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Pop-Cultural Osmosis Failure

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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:

  • is a bumpkin or is otherwise cut off from modern pop culture;
  • is an outsider of the clique or subculture or is an immigrant or foreigner;
  • is old-fashioned and not knowledgeable of current popular culture;
  • is young and the bit of pop culture is (relatively) old;
  • is amusingly displaced from the time of origin;
  • simply is not familiar with a genre or a work;
  • 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.
  • 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 the Signature Scene is forgotten.


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 watched American Idol because it was 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, Lampshaded the Obscure Reference, Before My Time, and Technologically Blind Elders.

Contrast: It Was His Sled and especially Pop-Cultural Osmosis.


Other Examples:

    open/close all folders 

  • Invoked in the 1632-series: Two time-travelling spies identify each others by the code names "Romulus" and "Vulcan". The idea is that, since American pop culture hasn't penetrated the public consciousness of the 17th century, anyone in a position to recognize the names will assume that Romulus's counterpart is Remus.
  • During a flashback in The Da Vinci Code, Robert Langdon is explaining to his editor about the real nature of the Holy Grail. The editor asks why he's never heard of it and Langdon answers that the cover-up "is backed up by the world's biggest best-seller". The editor immediately expresses surprise that Harry Potter talks about the Holy Grail.

    Films — Live Action 

    Web Comic 
  • The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob!: Galatea is very proud of her vast knowledge, but she has zero interest in pop culture and can be instantly stumped by even the simplest reference to it. "I don't know what that means" is nearly a catchphrase for her.

    Web Original 


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): What Was Whose Sled


Ships in Bottles

"Booby Trap". While preparing to explore a derelict Promellian battlecruiser, Captain Picard waxes poetic about building ships in bottles in his childhood... to blank looks from Riker, Worf, and Data. Worf gruffly informs the Captain that "I never played with toys" (befitting his stodgy personality), while Data, being an android, reminds Picard that "I was never a boy." Chief O'Brien knows what he's talking about, though.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (9 votes)

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Main / PopCulturalOsmosisFailure

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