"Steve learned the hard way that all his jokes for TV had to be about events that had been made much of by TV itself, and very recently. If a joke was about something that hadn't been on TV for a month or more, the watchers wouldn't have a clue, even though the laugh track was laughing, as to what they themselves were supposed to laugh about."
On the subject of contemporary music, film, television, and (to a lesser extent) sports, television characters can comfortably mention all kinds of people, expecting that most, or at least enough, of the audience will know whom they're talking about. On most other matters, however, their world becomes very small; TV producers fear any comment that might ever go over anyone's head, and thus only the most obvious and world-renowned people and things are allowed a mention.
It's worth noting that a major work of pop culture can completely turn one subject around and make it a free-for-all. For instance, before Jurassic Park, many people had only heard of maybe three or four types of dinosaur. Afterwards everyone could suddenly discuss velociraptors and dilophosaurs as though they'd known about them since childhood. The works of Leonardo da Vinci got a similar treatment thanks to Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code.
What is obscure varies depending on time and place. Shows from the late 70s/early 80s assume that the viewer knows about Ayatollah Khomeini but one can't assume the same anymore, while references to certain American personalities in Family Guy or Robot Chicken will fly over the heads of viewers from elsewhere.
One notable case where all these qualms about obscurity get thrown out the window is the Celebrity Star. It's much easier to get a guest who's "famous" than one who's actually well known. If a band makes an appearance, most of the characters will suddenly become fans, no matter how obscure or washed up the band really is — which can also lead to such hilarious situations as the City Mouse suddenly liking country music or the wholesome, mostly white, Dom Com family all loving a rapper who is not normally known for being family friendly. Likewise, B- and C-list actors are all suddenly big stars when they walk onto a TV show and everyone will know them by their real names.
Musical examples of these are often used as Standard Snippets.
Nothing But Hits and Small Taxonomy Pools are sub tropes. See also Weird Al Effect, Public Medium Ignorance, Cultural Cross Reference, Popcultural Osmosis, Eiffel Tower Effect, Everybody Knows That. A specific version is the self-explanatory universal Geek Reference Pool. Contrast Genius Bonus.
During time travel encounters, all events of historical importance after 1900 happened in America (Or possibly Germany, but only if there are Nazis involved.) Before 1900 all events of historical importance, or at least those not in America, happened in England, Rome, or occasionally Greece.
Every event of historical importance that took place in the U.S. between 1800 and 1900 took place in one city.
This mostly shows up on a cultural level: people will be aware of the dance styles of the culture they grew up in, and that's it.
For Americans, dance is the Waltz, the Tango (only because it was once banned for obscenity), Ballet (which began and ended with Tchaikovsky), and maybe hip-hop/street dance. In areas with a large Latin American population, there may be awareness of dances like Salsa, Samba, and Rhumba as well.
For those special occasions, it's always a bottle of Champagne.
When demonstrating that you can pick the perfect wine to pair with your meal, it's always Bordeaux or Chianti.
Red or white.
Harold Ross, founder of The New Yorker magazine, would write "Who he?" on the copy whenever one of his writers used a name without explaining who the person was. He said that there were only two names you can assume everybody knows: Sherlock Holmes and Harry Houdini.
Anyone who has never taken a martial arts class always assumes that if it's done by Asian people, it's karate. Occasionally, they may call what they're seeing tae kwon do or kung fu, the two other widely taught martial arts (even though there are many, many kinds of kung fu). Also, many people don't even realize that Tai Chi is a martial art and not just a hippy exercise routine (hippies included!). The popularity of Mixed Martial Arts has exposed more people to jiu jitsu and muay thai, but not much beyond that.
And all martial arts are Chinese or Japanese. Except capoeira.
Krav maga has been getting mentioned more often lately. The fact that it's an Israeli martial art? Not so much.
In this article, a teacher of English at a 'college of last resort' mentions that the only movie he can count on every one of his students being familiar with is The Wizard of Oz.
Dutch is not the same thing as Deutsch and no, the Dutch probably don't know why it's called Dutch if they're from the Netherlands because it's an English invention to call them the Dutch. The Dutch call themselves Nederlanders from Nederland that speak Nederlands. A good way to make a Dutchman angry is to say their language is "Just like German!" despite the numerous, numerous differences.
All Marxism is a crude pastiche of Leninism, Stalinism, and/or Maoism. Luxemburgism, Left Communism, Marxist Humanism, Council Communism, Eurocommunism, Trotskyism, Situationism, and all the other various forms, many quite vehemently against the tendencies that began with Lenin, don't exist.
Not only that but even if you tell people (especially in the US) about them, they refuse to believe they are any different from Leninists, Stalinists, etc.
Lenin himself is often mixed up with Stalin. In truth, Lenin's policy differed strikingly from Stalin's and Lenin fiercely opposed Stalin's line in his final years, telling his supporters to get rid of Stalin as the man was starting to scare him. (Insert Ominous Latin Chanting) After Lenin's death, then again, Stalin loved to imply that he and Lenin had been great friends.
Although much of what is now called "Stalinist" actually started with Lenin. Stalin's main additions were the cult of personality, adoption of supposedly "rightist" attributes (patriotism, pre-revolutionary military dress) and considerable paranoia. Things like the secret police, political repression, and prison camps all came from Leninism.
Albeit in a wartime context: during the later part of Lenin's rule, things eased up under the NEP.
Someone can actually be the CEO of a business and still be a Marxist (albeit quite a cynical one). All it means to be a Marxist is that someone accepts Marx's theory of capital as laid out in Das Kapital. Amongst Marxists the best way to get there (or even if there even ought to be any active attempts to get there) is open to debate.
Also, don't expect anyone to realise that the USSR was never, in fact, communist. While it adhered to a communist ideology as an ideal, it never achieved communism.
The most important facet of Fascism is racial and national persecution as well as the notion of the race purity. Fascism was also founded by Adolf Hitler and the only fascist country was the Third Reich.
Maybe Italy if you're lucky, but only as somewhere for Mussolini to come from. Nothing ever happened in Fascist Italy!
Notably averted with Life Is Beautiful, a movie about an Italian Jew that starts off comedic and ends heart-wrenching.
It's ironic that "fascist" is synonymous with "racist" since Mussolini's movement didn't have an explicitly racist ideology. Mussolini didn't even believe in Hitler's ethnic cleansing since the Italian dictator felt that non-European peoples should be conquered and "converted" to European culture (which made his ideas little different from 19th century imperialists); it was Hitler who introduced the ideas of racist ideology, ethnic cleansing/extermination, and enslavement.
Similarly, Franco's fascist government (particularly the diplomatic service) didn't share the Nazi's racial ideologies, though Franco himself didn't mind them too much either. Franco was ok with serving them, such as by cataloging the Jews in Spain on Hitler's orders, but on the other hand, he was fine with his government's resources being used to to protect or evacuate Jews in Nazi-occupied countries (much to the chagrin of the Nazis) as well. In the end, tens of thousands of Jews escaped Nazi Europe through Spain.
In that vein, all 'Aryan Race/Aryan Union' ideology was Hitler's doing. In actuality, it was all Himmler's doing (Hitler actually laughed at him for that), and was worse than Hitler. In fact, the July 20 Bomb Plot held Himmler's assassination just as vital as Hitler's.
All Capitalism (a Marxist term) is based on crony-ism and obsessed with money, even though Adam Smith pointed out in The Wealth Of Nations that wealth is goods and services, not gold or silver. It is also industrial, even though America was a wholly agrarian nation at the founding.
The only operating system is Windows, or Mac OS X. Go a bit further and you'll find GNU, though people will call it "Linux" and "open source". Even within that community, other historical and important operating systems (Genera, TENEX, ITS, WAITS) are forgotten in favor of UNIX.
Which is hilariously wrong, since Linux is an OS Kernel, and very few run GNU/HURD (the actual GNU kernel). For that matter, did you forget VMS? CP/M? Or the BSDs?
Given that ITS was limited to PDP-6 and PDP-10 computers in MIT, it's not surprising that it's largely forgotten. Unix could and does run on a greater variety of systems than the Lisp machines for Genera or the mainframe-class PDP machines that TENEX, ITS and WAITS could run on. Also, you can add Multics and OS/360 to important historical operating systems that are forgotten within most communities.
The biggest problem with studying the origins of life and the universe is the ludicrously small reference pool of 1 (we only know of one life-bearing planet, and one universe that sprang into being).
As far as right-pondians are concerned, the USA has the sum total of four significant colleges or universities or whatever you're calling them: MIT (which is a spawning ground for nerds); Harvard (the smart kids); Yale (the rich kids); and Brown (the Butt Monkey). Left-pondians are no better; the only British Unis are Oxford, Cambridge and the London School Of Economics.
We right-pondians also know of Princeton, but only because of its association with Einstein.
For the Asian continent, there is Stanford, Berkeley, and UCLA.
If there's a mention of any character from Arthurian legend, it's almost always going to be Arthur, Merlin, Lancelot, Guinevere or Galahad.
And where did the Arthurian legend come from? It's always England—never Wales or France, where much of the story is derived from.
Also all events mentioned in Celtic legends took place in Ireland.
There were Celts in places other than Ireland? Ridiculous!
All Celts come from the British Isles, except in the bits of history where Romans fought the Gauls. (Forgetting that Celtic culture at its height may have extended as far as Ukraine.)
Arthur is usually portrayed as English even though he was a Briton which, at the time, meant what we now call Welsh. At the time of the Arthurian legends, the English were a bunch of hired mercenaries brought-over from Germany who were starting to cause trouble.
Only a few people have ever set foot in an American boxing arena: Mike Tyson, Muhammad Ali, George Foreman, and Evander Holyfield. If a boxer isn't American, they'll be drawn from a pool of about two from a given country.
Most people have heard of Carbon-14 dating (and 9 times out of 10, it doesn't even work like it does on television). It's the default dating method in the public conscious. What most people are not familiar with is Uranium-Lead Dating, which is much more accurate and has a much wider range of dates (1 million to 4.5 billion), Rubidium-Strontium, another form of dating closely related to U-Pb Dating, or the others: Uranium-Thorium, Potassium-Argon, and Samarium-neodymium, all of which are older, more reliable, and have a wider date range than radiocarbon.
Well, Carbon-14 is still the dating technique of choice when dealing with something less than 30,000 or so years old. It only has a half-life of 5200 years, so it's ideal for archaeology, since most things in the human record fall within a few half-lifes of Carbon-14, while something like Uranium-Lead dating won't measure anything that recent at all. So Carbon-14 is perfectly acceptable- when talking about human history. Anything further back than 30,000 years, THEN you get bad research. Any earlier human history - like early members of the genus Homo or late members of the genus Australopithecus - which are highly associated with stone tool assemblages, means you need to bust out the Potassium-Argon or Argon-Argon dating.
Though C-14 is subject to a number of limitations — for one, even touching something can contaminate it, and if it's found in the same context as ash, forget getting an accurate reading. It also gives a fairly wide date margin — four centuries, in fact — which makes it good for a general idea, but absolutely useless for anything more precise. After all, you can learn that the bit of bone you found came from anywhere between 100 CE and 500 CE, which spans completely different cultures or time periods within a culture, so it's not very useful unless you want to make sure it didn't come from somewhere before or after those four hundred years. Being about 500 years or younger is too recent for C-14 dating. Dendrochronology is preferable for anything recent, as well as context; if the piece of bone in question was found in the same context as a style of ceramic made within a 100 year time frame, you're already better off than with C-14 dating. All in all, almost everything you see on TV will be either a research flub or forgetting a more precise form of dating.
Even good ol' TV Tropes can fall foul of this sometimes where examples may be weighted towards a certain media even if the trope itself is common elsewhere.
Similarly, The Other Wiki also has an issue with being too ethnocentrically "Western" which it terms "systemic bias".
The Civilization series has a habit of including less successful but more famous historical characters as leaders of civilizations, when more successful but lesser-known alternatives exist, particularly if the more famous ruler has a certain archetypal image or mythology attached to them. Examples include Ragnar Lodbrok as the Viking leader in Civilization III and IV, Joan d'Arc as the French leader in Civilization III and Boudicca as a Celtic leader in Civilization IV. Arguably, this is pandering to the small reference pool of most players, given that some fairly obscure monarchs such as Mansu Musa (Mali) and Suryavarman II (Khmer) are included as the leaders of Civilizations that are themselves more obscure.
Also Civilization has altered the leaders over the years. Russia had Stalin in I then Catherine in III now both in IV. France has had de Gaulle, Joan, Napoleon, and Louis XIV. Amerindians had Hiawatha and Sitting Bull. So it seems it's more for variety than anything else.
There is a major aversion in Civilization V, however, as the Chinese leader is not Qin Shi Huang Di or Mao, but Wu Zetian.
The only way to crack into a computer is by guessing the password. Buffer overflows and SQL injections don't exist.
The only nuclear meltdown ever was Chernobyl. Despite this, it is still used to argue against nuclear power, because its infamy means everyone assumes a ton of people died all at once.
Now includes Fukushima.
To the average person, the only hurricanes to have ever happened were Katrina, Sandy, and whatever hurricanes directly affected them. For example, to somebody who lives near New York City, there was Katrina, Sandy, Irene, possibly Floyd, and that's it.
The only earthquake in history was the one in Haiti.
Or, if you know that tsunamis come from earthquakes, you can add the Indian Ocean and Japan earthquakes.
Wasn't there one in San Francisco too? A long time ago?
The only volcanoes to have erupted are Mt. St. Helens and possibly Vesuvius.
And the one in Iceland that no one is (or ever will be) able to pronounce or spell correctly.
The only school shootings to ever happen were Columbine, Virginia Tech, and Sandy Hook.
The card game Magic: The Gathering does this as well. They tend to use obscure but real mythical creatures, and the original sets, before the storyline became coherent and unique to the sets, would borrow liberally from odd sources.
Dennis Miller is famous for constantly bringing up obscure references, so much so that a website was created to decipher his comments on Monday Night Football for the average football fan.
Patton Oswalt likes to lampshade the obscure references in his stand-up, by effecting an even nerdier voice than usual, and mentioning something even more obscure.
David Mitchell argues against using small reference pools in this video, pointing out that many people, especially teenagers, are more likely to just Google the reference than to feel excluded for not getting it.
Alan Moore and Kevin O' Neill's The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is definitely a subversion. Sure, three of the original five league members are well known, but the two most important include the fairly obscure (and frequently misspelled) Allan Quatermain and a lesser known character from the novel Dracula. Beyond the League, the references get incredibly obscure.
The Black Dossier is nye literature code without some sort of cypher key to understand what he's talking about.
By the time of Century, the first issue its really light on this. But the second issue, being set on 1969, with a lot of series and film characters on the background and as characters... it's reference porn all the way.
They Might Be Giants have tried to rectify the situation singing the praises of Belgian painter James Ensor and the sorely underrated President James K Polk, among others.
The 1975 Alice Cooper song "Department of Youth" does a bit of name-dropping, with Donny Osmond and Dwight D Eisenhower both mentioned (Eisenhower undoubtedly familiar to most grade-school kids, and the Osmonds fairly commonly known), but also Protestant preacher (and former baseball player) Billy Sunday and short-story writer Damon Runyon, neither of whom most kids are likely to know.
Dykes to Watch Out For is festooned with literary, cultural, and historical allusions of all kinds (not solely LGBT culture, either).
Linus Van Pelt of Peanuts was fond of quoting Bible passages, often from fairly obscure books of both the Old and New Testaments. (And there is his immortal quoting of the Gospel of Luke in A Charlie Brown Christmas, but that had always been well-known to Christians.) And cartoonist Charles Schulz, a big sports fan, frequently mentioned famous athletes of the day, most of whom are all but forgotten today (French-Canadian hockey player Maurice Richard, for instance).
Calvin And Hobbes usually tried to steer clear of cultural references, but Calvin once compared the experience of walking through the snowy woods to Doctor Zhivago (an Academy Award-winning movie, to be sure, but one that most people have not seen since the 1960s). Another strip had Calvin waxing sarcastic about middle-aged pop stars endorsing soft drinks; this was fairly common in the early '90s (Ray Charles, Elton John), but many current viewers may not remember those commercials.
Lasagna was not widely known west of the Hudson River or to non-Italian-Americans until it was revealed to be Garfield's favorite food. One strip even had Jon Arbuckle name-dropping various Italian cheeses as he prepared Garfield's meal: ricotta, mozzarella, parmesan (parmagiana in Italian).
Pythagoras, the ancient Greek mathematical theorist, is pretty well known to some Baby Boomers who remember his appearance in the Classic Disney ShortDonald Duck in Mathmagic Land. And they might also recall from that cartoon that the pentagram was originally the symbol of the Pythagorean secret society, nota sign of Satan.
BBC Radio show Round Britain Quiz is almost an inversion of this trope. It's a highbrow panel game for some very well-read intellectuals, except when it comes to anything that's recent, science-/engineering-based, or American. Then it switches to Huge Reference Pools — some people who know everything about classical literature or classical music (to take some recent examples) are clueless on questions about Elton John or Pink Floyd, or don't know which city is 'Motown'.
Tales Of Symphonia has the angel Remiel, a somewhat obscure apocryphal angel, appropriately responsible for sending visions and prophecy. Some sources also make him responsible for those who will be resurrected. Both are appropriate for his place within the early game journey of rebirth.
Fittingly, he is also called a fallen angel, and in the game ends up as an adversary.
While not the SMALLEST reference pool...in The Secret World, they mention Vivaldi as a composer.
Thanks partly to the influence of Gary Larson's The Far Side, many Dada Comics avert this trope, sometimes bordering on Viewers Are Geniuses. One instance in which this trope caught up was a panel in which one cowboy offered another a latte. In the days before Starbucks, many audience members were convinced that "latte" meant gay sex.
The names of The Order of the Stick books often reference works of literature, at least one of which is well outside the norm: War and XPs (Tolstoy's War and Peace), Start of Darkness (Conrad's Heart of Darkness) and On the Origins of PCs (Darwin's On the Origin of Species)
Strips have also referenced the novel Dune, the musical Meet Me in St. Louis, and hinged several key character moments on a game of Go.
Irregular Webcomic! lives on averting this trope. Obscure mathematical jokes abound. Luckily for the majority of his readers, the extensive annotations underneath each comic explain the mathematical or scientific principle in question, often a whole lot better than your math teacher or textbook will. Extensive and accurate historical and literary jokes are also common. Irregular Webcomic doesn't sacrifice humor for "get out of my head" moments