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Purely Aesthetic Era

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Age of Sail-era vending machine, owned by a used boat salesman. Just wait until you get to the amusement park!

Diabetes: Are we in ancient times?
Woman: Can't you tell by what you're wearing?
God by Woody Allen

When writers attempt to set a story in a vaguely historical time period, but don't do their homework, an Anachronism Stew can arise—cities, people, inventions, and terms get thrown around in places they're entirely inappropriate. While an ordinary person won't notice them, someone interested in history will have their Willing Suspension of Disbelief shattered to pieces.

However, sometimes, telling a story (or just being funny) is more important than being historically accurate. So while a story may theoretically be set in, say, ancient Peru, you'll find truck stops, people slipping on over-waxed floors, Lawyer Friendly Boy Scouts, period-appropriate signage, modern slang, and who knows what else. A bit like Present-Day Past, only applied to the whole of history— liberally and without remorse for all those poor history majors. While an Anachronism Stew can be pretty subtle if you don't pay attention in history class— "Hey! They didn't call it the Caribbean during the 1600s!"— a Purely Aesthetic Era is blatant and intentional. It may be Hand Waved with an Alternate History, but most folks don't even try to explain it; any attempt at it would likely not make sense in context anyway.

It's funny and cool. Don't question it and just relax.

Stone Punk is typically a subtrope of this.

Contrast Decade Dissonance, where it's ostensibly done on purpose by the inhabitants. Compare Retro Universe, where the setting technically is the present day or close, but with the aesthetic stylings (and sometimes some of the technology) of the past.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Samurai Champloo has hip-hop and goodness only knows what else in feudal Japan, just for the cool of it.
  • Gintama sometimes uses its Alternate Universe Meiji setting as an excuse for this. Before you knew it, the story took place in a Jidaigeki-flavored present rather than the other way around.
    • Which lead to a particularly snarky Q&A:
    "That Shinsengumi member was born in this prefecture, not the one you said."
    "Thank you for pointing that out. I'll get to fixing it as soon as I figure out why there's aliens in the Meiji era."
  • Black Butler and Count Cain both take place in Visual Kei Victorian England. The Black Butler anime removed many but not all of the more obvious anachronisms, but the manga has video games and mobile phones.
  • The Naruto universe's society is based on feudal Japan and its most industrial village is essentially Steampunk, yet Konoha has things like fluorescent signs, live-streaming video chat (though stylized to look somewhat primitive), and all the conveniences of modern day when it's convenient. Word of God is that they have access all aspects of modern technology outside of weapons and transportation.

    Comic Books 
  • Asterix: The series is less Anachronism Stew than an Anachronism Steak. The comics largely use Roman-era cultures with modern day cultural stereotypes, characters have names like Fulliautomatix (a blacksmith) and Timandahaf (a viking chieftain) and there are 1st-century equivalents of modern day things, including sports chariots, text-messenger pigeons, dishonest chariot salesmen and mail wagons with La Poste's logo. Oddly enough combined with Shown Their Work, as the artists are usually making up a modern connection half the time and accurately depicting something modern that actually existed at the time for the other half.

    Comic Strips 
  • In Beau Peep, the idea of the Foreign Legion guarding forts in the Sahara should put it in the first half of the 20th century. But apart from that, everything in the strip seems to be the present day.
  • B.C. became this over time, as more and more references to modern life crept in. Special mention goes to the Christian themes introduced after the author's conversion (especially if you look back at the title). Later strips hinted that they might be set not during prehistory, but after the fall of civilization.

    Films — Animation 
  • Disney movies do this a lot:
    • Disney's Hercules has Hercules action figuresnote  and soft drinks for sale, promoting the eponymous hero. Not to mention a credit card...
    • The Emperor's New Groove goes crazy with this one. It's allegedly set in a fictional, Inca-like Peruvian empire, but it makes no attempt to stay true to this. At one point, the producers themselves even admitted, "What the heck — we've broken every other historical rule; let's throw in a truck stop."
  • The Shrek movies are set in a Medieval European Fantasy setting, yet there is photography (the Duloc information booth), television broadcasts (seen through magic mirror, but still...), and modern day-style high schools complete with cheerleaders and pep rallies. Donkey sings '90s era pop tunes (which the alternate timeline in Shrek Forever After takes to the logical conclusion of having him act like a car radio while pulling a chariot) and references Shirley Bassey, and Shrek himself occasionally says anachronistic phrases like "Hold the phone," and "Oh, no you didn't!" It's all part of the whole Deconstructive Parody thing the series is known for.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • A Knight's Tale... set in the 14th century, but with 1970s rock music. Word of God claims that the music is a kind of audible Translation Convention. Authentic 14th century music would just sound odd to modern audiences, so updating the music to modern-day stuff allows the audience to understand what the music means to the characters. This decision makes a bit more sense when you realize that the "traditional" alternative, a classical soundtrack, is just as anachronistic as a rock one.
  • The infamous The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: While tanks, automatic rifles and a Cool Car might be justified as Alternate History with minor Steampunk and/or Diesel Punk elements (the film is ostensibly set in 1899, and all of the above would be invented by the 1920s), when you have the aforementioned car having the performance of a Ferrari despite it supposedly being the first automobile ever made and a Nautilus the size and shape of the bottom half of an aircraft carrier equipped with cruise missiles and radar tracking, it's a clear sign that this trope is in effect.
  • Giddily played with in Tom Stoppard's Shakespeare in Love. Though the film is otherwise quite compliant about historical accuracy, there are little digs put in, such as a mug reading "Souvenir of Stratford-Upon-Avon" and an Apothecary to whom Will relates all his... inspiration troubles.
  • Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead: with Rosencrantz constantly inventing aspects of modern life, such as the hamburger, the theory of gravity, and Newton's cradle.
  • Titus, the movie adaptation of Titus Andronicus, has a surreal presentation and doesn't take place any any specific time. Ancient Roman, Elizabethan and modern technology and style are all blended together.
  • Transylvania in Young Frankenstein: people dress like it's sometime between the Franco-Prussian War and World War I (as in the movies it's poking fun at), but nobody bothers to talk or act like it. The monster dressing like Fred Astaire and tap-dancing to Puttin' on the Ritz comes to mind.
  • The French movie Deux heures moins le quart avant Jésus-Christ is a comedy set in Ancient Rome (well, a Roman colony in North Africa) but with plenty trappings of the present day (well, of The '80s) like radio and television (with modern Newscaster Cameos in Roman clothes), advertising everywhere in the coliseum, gay underground bars, as well as civilians, gladiators or legionaries making union protests.
  • Blazing Saddles, even before it takes the fourth wall apart with a chainsaw. The only time it attempts to justify the material that would be anachronistic to the point of madness in a more straight-up Western - the Frank Sinatra song, the medieval-style executioner running the gallows, the Hedy Lamarr (born 1914) running gag - is when Sheriff Bart takes out Mongo by blowing him up with a Candygram, accompanied by Looney Tunes ending music...and comments that the hardest part of the whole routine was inventing the Candygram.
  • Top Secret! also takes the "anachronisms for hilarity" route — we've got the East Germans acting as though they're Nazis, the lead character is an obvious Expy of Elvis Presley, and that's not even getting into the French Resistance....

  • A Series of Unfortunate Events is a prime example of this. The setting is kept as vague as possible, grabbing the bad and depressing details from a variety of eras to create an atmosphere of pure misery. It includes, but is not limited to; operating theaters, burning at the stake, freak shows, child labour, broken elevators that require you to walk up 66 floors of stairs, mysterious black-and-white photos, and bulky, unreliable computers.
    • At one point, a train station is mentioned to have three shops - one is a computer repair shop. Another is a blacksmith shop. Have fun figuring out what time period those two establishments could coexist in.
  • "The Knight's Tale" from Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales. It's allegedly set in Ancient Greece, but the culture displayed is clearly that of medieval western Europe. (E.g., Theseus appears in the role of a feudal lord.)
  • This is basically a feature of every medieval romance or chanson de geste. At least one features the Roman Emperor Augustus and his wife, who have had no luck conceiving a child so far, praying to Jesus for help. Emperor Augustus died in 14 A.D, long before Jesus was supposed to have started his work.
  • The parodic fairy tale The Dragon Hoard has a non-specifically-medieval European setting, with references to modern concepts like dentists and deckchairs as dictated by the Rule of Funny.
  • The Muppets Meet the Classics: The Phantom of the Opera is, like the original, set in 19th century Paris. Characters have cellphones, Janice is full-on hippie, one opera-goer wants to see Hamilton (and is, admittedly told he's two centuries too early) and Uncle Deadly/the Phantom's backstory involves him acquiring his English accent during a stay in the UK, before moving to Paris because of Brexit.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Xena: Warrior Princess. The setting's so vague that you can pretty much just brand it "The Past" and be done with it.
  • It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia: When the gang cracks the Liberty Bell. "Don't worry, dude, we're gonna tar and feather the shit out of her later, bro." "Nayeth."
  • Horrible Histories has shown TV shows made by the Ancient Greeks, Romans, Aztecs, medieval Europeans, and even cavemen.
  • Samurai Gourmet: The Once per Episode gimmick is that a Sengoku ronin will appear to demonstrate to Kasumi how a samurai might respond to his current social dilemma. These sequences invert the trope in a way, since all the characters besides Kasumi are replaced with Sengoku counterparts, but the surroundings are not. This leads to such things as a samurai teaching that you should not be ashamed to slurp your noodles, while sitting in a haute cuisine Italian restaurant.
  • The "Get Me Hennimore!" 70s Britcom pastiche sketches on That Mitchell and Webb Look are mostly accurate to tropes of the era, but there is one gag about Hennimore being told to record his boss on his phone (which turns out to be a rotary phone with a 1970s camcorder in place of the handset).

  • If any principle governs the time-travellers of Thin White Rope's song "Around", it's the Rule of Cool:
    Dave I saw your tiny face around a leper's tit
    Jesus walked right by you and you didn't give a shit
    Andy killed an animal; he killed it with his hands
    And gave it all to me because I was a woman then

    I remember Clay was suffering from some disease
    That he picked up in London in the 1470s
    Got to laugh at Lloyd; he will deny it to his death
    That he's the one who never could extract that pound of flesh
  • Tinie Tempah's "Wonderman" music video is ostensibly set in the 70s, parodying The Six Million Dollar Man. Despite this, a Blackberry Playbook, Paget wristwatch, and modern exercise machines are prominently displayed.
  • SHINee's "Sherlock" music video is ostensibly Victorian, but they use a MacBook (Bland Name Producted to "iWatson") and 1910 is in the past.

  • Medieval Madness features, among other things, a castle lord who talks like a New York gangster and wishes someone would invent the gun, a jousting match commentated like a modern-day sports game, peasants complaining that "they took our pinball machines", trolls who like "human burgers" with fries on the side, and a Damsel in Distress with a "Valley Girl" accent.

  • Most of the comedy in Chapo Trap House's Call Of Cthulhu campaign is based around the absurdity of the 2016 US political situation being translated to the Lovecraft Country 1920s, poorly. This includes the protagonists running a far-right (as opposed to far-left) radio show called "Capone Speakeasy", one of the player characters being a 'white spoken-word jazz musician', references to telegram comedians, and the storyline being a Whole-Plot Reference to the Pizzagate conspiracy theory.
  • Because the first arc of The Adventure Zone: Balance was a (loose) adaptation of the Dungeons & Dragons module The Lost Mines of Phandelver, it was set in the ostensibly medieval realm of Neverwinter (although the heroes make some references to modern items, like Taako's quest to make tacos and Merle's fondness of Kenny Chesney, and there's a character named Barry Bluejeans). This extremely quickly goes off the rails; the first intermediary arc is set on a flying Moon base and features a "fantasy Costco", the second arc is set entirely on a train and features a town entirely populated by Tom Bodett, the third arc is set in a fairly modern city and revolves around underground The Fast and the Furious-style racing, the fourth arc is set on a different flying base, puts the heroes in spacesuits for the whole thing, and features a whole museum about elevators after Griffin was criticized for putting them in the last arc, and so on. By the end, it's closer to Dungeon Punk and Magitek than any actual medieval setting. Although the heroes' anachronistic references throughout the series could be due to the fact that they're actually from an entirely different plane and traveled to Neverwinter via a spaceship.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The Forsooth! says that no matter the setting, it will probably look a lot like Elizabethan England. See the Shakespeare examples below.

  • The Skin of Our Teeth, at least the first act, is set in Suburbia sometime around Hollywood Prehistory (complete with talking baby dinosaur). The audience is told not to take this seriously.
  • Woody Allen's play God is nominally set in ancient Greece, but the characters on stage are aware that outside the Fourth Wall is modern day New York. It doesn't get more serious in the Show Within a Show, which also has No Fourth Wall.
  • Played with in George Herman's two-act play A Company Of Wayward Saints. Ostensibly set during the commedia dell'arte era (16th-17th century Italy), the characters will occasionally mention something vaguely anachronistic just to keep audiences on their toes - and at one point, a character refers to whatever town they're in at the moment (Green Bay, Wisconsin, for example) just to get a laugh and some Cheap Heat. The gimmick is lampshaded in the scene in which two of the actors have to improvise a depiction of human adolescence for a (fictional) duke. Scapino, the Loveable Rogue of the troupe, puts on a straw hat and begins to act like Tom Sawyer, complete with a 19th-century Missouri dialect - at a time when most people should be barely aware that America exists at all! Scapino's fellow troupe members are puzzled by this; even their leader, Harlequin, can only guess that Scapino just made up the accent on the spot!
  • The setting of The Lady's Not for Burning is deliberately non-specific; it's set more in the popular idea of The Olden Days When People Burned Witches than it is in an actual historical period. The stage direction setting the scene includes phrases like "as much 15th century as anything else".
  • The Mikado was full of this when it was written in 1885, being a satire of then-current British nobility, British politics, and British etiquette. Unless the directer is a particular stickler for tradition, most modern productions will throw in plenty of current pop culture references, as well.
  • Pippin, supposedly set in the time of Charlemagne, but has about as little respect for historical accuracy as it has for the fourth wall. The high point of anachronism is reached when Pippin steps up to a microphone to deliver a campaign speech.
  • Although lots of Shakespeare plays have Anachronism Stew, The Merry Wives of Windsor falls into this. It is nominally set in the Middle Ages, as it is a sort of sequel to Henry IV, Part 1 (and is possibly out of continuity given the events of Henry IV, Part 2 and Henry V), as Falstaff and his cronies feature in the play and the young lover Fenton is described as a friend of Prince Hal. However, the play is Shakespeare's single outing into the genre of contemporary-set City Comedy (although ''Merry Wives'' takes place in the Country, not the City), and many scholars think that it reflects some of Shakespeare's own experiences growing up in the English countryside. In terms of anachronism, Falstaff mentions potatoes, which were unknown in Henry IV's England, but had been introduced to England a little over a decade before the play was written, and the ghost of Herne the Hunter is believed to be based on a legend from the reign of Henry VIII.

    Video Games 
  • The Monkey Island series. Coke-style grog machines, Stan the used-ship salesman, a pirate barbershop quartet, stage lights with "shoddy, 17th century electrical wiring", Starbuccaneers... It's played with, as the second game suggests that this may be due to the entire game being the fantasy of a child lost in a theme park. Many of the supposed anachronisms were possibly subtle hints towards this. As the original creator and team left before the mystery could be answered, however, this became an Aborted Arc and the remaining games have played the trope straight.
  • Yo-Jin-Bo seems to be made of this. Rōnin who like to watch Back to the Future and make Star Wars references? Yup.
  • The setting of the Iron Grip series is best described as this. Fully justified, since it's a textbook example of a Punk Punk Constructed World.
  • The arcade brawler 64th Street takes place in the year 1939, but features punks ripped straight out of the 1980s and steampunk robots.
  • Overlaps with Anachronism Stew in the Dark Parables. The detective usually arrives for her cases in a horse-drawn carriage or a boat; the most prominent science seen in the games is alchemy; and the attire of the characters the detective meets is hard to pin down to any one particular time period. At the same time, however, the detective herself wears leather jackets and gloves, and receives her instructions from Mission Control via tape recorder. Possibly justified by the idea that fairy tales are meant to be timeless.
  • World of Warcraft: Judging just the human kingdoms, most of them are clearly based on medieval Europe. Except Gilneas, which somehow jumped forward 700 years into the Victorian era.
  • The Pirate's Fate is technically set sometime in an equivalent to the 19th century, but takes setting cues and some aesthetics (such as the firearms) from different parts of the Wooden Ships and Iron Men era, while character outfits range from the 16th century to the 20th. And that's not even counting the guy who might as well be a Time Lord with a Steampunk airship! All of this is, of course, done in the name of making an interesting world.

    Web Comics 
  • Bruno the Bandit is chock full of this. Roughly medieval setting, with phones (cellular and otherwise), computers, TV, modern-style advertising agencies (or parodies thereof, anyway)...
  • The Order of the Stick likes this. The values and knowledge pool of the characters tend to match up with modern day including having the local Wizarding School set up like a high school, all of this despite the comic being set in the "standard medieval fantasy setting" time-period. At one point Elan is trying to board an Airship (in the rather Steampunk cross-over town of Cliffport) but can't gain passage because he's a D&D-style character and only Final Fantasy characters are allowed on board. So, while some higher level technologies EXIST in that world, there seem to be some strict segregation laws in place to try and maintain consistency based on the individual's own appropriate time period.
    • The explanation being that the gods had so many worlds destroyed by the Snarl, they're running out of ideas they haven't done before.
  • Problem Sleuth is set during The Roaring '20s, but you'd never know that if it didn't mention bootlegging and Prohibition. They don't even bother with the aesthetics.
  • Perils of the Lady Gamer by Shaenon Garrity of Narbonic and Skin Horse is a satire of misogyny in the modern Video Game industry, set in the 19th century Board Game industry.

    Web Original 

    Web Videos 
  • Mr. Deity justifies this by having the main characters be able to move through time at will, though the exact mechanics are unclear.
  • Every time period that The Time... Guys visit is full of people and things that didn't exist in that time period IRL.
  • Lutheran Satire: The Donall and Conall videos are supposedly set in early medieval Ireland, yet contemporary technology and pop-culture are regularly referenced, and living figures like Richard Dawkins have even appeared as characters. This gets Lampshaded in "Saint Patrick's Bad Analogies" after Donall makes a Voltron: Legendary Defender reference.
    Saint Patrick: I've never heard of Voltron.
    Donall: Of course you haven't! It's not going to exist for another 1500 years now, Patrick!
    Conall: Yeah, get with the program, Patrick!

    Western Animation 
  • The Flintstones may not have done it first, but they definitely did it most visibly. It had cavemen celebrating Christmas. They have to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christrock, of course. A mid-'90s TV movie A Flintstones Christmas Carol shows the gang putting on a (rather faithful) adaption of the Dickens novel as a community play — or Charles Brickens, in their case.
  • Batman: The Animated Series seems to take place in a strange mish-mash of eras. The cars and art-deco landscape of Gotham is out of the 20s/30s, TV is still in black and white but personal computers are common (and the Bat-computer itself has a large color screen). Most airplanes are prop-driven biplanes, but the Batwing is more or less a flying saucer.
  • Zig-zagged by Dave the Barbarian: The series is theoretically set in Europe in the Middle Ages, and there are two different episodes in which a time traveler introduces various modern inventions to the locals and takes advantage of the resulting fame. However, even before said time traveler appears, the heroes still do many heavily anachronistic things such as dropping by the local Great Indoor Marketplace, using the World-Wide Spiderweb, and making musicals about donuts. It has been lampshaded on various occasions, such as when Dave asked Candy where the clothes dryer is, and she responded that dryers haven't been invented yet; Candy then says to just use her hair-dryer, which is of a generic modern appearance and appears to have a power cable. In one episode Dave, in a moment of inspiration, invented a megaphone out of a squirrel, rope, and... a megaphone. A comedian, while bombing on stage, taps the microphone and ask "Has this thing been invented yet?" instead of "Is this thing on?"
  • The Emperor's New School: Yzma tries to figure out whether she wants to take over the world or buy a plasma screen TV with her money.
  • Another Flintstones-inspired cartoon was the short-lived The Roman Holidays. The Roman Empire meets The '60s.
  • Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated ostensibly takes place during modern times, with the internet and smart phones, but all the fashions are stuck in the '60s and the technology all looks like it's from the '90s. This excludes some of the futuristic tech coming from Destroido and Quest Tech. Granted, given the unusual state of things due to the Nibiru entity influencing time for many centuries, this is understandable.
  • Any time The Backyardigans are put in a particular time period, it tends to be this. A particularly notable example is in "Match on Mt. Olympus", in which Pablo and Tyrone become Ancient Greek newscasters. Justified as they're really just kids imagining themselves in the time period.
  • The Peabody's Improbable History segments of The Rocky And Bullwinkle Show.