon Host of Caritas reveals that his actual name is Lorne:
      Lorne: Though I generally don't go by that because — Green. (points to his face)
      Cordelia: Huh?
      Angel: (smiles) Right. Lorne Greene. (Cordelia and Wesley stare at him) Bonanza? Fifteen years on the air not mean anything to anyone here? Okay, now I feel old.
    • Holtz is warned about this when he's brought forward in time to the present day. He takes any strange references in stride:
      Recruit: So, what, you're going to go all Mr. Miyagi on me?
      Holtz: You will find that your modern pop culture references are lost on me.
    • A lot of the first season contains Cordelia mentioning an actress or show that no-one else has heard of, followed by one of Cordelia's rants about their lack of knowledge about current happenings in Hollywood, though Character Development means she grows out of it (for the most part).
    • In the fifth season episode "Shells," when the group is trying to figure out how Illyria escaped them so fast, Gunn mentions Jay Garrick, Barry Allen, and Wally West, all of which get him a blank stare from Angel.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Giles is unaware of Spider-Man or Jimmy Olsen. Spider-Man came out in America in 1962, when Giles would have been about 8, if we go by Anthony Head's age. Giles has likely heard of Spider-Man and Superman, but doesn't know any details about them. He never gave any indication that he read comic books/watched American cartoons as a kid, so there's no reason to suppose he's lying just to maintain his image as Stuffy British Man. (There's definitely reason to suppose he's lying about never having done magic prior to becoming Buffy's Watcher...) It also goes the other way as Giles has sometimes made references that have gone totally over Buffy's head.
  • Criminal Minds:
    • Apparently, Reid's never heard of the sitting in a tree song. He's also completely unaware of Twilight.
    • And then there's this:
      Rossi: This from someone whose favorite album is The Beatles' White Album.
      Hotch: Just because Manson liked it doesn't mean that it has to be ruined for the rest of us.
      Reid: That's why I stick to Beethoven. No chance of negative associations.
      (beat)
      JJ: ... really? You've never heard of a movie called A Clockwork Orange?
    • Subverted by Rossi, who knows Niko Bellic is a character from Grand Theft Auto.
  • Corner Gas:
    • When Emma delivers wise words to her son Brent, he tells her, "You're like Yoda." Emma replies, "I don't know what that means."
    • And Emma again, explaining that Brent's father is a "Trekkie" (i.e., he's a fan of Neil Diamond).
  • Happens all the time in The Big Bang Theory with Penny not getting the geeky references.
    • In one episode, Penny sees failure while asking some regular pop-culture questions to Sheldon and Leonard ("Singer who sang 'Oops!... I Did It Again'?"). Best summed up by:
      Penny: Tweety Bird tawt he taw a what?
      Sheldon: Romulan?note 
    • Sheldon will often not get references of popular subjects he deems to be beneath him.
      Sheldon: I know everything about the universe.
      Penny: What is Radiohead?
      Sheldon: (pause) I know everything important about the universe.
    • Occasionally subverted, such as the episode in which Sheldon found himself in an unwinnable situation and inevitably compared it to the Kobayashi Maru. After mentioning that James Kirk was the only person who ever beat the scenario, he was quite surprised when Penny responded with "Yeah, but Kirk cheated."
  • In the All in the Family episode "Archie and the Computer", Mike complains about the increasing role of computers in society:
    Mike: Pretty soon, we're not gonna be names, just numbers! It's 1984!
    Archie: Eh, shut up, you don't even know what year it is!
  • In the Doctor Who episode "The Empty Child", set during the Blitz, Rose jokingly refers to the Doctor as "Mr. Spock". Jack doesn't get the reference and initially assumes that it was the Doctor's name. It's later revealed he's a conman from the future (the 51th century), but it's still not surprising Star Trek reruns wouldn't last that long.
  • Star Trek:
    • Happens a lot due to the various alien races interacting with a mostly human main cast. The largest examples are Data's various failures in Star Trek: The Next Generation and Kira being frustrated several times by Sisko's references to baseball and never having heard of Captain Kirk in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
    • And TNG's "Darmok", in which Picard has to deal with aliens who communicate by exchanging (their) pop-culture references — none of which Picard has heard of.
    • There are numerous examples across the franchise of modern day objects being completely lost on the characters in the future, suggesting that either the Third World War wiped most of the records or that the Federation's grasp of history is incredibly poor.
  • Stargate SG-1:
    • Before he ends up Going Native in the later seasons, most of the human pop-culture references are frequently lost on Teal'c. Amusingly inverted in "Seth", when Teal'c begins laughing hysterically after telling a popular Jaffa joke, which is completely wasted on his human teammates.
    • In the episode "Bad Guys", Cameron suggests that the inept museum guard believes himself to be John McClane, which Daniel doesn't understand. Surprisingly it's Teal'c, who is not even from Earth, who simply explains "Die Hard".
    • Vala also regularly complains about her teammates using Tau'ri pop-culture references, which she never get. This is especially directed towards Mitchell, an allusion to both Claudia Black and Ben Browder's prior roles in Farscape, where the latter would frequently confuse his alien shipmates with human pop-culture references.
  • Stargate Atlantis:
    • Comes up twice, both time involving Neil deGrasse Tyson and Dr. Keller. First, in "Trio", Colonel Carter uses Brian Greene and Neil deGrasse Tyson in a game of "Who would you rather?", explaining to Keller that she chose physicists who were on TV so Keller should know them (she doesn't). A season later, in "Brain Storm", Tyson introduces himself to Keller and adds "from television" when she seems confused.
    • Dr. Lee comparing the McKay-Carter Intergalactic Gate Bridge to "The Twilight Bark", only to get blank stares and be forced to explain that 101 Dalmatians is his kids favourite film. He then changes his comparison to the lighting the beacons scene from The Return of the King which everyone does get.
  • Stargate Universe:
    • Played with when no-one responds to Eli's suggestion to name the ice-planet "Hoth" after The Empire Strikes Back. Young's continued glare makes it clear that rather than not understand the reference, he wasn't in a joking mood.
    • In "Time", Rush's flippant declaration that "For a moment there, I thought were were in trouble" before jumping through the malfunctioning gate is completely lost on Eli (in two timelines). It's Young who explains it's a reference to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and the Bolivian Army Ending.
  • In one episode of How I Met Your Mother, Robin mentioned several Canadian celebrities in a row, none of which her friends knew about.
    Barney: What's the opposite of name dropping?
  • In the Seinfeld episode "The Stranded" Elaine quotes the line "Maybe the dingo ate your baby?" from A Cry in the Dark. The woman she's saying it to doesn't get the reference.
  • Monk:
    • In "Mr. Monk and the Foreign Man", the African visitor compares a situation in a laundromat to Friends. Monk assumes that it is an African TV program.
    • Also, in "Mr. Monk Gets Lotto Fever", Natalie tries to teach Monk that their friendship is comparable to Simon and Art Garfunkel, to no avail as Monk is unfamiliar with the duo, mistaking Garfunkfel for Garfield and for a carbuncle.
  • Castle: In "Last Call", the eponymous character is quite disappointed when nobody gets his Jaws reference:
    Beckett: Any chance he [the Victim of the Week] went overboard?
    Lanie: Classic indicators point to deliberate blunt force, so I'd say no. This was no boating accident.
    Castle: Then we'd better close the beaches.
    (Beckett and Lanie stare at him blankly)
    Castle: No boating accident? Chief Brody? Hooper?
    (they still don't get it)
    Castle: Seriously?
  • A bit character in NCIS thought one of his employees was childish for being into video games; said employee apparently ran a Skyrim message board in his spare time. After he insults McGee by assuming (correctly) that he's into dweeby role-playing games, McGee responds, "I used to, but then I took an arrow to the knee." The guy looks confused and glances at McGee's legs.
  • In Fringe, Olivia doesn't get Peter's reference to crossing the streams.
  • Supernatural:
    • Castiel, as he is a Literal-Minded angel, much to Pop-Cultured Badass Dean's annoyance. From an episode that deals with Cartoon Physics:
      Dean: It's wabbit season.
      Castiel: I don't think you pronounced that correctly.
    • In "The Song Remains the Same" Castiel doesn't understand Dean's Fatal Attraction reference to how Anna has "gone Glenn Close". When Dean makes a Delorean reference to them traveling back in time, Castiel curtly informs him he doesn't know what that means either. When they're back in The Seventies, where Anna plans to kill Sam and Dean's parents to prevent them from being born, Dean points out that they can't use The Terminator to explain things to mom and dad, because that movie hasn't come out yet.
    • A later episode has Sam, Dean and Cas try to stop a series of deaths that are based on cartoon physics, which Castiel completely unable to grasp. When he watches a few episodes of Looney Tunes he crosses into a type 2 as he comes to the conclusion that Road Runner is an allegory for man's relationship with God.
  • In The Nanny episode "Material Fran", when Maggie talks to Fran about going to a concert with her boyfriend:
    Maggie: Fran, I need a favor. Billy Harper wants to take me to a concert.
    Fran: Oh, great, what concert?
    Maggie: You wouldn't know them...
    Fran: Maggie, how old do you think I am?
    Maggie: The Stone Temple Pilots?
    Fran: I'm 100...
  • In Farscape Crichton frequently makes pop culture references to aliens, who naturally have no idea what he's talking about and due to lack of entertainment, don't even grasp the concept of pop culture. Moya's crew learns to just accept that he spouts gibberish, but early on it was a major contributor to their view of him as a useless lunatic.
  • In many 90s sitcoms such as Growing Pains, whenever the name Stan Lee came up, someone always asked "Who's that?". In one episode, Kirk Cameron's character met Stan Lee to show him his comic book art. Lee responded: "This is very good, but why show this to me?" Kirk's character asked "Aren't you Stan Lee, the famous comic book guy?" Lee responded that he wasn't. But he was Stan Lee, the owner of a company called Lee's Carpets. This Stan Lee wasn't played by the famous one and it's also odd that Kirk's character would mistake a namesake for the more distinctive Stan Lee already known to geeks. But then, at the time, the general audience didn't know any better.
  • Similar to the example from Castle above, there's an episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. where the team comes across the victim of a Chitauri virus:
    Skye: Phys-Ed teacher at the local high school and varsity baseball coach and troop leader and volunteer firefighter. This guy makes Captain America look like "The Dude". (blank stares from Coulson and Ward) The Big Lebowski? (more blank stares) Seriously?
  • On one of the black-and-white segments on Once And Again, Grace gushes about Judy (her aunt) and how, when she was younger, she was involved with a Doobie Brother - "whatever that is".
  • Louis from Suits often fails to pick up on the two main characters constant pop culture references to movies like Top Gun. In this case he's not totally clueless, he just has different tastes. It goes both ways since when he makes a Chariots of Fire reference in an attempt to establish a rapport with Mike, he has no idea what he is talking about.
  • Warehouse 13 shows Myka has no knowledge of music or movies within the last 50 years. Early episodes have her just admitting she doesn't know what her partner is talking about but later episodes have her trying and failing to have more up to date references.
    Myka Bering: If we don't bag this artifact soon, Pete here is hopping the stairway to heaven.
    Pete Lattimer: It's... buying... BUYING the stairway to heaven.
  • In You're The Worst, Lindsay and Edgar have vastly different reference pools:
    Edgar: In your relationship with Gretchen, are you the Mary Tyler Moore or the Rhoda?
    Edgar: Okay, uh, flipping out on-on Bravo... are you the Jeff Lewis or the-the Jenni We Don't Know Her Last Name?
    Lindsay: Oh, my God! I am totally the Jenni "We Don't Know Her Last Name". Actually, I do... it's Pulos. I'm a big fan.
  • In the third season premiere of Veronica Mars, when Veronica and Piz tell Moe (Piz's resident adviser) that Piz's stuff was stolen, Moe responds, "Frak, that blows." They have no idea what he means.

    Music 
  • In the Weezer song "El Scorcho", the singer sees this as another attractive trait of the girl he's wooing: "I asked you to go to the Green Day concert. You said you'd never heard of them. How cool is that?"
  • Kenny Chesney asked for a line in his 2005 hit "Summertime" to be changed because it mentioned snow cones, and he had no idea what they were.

    Pro Wrestling 
  • Vince McMahon apparently doesn't watch TV very often. He didn't understand that Scott Hall's Razor Ramon gimmick was a homage to Scarface (1983) and thought he made it up himself. He also didn't understand that Paul Burchill's pirate gimmick was a homage to Pirates of the Caribbean. Though according to other reports, Burchill's gimmick happened because he did see Pirates of the Caribbean and liked it, but at the same time the gimmick was apparently dropped because Vince didn't see Pirates of the Caribbean, so who knows?
  • Wrestling fans in general are often accused of living in what's called the Wrestling Bubble. Notable examples include an infamous call where wrestling writers Dave Meltzer and Bryan Alvarez failed to notice the reference when someone asked them about Bret Hart purchasing a mansion owned by Montomgery Burns and treated it as fact as well as Pitbull's appearance on Raw leading to much confusion about who he was despite being a massive musical star.

    Puppet Shows 

    Video Games 
  • In Final Fantasy XIII, Vanille doesn't know who the Primarch of Cocoon is. Sazh has to explain, after wondering aloud if she fell asleep during History or something.
  • In Mass Effect, Liara doesn't get the reference when Kaidan jokes that it's always best to RTFM before pushing buttons. She also is completely bewildered by Joker's habit of, well, joking about life and death situations as a result of spending all her time alone in Prothean ruins and being incredibly socially awkward and naive.
  • Ellie from The Last of Us provides Justified and Downplayed examples. She was born six years after a Zombie Apocalypse kicked humanity back to pre-industrial scavenger levels. As such, while Ellie has a smattering of knowledge of comic books and video game characters, she doesn't know about pizza or ice cream. She also looks very puzzled when another character drops Bobby Fisher in conversation. In Left Behind, another scene with a cassette player implies that she cannot connect music genres to decades, and let's not forget:
    Ellie: What's a... Face-book?
    Riley: Maybe it... Prints our faces in a book?
  • The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim:
    • In addition to the various Cultural Posturing between the races that live there, many aspects of Nordic culture are completely lost on those from outside of Skyrim, such as the legend of the Dragonborn.
    • There can lead to an amusing moment if the Empire wins the Civil War, when General Tullius' epic defeat of Ulfric ends up being mildly thwarted by his own ignorance about the people he's spent most of the past year fighting for and against.
      Tullius: Well, Ulfric, you can't escape from me this time. Any last requests before I send you to... to wherever you people go when you die?
      Legate Rikke: (helpfully)... Sovngarde, sir.

    Web Comics 
  • Pv P: This strip. Explanation, in case you don't get it either.
  • Gunnerkrigg Court:
    • Annie barely knows anything about pop culture because (as we learn elsewhere) she grew up in a hospital.
      Kat: Welllll, he's not perfect! I mean, he thinks The Prodigy's "Fat of the Land" is better than "Music for the Jilted Generation".
      (Antimony thinks about this for a panel)
      Antimony: I have no idea what you just said.
    • Antimony is similarly confused when Kat refers to "the Princess Mononoke look you got going on!"
  • El Goonish Shive:
    • The comic has this happen with Grace when confronted with a Santa look-alike. Of course, this is someone who was cut off enough from society to ask the question "World War Two?! How many have we had!?"
    • Another example:
      Raven: Have you considered Mount Doom? I'm sure we could rustle up some sacrificial hobbits...
      Abraham: I... What?
      Raven: Mount Doom? A fictional volcano? How dare you survive to this age and not get that reference.
    • And again, same story:
      Damien: Who are you?
      Elliot: Tell me your name, horse master, and I will tell you mine.
      Damien: Horse master?

    Web Original 
  • TV Tropes: This is the reason that many tropes named after characters got renamed (for example, Bugs Meany Is Gonna Walk to Conviction by Contradiction.)
  • Whateley Universe: Phase, being a Fish out of Water, often fails to get the anime and cartoon jokes that his teammates make (he has had to sneak away and search for the reference on the Internet), while his teammates sometimes don't get his jokes (because classical literature jokes go over so well with high schoolers).
  • In ScrewAttack's review of the 16-bit adaptation of Judge Dredd, Stuttering Craig claimed he'd never heard of the original comic and was going by the movie.
  • The (original) series finale of Doug Walker's The Nostalgia Critic review show was heavily inspired by the series finale of Star Trek: The Next Generation titled "All Good Things...", and was intended to convey to the audience that the show had run its course and was ending. Now this is fine, except for the fact that a good majority of Walker's fan base had never seen the episode before and thought it was just another review. The Critic character's death a couple of months later in the film To Boldly Flee left enough viewers shocked and confused that Walker had to film a short v-log explaining that, yes, the series was over.

    Western Animation 
  • Xiaolin Showdown :
    • Much of the humor is derived from the fact that Omi has lived his entire life in the Xiaolin temple with virtually no exposure to the outside world, meaning that he usually has no clue what the other characters in the show are talking about.
    • Later in the series, Omi will frequently attempt to make a pop culture reference or use a common figure of speech but badly misword it, prompting another character to correct him, only for Omi to misinterpret the actual reference.
      Omi: (taunting the villain) Defeating you will be a piece of pie.
      Clay: Cake, you mean a piece of cake.
      Omi: Cake? This is no time for food.
    • In one instance, Omi miswords one of his attempted references so badly that none of the other characters can figure out what he was actually trying to say.
  • Family Guy:
    • Brian once took Frank Sinatra, Jr. out club hopping, where his attempts to flirt with one vapid young woman fall completely flat because she doesn't recognize any of the names Sinatra keeps dropping. Brian has to intervene and stop the increasingly frustrated Sinatra from backhanding the girl.
    • Brian himself has this happen when he attempts to hit on another vapid girl, mentioning that he's an author. It falls flat as the girl appears to have no idea what books are, leading Brian to resort to explaining that it's like the Internet made out of a tree.
  • In American Dad!, Stan's repeated bafflement at things Steve mentions probably is the reason they haven't bonded well. In one episode the family learns that Stan's been secretly restoring a DeLorean for years; Steve keeps dropping references to Back to the Future on the assumption that Stan's a fan, but he isn't (and specifically says he dislikes time travel-based comedies) and just gets annoyed at Steve's quotes.
  • In a 2011 The Simpsons episode, when Cheech and Chong are making a reunion tour — ironic considering The Simpsons ran throughout the '90s, but Comic-Book Time may apply:
    Bart: Who the hell are Cheech and Chong?
    Homer: Cheech and Chong were the Beavis and Butt-Head of their day!
    Bart: Who are Beavis and Butt-Head?
  • Archer:
    • While Archer is generally so Reference Overdosed that most of the other people in his team don't always follow him (it's likely Archer has Autism or Asperger's Syndrome, considering the obscurity of some of his pop-cultural references), this is a constant source of friction between Archer and Ron, the former being amazed at what Ron hasn't seen and the latter being annoyed at Archer's Reference Overdosed way of speaking.
    • Oddly, Archer himself does this in one episode. In "Space Race Part II" Lana says the space station they're on is like Animal Farm. Archer thinks she's talking about a literal farm with animals. He's read the book, but doesn't make the connection with the situation they're in. The rest of the ISIS team is astounded that he of all people doesn't get the reference.
  • In Young Justice, Artemis is unfamiliar with various nursery rhymes and fairy tales. Her father was neglectful and made her spend her childhood training to be a fighter instead of normal girl stuff.
  • In the Max Steel episode "Sphinxes", Max and Rachel explore an Egyptian tomb and get attacked by monsters. After fighting them off, Max notices they are robots, and deduces criminals are pulling a Scooby-Doo Hoax. Rachel doesn't understand what he means. He groans and briefly explains Scooby-Doo to her.

    Real Life 

Type 2

    Anime & Manga 
  • In A Certain Magical Index, Index is shown watching a Magical Girl anime, and applying her rather warped world view to it. For one thing, she doesn't seem to understand that it's fiction; she assumes the protagonist goes through a Transformation Sequence to hide from the witch hunters of the Roman Catholic Church, but gets hung up on the blatantly wrong symbology and magic.

    Films — Animation 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • From Armageddon:
    A.J.: Have you ever heard of Evel Knievel?
    Lev: No, I never saw Star Wars.
  • Live Free or Die Hard: When John McClane finally gets to "Warlord"'s place, his reluctant ally tries to pass him off as another of the culture, which fails fast. Notable is when McClane fails to recognize a cutout of Boba Fett and tries to cover it by saying he's only familiar with Star Wars. (McClane's smirk seems to suggest he's just screwing with "The Warlord" with that one.)
  • In Waxwork, one of the young people asks if the Phantom of the Opera figure's mask is the original from the movie, and the owner is surprised that someone made a movie about the Phantom. It's implied that the owner is not merely pop-culture clueless, but that he knows the Phantom actually existed in the movie's Verse and is amazed Hollywood would resort to filming his tale.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Tony on NCIS is a major movie buff and is constantly quoting movies. In one episode he loses his voice from overexertion. Ducky throws his quoting habit back in his face with, "Your ego's writing checks your body can't cash."
    Ziva: Oh, I know that one! Um, Gone with the Wind!
    Tony: (cringes and groans)
  • A Running Gag in Scrubs is that J.D. refuses to admit he knows nothing about sports, so when other characters make sports references he tries to join in and gets them completely wrong.
  • This exchange from The West Wing:
    Mandy: That bill was our coming out party. We were gonna have the stage for a month! It was our Nessun Dorma!
    Staffer #1: What the hell's Nessun Dorma?
    Staffer #2: It's an Italian opera by Wagner.
    Mandy: It's Puccini. Wagner's German, and you're a moron.
  • On The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, when Will and Carlton are trying to pawn Aunt Viv's tennis bracelet, Carlton tries to get more money by telling the pawn shop owner, Agnes, it belonged to Catherine the Great. She thinks he's referring to somebody completely different:
    Agnes: 200 dollars.
    Carlton: For an ordinary bracelet, but not okay for one that formerly belonged to Catherine the Great.
    Agnes: The one-armed chick that works the corner of Hollywood and Vine? She a class act. Okay, $300.

    Music 
  • Fountains of Wayne's "I'll Do the Driving" includes an example, although the subject of the song makes the mangled reference without any prompting:
    We're out, the jukebox plays "Jumping Jack Flash"
    She says "I love Johnny Cash, the man in red"
    I turn my head and pretend not to hear what she said

    Web Comics 
  • An exchange in Angel Moxie:
    Mr. Kyokasho: Well, you know Doogie Howser?
    Tristan: What's that? A kind of meatloaf?

    Web Original 
  • In After Hours, Daniel is the nerdiest of the four characters, and apparently knows nothing about sports, which is lampshaded.
    Katie: Careful. Daniel doesn't follow sports terms.
    Daniel: We're supposed to follow sports "terms"? I've been saying "teams".
  • YouTube Comment Reconstruction #5 - based on an actual comment thread - suggests that a lot of people reacted to the death of Nelson Mandela by getting him mixed up with Morgan Freeman. After the misapprehension is corrected, it transitions into a Type 1.
    RIP Nelson Mandela. You were a great actor, and Bruce Almighty is my favourite ever film, and I think you were what God is actually like.

Type 3

    Fan Works 
  • Happens in-universe in Ultra Fast Pony.
    • In "The David Bowie Drinking Game" (which, true to its name, is loaded with David Bowie shout outs), Spike says that Rarity was kidnapped by "scary monsters and super creeps!" Twilight corrects him: "It's scary monsters and nice sprites!" Everyone else is aghast at Twilight's ignorance, and at the episode's end Twilight admits that she has no idea who Bowie is.
    • In "The Longest Episode", Pinkie shares her The Lord of the Rings Self-Insert Fic, and her audience tells her that she's ruining a classic book. Pinkie is shocked to realize that "There's a book of Lord of the Rings?"

    Live-Action TV 
For those who are unfamiliar with these artists (due to age, musical taste, or geography), they have similar artistic styles, but Springsteen is much more famous around the world, and particularly in the US.

    Music 

    Print Media 
  • In its episode guide to Lois and Clark, SFX magazine explains that Perry's anonymous source Sore Throat (who actually refers to the line "Follow the money" at one point), is a parody of Deep Throat... from The X-Files.

    Video Games 
  • Counter-Strike servers often added the Unreal Tournament "Headshot!" "Multi kill!" "Killing spree!" etc. sound effects. This became such a wide-spread practice, however, that many modders, unaware of the now-less-popular game, refer to them as "CS" sounds when they add them to other games. This expanded to the point that Valve, the company that made Counter-Strike, used the Unreal Tournament announcements in the beta of their newer game, Dota 2.

    Web Original 
  • In Linkara and Spoony's crossover review of Warrior #1, Spoony mocks the Ultimate Warrior's disjointed speech patterns by quoting Col. Campbell's infamous line from Metal Gear Solid 2 near verbatim (only adding a "Hoak Hogan" to keep with the theme). Months afterward, TGWTG fans who apparently never played MGS2 would often spout "I need scissors! 61!" when talking about the Ultimate Warrior, as if believing the line only came from that review.

    Real Life 

Type 4

    Comic Books 

    Live Action TV 
  • Jeremy Clarkson once dodged a forfeit on QI through this trope: He answered the question "what has twenty legs, five heads, and can't reach its own nuts?" with a Boy Band that was too old for the QI elves to have listed it (namely, Westlife). Upon being informed that the trope was in play, co-panelist Jimmy Carr then forfeited on purpose with a more recent addition.

    Music 
  • This is very common when a cover or parody of a song becomes popular.
  • From the comments on YouTube, it appears that many think that "The Devil Went Down to Jamaica" is the original and "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" is the parody.

    Web Comics 

Various

    Web Original 


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