Follow TV Tropes


Import Filter

Go To

Most of a given country's creative output is produced for the consumption of people living in that country. This is especially true when there's a language barrier involved; translation is hard work. For comedy, doubly so. Even if two countries share a language, there are other complications involved with importing a creative work. For movies and TV shows, Region Coding may necessitate a new DVD release. For Video Games, two countries may have different versions of the same console. Moral Guardians and viewers in your country may get upset about aspects of the work that are taken for granted or even welcomed in the country of origin. Some parts may need changing just to make sense. There's always the risk that the viewing public still won't get it. And this isn't even getting into dealing with international copyright law, finding a distributor, and innumerable other headaches with moving a work from one country to another.

Production companies aren't going to want to deal with all this for things that aren't likely to sell well. This is the essence of the Import Filter — imported works come with even more pre-screening than domestic works that see general release. In some sense, this is "skimming the cream" — picking out the 10% of everything that Sturgeon's Law tells us is not crud. It's more complicated than that, though. Some types of work may be aimed at a particular subculture in the importing country, and therefore the ones that end up getting imported will be the ones fit that subculture's expectations. It's not uncommon that the bulk of this work will come from a specified genre. Whether this is good or bad depends on whether you belong to that subculture, or at least whether you like the same things.

This can lead some people to declare that foreign media are better, because while they're exposed to the full spectrum of things from their own country, they only encounter imports that are both among the best works in a genre, and pre-selected to fit their tastes besides. Others who lack similar tastes may decide not to bother, or they may be turned off on imported works simply because fans like them so much.

Sometimes the trope also gets inverted. This is especially the case if importing from foreign markets is cheaper than producing the stuff domestically. This usually leads to a flood of lots of crud stuff from that foreign country, while more expensive quality stuff gets a huge No Export for You simply because it is more expensive to import. (Such is the case for instance with clothing Made in China. Most foreigners see it as a sign that it is low-budget and bad clothing, while in its home market there are plenty of high-quality clothing that never seems to get exported.)

Compare Nostalgia Filter, a similar effect applied across temporal rather than physical/cultural distance. Contrast Keep Circulating the Tapes, where a work is distributed samizdat among fans because owners won't - or can't - sell the product legally (which can include works being filtered out as unprofitable by importers). Can easily lead to a case of Germans Love David Hasselhoff or the positive version of Made in Country X.

Examples of the Import Filter at work:

Note: most of these are written from a US-centric point of view... examples from other countries appreciated!

    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • In the United States, only a small portion of anime and manga will ever see wide release, much of which will target the Shōnen demographic. Fan subs don't count — only the hardcore fans are likely to seek them out. This also makes people think that anime is actually a genre, when it is merely a term for animation produced in Japan; as most fans and this wiki can tell you (although it is also sometimes used to refer to the visual style, e.g. The Boondocks).
    • Fan subbing is a sort of unofficial filter for anime because of this; there are many series that are thought to have been officially imported because the popularity they gathered through fan subbing, and a few that are confirmed to only have received an official release for this reason.
      • See: It's Popular, Now It Sucks!. It overlaps with this trope a lot; if you ask any person what the worst anime is, they're likely to name something that was popular inside and outside of Japan (Especially if it was dubbed.) If you ask a hardcore Otaku or someone who lives in Japan what the worst anime is, they'll likely name something you've never even heard of as the worst anime ever. The reason you've never heard of it was because it was so bad, nobody wanted to sub it. Even stuff considered "Crap" has dedicated fans who wish to share it with the world by translating and subtitling it.
    • The breakdown of this trope is at least part of the reason why The Japanese Invasion began to grind to a halt in the late naughties. The internet fandom communities that popped up in the prior two decades were now big enough to bring many more Japanese series to the US... and they began to realize just why certain shows weren't imported. People not only began to realize not only that Japanese animation wasn't inherently superior to American animation,note  they also began to see that anime had its own assorted tropes and cliches, which were made more apparent once the novelty wore off and they could witness a broader, more representative cross-section of it.
  • In many European countries, while many manga series are translated, anime is extremely filtered, resulting in only extremely popular series being released. And quite late, too; for example, in Finland, Naruto was only broadcast looong after the manga was translated.
    • Spain suffers from the same, but more so with manga than anime.
    • In the Benelux countries, it gets weird. Most anime is distributed in the Netherlands, but manga is imported directly from France. The Dutch will typically block the release of any anime they consider too violent or sexualized; only 39 anime have ever been released there. But since the French have discovered a pretty big market in the Benelux countries, there's no issue with manga. Belgium then decided to be weird and started airing Flemish versions of rather obscure shonen anime. It all gets very uneven.

    Comic Books 
  • There is only so much circulation between the major comic markets (European, US and Japan) because of this.
    • This also gives the impression that the European comic book world is a lot smaller than it actually is, as very little of it gets across the Atlantic (to the US at least—the Canadians get a bit more), and what the US does get is super arty stuff, not the broad satire/humor, children's comics, and genre stuff that makes up most of the French/Belgian comics industry. About the only exceptions are Asterix and Tintin, both of which are significantly less well known in the US than in France.

  • Canadian film is a curious example. While the Quebecois enjoy their domestic, French-language movies, most English Canadian films rarely get much acclaim or even interest at home. It's more usual for them to go on to international film festivals and gain accolades there. It's something of a vicious cycle: since Canadian movies have a reputation for being arty and weird, the talent interested in big-budget Hollywood type stuff heads to the States, leaving Canada only with the people interested in producing... arty, weird movies.
  • Another good example is European film. American film critics and film guide writers will only have encountered and reviewed the cream of the crop, which gives the impression that European movies are consistently better than American films. (Although European movies do tend to be more brooding and introspective...)
    • A microcosm for this phenomenon is Luc Besson. American critics view him as "the thinking man's action director" thanks to films like The Professional, La Femme Nikita and The Fifth Element; even his less critically-acclaimed fare, like the Taken films (which he produced and co-wrote) and Lucy, tend to be looked upon favorably compared to their American counterparts. European critics, on the other hand, dismiss him as a Hollywood sellout and "the French Michael Bay", maker of Lowest Common Denominator action movies like the Taxi series that never see release in America.
  • In France, even with the geographical proximity, the only kinds of German films that tend to get released in theaters are usually World War II / Nazi Germany dramas, dramas about East Germany and Ostalgie, and Fatih Akın's films. While those are generally of high quality, they don't reflect the diversity of genres of German cinema (comedies especially, good or bad ones alike).

    Live-Action TV 
  • This also applies to Canadian television. While shows like Corner Gas, North of 60, The Red Green Show, Trailer Park Boys, Beachcombers, and The Raccoons all attain fanbases ranging from cult followings to genuine (if modest) popularity in English Canada, they occasionally hit it really big in the United States, with Degrassi: The Next Generation being the most famous example. Incidentally, Red Green has become a major source for PBS pledge drives in the U.S., with the actual cast of the show appearing to drum up support. Meanwhile, as with film, French Canadians actively consume their own domestic work, most notably in Quebec.
  • British TV:
    • For decades, the Import Filter on British television was enforced by PBS, a network of publicly-funded and viewer-supported stations. Between their lower budget compared to the commercial networks, their decentralized structure, and their public service mandate, the money they spend on original programming is usually reserved for news, documentaries, and educational children's programs, which together give it a more highbrow viewership and reputation. As such, what little money they have left over for general entertainment programming usually goes to importing shows from the UK and, to a lesser extent, Canada, and knowing the tastes of their viewers, PBS stations usually pick the classier ones. This is most evident with the Masterpiece (formerly Masterpiece Theatre) anthology series created by the Boston PBS affiliate WGBH, which plays directly into American stereotypes of the UK. When it does air more populist material, like Monty Python's Flying Circus, Are You Being Served?, and Doctor Who, it usually picks out the cream of the crop there as well. Since PBS was, for a long time, the primary way to watch British TV in the US (a common backronym claimed that PBS stood for "Primarily British Series"), its upper-crust filter heavily affected how Americans perceived it. This started to change in the 21st century, though, as the cable network BBC America and later streaming services gave Americans access to a wider variety of British shows.
    • The Finnish national broadcasting company YLE more or less assumes that "British + comedy = the next Monty Python," and thus buy them left and right. British shows in general also seem to be highly popular in Finland, for some odd reason. Also the Spanish Sitcom Los Serrano.
      • YLE has recently starting importing popular HBO dramas like The Wire and Girls, which are commercial-free (and cheap) and thus uniquely suitable.
  • American TV:
    • Since The '90s, American television has been adored globally, leading to the impression that prestige dramas like Band of Brothers are common. Even more populist shows like Friends are assumed by many non-Americans to be the norm on American television, leading to the perception that American shows are high-quality. But just like British TV, little of what actually airs on American TV is exported, and most of it is either extremely popular stuff like The X-Files or quality prestige programs in the vein of The Sopranos. So just like other examples, American TV has far more trash than good stuff and what is broadcasted in other countries are cherrypicked selections.
    • Also true for Germany. Most German series are regarded as ripoffs of American series and get canceled sooner or later. It's really frustrating when they market a series as "THE new US hit series" when it's really a show that got canceled after the first season...
    • Note, however, that this was not true before the '90s. From the early days of television through The '80s, American TV was seen as campy, disposable cheez-whiz that only attracted a very specific viewership and which the networks only threw on because they didn't have enough domestic shows to fill airtime. Unlike many other, smaller countries (including many in Europe) where the arts saw heavy state sponsorship with an egalitarian ethos and a fairly light hand with censorship that drew many creative voices to television as much as film, the US has a massive commercial film industry considered the most prestigious in the world while its television industry was heavily sanitized by its Media Watchdogs, and so American actors, writers, and filmmakers came to associate television with Money, Dear Boy work. This episode of Charlie Brooker's Screenwipe covering American TV opens by detailing the contempt that it once received in the UK, describing its public image as "soft-focused soaps starring shoulder pads instead of people, whooping inbreds tossing cars over swamps, sitcoms half as funny as breaking your jaw on a door frame, and shapeshifting festival of idiocy Manimal." While this stereotype started cracking in the '90s, it was only with the explosion of cable TV in the '00s that it fully broke.

  • American music is very popular in the UK and Europe. Of course, for every Gwen Stefani, Kesha, Foo Fighters or 50 Cent that makes it across The Pond, there's a dozen that sink along the way under the weight of their own awfulness.
    • To a lesser extent, this also happens the other way round. Americans may hear Radiohead, Muse and Blur and sing the praises of British rock, but how many of them have honestly listened to Enter Shikari or The Twang?
    • And then there was Bush, a London band who were popular in the States but never made it in their home country. While Oasis were trying to crack America and being promoted as "the new Bush", Bush were trying to crack Britain and being promoted as "the next Oasis"...
    • Todd in the Shadows has argued that this is the reason why Americans have such a high opinion of British pop music. He admits that, when it's good (like The Beatles, Ellie Goulding, or Adele), it rivals anything America has to offer. However, he also feels that, as bad as Americans think they have it with their own awful pop music, at least they never had to suffer through the Cheeky Girls, Crazy Frog, Jedward, or the slew of X-Factor runners-up (at least, those not named One Direction, Olly Murs, or Cher Lloyd, the last one being the subject of the linked video).
  • An interesting twist on this in The '60s was that British artists like The Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton were far more into traditional American blues and R&B than Americans were. For many Americans, their first introduction into authentic blues were hearing the Stones and Clapton doing covers of classic tracks. This led to a significant revival of interest in the US, but the oft-titled "British Invasion" was really, in many ways, just American music being played by British guys.
  • Due to Canadian Content regulations and heavy government investment in the arts, the Canadian music scene is huge, punching well above its weight for a nation of only 35 million people. There are some pretty big labels pumping out artists in music hub cities such as Montreal, Vancouver, Toronto, and (surprisingly to many easterners) Calgary. However, ask anyone outside of Canada to name a Canadian artist, and their answer is inevitably "Bieber, Avril, Shania, Nickelback, Drake, and... uh... that Titanic song chick".
    • In American indie circles, however, Canada gets quite a lot of respect, with some of the genre's biggest artists, such as Feist, Broken Social Scene, and Arcade Fire, being Canadian (along with other, less mainstream indie artists).
    • Alanis Morissette serves as a prime example. Most Americans were introduced to her through her alt-rock infused Jagged Little Pill and are unfamiliar with her earlier teen pop career. In Canada, on the other hand, there were protests when her hometown of Ottawa gave her the key to the city in 1996 (one year after Pill was released), as many at the time still viewed her as the Canadian Debbie Gibson.

    Video Games 
  • Due to their often light plots (except RPGs) and vast amounts of Gratuitous English, many Japanese games are imported in their original form by enthusiasts. Titles that move heavy numbers in this fashion usually end up getting proper translations by domestic publishers (except RPGs, sob.)
  • The import filter (in combination with the Nostalgia Filter) is why many American JRPG lovers who owned an SNES tend to think of the 16-bit era as some sort of JRPG Golden Age. In truth, the Super Famicom had as many middling-to-bad JRPGs as any other system; the U.S. was just lucky, in a sense, that most of the crap never got to the SNES during the system's lifespan.
  • Despite the games not being sold, this is why a lot of Super Mario World hackers tend to think of Japanese hacks as being interesting or better than those from elsewhere, because only the best hacks get shown on Youtube or English speaking sites. People see stuff like Brutal Mario, the VIP series and various others being played by raocow and such like and think Japanese hacks are better as a whole, without realising how many mediocre ones are just left to rot on fairly unknown websites. Doesn't help that there's no Japanese SMW Central equivalent to keep them all in one place.
  • Sunsoft was basically a whole microcosm of this phenomenon. During 1986-1994 they were considered in the West to be part of the big publishers such as Nintendo, Konami and Capcom. In Japan they were considered to be a shovelware company and had there a reputation that is about as prolific as the one Data Design Interactive was having in the West. This is largely because a lot of their debut games (such as the Nazooler Land series) were bad enough to never be exported in the West and a few of their good Western releases (such as the NES game Freedom Force) never got a release in Japan.

    Visual Novels 
  • Due to the sheer work involved in translating a Visual Novelnote  and the obscurity of the medium as a whole, especially in the Fan Translation scene, Import Filter applies. Oddly enough, it is stronger for fan translators than official visual novel localization companies because the many of the more famous Visual Novel creators such as AliceSoft or Key/Visual Arts are unwilling to sell licenses officially and because Porn Without Plot H-Games sell easily without requiring a lot of work in translation. This is changing as digital distribution allows publishers to take chances on more obscure game genres such as visual novels, and more of them are getting official translations, even ones that most people thought had no chance of making it stateside, including CLANNAD.

    Real Life 
  • A variation of this occurs with manufactured goods, and is practiced especially broadly by Japanese car manufacturers; When a new model is introduced, it's offered only in the home market while the old one continues to be made for export markets. Only after a year or so, once all the teething troubles are worked out (and in extreme cases the first-year home market buyers have been, in effect, paying beta testers) is the new type released for export.
    • It's common for electronics. Sony et al can sell bleeding-edge stuff in Akibara while they work out the bugs and learn how to make it cheaper. For cars it is mostly only true of experimental designs (hybrids etc..) Occasionally a JDM (Japanese Domestic Market) vehicle will be re-designed for foreign sales (like the Honda Fit and the CR-V and Toyota RAV-4 back in the 90s), but a lot of JDM cars never see the states and vice versa.
  • The Soviet Union. A positive side effect of the strict censoring of foreign influences was that only the greatest works were actually translated and published in the Soviet states.
  • Canada's CRTC places CanCon restrictions on Canadian television and radio, forcing every channel or station to show at least a certain percentage of media created with the involvement of Canadians. As a result, an American show that has low ratings will likely be dropped quickly, but a Canadian-made show that has low ratings might stay on for a while in really late/early time slots. While this is supposed to encourage Canadian identity, it's led to some people to believe that American shows are better, and in some cases, believe that Canadian stations believe that American shows are better, deliberately making their Canadian-made shows of a poor quality, just to satisfy CanCon requirements in order to be able to show the American shows they really want to be showing.
  • Similarly, countries such as France, Nigeria, South Africa and the Philippines also mandate radio and television stations to devote at least a portion of their broadcasting to local content. This also applies to films in countries such as the Philippines to encourage local filmmakers, a notable example of which is the Metro Manila Film Festival where no foreign films are shown apart from IMAX and 3D releases.
  • Comic Bill Hicks saw very little success in the States while he was alive, but enjoyed great popularity in the UK. He had to die before the States really appreciated him.
  • University degrees. The US and UK give a great deal of respect to European degrees; that the reverse is true in Europe.
    • Depends where the degree is from. It's probably safe to say that a degree from Oxbridge or the Ivies will carry a great deal of respect anywhere.
    • Likewise the elite colleges in Japan are state-run, hence all the cram students in manga and anime trying to get into Tokyo university. Private colleges are only a last resort. Many exchange students are surprised that almost the inverse is true in the US with private universities being the most prestigious while state-run colleges are mainly there to offer affordable education.
  • Sadly, this is the case with a great deal of degrees and certificates, which many immigrants are shocked to find are worthless once they move to a new country. Plenty of the immigrants you see doing unskilled work have degrees and certificates in their country of origin that were simply not recognized in their new country for bureaucratic reasons.
  • Usually inverted with alcohol: Cheap, easy-to-produce products are shipped overseas as the "definitive" version of the drink from that country while better versions are only readily available domestically. Just ask what Australians think of Foster's, Americans of Budweiser, or the French of the Beaujolais nouveau craze. Or ask an Irishman about the draught Guinness served in Ireland versus the export Guinness sold elsewhere.
  • In contrast to the above, Brazil plays the trope straight with one of its best known exports, coffee. The Brazilian coffee seen overseas is generally of way better quality that the usually cheaper domestic brands.
    • Similarly, most of the Belgian Chocolate you can buy in Belgium is cheaply made. Belgian Chocolate you can get elsewhere indicates a premium product. That has largely to do with the fact that there are in Belgium and France a few specialized chocolatiers (such as Pierre Marcolini) that are there well-known by name. Belgian and French people who want quality chocolate usually resort to those stores while foreigners do not know their name as well and just take the easy road and say "It is Belgian".
  • One only needs to mention the look of ugly Belgian houses to convince architects that they are going way overboard with the styles they want to build houses with. Truth is though that most Belgian houses are merely So Okay, It's Average, meaning that on their own they often look normal. What is however true is that Belgium is perhaps the only European country in which there was never a certain style of architecture enforced by law. That resulted in plenty of houses with seemingly random architectural styles that would disturb most foreigners.
  • Restaurant chains that expand to other countries will be positioned as more upmarket than in their home countries, even fast food places like McDonald's and Kentucky Fried Chicken, likely because they're more expensive in the developing world than local fare.
  • In the U.S., "ethnic" cuisine is considered better (and thus commands higher prices) than Anglo-American cuisine.
  • In the Anglosphere, tapas are thought of as fancy cuisine for yuppies and hipsters while in Spain they're pub grub.
  • In Poland, German-bought domestic chemistry is widely considered to be better than what's available in the neighbourhood shop, even if it's the same item by the same producer. There even are specialized importers of domestic chemistry to meet the demand. There is a conspiracy theory Germans do this on purpose because they hate Poland. There is a competing conspiracy theory Germans do this on purpose because they know Poles are too stupid to use domestic chemistry in proper doses. Which theory one subscribes to can tell you much about that person's political views.

Alternative Title(s): Export Filter