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Values Dissonance

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"The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there."

Tropes are common denominators. Their viewers recognize them, laugh at them or groan at them, but most of us can guess where they're coming from—specifically, what cultural values are embodied in the trope.

Unfortunately, some tropes just don't travel — or age — very well. They're fine on their home turf, where everyone understands them and knows what value system they're based on. When that trope makes the trip to another country however, it gets seasick on the way over, arriving at port looking distinctly disheveled and finding itself among strangers who have no idea what it's talking about.

Since there are so many countries (195 to be exact, and that's just counting those that have international recognition) and cultures in the world, it's not surprising that there are so many different outlooks on life — what's important, who's important, what constitutes justice and what qualifies as cruelty changes depending on where you are. Even in countries that speak the same language, values can be different. The UK and the USA, for example, share a language and are regarded as culturally similar to one another... but handguns are legal in the USA, whereas they are mostly banned for civilians in the UK. The UK also has no death penalty, while the US does for federal offenses and offenses against about half the states. This leads to some fundamental differences in the way the legal system is perceived, even between two countries that are alike in many other ways.


Sometimes, the difference is even closer to home. A show where the death penalty for a criminal is a good ending in a state that accepts such a measure may not be as accepted as such in a state that frowns on execution. With the multicultural nature of many places, sometimes a trope only has to go down the street to become completely unrecognizable. Differing religions, backgrounds or life experiences can mean that a person's view of a trope differs from the "standard" the trope is derived from.

Other tropes find it difficult to age gracefully. The world being the dynamic and evolving place that it is, some aspects of the media don't quite manage to keep pace with the time, and become the "Grumpy Old Men" of Tropeland.

Very often, the trope in question is An Aesop, and exporting it, or viewing it twenty years later than the time it was created, gives unfavorable results.


See also Unfortunate Implications. Compare Moral Dissonance, where the show breaks its own morals. Also see Germans Love David Hasselhoff, in which it's critical acclaim rather than moral values that is on the line. Also see Fair for Its Day, in which the work actually has less values dissonance than its contemporaries. See Culture Clash and Innocent Bigot for when this happens in-story and Deliberate Values Dissonance for when the author is doing it on purpose. Please list that trope instead of invoking this trope on any works that do so. Also see Have a Gay Old Time and Get Thee to a Nunnery, where dialogue is interpreted differently due to this. Has similarity to Good Flaws, Bad Flaws. Also see The Generation Gap, which is a subtrope encompassing differing values among generations (for instance, between the World War II and Baby Boomer generations). Blue-and-Orange Morality is this trope taken Up to Eleven. Contrast Values Resonance. Can sometimes result in Misplaced Nationalism. And of course, it's likely to result in the exclamation, Dude, Not Funny!

An example of Values Dissonance between the United Kingdom and the US would be the use of blackface imagery, which formed the centrepiece of The BBC's Black and White Minstrel Show until 1978, with live performances continuing all the way until 1989. Blackface was/is also used in other countries, such as Japan, The BENELUX, and Australia, where it does not have the same cultural stigma or even origin.

WARNING: By its nature, this trope is highly controversial. You may well encounter a custom or belief on this page that you don't think is dissonant at all; you might even be inclined to vehemently defend it. Indeed, concepts of right or wrong or even of what is "proper" are rarely universal in the truest sense of the word. Across every period of Earth's history, just about anything has been or can potentially be justified, or at least rationalized. So if you see a value here you don't find dissonant at all, please refrain from adding your own interpretation. (However, you're welcome to contest it if you don't see how it would be dissonant to anyone, although even then, please edit with civility as usual.)

Note: Examples regarding the dissonance between time periods require a 20-year waiting period before they can be added.

Related tropes:

  • American Kirby Is Hardcore: Outside the country of origin, media is promoted to seem more exciting, subversive, or badass, without changing the actual media.
  • Americans Hate Tingle: Difference of cultural norms ensures that a work or character is despised outside of their country of origin.
  • Bad Future: A time-traveler finds the future is a dystopia.
  • Bad Present: A time-traveler from the past thinks our present is a dystopia.
  • Banned in China: A work is banned in another country, often because of featuring content that the country finds offensive or morally objectionable.
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality: A being follows morality that cannot be accurately measured by our understanding of what's right and what's wrong. (Compared to Black-and-White Morality.)
  • Bowdlerize: A work is clumsily altered in a way to remove material considered offensive somewhere else.
  • Broken Base: Disagreement on whether an aspect of a work was good or bad can be a result of values dissonance.
  • Condemned by History: A once-popular thing is obliterated by negative backlash to the extent that even those who enjoyed it at the time have since changed their opinion.
  • Cross-Cultural Kerfluffle: A concept that is benign in one culture is highly offensive in others, leading to friction.
  • Cultural Cringe: A character is embarrassed by or mocks their native culture, especially in comparison to others.
  • Culture Clash: Cultural differences lead to conflict.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: A story set in the past features an unsanitized depiction of all the problematic cultural differences in its setting, for the sake of historical accuracy and raising awareness about it.
    • No Equal-Opportunity Time Travel: A time traveler from the future, often a member of some historically oppressed group, visits the past and learns the hard way how much life would've sucked had they lived in that time.
    • Politically Correct History: An inversion of the above; when a story set in the past deliberately whitewashes or glosses over more controversial aspects of history, in order to avoid offending modern audiences.
  • Discredited Trope: A trope is no longer used (or at least no longer used often or as seriously) because of how society has progressed.
  • Dub Personality Change: A dub between languages significantly alters a character's personality.
  • Dude, Not Funny!: Other characters chew out someone for making a tasteless joke.
  • Ethnic Scrappy: A character is disliked for basically being an offensive racial stereotype.
  • Fair for Its Day: The work's moral might not seem very open-minded today, but it was seen as pretty progressive back in the day.
  • Fish out of Water: An individual is forced to live outside of their natural environment.
    • Fish out of Temporal Water: A person has to adjust to living outside of their original time period after ending up stuck in the past or future.
  • "Funny Aneurysm" Moment: A joke becomes less funny because of current events.
  • Germans Love David Hasselhoff: A work is more popular outside of its country of origin.
  • Get Thee to a Nunnery: Something that once held raunchy innuendo is rendered meaningless or even innocent by the passage of time.
  • Harsher in Hindsight: A scene that was already sad or unsettling becomes even worse thanks to current events.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: Something that was once innocent is given raunchy innuendo by the passage of time.
    • Non-Nazi Swastika: A swastika is used outside of a Nazi or white-supremacist context. This was fairly common in the West prior to the 1930s. Even now, swastikas are still used by Hindu and Buddhist cultures in their own religious context.
    • Get Thee to a Nunnery: Something that was once raunchy is now innocent-sounding.
  • Hilarious in Hindsight: Something about a work becomes funnier or more relevant because of current events.
  • Moral Myopia: Something that is acceptable when done by one group is seen as unacceptable when another group does the exact same thing.
  • Once Acceptable Targets: In the past, it was okay to make fun of these kinds of people, but nowadays any attempt at mocking them will only land you in deep trouble.
    • Unacceptable Targets: People and other subjects that one should never, ever attempt to openly mock or criticize, unless they're willing to face massive public backlash (or even worse consequences) against them.
  • Racist Grandma: An older person who (openly) expresses prejudiced and bigoted beliefs, which is attributed to them having grown up decades ago in a time when it was both more common and socially acceptable to behave this way in public.
  • Same Content, Different Rating: As times change, content that was originally seen as harmless is now viewed as less so (or vice versa).
  • Society Marches On: A story depicts a then-future world which is shown to have similar social values to the then-present, making it seem dated as time passes.
  • Unintentionally Sympathetic: We're supposed to despise this character, but we sympathize with the misfortunes they are clearly suffering from.
  • Unintentionally Unsympathetic: We're supposed to feel sorry for this character, but the way they're acting makes them come off as a spiteful and unpleasant jackass.
  • Values Resonance: Though sometimes, an older work of fiction may have messages or themes which are still very relevant and applicable to present-day issues.
  • Vindicated by History: A work that wasn't successful when originally released receives better reception over time.
  • We All Live in America: A work taking place in one country makes it painfully clear that the creator is from another.
  • Written by the Winners: A narrative is skewed to make the dominant power structure look like the heroes even when their actions are/were questionable.
  • Your Normal Is Our Taboo: What's normal in one culture is forbidden in another, or vice versa.



Video Example(s):


Retired School Song

Frond decides to retire the Wagstaff's school song because they never realized that some of the words to the song were a little "raw".

How well does it match the trope?

5 (10 votes)

Example of:

Main / ValuesDissonance

Media sources:

Main / ValuesDissonance