Sometimes a movie, actor or product appears on the American scene to be greeted with a collective "meh" but then make its way overseas and struggles onshore like Gulliver from Gulliver's Travels. Suddenly it finds itself a celebrated giant in this new land.
In other words, there are pop culture phenomena that Americans haven't given a second thought to, that have absolutely exploded across the ocean. Like...
Pabst Blue Ribbon in China
A quick refresher in case you're not up to date on the vital subject of What PBR Means To Americans -- Pabst Blue Ribbon is a beer historically associated with fat, blue collar Midwesterners that is now the flagship beer of hipsters, who enjoy it "ironically".
So basically Americans drink PBR because that's what the working class drinks, either because they are actually part of the working class, or because they like to pretend they like what the working class does.
That's why it makes perfect sense to market it in China like champagne.
What makes it so great? Well, according to the marketing a Chinese magazine ad:
It's not just Scotch that's put into wooden casks. There's also Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer 1844.
Many world-famous spirits
Are matured in precious wooden casks
Scotch whisky, French brandy, Bordeaux wine...
They all spend long days inside wooden casks.
You can't argue with that logic. Scotch is put in casks. PBR 1844 is put in casks. PBR must be as valuable as Scotch! QED.
In other news, hamsters and lions are pretty much the same thing because they're both found in cages.
It turns out it's not as stupid an idea as you'd think. Being rich is sort of a new thing in China, and those that happen to get rich don't have a long history of Rockefeller types or gangsta rappers to show them how to show it off, so they're still sort of figuring it out.
So sell them something expensive that looks expensive, and they'll snap it up.
I mean, it's not like they can use Google to find out what the beer's actual reputation is over here.
Kit-Kats in Japan
Unlike a lot of other things on this list, Kit-Kats aren't exactly unpopular in the U.S., and we have many varieties. Like small and large.
But Japan takes it to a whole new level (as Japan will do). None of this penny ante futzing around with sizes. Japan currently has over 80 different flavors of Kit-Kat.
And some of them are exactly the kind of flavors you would imagine people coming up with after they have to think of a new flavor when 50 flavors already exist: soybean, grilled corn, lemon vinegar, Earl Grey tea, Camembert cheese, baked potato, cola and lemon squash, cucumber, rose...
...and the mysterious "white".
But why are these so popular? There's a couple of reasons; first, the name sounds very similar to a Japanese phrase, "kitto katsu," a good luck wish, which is why Kit Kats are given to kids as good luck charms before big tests, for example.
The second reason, according to that same story, is that these 80 weird flavors were deliberately created to capitalize on the Japanese tendency to "catch 'em all," like they are compelled to do with Pokemon, or weird fetishes. New "limited edition" flavors are often created and then quickly pulled in order to drive all the completionists out there into a collectors' frenzy.
Spam in Guam
Spam, not the email but the "meat product," is generally considered in the United States to be something that should be eaten in trailer parks by people who only have a hot plate to cook with. In Guam, it's the national past time.
It is somehow considered a part of Guam's traditional native cooking, despite only being invented about 70 years ago, with an average of 16 cans per year consumed by every man, woman, and child on the island.
You'd think there must be a story behind that, and there is. Spam's very cheapness made it an ideal military ration during World War II, where U.S. troops stationed in Guam and other Pacific Islands were sometimes forced to eat it for three meals a day.
The Guamanians snapped up the habit, because they weren't exactly stinking rich during the war either. But once the war was over, the American soldiers went home and probably vowed to never look at another can of Spam again, while the people of Guam didn't really have a native Guam diet to go back to.
You see, Guam has been occupied by one colonial power or another continuously over the past 400 years, to the point that no one's completely sure what "authentic Guam culture" even is anymore. Even the most touted "native Guam dishes" are Filipino.
So even if they dumped American-influenced foods like Spam, they don't exactly have any "keepin' it real" food to replace it with.
And Spam is the gift that keeps on giving. The Spam diet, along with other American-influenced food, is at least partially responsible for a high rate of cardiovascular problems in Guam, with 60% of deaths there coming from bad diet and lifestyle.
Next war, maybe we should just get them some socks.
7-Eleven in Taiwan
Most Americans know 7-Eleven as basically the Kwik-E-Mart from the Simpsons. It's a convenience store with food of dubious quality, staffed by an immigrant, and ritually robbed once a month.
However, 7-Eleven in Taiwan is on a whole, other, weird level. Like Starbucks, they can often be found 3-4 to a block.
And Taiwan's 7-Eleven's aren't just places to buy Slurpees and lottery tickets, though. They also let customers pay their utility bills, pay for traffic tickets, develop photos, order a designated driver), and even shop online Amazon-style (and have your things delivered to that 7-Eleven).
You can also pick up dinner there.
While you can get the same doubtful hot dogs as in the U.S. (endorsed by LeBron James no less), you can also get Chinese tea eggs, various dim sum items, and fish balls (they're fish meatballs, not fish testicles).
What with their Starbucks-like presence, their Kinkos-like services, their Amazon-like shopping, and their food-like food, 7-Elevens dominate over half the convenience store market in the country with the highest population of convenience stores in the world, where 80% of the population goes to convenience stores at least once a week.
Disney Comics In Europe
Even if you're a fan of Disney, or comics, you might not know that Disney publishes, for example, Donald Duck comics. That's because the readership of these comics in the U.S. is - and I'm giving a rough estimate here - zero.
It's bewildering that the actual home of Disneyland, Disney World, and the corporate headquarters of Disney, not to mention the native home of comic book nerds, has no interest in classic Disney character comic books, while more than one out of every four Norwegians reads Donald Duck & Co.
It's not just Mickey and Donald, either. Some countries are really fixated on obscure Disney characters, like the Netherlands on the Big Bad Wolf (apparently from a Three Little Pigs cartoon I don't remember).
Other characters making their appearance in the Netherlands' weeklies include American cultural sensitivity hot potatoes Br'er Rabbit:
and Li'l Hiawatha:
and bit players like Scamp, who is apparently the son of Lady and the Tramp, from um, Lady and the Tramp.
Why isn't classic Disney popular in its homeland? Well, first of all, comic books in America aren't an all-ages product sold at the grocery store like they are in Europe, and second of all, due to being constantly bombarded with Disney marketing in the U.S., we've OD'd on classic Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, and can only see them as corny corporate mascots.
Which is why all attempts to bring them back here involve a ham-fisted attempt to make them "relevant," like the upcoming gritty Wii game (how did those words get together) Epic Mickey.
Garfield: A Tale of Two Kitties In China
In all of China's bloody history, from forced labor at the Great Wall to Tiananmen Square, nothing makes me more ashamed of my ancestral homeland than the fact that Garfield: A Tale of Two Kitties was the highest grossing animated film of all time in China.
While not technically an animated film, I suppose there isn't a marketing category for part-animated part-live action abomination, so sure, lump it in with WALL-E and The Lion King (the one that Garfield beat for the record).
I wonder how my people can have such terrible taste, and then I see an old Chinese couple walking down the street wearing a bright green set of these.
The other possibility is that Chinese people for some reason thought Garfield was porn. China's internet filtering software certainly seemed to think so.
So we see a Garfield poster at the box office and we think, "Someone's put a gun to Bill Murray's head again," but maybe Chinese moviegoers see it and think, "FORBIDDEN AMERICAN PORN!" That would explain a lot.
David Hasselhoff In Germany
We had to mention the Hoff. Bring up the idea of oddly popular American exports and half the time people will say, "What, like Hasselhoff in Germany?"
After all, in the US David Hasselhoff is considered a washed-up punchline whose most recent film was his daughter's video of him eating a cheeseburger while completely drunk. However, in Germany, he somehow became a pop star, admired unironically for many years. So what's the deal?
First of all, Germans will try to downplay this, which is understandable, because it's embarrassing. If you try changing the subject to world wars, though, they might suddenly feel more comfortable talking about David Hasselhoff's inexplicable popularity in their country.
It all started in 1989. David Hasselhoff was the washed-up star of Knight Rider, a show in which he had played second fiddle to a talking car.
He was trying to extend his fifteen minutes of fame by becoming a pop singer, and was touring Europe (the only place that he could promote himself as a pop singer without people screaming "bullshit!" and throwing batteries at the stage) when communism happened to start collapsing right in front of him. Showing more savvy than anyone would expect of David Hasselhoff, he rewrote a German pop song into the English-language song "Looking For Freedom," and sang it everywhere people were taking down communist dictator statues.
The pinnacle was a New Year's Eve concert at the fallen Berlin Wall, where, according to him, he reunited Germany by causing East Germans and West Germans to sing along with his song together.
That publicity probably gave him the leverage to return the floundering Baywatch to the air, where Europeans mistakenly thought he was the main attraction.
Although Hasselhoff fever seems to be more a thing of the past now even in Germany, you have to consider there is no way he would have sold out concerts in America in the 90s, Baywatch or no Baywatch, and if he had attempted to start an inspirational singalong here near readily available chunks of broken masonry, it would probably not have turned out as positively as his 1989 Berlin Wall visit.
And really, is his success any more baffling than the fact that in the Ukrain one third of the households still watch Alf? That means it's more popular there than the NFL playoffs in America. Go figure.
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