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Pop-Culture Isolation

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Max: It's only Powerline, dad. The biggest rock star on the planet.
Goofy: Ohhh, not bigger than Xavier Cugat, the Mambo King! Everybody mambo!
A Goofy Movie (1995)

Pop-Culture Isolation is basically a case of pop-culture myopia of sorts, where celebrities, music genres, media or events are huge and significant in one subculture or ethnic group, but elsewhere nobody knows they exist or is indifferent to them altogether. We're not talking about separate countries here, but within the same country or region. A lot of this is especially prevalent in entertainment media, affecting music in particular (radio is usually fingered as being the main cause, as it was and still is very isolated in terms of programming and format, leading to accusations of segregation).


Let's face it, there are cultural barriers, and people thrive in their own microcosm. Another likely reason for this is because mainstream media is so homogenized and is prone to favoring monochrome pop culture that other cultures start their own pop-culture media outlets. That fuels this trope even further for better or for worse. This isolation of pop culture can lead to such ignorance as Cowboy BeBop at His Computer. It's even possible for this trope to happen within the same culture. This, in turn, resulted in a pop cultural Broken Base or Fandom Rivalry. Hip-Hop is a good example of this (see Hip-Hop's Broken Base entry). This trope possibly could lead to Monochrome Casting.

Expecting Pop-Culture Isolation not to be an issue is a sure way to incur Pop-Cultural Osmosis Failure. Can also result in people outside the subculture experiencing Informed Real Life Fame.


For some people with a certain ideology, however, Pop Cultural Isolation may be seen as a good thing.

Contrast Small Reference Pools and Pop-Cultural Osmosis. May lead to Germans Love David Hasselhoff or Americans Hate Tingle. Could also overlap with Critical Dissonance. This trope along with Public Medium Ignorance goes together like peanut butter and jelly. This often is the cause of Minority Show Ghetto. Compare with Fan Myopia, which is when the fans of a particular form of pop culture believe it to be far more well-known amongst the general public than it actually is, and Obscure Popularity.

By the way, did you know there are people and places out there who discuss and list the tools of storytelling but have almost no knowledge of wiki editing or TV Tropes? It's very true. Do you know about them? Probably not.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • This even shows up within manga fandom itself. Creators like Naoki Urasawa and Fumi Yoshinaga (of Antique Bakery fame) have multiple series published in the US, constantly appear on "best of" lists, and have won tons of awards - yet are virtually unknown outside of the "grown-up comic fans" circle.
  • Gon is already an obscure manga character in Japan, but few people in America know him for anything more than being in Tekken 3.
  • One Piece is exceptionally well known in its country of origin, but outside of Japan it the manga and anime were hampered by an incredibly poor English dub from 4Kids that fundamentally changed large swaths of the dialogue and edited scenes to make it more kid friendly. Despite this, a cult following found itself watching the subbed version of the original Japanese and people eventually found the English dub from Funimation that keeps most of the dialogue intact without removing any scenes. Bringing up scenes to someone who hasn't kept up to it, or pointing out to them how there is over 900 episodes of the anime can catch someone entirely off guard, and even if they want to join the series at this point, they have a lot of catching up to do.

    Comic Strips 
  • Referenced in Dilbert when a schoolboy sarcastically comments on the fact that Dilbert considers it a shocking failure of public education that the boy can't name the highest waterfall in Africa, but Dilbert himself doesn't know who MC Hammer is and dismisses it as worthless trivia.

  • Phenomena: is quite a big hit in Norway with the books often sold out in bookstores and the board game is completely out of stock. It has been translated to only a few languages, making it very little known about with other people around the world.
  • Zane novels, black erotic literature, probably count.
  • In-Universe example meets Truth in Television in Jorge Luis Borges short story "Averroe's Search" : Averroes, a philosopher confined to the Islamic orb, never could understand the terms Tragedy and Comedy.
  • It's amazing how many people appear not to have heard of Terry Pratchett, even though he is the second most-read author in the UK, and the seventh most-read author in the USA, across all genres. One newspaper interview lampshaded this with the introductory paragraphs including the line "Terry Pratchett, for those of you still pretending to have no idea who I'm talking about, is..."
  • In Murderess, when Lu crosses over to Greywall’d, she enters an inn and tries to order a hot cocoa. The owner’s son is bewildered, as cocoa doesn’t exist there.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Game (2006) is one of the most, if not the most, popular drama/comedies in the black community. Most white people aren't even aware of the show's existence. The show is now on BET but even when it was on CW, it never really found a strong white audience.
  • The popularity of Martin. VH1's I Love the '90s actually brought up that the show was virtually unknown to white viewers, in part because it was scheduled against Seinfeld.
  • Similarly, Living Single contrasted with Friends, some even going as far as to say the latter ripped off the former or was at least inspired by it.
  • Doctor Who provides an age-gap version of this trope all by itself; there are passionate fans of the series who either had (or continue to have) no idea that there was a show before 2005 and/or have no interest in watching any of the old series.
  • In-show example: in the BBC documentary Deborah, 13, Servant of God (about a young girl from a fundamentalist Christian family who was very zealous in her faith) there was one point where she is asked if she'd ever heard of the likes of Britney Spears- and being not immersed in popular culture like most teenage girls (having no television, being homeschooled etc.) she didn't. In response, however, she asked if most people knew who a certain (fairly obscure) Biblical character was.
  • Arguably one factor counting for the success of The Arsenio Hall Show in The '90s was the fact that he, being a hip, younger, black late night talk show host in a field mostly populated with older white hosts and audiences, booked celebrities, politicians, music acts, activists, etc. (particularly those who catered to urban audiences or were in an ethnic or sexual minority) that his competition would rarely to never touch, while still being mainstream enough to appeal to a mass audience. Ultimately this would help Arkansas governor Bill Clinton reach audiences he likely would never reach on other talk shows, which would help him get elected in 1992.
  • Almost Live! was a Long Runner in Seattle and a television icon. MADtv was not even going to be shown in Seattle because the local FOX affiliate didn't think the show could stand against it. Even now, you could probably get half of the city to give up coffee for a month to get a box set note . When Comedy Central picked it up during the Nineties, during the world's grunge-induced fascination for all things Seattle, it crashed and burned hard because much of the humor was based on local-area customs and stereotypes. It was still a great springboard for Bill Nye the Science Guy, however.
  • Victorious. During its run on Nickelodeon it was a very popular show with a large fanbase. After it ended, Ariana Grande (who wasn't even the lead star of the show) embarked on a massively successful career as a pop singer and hasn't looked back since. For most people outside the fanbase, if they even know about it in the first place, they only know it as "the show Ariana Grande was on before she got famous". Those people aren't even aware of its actual lead star, Victoria Justice.
  • The X Factor: One of the most popular shows of all time in the U.K., it's known internationally almost exclusively for discovering five teenage boys and turning them into a boy band. That boy band would be christened One Direction and would completely eclipse the show they were born on in their global takeover over the next half-decade.
  • Bizaardvark. It’s a popular show with young teenagers on Disney Channel, but how many people outside the audience know anything about it other than the fact that highly controversial web video star Jake Paul was on it?

    Print Media 
  • Rolling Stone has been accused of having a rock bias. RS is also accused of 60s-70s bias in their lists.
  • The Source magazine, being a genre-specific mag, is this by default.
  • When Fine Scale Modeler did an article on GunPla] — the hobby of building Gundam plastic model kits — it was an unusual and controversial step. This despite the fact that the GunPla market dwarfs FSM's target market, American modelers of realistic vehicles. This is not unknown in the plastic modelling community; in Great Britain, the "orthodox" historically-based hobby tends to look down on sci-fi and fantasy modelers. The respective readerships of Military Modelling and White Dwarf do not overlap, and Warhammer topics almost never make it into the "mainstream" modelling press - Mil Mod got complaints from readers when it tested this particular water.
  • Paper is a small, independent entertainment magazine. While they do have a following in the New York City Area, they're known to the general public only for the Kim Kardashian "Break The Internet" cover.
  • Few people outside of France know anything about Charlie Hebdo magazine other than the fact that its offices were subject to a terrorist attack in January 2015.

  • John Peel was one of the most influential trend-setters in the British music industry, and famed for his willingness to play just about anything if he liked the sound of it, regardless of what the higher-ups might think of it. A number of artists who would go on to be big names in the punk, metal and alternative scenes got their big break by mailing a demo-tape to his PO box at the BBC. Outside the UK, however, he's almost unknown except to a few people who might have heard his show on the BBC World Service.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The Warhammer 40,000 universe is a behemoth in geek circles and on the internet; besides being the dominant miniatures wargame with several other tabletop spinoffs there have been several popular videogames and hundreds of novels, many of which have cracked best-seller lists. In the mainstream, it's almost completely unknown.
    • So much so that the BBC news website headlined one story about it's 25th anniversary with 'Why are grown men still launching tabletop war?' - much to a torrent of derision in fandom pointing out that 'grown men' also watch twenty two millionaires kick a football around a field every weekend. And it was newsworthy that Games Workshop registered £180 million in sales during the Covid 19 pandemic 'despite shop closures', plus the article handily explained that it made 'fantasy role-playing games' in case the reader didn't know, and made a point to note that it was 'FTSE-traded' like a proper public company.
  • To the average board game player who tends to play the classics like Monopoly, Sorry, Trouble, etc, specifically ewith kids because those games are functionally designed for families, they may be surprised to find that companies like Fantasy Flights or others like Cool Mini or Not have a catalogue of dozens of games with decent rulebooks that are designed for adults. The market on these games is not particularly large (which is why major retailers don't tend to carry them), but is big enough that they are met with large numbers of preorders.

  • The 1712 play Cato, a Tragedy is largely forgotten today, but odds are you'll recognize a few lines from it: "Give me liberty or give me death," "I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country," and "It is not in the power of any man to command success, but you have done more—you have deserved it." That's right, it was so popular at the time of the American Revolution that it was quoted several times by major figures, including Nathan Hale choosing to reference it as his last words before being executed.

    Video Games 
  • Grand Theft Auto's radio stations are a great example of this. Some of the DJs even take shots at the other stations.
  • Consoles (not counting shady NES clones) were a niche market in Eastern Europe for the better part of the nineties. If you went to Poland about 1992 or so and asked a random gamer about Metroid, Final Fantasy or Legend of Zelda, he'd stare at you blankly, then ask what computer were they released on.
    • In some parts of America, Nintendo was a byword for "gaming console" throughout the 90s due to their enormous market share in the industry, especially due to its revival of the home console market after The Great Video Game Crash of 1983. For a while, even dedicated gamers of a certain age would refer to most consoles as "a nintendo" (small "n" usually), even if it wasn't Nintendo made. Outside the US, Nintendo didn't have as much of a visible impact since gaming was largely PC driven.
    • In Russia a similar thing happened in the 90s: in the absence of PCs and consoles, the NES clone "Dendy" became a generic name for any gaming console, and a lot of popular NES-era games were unknown because they were neither sold nor pirated.
  • Just Dance is one of the most popular gaming franchises in the world, being the second most profitable franchise for Ubisoft (after Assassin's Creed). Yet at the same time, gamers and gaming review sites barely acknowledge its existence. It's perhaps one of the few games that sells a lot but isn't talked about a lot outside of its core audience.
  • Club Penguin was a casual Massively Multiplayer Online Games that was especially popular amongst 2000s children, but it rarely gets mentioned outside of the fanbase due to being a "kid-only" game that older gamers and reviewers weren't interested in, contrasted to more "adult" and well-known MMOs like World of Warcraft.
  • Puyo Puyo is a pop culture icon in Japan and is seen as the other face of the Falling Blocks genre alongside Tetris, but it struggles to find that same status in the rest of the world, even with localized releases.
  • Pokémon is a juggernaut Cash Cow Franchise that has been a best-seller for over twenty years, but people born after the mid-1980s often don't know of it. When Pokémon GO became big with the mobile market, older adults and former fans who had "outgrown" the franchise were often confused that the series was still ongoing (which led to articles and newsites citing Go as a reboot of a 1990s classic).

  • Homestuck achieved utterly preposterous levels of fame and infamy, but outside of certain areas of the internet is practically a non-entity; the author did a signing event at a Comic-Con, and the staff was unprepared for the gigantic mob of fans that showed up. Those outside of internet-comics communities who are aware of its existence generally either have friends who are fans, or are only aware of the comic due to the rampant chaos some fans stirred up at conventions in the fandom's early years (infamously, some cons were overrun by mobs of troll cosplayers who failed to properly seal their body paint, left gray paint smears everywhere, and behaved very inappropriately).

    Web Original 
  • The Chilean youtuber Germán Garmendia is very popular in Latin American countries (to the point where he has over 40 million subscribers, and at one point, he was the second most subscribed person on YouTubenote ), but is almost completely unknown outside of them. He didn't even have an article on The Other Wiki until May 2014, and still doesn't have one on this Wiki.
  • Nostalgia Critic affiliate Film Brain admitted that this is even tougher for producers who use a video hosting service that isn't YouTube, as the general public isn't really aware that other services exist.
  • Ryan ToysReview has over 23 billion views and has his own Nick Jr. show called Ryan's Mystery Playdate, but he's virtually unknown outside of kids under 8 and their families.
  • 4chan, while a cornerstone of Internet culture, is rather obscure outside it. When brought up at all it's mostly known for "The Fappening" and Anonymous, the latter of which is often deemed to be some sort of evil ring of hacker-terrorists, rather than a collective nickname for the various anonymous users of the site (which was inadvertently invented by the press).
  • Because the series of Unus Annus was shortlived by design (376 videos posted once a day for a year and then the channel was deleted deliberately), fans within the sphere of Markiplier frequently reference the Unnus Annus merchandise, quotes, memes, and screenshots to the bewilderment of other Markiplier fans who may have known about Unnus Annus or had seen a few episodes of it, but now have no way of watching it themselves outside of finding an archive by someone who downloaded all of the episodes via an external video downloader. As such, scrolling through the Markiplier reddit can be confusing even for people who have diligently watched Markiplier. This can be made even more confusing as Mark has several Let's Play videos directly referncing Unus Annus or at least showing the countdown timer to when it is deleted. People who saw Unus Annus will get it. Anyone who missed out or didn't want to watch it will just be confused.

    Western Animation 
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: Popular to the point of ubiquity on the internet, but still relatively obscure to a lot of people who don't go online much, or don't get the cable channel the show is broadcast on; other media are more likely to reference or parody My Little Pony in general rather than Friendship Is Magic specifically. If anything, it's likely to get most of its exposure from mainstream media poking fun at its adult fanbase, i.e. "bronies". This may lead to the impression that most of the fanbase is just weird.
  • The Simpsons: Grandpa Simpson puts the generational divide of pop-culture into perspective for his then-teenaged son, Homer.
    Abe: I used to be with it, but then they changed what "it" was. Now what I'm with isn't "it", and what's "it" seems weird and scary to me. It'll happen to you!
  • In 1951, Centaur Productions made two stop-motion animation musical shorts, The Three Little Dwarfs (Hardrock, Coco, and Joe) and Suzy Snowflake. Shortly after producing those shorts, the company went out of business and the cartoons fell into obscurity ... except in Chicago, where WGN-TV has been running them every Christmas season since 1956 (along with UPA's Frosty the Snowman). The cartoons are completely unknown to most of the world, while anyone who grew up in Chicago can't imagine Christmas without them.

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