7 Random Pieces Of US Culture That Are Weirdly Huge Overseas
Some pop culture just doesn't translate well to foreign audiences. Chinese viewers won't fully understand comedies filled with thick English wordplay, and Canada doesn't get Star Trek: The Next Generation because they don't recognize any non-Canadian starship captains. But sometimes the most unexpected pieces of American culture end up being inexplicably huge overseas, and you end up with weird situations like ...
Spain Loves The Simpsons To An Almost Disturbing Degree
We're not embiggening the truth by claiming that Cracked wouldn't be as cromulent without The Simpsons. They taught an entire generation how to be snarky and, even though its popularity has waned, the show will continue to influence pop culture until the sun swallows the Earth and everyone turns yellow just before the end. But unlike the rest of the world and its adults, Spain, which the official Simpsons Wiki tells us is "a country in Europe," still latches onto The Simpsons as a major cultural touchstone and have refused to ever detach.
For example, fans of soccer team Rayo Vallecano abandoned their seats and staged a Simpsons-themed protest over the fact that their games were moved from Monday so that their popular rivals could get the more valuable TV time slot.
Banners included Ralph Wiggum exclaiming, "I like Mondays, I am special," in either bad English or perfect Wiggum, and Otto complaining about the driving conditions on Mondays. Keep in mind that this occurred in 2014, well over a decade after The Simpsons stopped being a dominating force in the American zeitgeist.
But their protest only scratches the surface of how absurdly popular Los Simpsons are in Spain. Spaniards can eat donuts at Homer's Home, because the Mediterranean cares little for your so-called copyright laws:
"Mmm, trademark infringement."
Several of the donuts are also inspired by the show's characters, which means that you can finally live out that lifelong dream of taking Marge out and then eating her.
"Mmm, sexual innuendo."
You can also go to, uh, Krasty Burger, although hopefully their health standards are higher than the fictional restaurant they're (not officially) aping:
And it's not just food and drink of questionable quality and legality. A Spanish comedy show once did a live-action riff on The Simpsons, and now you too can see these nightmarish yellow death masks every time you close your eyes.
There are no signs of Simpsons mania waning in Spain any time soon, which might mean it'll be the show's only fan base in a few seasons. So look forward to a 17-episode arc set in Madrid during Season 32.
Baby's Day Out Is The Star Wars Of India, And They Keep Remaking It
The 1994 masterpiece Baby's Day Out is basically Home Alone if Macaulay Culkin couldn't walk or speak and kept catastrophically injuring the Wet Bandits completely by accident: A wealthy New York family's baby gets kidnapped, he escapes, and (spoiler alert) shenanigans ensue. Also like Home Alone, it was written by John Hughes, who clearly had some scary gambling debts to pay off.
It's dumb and forgettable -- unless you happen to be one of its many, many Indian fans. According to Roger Ebert, while visiting a movie theater in Calcutta he asked if Star Wars had been their most successful American film, and was told, "Nay. That honor belongs to Baby's Day Out." The theater Ebert visited had been playing it for more than a year, because something about the constant imperilment of an infant really speaks to the working class of India.
Its inexplicable success earned it not one but two Indian remakes. The first, Sisindri, is a staggering two hours and 11 minutes long, because the antics of a baby going places a baby normally should not go simply cannot be done justice by a mere 90-minute narrative.
It was then remade again under the name of, uh, James Bond, because India is where copyright law goes when it wants to just get away for the weekend. And before you ask, yes, it absolutely has several musical numbers:
It's unclear at what point 007 comes in, though it's still a better Bond movie than Spectre.
Japan Lost Their Shit Over Twin Peaks
In America, Twin Peaks was a cult hit that got axed after its low-rated second season, dooming it to an eternity of getting referenced in other shows and being brought up by that annoying guy everyone knows who won't shut the fuck up about how much they like David Lynch. It remained well-regarded enough to earn itself a reboot, but unlike the rest of the world, Japan never stopped celebrating the original.
That's a Japanese coffee commercial that came out after the show ended. It was one of four ads Lynch and his cast made, which together told the story of Cooper trying to find a missing Japanese woman in Twin Peaks with the help of delicious Georgia coffee.
There was also a slew of merchandise and fanzines, including one where the demonic Killer Bob is palling around with Laura Palmer like they're taking a wacky yearbook photo:
And a Japan-exclusive board game made by, uh, Sega:
It still comes with a decorative cartridge for you to blow into.
All that helps explain why, despite the subsequent Twin Peaks movie bombing in America, it performed extremely well in Japan. Thousands of fans turned up to public "funerals" for Laura Palmer in no fewer than three different cities. A surreal notion for American fans, who generally prefer to mourn fictional characters from the comfort and privacy of their anonymous Twitter accounts.
The show is even credited with a possible spike in the popularity of cherry pie, and 2014 saw the release of a line of a line of Twin Peaks clothing.
No word on the sales numbers for the backward-talking, jive-dancing, dwarf market.
ALF Is A Recording Artist And Movie Star In Germany
Depending on how old you are, you know ALF as either an inexplicably successful '80s sitcom, the basis of a joke about pogs, or a seemingly random collection of letters. The show about a wacky cat-eating alien who gets stranded with a suburban family was largely forgotten after its conclusion. Unless you happen to live in Germany, where the '80s never die (see: The Scorpions).
ALF was such a hit in Germany that the man who voiced the title character in the German version, Tommi Piper, wound up having a brief musical career, and in doing so created one of modern humanity's most challenging philosophical quandaries: If you can become famous only by providing a voice for a dummy that looks like a sentient elephant penis, is it worth it?
The answer is yes, forever.
For those still on the fence, give this love duet, "Rhonda," a good listen:
Because the Germans never do anything in half measures, the obsession continued with Project ALF, a made-for-TV movie that was widely panned for not properly wrapping up the series or even including any of the regular characters beyond ALF himself, yet still received a theatrical release in Germany. It came out under the title of ALF: Der Film, which is German for ALF: Der Movie, and it was the 65th-most-popular movie in 1996, which is the year The Usual Suspects and Independence Day came out.
Germany has a history of getting carried away with short racists with dramatic side parts.
Germany's love of ALF, like all things, faded somewhat over time. But even though Germany is usually pretty good at acknowledging when they've made a mistake, ALF love has never truly died. When rumors of a reboot movie surfaced in 2012, German news reported it with breathless phrases like "His life in the family Tanner was the culmination of a television generation" and "Too beautiful are the memories of the experiments Alf used to hypnotize the cat Lucky and then eat them." We think you'll agree that this is the most German thing anyone has ever said about ALF.
Japan Has Been In Love With Little House On The Prairie For Decades
Little House On The Prairie is a beloved series of American novels about life on the American frontier that was turned into a TV show in the '70s. The books were adapted into a Japanese TV show around the same time, in the form of an anime called Laura, The Prairie Girl. And if episode titles like "Bullets Made By Dad," "Something Terrible Happened!" and "My House Is Burning!!" are any indication, it did not fuck around.
Oh, OK, we guess it's actually pretty adorable and gentle.
The story's incredible popularity seems to stem from the fact that one of the books was one of the earliest American novels to be translated into Japanese after the Allies occupied the country at the end of World War II. It seems weird that Japan would immediately fall in love with a culture that had just finished demolishing their population with the most devastating weapon in history, but maybe they just wanted to look back at a simpler time, when Americans could only mass murder people in their own country.
Japan being into 1870s America isn't necessarily any weirder than, say, Americans loving Samurai stories, but Japan's interest goes above and beyond. The publishers of Little House author Laura Ingalls Wilder's autobiography are considering a Japanese translation because of how much Japan loves everything Prairie. It's credited with popularizing quilting as a Japanese hobby. People saw the mom in the anime getting her quilt on and were inspired to take up the art and copy the patterns seen in the show. Tokyo has a yearly quilting festival that's big enough to be hosted in the Tokyo Dome baseball stadium, and in 2015 the festival was Little House themed.
They really don't seem to get the "Little" part of the title.
The Breakout Star Of Star Wars In Japan Was George Lucas
There are tribes deep in the Amazon untouched by civilization that are somehow huge fans of Star Wars, so it's probably not a surprise to learn that it's very popular in Japan. However, it's not just Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, Captain Sisko, and all your other favorite Star Wars characters who captured the imagination of Japanese fans. George Lucas himself became beloved too, possibly because he was arranging for a country he could escape to when American critical opinion turned against him.
As we've mentioned before, it all began in a series of Panasonic commercials a long time ago:
"Hello, I'm George Lucas doing my best Stanley Kubrick impression, and with me today is a sentient Christmas ornament. Buy a TV."
From there, Lucas-mania evolved into a big-budget stadium show called George Lucas' Super Live Adventure, which was basically the George Lucas Ice Capades without any skating.
George Lucas' Super Live Adventure followed the story of a young girl who's magically transported into the filmography of George Lucas:
That leads to the Star Wars-Indiana Jones porn crossover where Short Round is a babe:
But it also features moments from Willow and American Graffiti, because if there's one thing a young Japanese girl will want to do after having a laser-sword battle, it's swing dance with a baby boomer who's probably still entrenched in post-World War II racism.
There's also a 20-minute Radioland Murders dance number.
At least Lucas can point to a single moment in his career where everybody loved him for selling out. So if someone ever offers you the opportunity to have your face plastered on billboards across Japan, take them up on the offer.
Brian De Palma's Disco Version Of The Phantom Of The Opera Failed Everywhere Except Winnipeg
Phantom Of The Paradise is a 1974 movie/grammatical disaster that took Phantom Of The Opera, Faust, and The Picture Of Dorian Gray and adapted them into a story that revolves around a rock music concert hall. The soundtrack features plenty of terrible rock and disco, and the titular character looks like a plague-masked former member of Daft Punk currently touring with Meatloaf.
After snorting an equal ratio of cocaine to snow in Canada.
This is the type of train wreck not even a genius director could save -- especially not the one who shot this disaster in the first place. The Phantom Of The Paradise was actually directed by a young Brian De Palma, who would've probably needed to move back in with his parents if he hadn't made Carrie right after.
Somehow, Phantom flopped ... except in Winnipeg, Canada's answer to Cleveland. The film played in Winnipeg for four months, despite closing after a week pretty much everywhere else on the planet. It's unclear how the movie managed to thrive in only one city, aside from the obvious explanation that the movie's funky tunes let people groove themselves warm during the 10 months of the year that the city is a frozen wasteland.
Incidentally, 108,830 is the maximum number of Winnipeggers who are sober at any given time.
The best actual explanation anyone can offer is that seeing the movie somehow became an essential adolescent social experience, like sneaking out to see The Rocky Horror Picture Show or trying to negotiate a handjob in the back row of a slasher flick. Whatever the cause, the movie was such a hit in Winnipeg that it's been able to maintain a cultural footprint and become a cult classic. Winnipeggers pushed the official soundtrack into gold status in Canada by snatching up 20,000 copies. Then the star, Paul Williams, came and played a concert in Winnipeg not long after the movie finally closed there and got immediately mobbed by fans.
To this day, the legend of Phantom Of The Paradise persists. The movie's made irregular returns to Winnipeg theaters, there's a documentary about its phenomenon, and there have even been Phantom fan conventions, presumably held without a trace of irony.
"DIGNITY ALREADY SOLD OUT!"
While it would be fascinating to explore more deeply the phenomenon of a rock 'n' roll opera becoming a quasi-religion in a random Canadian city, any further investigation would require a visit to Winnipeg itself, which means this will remain a mystery forevermore.
Mark is on Twitter, has a book, and is huge in Romania.
Also check out 7 Things From America That Are Insanely Popular Overseas and 4 Types of Music That Are Bizarrely Popular Overseas.
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