Fan of the Past

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
Jump to navigation Jump to search
It's grass. I read about it in ancient history.
This indicates that, in the 24th century, the traditional practice of using 400 year-old comparisons is still in vogue, like when you're stuck in traffic on the freeway, and you say, "Man, this is just like Vasco de Gama trying to go around the Cape of Good Hope!"

Shows set in the future will often have many things we have never imagined, but writers can't resist throwing in contemporary references, or at least references the viewers will understand. How do they accomplish this? Have one of the characters be a self-proclaimed expert of the past, e.g. 20th-century Earth. (Or, for newer shows, 21st-century Earth.)

A common variation (usually played for comedy) is to have the so-called "expert" be completely wrong about some major aspect of his subject-matter. This works particularly well when the subject is contemporary society, something that everybody living today knows about.

Contrast with Disco Dan, except these people know they are not actually in the past. Compare with Born in the Wrong Century.

Examples of Fan of the Past include:


  • Galaxy Express 999 episode 28: Tetsuro, a poor kid who's previously shown no signs of knowing any history, meets a man who is trying to grow his beard long and points out that a long time ago, Earth used to have the Guinness Book of World Records.
  • This is the major motivation of the Big Bad of Moldiver. Professor Machinegal is already rich, famous and respected in his civilian identity; his heists aim to steal "antique" technology, and his favorite part of history is the 1980s (when the series was made).
  • Clain from Fractale is obsessed with antiques from before the creation of the Fractale System.
  • In Cowboy Bebop much of the information about the past has been destroyed from a gate accident. Still they have one of these none the less.


  • Non-futuristic example: In the 1980s, when Roy Thomas was in charge of all the Earth-2 books for DC Comics (most of which were set in the Golden Age), several of the characters in Infinity, Inc., the book set in present day, were Fans Of The Past. This came in handy when Infinity, Inc. crossed over with All-Star Squadron, which was set in the 1940s.
  • Booster Gold majored in the Age of Superheros in College.
  • Not sure if this counts, but one subsection of the alien race called the Skrulls in Marvel Comics fell in love with the American style of the 1920s and 30s. Their planet was redecorated to follow this style, and even the Skrulls (shapeshifters that they are) stay in human form most of the time. When the Fantastic Four first encountered them, this was the cause of some truly epic Cognitive Dissonance.
  • The premise for the third continuity of The Legion of Super Heroes: the entire team was like this.
  • A dark version of this trope occurred in the Rogue Trooper story "Fort Neuro". Rogue arrived at the titular fort, hoping to find shelter and some time to let the biochips calm down. However, the stress of holding off a Nort siege for years coupled with isolation due to their sanity slipping, causing the four garrisons to degenerate into Parodies of Napoleonic France, a 50s British seaside resort, a group of disco freaks, and wannabe supermodels. Rogue and the robots eventually managed to knock some sense into them.
  • Alan Moore's Tomorrow Stories features the First American and U.S.Angel facing off against Dozier D. Daze and his retro-ray. Daze is obsessed with long-gone pop culture and memorabilia to the point that it's all that gets him hot and bothered. That's right, the man is a latent retrosexual. The First American and U.S.Angel grow increasingly uncomfortable with him turning them into denizens of eras past.


  • In Demolition Man, the most popular form of music is 20th-century advertising jingles. Also, Lenina Huxley had such a large interest in the era that her superior referred to it as an addiction.
  • Del Spooner in I Robot, though this is mainly an excuse for some crashingly unsubtle Product Placement.
  • Non-futuristic example: Doc Brown from Back to The Future was always a fan of the Old West and sometimes felt that he was born in the wrong era; in the third film, he gets to live his fantasy. He nearly gets killed in the process.
  • In Titan A.E., one of the main characters and several minor ones either collect relics of the destroyed Earth, or continue Earth traditions, like football (soccer to Americans).
  • Mission to Mars had a scene early on where a character drove up in a muscle car and was mocked by his electric-car owning colleagues for his antiquated tastes. He defends the internal combustion engine with the air of a modern-day vinyl fan talking to iPod owners.
  • An early scene in the 2009 Star Trek movie shows a young Kirk joyriding in a 20th-century convertible, which his father had apparently refurbished.
  • In Overdrawn at the Memory Bank Aram Fingal is a big fan of old pop culture, most notably Casablanca. This is what gets him into so much trouble.
  • In the movie version of Michael Crichton's Timeline, most of the main characters are historians of the medieval era. One of them is a lifelong enthusiast who's trained himself in period-era blacksmithing and swordplay. Early on in the film, he describes the life of a knight and concludes with the mildly Narmy "The past is where it's at!"


  • Bethany Lindquist of the Antares novels is a historian, and therefore makes frequent references to Earth history. In fact, finding historical parallels to contemporary situations is supposed to be her job.
  • The Honor Harrington novels have entire planets whose entire populations are utterly dedicated to recreating some late-1700s-to-early-1800s Earth society. Talk about The Theme Park Version, these are theme park cultures, without the tourist industry to justify it. This is what happens when a planetary autocrat decides he's the reincarnation of Frederick the Great. Other than the crazy, he was apparently quite a good ruler - he took his role model seriously. Harrington herself is also a big fan of 20th century naval warfare, and the Havenites Kevin Usher and Victor Cachat are fans of 20th century movies.
    • The ancient and honorable art of Grayson swordfighting is ostensibly based on The Seven Samurai - the founder of the colony was a fan. Naturally, they've filled in some of the blanks over the centuries.
  • In the novel The Shadow Runners, the characters are in Australia, now a prison area in 2176. Rich young scions thrown into Australia are pretty much running the joint, while on loads and loads of drugs. They call themselves "Parliament" and are running around in waistcoats, calling themselves Lord Whatever, and pretending it's Victorian Britain.
  • Asimov tends to subvert this by having most of Earth's history long lost in the past in most of his novels. Characters have been known to lump unicorns, orcs and tigers into the same fantasy grouping. Nonetheless, there are a few odd examples of fairly accurate history that pops up in unexpected places.
    • In The Robots of Dawn there are a references to some of the robot stories '(most notably The Bicentennial Man), although they're tossed aside as myths.
    • The Caves of Steel states that almost all the humans living on Earth at the time fit the trope.
    • In The Naked Sun there is a Solarian "sociologist" who is incredibly backwards, not even recognizing that mathematics can be used in sociology, who nonetheless knows about Greek history, despite it being more or less forgotten on Earth.
    • Perhaps the biggest subversion, though, is in Foundation and Earth, where a archaeologist is seeking to find the mythical origin planet, Earth, and ends up following absurd myths about a planet with a massive moon, in a solar system with a planet with a massive ring system, and so on. The bizarre part is that, despite continually going on about how much these things get exaggerated and altered over the years, the actual source material they're working from seems more or less correct, even when it shouldn't be, and they still don't believe it.
  • Jherek Carnelian of the Dancers at the End of Time series is his society's foremost expert on the 19th century, which depresses a time traveler he encounters. He believes that "19th century" is one language with several dialects, though he does, at least, sort of grasp the concept of trains.
  • The protagonist of I Am Legend, particularly with regards to music. Since the story was set twenty years in the future, it prevents any inaccurate predictions, since the protagonist is the only person left.
  • Acts as a Chekhov's Gun in the Council Wars series. The re-enactors who're so very interested in the medieval era? Rachel's father, whom she mocks for his unusually intense interest (though not to his face)? They keep the world from sliding into complete barbarism, and have the tools - and skills - needed to keep the refugees from starving and succumbing to the elements, and later the skills needed to keep the Complete Monster Dragon from making things even worse. For extra points, Rachel's father? He's actually Charles the Great - a legendary hero who brought peace to Anarchia for ten years and then vanished, using the name of his brother, Edmund, as an alias.
  • The obsession with Earth's past is something of a big deal for the people in the titular world of Tranquilium. It doesn't help that Palladia is basically the Russian Empire On Some Islands!!!, while Merryland, the other big power, is a mix of Victorian Britain and 19th century America.
  • Time Scout: History tourism is a thing. Time guides are basically incredibly competent tour guides who also have Ph.D.s. Time scouts are all Indiana Jones.
  • Professor Bernice Summerfield from the Bernice Summerfield novels is an archaeologist from the future whose specialist historical period is the 20th century.

Live Action TV

  • This trope seems to be standard issue on Star Trek:
    • Tom Paris in Voyager, though he likes things slightly older than modern day (like Captain Proton!, based on Pulp Magazines and serials like Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon). And fixing cars.
    • Deep Space Nine has Sisko and baseball.
      • Odo and O'Brien both enjoy twentieth-century detective novels.
      • Dr. Bashir and Chief O'Brien were re-fighting the Alamo and playing fighter pilots in the Battle of Britain. The station's counselor started to get concerned after a while—other than the battle of Britain, all of their scenarios were unwinnable last stands.
    • Star Trek: The Next Generation has Picard and the detective program.
      • Not to mention wine making (or at least such is the case with his brother, though considering how steeped in tradition wine making is this may be Justified Trope.)
      • Data and LaForge with their Sherlock Holmes programs.
      • When Worf, Alexander, and Troi go into a holodeck program simulating a town in the "Wild West" of the 1800s, Troi says that she's always been a fan of the (American) Ancient West as her father used to tell her stories about it as a little girl. Her resulting genre savviness comes in handy.
      • Another example: when Data is in the holodeck trying to learn how to be comedic, he asks the computer to name the funniest comedians in history. It is revealed that the funniest comedian was a man from the 23rd century whose jokes were based in quantum physics.
    • In Enterprise, Trip was an old movie buff, and T'Pol knew way more than made sense about her great-grandmother's trip to Earth in the 20th century.
    • Kirk in the original series
      • In one of the early Star Trek movies, Kirk receives a pair of "antique" eyeglasses as a birthday present (the explanation is he's allergic to some drug that 24th-century people use to treat bad vision—funny in hindsight since before the end of the 20th century, we were using laser microsurgery to fix eye problems).
      • Marla McGivers from "Space Seed". Completely justified in Mc Givers' case, because she is a historian by profession. Kirk even remarks sardonically upon the discovery of Khan's ship, the Botany Bay, that this will finally give her something to do.
      • Two more examples: During Sam Cogley's closing arguments in "Court Martial", he refers to fundamental declarations of rights made in the Magna Carta, the US Constitution, a Declaration of Rights from the Martian Colonies, and the Statutes of Alpha III. Also, references are periodically made to Colonel Green (a dictator from the 21st century) and World War III, as well as the fact that mankind avoided an all-out nuclear war.
      • There are also some examples from the new series, such as a reference to the (future) reunification of Ireland as a result of terrorism.
    • Zefram Cochrane from First Contact loves early rock-and-roll. Somewhat justified, as his time period is shortly After the End.
    • Sulu was suddenly revealed to be a masterful expert on 20th century aircraft in order to Hand Wave how he could so expertly pilot a 20th century aircraft in the fourth movie.
      • One episode of TOS established that he collected 20th century fire-arms, so an interest in 20th century technology in general is not inconceivable. Also, he was a starship pilot for his entire career, and had pretty much retired by the time of the fourth movie. Maybe he took up flying old-fashioned aeroplanes as a hobby to pass the time?
      • He also showed knowledge of fencing, and while hallucinating from a contagious G-Rated Drug called a seeming opponent "Cardinal Richelieu", so clearly The Three Musketeers (or European history, as the fictional Richelieu was based on a real person) was an influence as well.
      • Young Sulu's knowledge of fencing comes in handier than you might expect in the latest Star Trek movie ...
    • Averted in Star Trek IV the Voyage Home, when the 20th-century marine biologist correctly points out that there's at least one thing—whales—which no one in Kirk's time will be an expert on.
    • The strangest thing is that these history fans almost never talk about anything that hasn't already happened. Given, this has made them look silly in the past, but it gets to the point where you feel that no great works of art, philosophy or religion was accomplished after the 20th Century. A rather strange state of affairs, considering that's when we achieve world peace and space travel.
      • They also consider everything before first contact 'ancient' history on several occasions, Voyager especially being prone to this.
      • There are actually several examples in the original series where historical figures, literature, and events are created. Just as one example, in the episode "The City on the Edge of Forever," Kirk talks about a book 100 years to come (relative to 1930) that puts forth the idea that "let me help" is stronger than "I love you."
  • Michael Garibaldi of Babylon 5 wasn't obsessed with the 20th century, but he had a great love of 20th century cartoons and motorcycles.
    • And also occasionally carries a .38 "slugthrower" which was a gift from his Boston cop grandma.
  • Space: Above and Beyond had a Marine who developed an interest in 20th century rock & roll after studying it in school. The lessons apparently didn't stick, however; he tells his squad that Blitzkrieg Bop was recorded by Pink Floyd.
  • Seamus Harper in Andromeda; he often references culture from our time that confuses everyone else, as he is the only main character from Earth. Examples include comic book references, a desire to learn Gaelic, and surfing (although that seems to still be popular all across the galaxy.)
  • Initially averted in Red Dwarf, where the only references Lister made were originally to futuristic sports (like players for various Zero-G Football teams) and television shows (Mugs Murphy), but eventually just gave up and made jokes referencing pop-culture concepts people actually understood. From the beginning though, Rimmer has been a fan of the Napoleonic Age of War.
    • Although a lot of the jokes already feel rather dated 10–20 years on.
  • Blakes Seven. In the episode "Bounty", former President Sarkoff is a student of 'natural history', which has come to mean the study of things that no longer exist. Thus he has 20th Century artefacts mounted on his wall like heirlooms, including gasmasks and cutlery.
  • Half of the jokes in Buck Rogers in the 25th Century were based on misinterpreting items from the 20th Century.

Tabletop Games

  • Taken to ridiculous levels in Traveller: The New Era (set in the 57th century, referencing 20th century history and popular culture left, right and centre), but justified in that Word of God has it that what we're reading is a Cultural Translation of the 57th-century stuff that's really being referenced.
    • GURPS Traveller mentions societies that study older cultures that they're descended from and live their lives the way their ancestors did (essentially living a permanent cosplay LARP), as an in-universe justification for this. It also mentions that some societies did better research than others.
  • A BattleTech book of rumors hung out a lampshade on this trope, asking why there were so many references to things 1000 years in the past, and so few from just 200–300 years ago.
  • In Paranoia, the Romantics are an entire secret society of Fans of the Past. Of course, this being Paranoia, their historical records are badly mixed up.
  • In Warhammer 40,000, Malcador the Sigilite is described as having been an avid historian and collector of ancient relics, including among others an authentic Van Gogh painting. The Horus Heresy books also suggest that at least some of the nigh-immortal Perpetuals (of which the Emperor and even Vulkan are such) are this to various degrees; one in particular even has a copy of Hans Christian Andersen's stories as among her most prized treasures.

Video Games

  • Arthur, a strong Artificial Intelligence whose systems are the basis of the futuristic "biochip" computers in The Journeyman Project is described by his creator as having an unfortunate fixation with twentieth century pop culture.
  • Inverted in Metal Gear Solid 3, which takes place in the 1960s, where there are several dialogs with Paramedic in which she comments on the "latest" movies, inventions, and discoveries. Among her claims are that VHS will take off and that scientists have found out that smoking is likely to cause lung cancer. Which Naked Snake seriously doubts.

Major Zero: "007 is the biggest thing to come out of England since the Mayflower. I wouldn't be surprised if they made 20 more of those movies."

Web Comics

  • Memnon Vanderbeam of Starslip Crisis has a particular predilection for the early 21st century: some of the exhibits in the Fuseli include a copy of World of Warcraft and the only remaining print of the Catwoman movie.
  • Tigerlilly Jones from Skin Horse is basically walking personification of The Seventies, displaying nearly every seventies trope at some point or another, but is disqualified from being a Disco Stu because she was, technically speaking, born in the 1980s. Of course, she is also certified insane.
  • Xkcd has at least one of these.

Web Original

  • The Chakona Space shared universe is a huge offender in this respect (though some characters do have good reason to appreciate older music, such as one man who is revealed to be several hundred years old).

Western Animation

  • Bouncing Boy in the The Legion of Super Heroes cartoon was a fan of 20th-century movies. This lets the cast watch a parody of Alien.
    • Earlier continuities had the Legion's financier, R. J. Brande, inspired by 20th century heroes like Superboy (whether or not he actually existed). Of course, in some versions of the story, he actually lived in the 20th century.
    • And the post-Zero Hour comics sometimes cast Cosmic Boy as that team's Fan of The Past (and of Superboy).
  • In Futurama, Philip J. Fry is from the 20th century - so, quite naturally, he'll make a lot of reference to the time period he came from.
    • He also subverts this on occasion: due to being an idiot, he often gets things from his own century wrong. One of the most blatant examples being his total lack of reaction to the idea of traveling in a cruise spaceship called the Titanic
    • The 20th century is more than once referred to as 'the stupid ages' by the cast. In one scene Fry questions their criticism of the 20th century claiming it gave the world the light bulb and the steam engine amongst other inventions. It is duly pointed out to him that those inventions all came from the 19th century.
    • Subverted further in "I Dated a Robot" when Fry refers to his time as "boring".

Professor Farnsworth: "Boring? Wasn't that the time when they cracked the human genome, and boy bands roamed the earth?"

  • Played with in Time Squad the characters are a million years ahead of us with Larry and Tuddrussel often making references to 20th century pop culture and enjoying soap operas from the 1980's. With Otto it's only natural for him to reference it seeing that he was from the turn of the 21st century. But he's really more interested in the past far from his own, seeing that he's a history wiz.

Real Life

  • Lots of people could, if they wanted to, list off enough facts about a past decade or century to fit this trope. Fans of classical music or literature in particular would seem to fit.
  • This is at least part of the reason Steampunk and Alternate History exist.
  • It's a lot less common for a person to give references on a daily basis to popular culture from what's roughly a three decade period several centuries in the past. "You sing like an early Florence Foster Jenkins."