John Smith is a goodhearted farm boy from sometime in the past - but not earlier than the 13th century (as modern English would be near-totally incomprehensible to a speaker of that time or earlier.)
But then he foolishly plays with the mystic Nazi time portal or there's a temporal equivalent of the Teleporter Accident
, and ZAP!, he falls, screaming, into the Present Day
(whenever that happens to be).
Inevitably, within minutes of arriving in the bright, blinky, flishy-flashing future, he will be culture-shocked from his head to his toes. To drive home how much of a Fish out of Temporal Water
he is, the filmmakers will slap him in the face repeatedly with the seamiest parts of contemporary culture, whether or not it's even remotely realistic in context.
It doesn't matter if it's 10:00 in the morning or 10:00 at night. It doesn't matter if he's in a seafood night-market in Taipei, a busy sidewalk in Rio de Janeiro at the height of Mardi Gras, or a Turkish Cafe in New Delhi - somehow, somewhere there will be a TV playing porn. Usually hardcore, but maybe softcore at the Turkish Cafe.
Alternately or additionally, he may also stumble across:
- A working strip-bar, complete with pole dancers.
- A pimp beating one of his hookers while a crowd looks on indifferently.
- Someone playing a hyper-violent video game.
- Someone texting (or looking at porn) on his smartphone who collides with him.
- An interracial and/or same-sex couple dramatically making out in public. One or both members of the couple will naturally get pissed at our hero for staring at them (shocking to him, but not to us, of course).
- A traffic accident between two screaming, foul-mouthed, ethnic cliché taxi drivers.
A more specific sub-trope of Fish out of Temporal Water
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- Transmetropolitan has the Revivals, people who were put on ice to await cures for terminal illness or injury. They find the future as shocking as the reader often does; Spider Jerusalem is critical of society for not having a system in place to help them adjust.
- The Frozen fanfic Unfrozen dabbles in this. Though it is downplayed Anna has a few amusing interactions with, among other things, a smartphone, a TV, and a car.
- The Philadelphia Experiment and its sequel.
- Time After Time has H. G. Wells and Jack the Ripper taken to modern times. Jack changes the channels on a TV to show constant scenes of violence to claim that he belongs here and Wells doesn't.
- This happened in Blast from the Past, with the use of a nuclear bomb shelter. The character was so shocked by the difference that he assumed humanity had been heavily mutated by radiation.
- A variation occurs (no actual time travel, but East Germany was in a sort of stasis) in Goodbye Lenin — after the Berlin Wall falls, the protagonist goes to see West Germany and instantly encounters a TV with porn on.
- Subverted in a Deleted Scene from Back to the Future. 1955 Doc goes through 1985 Doc's luggage, finds a copy of Playboy, and pulls out the centerfold. He looks impressed and declares, "Suddenly the future's looking a whole lot better!" (Possibly a research goof. As of 1955, Playboy had been publishing pictures of naked women for two years.)
- The entire purpose of the Christian film Time Changer is to have its protagonist, a 19th century theology professor, be shocked at how immoral the present day is.
- Forever Young has Mel Gibson's character traveling from 1939 to 1992 and dealing with a bit of this.
- In Harry Turtledove's Homeward Bound, the Yeagers return to Earth 30 years after leaving it (they left on a Sleeper Starship and came back on a new FTL-capable ship) and spending a few decades as Human Popsicles before that. They are shown the most popular game show on TV and are shocked (Karen Yeager especially) that Rita, the hot assistant, wears a Minoan-style dress that completely exposes her breasts. Moreover, most of the women in the audience as likewise topless, some with bodypaint covering their bodies, and some without. While going topless was a growing trend among the younger generation in their time, they didn't think it'd go that far (or be acceptable TV content). Jonathan and Karen go see a movie and are further shocked by an extremely graphic sex scene of the main heroes (and Matt Damon being merely a secondary character). Slightly subverted in that this is now our future (as far as we know) but that of an Alternate Universe where human culture is influenced by that of the Race.
Live Action TV
- The porn aspect was Played for Laughs in a TV movie called The Return of Sherlock Holmes (circa 1987), with Margaret Colin as Jane Watson, a descendant of Dr. John Watson's who inherits a steampunk cryogenic contraption protecting Sherlock Holmes until there's a cure for the disease Moriarty gave him. Once cured, Holmes is the typical Fish out of Temporal Water; at one point he sees an "adult book store" and wants to go in (saying, "I'm an adult.") despite Jane's warning. Predictably, Holmes is shocked when he comes out again.
- In Adam Adamant Lives, one of the first things that happens to Edwardian adventurer Adam when he awakes in The Sixties is that he stumbles into the London Underground where he is confronted by billboards advertising lingerie.
- In Rentaghost, delicate Victorian gentleman Hubert Davenport was forever being shocked by the morals and the clothing of late 20th century.
- In d20 Modern Urban Arcana, elves, dwarves, halflins, and so on arrive in the modern world straight from the European Medieval Fantasy setting that is Dungeons & Dragons. almost no one in this new land knows anything about the magic they brought up with them, but then again they don't know about modern tech either. At least, until they learn.
- In the RPG Shock: Social Science Fiction, you imagine cultural and technological changes and roleplay their implications out till you're comfortable with them.
- Moviebob: Retrothinker's character arc was built around this trope. Retrothinker was a 1980s version of the Game Overthinker who hosted a public access cable TV show about video games from the basement of the Sharkcade. Excited to see what the future of gaming would hold, Retrothinker made himself a Human Popsicle to awaken in 2025. However, when the Sharkcade was destroyed by arsonist ninja Pyrothinker, Retrothinker awoke early and was horrified by the world. Social gaming, online gaming, EA Sports, Gamestop, gaming gimmicks, creative stagnation, Bomberman: Act Zero, and Sonic the Hedgehog (2006) led to his Face-Heel Turn into Necrothinker who summoned an army of undead retro video game characters to destroy modern gaming. The Overthinker manages to defeat and heal him back to normal.
- In the Murdoch Mysteries online Spin-Off The Murdoch Effect, in which Murdoch finds himself in 2012, he is shocked when he sees a prostitute in shorts, a basque and stockings. And even more so when he recognises her as "Jules" Ogden (who's an undercover cop in this setting).
- In Samurai Jack, Jack is transported into a big city in the future and the first place he goes in is a nightclub with a rave going on inside. However, Jack is more disturbed by the fact there are aliens there than anything else, so it might not count.
- In ParaNorman, the Puritan zombies are awakened in the modern day, and are shocked to see such things as a bar, sexy advertisements, and a TV window display broadcasting endless scenes of war, violence, and scantily-clad pop stars.
- In the Codename: Kids Next Door episode "Operation: C.A.K.E.D.-F.I.V.E." the unfrozen Numbuh 19th Century is perplexed by the notion of cake and ice cream going together.
- Both played straight and inverted in Futurama. Fry adjusts surprisingly quickly to the weirdness that the future has to offer. His old girlfriend froze herself so she could be with Fry, but she's scared and nervous over just about everything. She points out that Fry was able to adapt so well to the future because of how he didn't fit in back in the past.