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The Future Is Shocking

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John Smith is a goodhearted farm boy from sometime in the past. But then he foolishly plays with the mystic Nazi time portal or there's a temporal equivalent of the Teleporter Accident, and ZAP!, he falls, screaming, into the Present Day (whenever that happens to be).

Inevitably, within minutes of arriving in the bright, blinky, flishy-flashing future, he will be culture-shocked from his head to his toes. To drive home how much of a Fish out of Temporal Water he is, the filmmakers will slap him in the face repeatedly with the steamiest parts of contemporary culture, whether or not it's even remotely realistic in context.

It doesn't matter if it's 10:00 in the morning or 10:00 at night. It doesn't matter if he's in a seafood night-market in Taipei, a busy sidewalk in Rio de Janeiro at the height of Mardi Gras, or a Turkish Cafe in New Delhi - somehow, somewhere there will be a TV playing porn. Usually hardcore, but maybe softcore at the Turkish Cafe.

Alternately or additionally, he may also stumble across:

  • A working strip-bar, complete with pole dancers.
  • A pimp beating one of his hookers while a crowd looks on indifferently.
  • Someone playing a hyper-violent video game.
  • Someone texting (or looking at porn) on his smartphone who collides with him.
  • An interracial and/or same-sex couple dramatically making out in public. One or both members of the couple will naturally get pissed at our hero for staring at them (shocking to him, but not to us, of course).
  • A traffic accident between two screaming, foul-mouthed, ethnic cliché taxi drivers.

A more specific sub-trope of Fish out of Temporal Water. See also It's a Wonderful Plot, when the person sees what future difference is made by them specifically.


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    Comic Books 
  • Transmetropolitan has the Revivals, people who were put on ice to await cures for terminal illness or injury. They're easily revived in the comic's "present day" (the actual date is unknown, the future society has lost track of it). Unfortunately, society only sees the Revivals as an ancient obligation (the original cryogenic agreements) whom they revive and dump on the street to fend for themselves; there is no system in place to help them adjust. Even worse, the future is such a chaotic mess that most Revivals simply can't cope and become borderline catatonic upon their first exposure. Spider Jerusalem spends some time writing about their plight and is critical towards society for refusing to help them.
  • In Runaways, Klara was brought from 1907 into the present, and had the misfortune of arriving in the middle of a brutal Skrullish invasion. She was still adjusting to the concepts of sleeveless tops and same-sex relationships, so naturally, she didn't react well to seeing an army of aliens nearly kill her friends.
  • Two What If? stories have Conan the Barbarian end up in 1970s New York City. In the original story he ends up there during a blackout and thus doesn't experience too much of modern society, and winds up in his own time again by the end, but in the second, he misses his chance, and is actually stranded in the modern day. Subsequently, he has to adjust himself to the modern world and ends up running his own gang after he learns modern English and customs.
  • Retellings of Captain America's origin often touch on this (surprisingly, the Marvel Adventures version reacted this way pretty strongly). Fortunately, Cap is usually portrayed as a broad-minded guy who can learn to adjust.
  • Marvel's The Twelve, on the other hand, is specifically about this trope. Twelve Golden Age heroes are cryogenically frozen and awoken in the present day. They all have significant trouble adjusting, but some have a lot more trouble than others.
  • In a two-part storyline of Harley Quinn, obscure World War II superhero Captain Triumph is transported into the present due to an aftershock from a Reality-Breaking Paradox. He doesn't handle it well, thinking that smartphones are evil mind-control devices and being outraged to discover that his neighbourhood public library isn't there any more.
  • The Big Bad of Chronin turns out to be a samurai accidentally transported through time by a university's fledging Time Travel program into their present. After he learns the path that Japan has taken and how utterly different it is from the culture that he knows, he vowed to prevent the changes that began in the Meiji Restoration from ever happening. To accomplish his goal he steals some history books and tricks a kind but naive student into sending him back in time several decades earlier than when he left the past, so he'll have enough time to make the changes he desires.

    Fan Fiction 
  • In Jonathan Joestar, The First JoJo, Jonathan (being from Victorian London) experiences this quite a lot.
  • The Frozen (2013) fanfic Unfrozen dabbles in this. Though it is downplayed, Anna has a few amusing interactions with, among other things, a smartphone, a TV, and a car.
  • Chrysalis Visits The Hague presents the ponies in the human world in this vein. Though it's strictly speaking not their future, much of humanity's magicless technology is completely foreign to ponies. Queen Chrysalis for one, spends her first encounter with a live television arguing with the newscaster and getting cross with singing televangelists.
    Lauren Mephisto: We may not comprehend the cutie mark, the magic artifacts and the cloud cities, but they don't comprehend the telephone, the lightbulb and the combustion engine.

    Films — Animated 
  • In ParaNorman, the Puritan zombies are awakened in the modern day, and are shocked to see such things as a bar, sexy advertisements, and a TV window display broadcasting endless scenes of war, violence, and scantily-clad pop stars.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Philadelphia Experiment and its sequel.
  • Time After Time has H. G. Wells and Jack the Ripper taken to modern times. Jack changes the channels on a TV to show constant scenes of violence to claim that he belongs here and Wells doesn't.
  • This is the premise of Blast from the Past. The protagonist and his family, who retreated into a fallout shelter in 1962 and stayed there for 35 years, are so shocked by how much society has changed that they assume civilization was destroyed by a nuclear war.
  • A variation occurs (no actual time travel, but East Germany was in a sort of stasis) in Goodbye Lenin — after the Berlin Wall falls, the protagonist goes to see West Germany and instantly encounters a TV with porn on.
  • Subverted in a Deleted Scene from Back to the Future. 1955 Doc goes through 1985 Doc's luggage, finds a copy of Playboy, and pulls out the centerfold. He looks impressed and declares, "Suddenly the future's looking a whole lot better!" (Possibly a research goof. As of 1955, Playboy had been publishing pictures of naked women for two years.)
  • The entire purpose of the Christian film Time Changer is to have its protagonist, a 19th-century theology professor, be shocked at how immoral the present day is.
  • Forever Young has Mel Gibson's character traveling from 1939 to 1992 and dealing with a bit of this.
  • Inverted in Maxie, in which a 1920s flapper possesses the body of a woman from the present day, i.e. 1985. The flapper finds the life of a 1980s housewife too sexually repressed for her taste.
  • Life: Forty years into his life sentence (which began in 1932 Mississippi), Claude is accidentally released in a parking lot where he finds himself surrounded by black youths sporting Afros and listening to funky music. Coupled with seeing the reflection of his old self, he is so shocked that he decides to wait for the warden in the car instead of attempting to escape.

  • In Harry Turtledove's Homeward Bound, the Yeagers return to Earth 30 years after leaving it (they left on a Sleeper Starship and came back on a new FTL-capable ship) and spending a few decades as Human Popsicles before that. They are shown the most popular game show on TV and are shocked (Karen Yeager especially) that Rita, the hot assistant, wears a Minoan-style dress that completely exposes her breasts. Moreover, most of the women in the audience as likewise topless, some with bodypaint covering their bodies, and some without. While going topless was a growing trend among the younger generation in their time, they didn't think it'd go that far (or be acceptable TV content). Jonathan and Karen go see a movie and are further shocked by an extremely graphic sex scene featuring the main heroes (and Matt Damon being merely a secondary character). Slightly subverted in that this is not our future (as far as we know) but that of an Alternate Universe where human culture is influenced by that of the Race.
  • The Man in the High Castle features a variation: In the midst of a nervous breakdown, Mr. Tagomi begins seeing visions of the San Francisco of our world, where the Axis Powers lost World War II, and is appalled at the sight of the Embarcadero Freeway, which doesn't exist in his world.

    Live Action TV 
  • The porn aspect was Played for Laughs in a TV movie called The Return of Sherlock Holmes (circa 1987), with Margaret Colin as Jane Watson, a descendant of Dr. John Watson's who inherits a steampunk cryogenic contraption protecting Sherlock Holmes until there's a cure for the disease Moriarty gave him. Once cured, Holmes is the typical Fish out of Temporal Water; at one point he sees an "adult book store" and wants to go in (saying, "I'm an adult.") despite Jane's warning. Predictably, Holmes is shocked when he comes out again.
  • In Adam Adamant Lives!, one of the first things that happens to Edwardian adventurer Adam when he awakes in The '60s is that he stumbles into the London Underground where he is confronted by billboards advertising lingerie.
  • Played for Laughs and Drama in The Boys with Captain America expy Soldier Boy. He was a veteran of both World War II and the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan before spending the last 40 years as a captive of the Russians. When he escapes and returns to America in the present day he has no concept of the Internet and still thinks of Bill Cosby as "America's Dad" (who made some strong drinks). However, he's disgusted by how "soft" America has become and laments The War on Terror making all the fighting he did in Afghanistan All for Nothing.
  • In Rentaghost, delicate Victorian gentleman Hubert Davenport was forever being shocked by the morals and the clothing of late 20th century.
  • Primeval: The Medieval knight Sir William de Moray wasn't exactly off to a good start when he travelled to the future, given that he thought the time warp was a gateway to Hell, but the future did little to cause a good impression by happening to have a Carnival parade in that very same day and placing a gang of Satanic bikers almost immediately in Sir William's path.
  • In The Ministry of Time, one of the first things Abraham Levi and his wife see when they leave 1491 is a female agent dressed in the most-exaggerated sixties fashion imaginable.
  • Played for Laughs in one episode of Sleepy Hollow, where Crane expresses disapproval of a gay couple's conduct. Abbie asks if he's really that bothered by gay couples, and he responds that he's bothered that they're wearing hats indoors.
  • Played with in Timeless. Two past characters end up in 2018: a World War One soldier and a 17-year-old JFK. The former adapts pretty quickly, although he still prints out the entirety of Wikipedia, as a tablet screen hurts his eyes. The latter is both shocked and pleased. Shocked at all the technology and his own future, and pleased at all the social progress (he went to an all-white boys-only school) since 1934.
  • The 4400:
    • In "Pilot", Richard initially has trouble grasping the fact that things have improved dramatically for African-Americans since he disappeared in 1951. At a café, he is astonished to see white and black people socialising in public and sitting at the same tables with no one finding it the least bit unusual or objectionable. This hits home as immediately before he was abducted, he was beaten up by the white members of his army unit because he was dating Lily's grandmother Lily Bonham. Richard is also shocked to discover that the Secretary of State and the National Security Advisor are both black in 2004.more  The term "black" itself is new to him as he was called "Negro, colored or worse" in 1951.
    • In "The New and Improved Carl Morrissey", Richard expected the landlord to refuse to rent an apartment to him and Lily because he is black. After they are allowed to rent it, he admits to Lily that he is still sometimes surprised by how much has changed since his time.
    • In "Becoming", Richard is shocked at the sight of two teenagers making out in a public park and tells Lily that they only did so in a parked car by a lake in 1951.
  • The Twilight Zone (1959): In "A Hundred Yards over the Rim", after arriving in 1961, Chris Horn is shocked by the sight of a truck, which almost runs him over. He thinks that it is a monster.
  • The premise of The Second Hundred Years, a series that only lasted one year in 1967-68. An elderly man discovers his youngish father who was frozen in a glacier in 1900. One scene has the father surprised to discover that there now are African-American doctors.
  • The Twilight Zone (1985): In "The Junction", Ray Dobson, a miner from 1912, is amazed by the 1986 miner John Parker's digital watch, the flashlight on his helmet and his lighter. Ray's reaction to these items helps John to realize that he has been sent back in time.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In d20 Modern Urban Arcana, elves, dwarves, halflings, and so on arrive in the modern world straight from the Medieval European Fantasy setting that is Dungeons & Dragons. Almost no one in this new land knows anything about the magic they brought up with them, but then again they don't know about modern tech either. At least, until they learn.
  • In the RPG Shock: Social Science Fiction, you imagine cultural and technological changes and roleplay their implications out till you're comfortable with them.

    Video Games 

    Web Comics 
  • When Tammy emerges after three hundred years in the Wickwold Forest Blindsprings (no older than when she went in thanks to Year Outside, Hour Inside) she is effectively a time traveler from the late Renaissance to the early 20th Century, which looks very much like a Dystopia in her eyes. She's horrified by the gray and gritty city that the once famously green Kirkhall has become; learning that her once aristocratic people are now an oppressed minority is just icing on the cake.

    Web Original 
  • The Retrothinker's character arc on The Game Overthinker was built around this trope. The Retrothinker was a 1980s version of the Game Overthinker who hosted a public access cable TV show about video games from the basement of the Sharkcade. Excited to see what the future of gaming would hold, the Retrothinker made himself a Human Popsicle to awaken in 2025. However, when the Sharkcade was destroyed by the arsonist ninja Pyrothinker, the Retrothinker awoke early in 2012 and was horrified by the world. Social gaming, online gaming, EA Sports, Gamestop, waggle gimmicks, creative stagnation, Bomberman Act:Zero, and Sonic the Hedgehog (2006) led to his Face–Heel Turn into the Necrothinker, who summoned an army of undead retro video game characters to destroy modern gaming. The Overthinker managed to defeat and heal him back to normal.
  • In the Murdoch Mysteries online Spin-Off The Murdoch Effect, in which Murdoch finds himself in 2012, he is shocked when he sees a prostitute in shorts, a basque and stockings. And even more so when he recognises her as "Jules" Ogden (who's an undercover cop in this setting).
  • In his essay “Eutopia is Scary”, Eliezer Yudkowsky argues that this is inevitable, since even an intelligent and progressive person prepared for Values Dissonance wouldn’t be able to handle all the changes at once, even the objectively good ones. He compared it to trying to imagine a better world that has left you behind like how modern America has left Benjamin Franklin behind.

    Western Animation 
  • In Samurai Jack, Jack is transported into a big city in the future and the first place he goes in is a nightclub with a rave going on inside. However, Jack is more disturbed by the fact there are aliens there than anything else, so it might not count.
  • In the Codename: Kids Next Door episode "Operation: C.A.K.E.D.-F.I.V.E." the unfrozen Numbuh 19th Century is perplexed by the notion of cake and ice cream going together. He also finds it odd that girls are allowed in the KND.
  • Both played straight and inverted in Futurama. Fry adjusts surprisingly quickly to the weirdness that the future has to offer. His old girlfriend froze herself too, but she's instead scared and nervous over just about everything New New York has to offer. Leela points out that Fry was able to adapt so well to the future because of how he didn't fit in back in the past.
  • Spongebob Squarepants: Squidward reacts poorly after awakening in the distant future.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: This is downplayed when the Pillars of Old Equestria and the Pony of Shadows are released from limbo. Equestrian society is generally the same, so most of the Pillars have an easy time fitting in, though they are awed by the advancements made while they were gone. The Pony of Shadows on the other hand, finds that most of the places he could draw power from have changed in the last thousand years, with one becoming a canyon, another becoming a square-dancing attraction, and third becoming a bustling city.