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It's not uncommon for a single region to take over production of a particular item or skill. Most of the electronics in your house were probably made in China, the last three customer service calls you made were most likely all rerouted to Mumbai, and most cats are born in the fiery depths of Hell. Sometimes, for wacky historical reasons, a single country will take over something no one would expect. For example ...

4
Popular Music Is Being Taken Over by Sweden

Back in this article, I mentioned that a big chunk of the music on your radio is now being produced by just two really talented guys. One of these guys, Max Martin, comes from Sweden, and his cavalry charge through the music industry holding a blue-and-yellow flag is well demonstrated in the following video. Warning: the first half may induce some heavy nineties flashbacks.


The horror.

When you consider Swedish musicians like Avicii and Swedish producers like RedOne, who co-produced most of Lady Gaga's stuff, it's not surprising that Sweden is the largest per capita exporter of pop music in the world and the third-largest overall. That's pretty good for a country with fewer people than Ohio that's otherwise known mainly for clever cubical bookshelves.

Frazer Harrison/Getty Images
And also for this guy. You can thank me in the comments, ladies.

How Did That Happen?

You know that one guy who is always saying that all the world's problems can be fixed with education? Well, when the problem you're trying to fix is "my country doesn't export enough pop music," that dude may actually be right. In the 1940s, the Swedish government started a bunch of low-cost music schools to lead its children toward egalitarian musical greatness. Unlike American music schools, which generally provide select training for the small number of kids who are talented enough, Sweden's schools aim at generalized musical education for all. One in three Swedish students now attends publicly funded after-school music programs, and the Swedish government also subsidizes music outside of the classroom, with some musicians even being given money just to rehearse. So the next time you hear a catchy song with oddly ungrammatical lyrics on the radio, thank Sweden's generous socialist government.

Ryan McVay/Photodisc
"I could forgive Stalinist purges, but not this."

3
The World's Fanciest Hair Extensions All Come From India

Hair extensions are big business. Who doesn't want waist-length hair without having to go through that awkward "growing out a mullet" stage? And because reality is creepier than any Japanese horror movie, the best ingredient for producing good hair extensions is other human hair. Some of this human hair comes from China and Eastern Europe, but Indian hair is generally the most highly valued. Every year, India exports oodles of high-quality hair to adorn the scalps of the world's women and men who are really serious about headbanging.

How Did That Happen?

Many Indian women don't cut, treat, or blow-dry their hair at all, which makes for long, thick, healthy tresses that cause hair-extension companies to go all gooey on the inside.

Image Source/Digital Vision/Getty Images
"Les Miserables cosplay is in this year, ma'am. That's all I'm saying."

But it's not just haircare competence that makes India a popular target. Another factor is a religious practice that's common in Southern India. Devotees of Venkateswara, an avatar of the god Vishnu, traditionally offer their hair to the deity after receiving good news: if your kid does well in school, or you give birth to a healthy child, or you get an extra chicken nugget in your bag several times in a row, you can pay Venkateswara back for this good fortune with a nice hair-gift. The temples that perform the ritual shaving collect the devotees' hair and sell it via online auction. Hair extension companies then chemically treat the hair, dye it to the desired color, and sell it for big bucks overseas. The business isn't as cynical as it sounds: profits from the hair auctions go to the temples, which put the money back into local welfare and infrastructure.

Kim Steele/Photodisc/Getty Images
They tried putting the hair itself into local infrastructure, but that didn't go so well.

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2
Hollywood Is Overrun With Australians

Hey, what do Thor, Wolverine, and at least one version of the Hulk have in common? Besides having nice chiseled arms, that is.

Craig Barritt/Getty Images
You're welcome again, ladies.

That's right, the actors that play them are all Australian. Actors from Australia, as well as other non-American English-speaking countries like England and Wales, are as disproportionately represented on American screens as sparkling white teeth and matching bra-and-panties sets. If you've watched a TV show on Netflix in the past week, chances are at least one of the people spouting off a perfect regional accent on your screen was raised in Melbourne or London. Given that Australians and other foreigners face extra hurdles breaking into the Hollywood market (faking an American accent, long plane trips), it's doubly strange that foreigners are so popular. Or that they're so difficult to pick out as foreign on the screen, given that North American actors doing foreign accents tend to look ridiculous.

How Did That Happen?

When asked, casting directors give a bunch of reasons in favor of hiring non-Americans: they're cheaper, they're more willing to do television work, they're less likely to support an opposing sports team, etc. Another stereotype applies purely to the menfolk: male American actors, the story goes, tend to lean towards "pretty" and "boyish" when it comes to looks, making them unsuited for most action roles. You have to look overseas to find dudes who can pull off punching other guys in the face on screen for two hours. Maybe this is because in America, drama is not looked upon as a particularly manly occupation, whereas Australia and the U.K. don't have the same gender-based limitations.

Digital Vision./Digital Vision/Getty Images
Outside of the U.S., all drama clubs are held on top of active volcanoes.

Are they exaggerating? Possibly. But consider the role of Captain America, a role that was restricted to American actors in order to avoid a plague of late-night outsourcing jokes. Casting people searched in vain for months to find an American actor for the role, before finally giving the role to Chris Evans, who didn't even want it and had to be personally roped in by Robert Downey Jr.

1
Fundamentalist Islam Has Mostly Been Exported From One Place

As we've said before, the particular form of fundamentalist Islam that we associate with extremism is actually relatively new. Sometimes known as Wahhabism, this interpretation of Islam dates back no further than the 18th century, and only got really popular in the last 60 years or so. But why, exactly, did fundamentalist Islam get so big so recently? Was it just the right time for it to span the world, like some sort of worldwide dance craze? Historical and political events were definitely a part of it, but a lot of fundamentalist Islam has been exported from one place: Joliet, Illinois.

Via Wikipedia

Haha, just kidding. It's Saudi Arabia.

How Did That Happen?

Back in the 18th century, Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, the founder of Wahhabism, allied with Muhammad bin Saud, a local emir who went on to found what would eventually become the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Their political-religious alliance has stayed in place, and Wahhabism is still the dominant religion in that country.

Now, as some of you might have heard, Saudi Arabia has quite a lot of of oil money. And rich Saudis haven't been putting all this money to waste on Powerpuff Girls sculptures made of cocaine like the rest of us would: much like rich Americans spreading their weird "prosperity gospel" Christianity in Africa, many Saudis have been spending money telling the world that this pure, back-to-the-7th-century form of Islam is super awesome. Since 1975, Saudi Arabians have spent between $2 billion and $3 billion every year on "religious causes" overseas, including mosques, schools, and religious books.

Ryan McVay/Photodisc
They also started a chain of Wahhabist liquor stores, but those flopped for some reason.

Saudi-published books have been so well funded that they've even put other, more mainstream Muslim publishers out of business. Because of this religious market-dominance, Saudi-style Islam is becoming more and more popular in places where Muslims formerly practiced local, more liberal forms of the religion, like India, Bangladesh, and Indonesia.

Let's be clear: I'm not saying that Saudis are sitting back pulling the strings on global Islamic extremism like a giant looming puppet master (or octopus, depending on your preferred form of conspiracy theory). The world, alas, is more complicated. Although Saudi citizens giving money to terrorist groups is a problem, much of the current extremism in the Middle East is as much of an "oh shit" moment for Wahhabists as it is for everyone else. Think of it as being like if you let your kid grow up watching nothing but Disney's Robin Hood and playing Star Fox, and then walked in one day to find your teenager naked and humping a fox suit. It's kind of your fault in a sense, but God knows you never wanted it to go that far.

For more from C. Coville, check out 5 Secret Languages That Stuck It to the Man and 6 Isolated Groups Who Had No Idea That Civilization Existed.

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