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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: Ohh, 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.

    Comic Books 
  • Underground Comics: Massively influential in the 1960s and 1970s, read by many young people and graphic artists. Yet to the general public the genre literally is "underground", because they are hardly aware of any titles or artists existing, or if they happened to read one in a store they assume it's all Porn Without Plot. The only artist to get some kind of notoriety in the mainstream is Robert Crumb, yet most people only know him for Fritz the Cat.

    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.

  • As strange as it may sound today, Disney fell victim to this trope for a very long time within the United States. While the studio was always massively popular from Chicago (Walt Disney's birthplace, though he preferred to think of Marceline, Missouri note  as his true hometown) to the west coast (especially in California), everywhere east of Chicago its reception was a bit more lukewarm. Film critics considered the studio's output kitschy at best, and people used the term "Mickey Mouse" to refer to something poorly constructed or put together. The main reason for the Disney attractions at the 1964 New York World's Fair was for Walt Disney to prove to his studio that there was a market for Disney on the east coast, an experiment which proved successful and ultimately culminated in the opening of Disney World in central Florida in 1971; but even then, they didn't really gain the reputation they have today until the late 1980s/early 1990s.

    The "proof in the pudding" example of this that really forced the studio to make a push eastward was probably the 1984 corporate leadership change that saw three outside studio executives take control of the company. While new president Frank Wells was a California native who was very familiar with Disney, the two New York City natives were not: new studio head Jeffrey Katzenberg's knowledge of Disney came from seeing Pinocchio once when he was a kid, while new CEO Michael Eisner had never seen any Disney film growing up, which led to some serious culture clashes (particularly on Katzenberg's end) in the first few years with the California-based creatives that Wells often had to mediate.
  • Despite being one of the biggest Broadway stars in history, Idina Menzel is known to the mainstream for two roles: Queen Elsa from Frozen and, to a lesser extent, Elphaba from Wicked. It reached memetic levels when John Travolta bizarrely butchered her name into "Adele Dazeem" at the 2014 Oscars.

  • 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.
  • You probably know the Cthulhu Mythos. You probably also know who H. P. Lovecraft is. But do you know the names of Jim Turner, Robert Bloch,note  or Robert M. Price? No, Lovecraft didn't write all the Mythos. It's actually sort of like Star Wars Expanded Universe. Moreover, could you name any of the actual works of the Mythos? Probably Call of Cthulhu or if you're really in the know, At the Mountains of Madness may ring a bell. Same goes for any deities other than Cthulhu like Yog-Sothoth, Azazoth, or Nyarlathotep.
  • 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.
  • George R. R. Martin, best known as the author of the A Song of Ice and Fire, is another example. He and his series are household names amongst fantasy book fans, but to mainstream audiences, the franchise is only known for serving as the source material for its far more famous TV adaptation Game of Thrones. Not only are these audiences probably unaware he's written anything else, most of them didn't even know of the series', or his, existence until after the show became a hit — or, for that matter, the fact that the book series is called A Song of Ice and Fire and not Game of Thrones (the first book in the series is called A Game of Thrones).
  • Ripley's Bureau of Investigation: Barely anyone, not even fans of Ripley's Believe It Or Not, know about it.

    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.
  • Steve Harvey is a very popular comedian in the black community, but outside of it, he's mostly known for being the host of Family Feud and the guy who screwed up the announcement of the 2015 Miss Universe pageant winner. This is arguably true of most Black comedians before they land a sitcom deal, or hell, any comedian since they tend to only be popular within a certain niche (women, college students, blacks, Latinos, Asians, other ethnicities, etc.)
  • The Cosby Show subverted this; on the other hand, it was Bill Cosby's intention.
  • Roseanne contrasted with The Cosby Show, not in terms of race, but class. In fact, you could swap out Roseanne for Good Times and get the same results.
  • 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 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.
  • Christian-themed television shows can be slightly puzzling to non-Christian viewers. Touched by an Angel is probably the most prominent example of this; it lasted for 9 seasons mostly off the backs of its devoutly Christian audience.
  • 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.
  • Although Jimmy Savile was one of the most popular British entertainers when he was alive thanks to his hit show Jim'll Fix It, internationally he was unknown until the revelations of his horrific sex crimes after his death.
  • 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.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • The territory days of Pro Wrestling used to define this trope. A wrestler who may have been huge in one area may have been relatively unknown to fans in another area. The WWF expansion and cable tv pretty much put an end to this, however.
  • For that matter, wrestling itself could be a victim of this. Wrestlers like Bret Hart, Mick Foley, Jeff Hardy, Kurt Angle, Bryan Danielson, and CM Punk are household names among wrestling fans but have little or no mainstream recognition. Only a handful of wrestlers are known to non-wrestling fans (i.e., Hulk Hogan, André the Giant, Randy Savage, The Undertaker, The Rock, Steve Austin, John Cena, etc.)
  • It's often joked that wrestling is Two Decades Behind in pop culture. A lot of that can be attributed to Vince McMahon, who is widely cited by just about everyone as incredibly out of touch with not only the wrestling audience itself but with pop culture in general. There are numerous stories of how Vince put the kibosh on a popular gimmick (i.e. Pirate Paul Burchill) referencing a current pop culture phenomenon because he didn't know anything about its source. Hell, despite being seen eating on numerous times, he had no idea what a burrito was until someone brought it up.

  • 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.

  • 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.
  • Similarly, the Sega Master System was popular in Europe and was so huge in Brazil that production of the console continues there to this day, but it stood no chance (despite its technical superiority on most fronts!) against the juggernaut that was the NES in North America and Japan and is little more than a footnote in gaming history there.
  • How many people (including gamers not into gaming history) do you think have even heard of The Great Video Game Crash of 1983? Let alone know that it nearly spelled the end for console gaming in North America as a whole?
  • 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 is a casual Massively Multiplayer Online Games that was especially popular amongst people born in the 1990s and afterwards, 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.
  • 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 and fhen some 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).

    Web Comics 
  • Homestuck achieved utterly preposterous levels of fame (and infamy), but outside the internet-comics community it's 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. Newspaper Comics and superhero comics still reign supreme in mass-media-land, but a few webcomics have ascended to mainstream notability:
  • xkcd, the official Nerd Comic and probably the most well-known webcomic to the general public, though it has many competitors in the nerdy-people community.
  • Penny Arcade and possibly Ctrl+Alt+Del, the official Gamer Comics, with an obscene quantity of imitators that the mainstream media never mentions. Megatokyo, oddly, started out as one of these cult imitators, but reached modest mass-market success through Cerebus Syndrome.
  • Axe Cop may have finally ascended into the mainstream in late 2013 with the arrival of its cartoon adaptation on Fox. If so, it would be the first pop-culture-breakout webcomic that was not one of the pioneering webcomics.

    Web Original 
  • YouTube user HolaSoyGerman is very popular in Latin American countries (to the point where he has over 27 million subscribers, making him 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.
  • One 2016 example is that a few Alt-Right people used Pepe memes (a picture of a stoner frog from the Boy’s Club comic paired with a random slogan) along with many others. Despite being a very old and played-out meme (around for more than 8 years), the media mistook it for a new white supremacist icon. The comic's creators were not amused.
  • Being a famous video producer on the Internet is kind of a half fame. On one hand, millions of viewers worldwide can check a certain producer out, but at the same time, many are only famous to people who regularly visit the Internet and even then some may be unaware of highly successful sites unless they stumble upon them. The Nostalgia Critic is a good example. He's been active since 2008, gained quite some notoriety due to his high production values — releasing new videos every week — and has a large enough following to make a living off of it. Yet he still hasn't made much of a mark in mainstream media and even on the Internet itself, there are many people who have never seen one of his videos or are only vaguely aware of him.
    • Even the most famous of Youtubers' popularity is confined to the Youtube world. Users such as Pewdiepie, Sargon of Akkad, and Armoured Skeptic are extremely prominent in the YT community, but not really known anywhere else.
  • 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.

    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. 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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