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The Genie Knows Jack Nicholson

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"Are you a genie who does references only my parents get?"

Often, you'll want to get some Parental Bonus or cool and hip comedy into your work to broaden your appeal to the Periphery Demographic.

One common method of doing this in Science Fiction and fantasy is by having a non-human character or a magical creature of some sort appear to be in tune with the cultural Zeitgeist of the time period when the work was made, but not the one the work is actually set in, adding an extra touch of spice to the Anachronism Stew. Thus, space aliens will watch Casablanca, gremlins will cosplay as Rambo, and, yes, the Genie will impersonate Jack Nicholson. Logically, there does come a moment when you must ask, "This alien/gremlin/genie can do all of these insane things, but they can't violate causality?"

This can be justified in various ways. Perhaps the character is a time traveler, or spent a great deal of time on Earth at one point, or has intercepted Earth's TV and radio transmissions and fallen in love with them. Or if the work is set in the future, maybe they're just a Fan of the Past.

Though this particular gag did not originate in The '90s, it became very popular for a long time following the smashing success of Disney's Aladdin.

A bit of trivia: This trope was almost called "The Genie Knows John Wayne". In the original script, Genie was supposed to do a John Wayne impression (note the line about being a "straight shooter"). But Robin Williams did a better Jack Nicholson impression.

Very much comes under the Rule of Funny and Willing Suspension of Disbelief.

Compare to the Fish out of Temporal Water, who may make constant pop cultural references as a way to remind himself of home, even if none of his new friends understand them.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Berserk: Guts' Fairy Companion Puck has made more pop culture references than every other member of the cast put together. His notable character impressions include Bruce Lee, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, Danpei from Tomorrow's Joe, Devilman, Doraemon, a Gundam Frame, a Saint from Saint Seiya, and Yoda, Palpatine and Jar Jar Binks from Star Wars.
  • For a bunch of villains who've never previously been to Earth, the original English dub of Dragon Ball Z suggests they know an awful lot about its customs, cuisine and pop culture. Regardless of any dubbing, there's also the fact that the Ginyu Force settles every dispute with Rock–Paper–Scissors, even though they're all totally different species from presumably different planets who've also never been to Earth before. The non-actiony parts of the entire Dragon Ball saga are largely dictated by Rule of Funny, however.
  • Dr. STONE is set in a post-apocalyptic Earth after everyone suddenly turned to stone for thousands of years and all of human civilization and progress was completely erased, with only a handful of people recovering from their petrification. The main character eventually stumbles upon a tribe of people he concludes must be descendants of other people who de-petrified generations ago, and when he notices them making reference to the legend of Momotaro, he finds out that the village shaman has been keeping such trivia alive through oral tradition (though by this point the Momotaro legend has turned into a Fist of the North Star parody.)
  • The Pokémon: The Series anime occasionally does this, with characters making pop culture references or observations that don't make sense given the world the series takes place in. For example, in The Ghost of Maiden's Peak, a Gastly turns into a mongoose to scare Jessie's Ekans (a snake-like Pokemon), despite real animals being typically absent from the setting.
  • It's relatively minor, but in Bakugan Battle Brawlers, after unleashing Linehalt's Dangerous Forbidden Technique and seeing it almost destroy everything, Emperor Barodius comments "Either I've opened Pandora's Box, or I've tampered with a power I can't control."

    Comic Books 
  • The Sandman (1989): Death's home as shown in The Sandman Special - The Song of Orpheus has several contemporary, late-20th century objects, while the story itself is set in Ancient Greece. Orpheus suffers a mild shock upon seeing it.

    Fan Works 

    Films — Animated 
  • Disney Animated Canon:
    • The Sword in the Stone did it first, with Merlin lamenting the fact that he lives before indoor plumbing and going to 20th century Bermuda when the mood suits him. He even comes back in a Hawaiian tourist shirt. Of course, this could all be excused by the fact that he has the ability to time travel. The gag is true to the original The Once and Future King, in which Merlin makes a number of anachronistic references to 20th century events due to living through history in reverse.
    • The toy shop visited in The Great Mouse Detective contains a bubble-blowing Dumbo toy, despite being set in the 19th century.
    • The Genie from Disney's Aladdin is this to the max, as well as the Trope Namer. His accurate impressions of movie stars (such as, notably, Jack Nicholson) provided ample Parental Bonuses, and like Merlin in The Sword in the Stone, he exhibits ample working knowledge of twentieth-century zeitgeist and technology. In the sequels and television series that followed, he frequently alluded to several other Disney franchises and impersonated their characters, including Pumbaa from The Lion King and Jiminy Cricket from Pinocchio.
      • Worth noting is that Aladdin lampshades the Genie's tendency to do this in the cartoon series. "What's the genie doing?" "Dreaming about references to some form of entertainment that hasn't been invented yet." It's occasionally mentioned that Genie sometimes time-travels in his spare time, which explains how he knows about pop culture icons from the future. There is one episode of the show that explictly shows him in another time, with Napoleon. It also seems to be a common ability amongst all genies here, given that the first sequel has Jafar make a reference to the "Mrs. Bates" reveal scene from Psycho during his Villain Song.
    • In The Princess and the Frog, which is set in the 1920's, Mama Odie at on point refers to Louis as Jabberjaw. This specific cartoon would not exist until 1976.
    • In Brave, if you watch carefully during the witch's cabin scene, you'll see that one of her carvings is the Pizza Planet truck.
    • During their musical number, the gargoyles in The Hunchback of Notre Dame are seen playing a piano centuries before it was invented, as well as throwing in references to Michelangelo Buonarroti's David (the film is set nearly a quarter-century before the statue's completion) and Amadeus (an Actor Allusion; Tom Hulce, who plays Quasimodo, also played Mozart). And there's a huge shout-out to The Wizard of Oz when Laverne "sics" her birds on the enemy...
    • Played with in Hercules, with the side characters making pop culture jokes masked under Ancient Greek references: Phil refers to Thebes as "The Big Olive", Meg makes reference to seeing through Hercules' act "in a Peloponnesian minute", Panic yells for someone to "call IXII", etc. Played straight with Hades who makes references to "halftime" and tennis, and with Meg when she compares Pain and Panic to costumed theme park characters.
    • Mushu in Mulan gets to do most of the anachronistic jokes, including using a modern toothbrush after biting Ling, and lamenting about not having an entourage.
    • In Moana, Tamatoa is a supernatural entity whose scenes are filled with conspicuous pop-culture anachronisms that would look weird coming from a normal human (he sings a David Bowie-inspired Glam Rock musical number, breaks the fourth wall, mentions things like the Vaudeville Hook, pretends to use Moana as a microphone, and alludes to The Little Mermaid.) Maui also has a brief gag where he declares that writing something with a birdnote  is called "tweeting".
    • In Encanto, Bruno passes the time by pretending to watch sporting events, game shows, and telenovelas, and he displays artistic renderings of each which are quite modern. The film's time period is ambiguous, but seems to be somewhere between 1900 and 1950; certainly no one in the valley owns a television that we see. If this is explained by Bruno using his prophetic abilities, doing so just to learn what kind of entertainment will be invented in the future seems out-of-character for him.
    • In Frozen II, Olaf does a humorous recap of the events of the previous movie. This scene proved so popular that Disney made a series of shorts with him doing similar 2-minute reenactments of other movies, including The Little Mermaid, The Lion King, Aladdin, Moana, and Tangled. He even references the trope during his Aladdin recap after Genie Jafar gets trapped.
  • Devon and Cornwall, the two-headed dragon from Quest for Camelot is this film's answer to Aladdin's Genie. During their big musical number, everything from The Lion King to Godzilla gets a Shout-Out, including Raiders of the Lost Ark and Friday the 13th, and they close up with impressions of Elvis Presley and Sonny & Cher. Bladebeak may also qualify; he makes a pun based on Dirty Harry.
  • Prehistoric possums Crash and Eddie, in Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs, demonstrate that they are somehow familiar with "The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late)", despite predating both the Chipmunks and indeed Christmas itself by quite a wide historical margin.

    Films — Live-Action 

  • The Once and Future King has Merlin make all kinds of references to 20th century events and culture in "The Sword in the Stone", to the point that this section is more of a satire and commentary on T. H. White's time than it is a retelling of Arthurian myth.
  • Throughout Myhr's Adventure in Hell, Myhr and his wizard companion make constant pop culture references. It's Justified by having the pair as universe-hopping travelers; when Myhr tries to get Terrin to tone down the jokes so that they don't risk driving off a prospective client, Terrin insists that they'll expect the wizard to seem a little surreal and difficult to understand, anyway.
  • The butterfly in The Last Unicorn. All of its conversation consists of random quotes, some of them suspiciously modern-sounding for the world it lives in.
  • The Myth Adventures series is full of Schizo Tech, with lizard-drawn carriages in the streets and computers in the banks. This still doesn't explain the constant pop culture references, as the human home dimension is stuck in the Middle Ages and is definitively not Earth.
    • Justified: The Medieval European Fantasy dimension is Klah, not Earth. The fact that McDonald's apparently has extradimensional franchises and a reference to one former villain selling hot dogs on Coney Island suggests Earth is at least in the modern day.
  • Occurs frequently in Discworld, explained by the characters being hit by cross-dimensional inspiration particles, morphic resonance between universes, and of course the Theory of Narrative Causality. A common Lampshade Hanging is for another character to question the line, only for the first character to suddenly realise they don't get the reference either, and have no idea why they said it.
  • Played with in The Death Gate Cycle, where Eccentric Mentor Zifnab regularly quotes and references The Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, The Wizard of Oz, and others. As the series is set in a bizarre fantasy cosmology seemingly unrelated to our world, this appears to simply be an example of a Cloud Cuckoo Lander with Fourth-Wall Observer tendencies. It turns out that the story is set in a distant future following a magical apocalypse, and Zifnab, while most certainly insane, is also old enough to remember the old world.
  • In the Relativity story "Rune Returns... Again", a two-thousand-year-old mummy reanimated using magic is somehow familiar with Taxi Driver.
    Mummy: Raw rar rar rar rar?note 

    Live-Action TV 
  • Doctor Who: The Doctor is a time traveller, and often references time periods that occur after their current time period. For example, the Tenth Doctor once mentioned having read the seventh Harry Potter book; the episode aired months before Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows hit shelves.
  • Crow, Tom Servo, the purple robot, and even Cambot from Mystery Science Theater 3000 drop pop culture references left and right when riffing or doing sketches, despite never having been to Earth and having limited communications to the planet. Joel might have programmed them with these references, but whatever. It's just a show, as the theme song reminds us.
    • Though Joel will occasionally call them on it... a good example being sometimes Tom talks about his time in school, only for Joel to remind him that he was built on the Satellite of Love. Mike, as less of an authority figure, tends to get bullied if he tries to protest to their inexplicable references.
  • Despite being born and raised in the bowels of a ship three million years into deep space, Cat from Red Dwarf seems to have a solid grasp of 20th-century pop culture.
    • Justified; two episodes have shown Lister and The Cat watching old cartoons like The Flintstones.
  • In The Jews Are Coming, prophet Ezekiel's drug-filled prophecies frequently result in this; for example, right after Jerusalem is sacked by the Babylonians, he laments the loss of his drug stash full of "stuff you can't get in Amsterdam".
  • In the 1998 miniseries Merlin (taking place in the 5th century) the shape-shifting gnome Frik played by Martin Short constantly switches between anachronistic personas including a pirate, a Chinese houseboy, an aristocrat with Louis XIV hair, snooty professor in an Oxford cap, and a dashing swashbuckler with a shortsword. It is mentioned that the Fae can see into the future, however.

  • Twisted: The Untold Story of a Royal Vizier deconstructs this trope: Ja'far does not get the djinn's anachronistic pop culture references, and is annoyed when he refuses to stop speaking in shout-outs. And because he doesn't understand the Genie's quoting and takes him literally, he introduces the djinn as Johnny, then Turboman, but gives up altogether when the djinn says "I'm Batman!".
  • Lythgoe Family Panto is a stage company that translates the United Kingdom's popular pantomime format for American audiences. Much like their British counterpart, these stage shows are typically adaptations of fairy tales, and are formatted as jukebox musicals featuring characters singing modern pop and rock songs (The Wonderful Winter of Oz, for instance, features such songs as "Don't Stop Believin'", "Boot Scootin' Boogie" and "Whatever It Takes") and making pop culture references.

    Video Games 
  • The characters of Touhou Project, ranging from humans to demons, tend to all freely make references to recent Japanese pop culture, despite being sealed off from the modern world (although elements of the modern world keep finding their way into Gensokyo, usually Yukari's fault).
  • Mega Man Legends: The quiz test sidequest in the second game has questions about real-world events, rather than events in the Mega Man Legends world— which regardless takes place several thousands of years into the future of Earth following at least two World Sunderings and the extinction of the original human civilization, where trivia like this should logically have been lost to time hundreds of times over. Subjects ranged from history, pop culture, music, sports, even math questions, among others. Guide Dang It! ensues, as no one will know all the answers to these questions without a lifetime of research on every subject, plenty of trial and error, or without consulting a guide.
    Question: When was the Pink Floyd album "Dark Side Of The Moon" released?note 
    Question: Who is the famous Greek philosopher who expounded the theory of idealism?note 
    Question: What is the name of the underground aqueducts found in Iran?note 
  • Monkey Island: Guybrush Threepwood frequently drops references to other LucasArts games, plus a catchphrase borrowed from Get Smart ("That's the second biggest [...] I've ever seen").
  • Another Scumm game, Simon the Sorcerer contains a fair share of references also. Somewhat justified what with Simon being transported from a modern world into a magical fantasy realm, but the fantasy realm itself seems pretty heavy on the references and not just to fairy tales and fantasy books, mind you.
  • Black & White: The world you rule over seems ancient and fantasy-like, but The Consciences reference everything from South Park to thrash metal.
  • Namco × Capcom: Xiaomu, Reiji's main partner (also in Endless Frontier and Project × Zone) is a Chinese fox-human who Speaks in Shout-Outs, not just to multiple games but also assorted other media such as anime or film. Her advanced age (765 years old) and dimension-hopping with Reiji might be the explanation.
  • In Jak and Daxter: The Lost Frontier, we learn during a Riding the Bomb sequence that Daxter has apparently seen Dr. Strangelove.
  • Colombia in BioShock Infinite has early 20th versions of songs such as Girls Just Want to Have Fun. This is because they've been making contact with alternate timelines and futures to acquire technology and pop culture.
  • This is apparently a perk of being the Grim Reaper in Soul Nomad & the World Eaters, as when the rest of the party start needling Gig for intel on the titular World Eaters, he gives them detailed descriptions... of Superman, The Flash, and the Martian Manhunter. The Hero isn't fooled though, and accuses him of "just (stealing) that from somewhere".

  • Richard from Looking for Group is a partial example, what with webcomics generally not needing any Parental Bonus, but otherwise fits: in the Medieval Fantasy setting, the warlock is quite prone to anachronistic (Anageographic? Anaparallelrealitic?) references to pop culture.
  • Angel from Castlevania RPG. Constantly makes references to culture and events that may not EVER exist in that universe.
  • Merlin does this a lot in the baseline arc of Arthur, King of Time and Space, since his characterisation owes a lot to T. H. White's Merlin. For example, when Lancelot and Galehaute are in combat with a zombie parrot, and realise that it's trying to find a shallow point in the river where it can cross to the pine forest on the other side, Merlin suddenly pops up, having apparently tracked them down just to say "So the dead parrot is fording for the pines!"
  • In Exiern, the evil (if mostly snide and sarcastic) wizard Faren at one point gets his head lopped off. (He gets better.) While just a head, he starts singing, "Same as it ever was, same as it ever was..."
  • In Melonpool, Melotians have the natural ability to pick up Earth TV braodcasts with the antennae growing out of their heads. The main character, Mayberry Melonpool, is completely obsessed with them - especially Star Trek.
  • The alien title character of Zortic is similarly obsessed with Earth's TV transmissions, and is also a huge Trekkie. The two strips have even crossed over more than once.

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    Western Animation 

Alternative Title(s): Magical Anachronistic Humor