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Most of a given country's creative output is produced for the consumption of people living in that country. This is especially true when there's a language barrier involved; translation is hard work. For comedy, doubly so. Even if two countries share a language, there are other complications involved with importing a creative work. For movies and TV shows, Region Coding may necessitate a new DVD release. For Video Games, two countries may have different versions of the same console. Moral Guardians and viewers in your country may get upset about aspects of the work that are taken for granted or even welcomed in the country of origin. Some parts may need changing just to make sense. There's always the risk that the viewing public still won't get it. And this isn't even getting into dealing with international copyright law, finding a distributor, and innumerable other headaches with moving a work from one country to another.

Production companies aren't going to want to deal with all this for things that aren't likely to sell well. This is the essence of the Import Filter — imported works come with even more pre-screening than domestic works that see general release. In some sense, this is "skimming the cream" — picking out the 10% of everything that Sturgeon's Law tells us is not crud. It's more complicated than that, though. Some types of work may be aimed at a particular Subculture in the importing country, and therefore the ones that end up getting imported will be the ones fit that subculture's expectations. It's not uncommon that the bulk of this work will come from a specified genre. Whether this is good or bad depends on whether you belong to that subculture, or at least whether you like the same things.

This can lead some people to declare that foreign media are better, because while they're exposed to the full spectrum of things from their own country, they only encounter imports that are both among the best works in a genre, and pre-selected to fit their tastes besides. Others who lack similar tastes may decide not to bother, or they may be turned off on imported works simply because fans like them so much.

Compare Nostalgia Filter, a similar effect applied across temporal rather than physical/cultural distance. Can easily lead to a case of Germans Love David Hasselhoff.

Examples of the Import Filter at work:
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 Note: most of these are written from a US-centric point of view... examples from other countries appreciated!

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Anime and Manga

  • In the United States, only a small portion of Anime and Manga will ever see wide release, much of which will target the Shonen demographic. Fan subs don't count — only the hardcore fans are likely to seek them out. This also makes people think that anime is actually a genre, when it is merely a term for animation produced in Japan; as any fan and this wiki can tell you.
    • Fan subbing is a sort of unofficial filter for anime because of this; there are many series that are thought to have been official imported because the popularity they gathered through fan subbing.
    • Applies even to Fan subs. Not everything will get a fan sub, and it's more likely that the crap nobody watched because it was crap will fail to generate the interest a decent anime might.
      • See: It's Popular, Now It Sucks. It overlaps with this trope a lot; if you ask any person what the worst anime is, they're likely to name something that was popular inside and outside of Japan (Especially if it was dubbed.) If you ask a hardcore Otaku or someone who lives in Japan what the worst anime is, they'll likely name something you've never even heard of as the worst anime ever. The reason you've never heard of it was because it was so bad, nobody wanted to sub it. Even stuff considered "Crap" has dedicated fans who wish to share it with the world by translating and subtitling it.
  • In Finland, while many manga series are translated, anime is EXTREMELY filtered, resulting in only extremely popular series being released. And quite late, too; for example, Naruto was only broadcast looong after the manga was translated.
    • Spain suffers from the same, plenty of manga but few anime (And even less so on TV).

Comic Books

  • There is only so much circulation between the major comic markets (European, US and Japan) because of this.

Film

  • Canadian film is a curious example. While the Quebecois enjoy their domestic, French-language movies, most English Canadian films rarely get much acclaim or even interest at home. It's more usual for them to go on to international film festivals and gain accolades there. It's something of a vicious cycle: since Canadian movies have a reputation for being arty and weird, the talent interested in big-budget Hollywood type stuff heads to the States, leaving Canada only with the people interested in producing... arty, weird movies.
  • Another good example is European film. American film critics and film guide writers will only have encountered and reviewed the cream of the crop, which gives the impression that European movies are consistently better than American films. (Although European movies do tend to be more brooding and introspective...)

Live Action TV

  • This also applies to Canadian television. While shows like Corner Gas, North Of 60, The Red Green Show, Trailer Park Boys, Beachcombers and The Raccoons all attain fanbases ranging from cult followings to genuine (if modest) popularity in English Canada, they occasionally hit it really big in the United States, with Degrassi the Next Generation being a major example. Incidentally, Red Green has become a major source for PBS pledge drives in the U.S., with the actual cast of the show appearing to drum up support. Meanwhile, as with film, French Canadians actively consume their own domestic work, most notably in Quebec.
  • British TV is often well-regarded, but only a few shows are widely viewed in the US — Monty Python's Flying Circus and Doctor Who are prominent examples.
    • The Finnish national broadcasting company YLE more or less assumes that "British + comedy = the next Monty Python," and thus buy them left and right. British shows in general also seem to be highly popular in Finland, for some odd reason. Also the Spanish Sitcom Los Serrano.
    • Also true for Germany. Most German series are regarded as ripoffs of American series and get canceled sooner or later. It's really frustrating when they market a series as "THE new US hit series" when it's really a show that got canceled after the first season...

Music

  • American music is very popular in the UK and Europe. Of course, for every Gwen Stefani, Kesha, Foo Fighters or 50 Cent that makes it across The Pond, there's a dozen that sink along the way under the weight of their own awfulness.
    • To a lesser extent, this also happens the other way round. Americans may hear Radiohead, Muse and Blur and sing the praises of British rock, but how many of them have honestly listened to Enter Shikari or The Twang?
    • And then there was Bush, a London band who were popular in the States but never made it in their home country. While Oasis were trying to crack America and being promoted as "the new Bush", Bush were trying to crack Britain and being promoted as "the next Oasis"...
  • An interesting twist on this in The Sixties was that bands like The Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton were far more into traditional American blues and R&B than Americans were. For many Americans, their first introduction into authentic blues were hearing the Stones and Clapton doing covers of classic tracks. This led to a significant revival of interest in the US, but the oft-titled "British Invasion" was really, in many was, just American music being played by British guys.
  • Due to Canadian Content regulations, the Canadian music scene is actually HUGE. There are some pretty big labels pumping out artists in music hub cities such as Montreal, Vancouver, Toronto, or (surprisingly to many easterners) Calgary. However, ask anyone outside of Canada to name a Canadian artist and their answer is inevitably "Justin Bieber and... uh... that that Titanic song chick"
    • In American Indie circles, however, Canada gets quite a lot of respect, with some of the genre's biggest artists such as Feist, Broken Social Scene, and Arcade Fire being Canadian (along with other, less mainstream Indie artists).

Video Games

  • Due to their often light plots (except RPGs) and vast amounts of Gratuitous English, many Japanese games are imported in their original form by enthusiasts. Titles that move heavy numbers in this fashion usually end up getting proper translations by domestic publishers (except RPGs, sob.)
  • The import filter (in combination with the Nostalgia Filter) is why many US RPG lovers who had an SNES tend to think of the 16-bit era as some sort of RPG Golden Age. In truth, the Super Famicom had as many middling-to-bad RPGs as any other system; the U.S. was just lucky, in a sense, that most of the crap never got to the SNES during the system's lifespan.
  • The vast majority of videogames released outside of Japan and the United States don't make it out of their regions at best and remain strictly local at worst unless a publisher or fan group from one of the aforementioned countries is looking for a new niche and plucks a game out for international release.
  • Despite the games not being sold, this is why a lot of Super Mario World hackers tend to think of Japanese hacks as being interesting or better than those from elsewhere, because only the best hacks get shown on Youtube or English speaking sites. People see stuff like Brutal Mario, the VIP series and various others being played by raocow and such like and think Japanese hacks are better as a whole, without realising how many mediocre ones are just left to rot on fairly unknown websites. Doesn't help that there's no Japanese SMW Central equivalent to keep them all in one place.

Visual Novel

Real Life

  • A variation of this occurs with manufactured goods, and is practiced especially broadly by Japanese car manufacturers; When a new model is introduced, it's offered only in the home market while the old one continues to be made for export markets. Only after a year or so, once all the teething troubles are worked out (and in extreme cases the first-year home market buyers have been, in effect, paying beta testers) is the new type released for export.
    • It's common for electronics. Sony et al can sell bleeding-edge stuff in Akibara while they work out the bugs and learn how to make it cheaper. For cars it is mostly only true of experimental designs (hybrids etc..) Occasionally a JDM (Japanese Domestic Market) vehicle will be re-designed for foreign sales (like the Honda Fit and the CR-V and Toyota RAV-4 back in the 90s), but a lot of JDM cars never see the states and vice versa.
  • The Soviet Union. A positive side effect of the strict censoring of foreign influences was that only the greatest works were actually translated and published in the Soviet states.
  • Canada's CRTC places CanCon restrictions on Canadian television and radio, forcing every channel or station to show at least a certain percentage of media created with the involvement of Canadians. As a result, an American show that has low ratings will likely be dropped quickly, but a Canadian-made show that has low ratings might stay on for a while in really late/early time slots. While this is supposed to encourage Canadian identity, it's led to some people to believe that American shows are better, and in some cases, believe that Canadian stations believe that American shows are better, deliberately making their Canadian-made shows of a poor quality, just to satisfy CanCon requirements in order to be able to show the American shows they really want to be showing.
  • Comic Bill Hicks saw very little success in the States while he was alive, but enjoyed great popularity in the UK. He had to die before the States really appreciated him.
  • University degrees. The US gives a great deal of respect to European degrees; that the reverse is true in Europe.
    • Likewise the elite colleges in Japan are state-run, hence all the cram students in manga and anime trying to get into Tokyo university. Private colleges are only a last resort. Many exchange students are surprised that almost the inverse is true in the US with private universities being the most prestigious while state-run colleges are mainly there to offer affordable education.
  • Sadly, this is the case with a great deal of degrees and certificates, which many immigrants are shocked to find are worthless once they move to a new country. Plenty of the immigrants you see doing unskilled work have degrees and certificates in their country of origin that were simply not recognized in their new country for bureaucratic reasons.
  • Usually inverted with alcohol: Cheap, easy-to-produce products are shipped overseas as the "definitive" version of the drink from that country while better versions are only readily available domestically. Just ask what Australians think of Foster's, Americans of Budweiser, or the French of the Beaujolais nouveau craze. Or ask an Irishman about the draught Guinness served in Ireland versus the export Guinness sold elsewhere.
  1. At the very least, you need someone willing to translate hundreds, usually thousands of kilobytes of pure text (Think Notepad file, not Microsoft Word file) and someone willing to hack the engine. Ideally, you should also have an image editor for those pesky menu icons and still images, and an editor to both check for mistakes and help make the text flow naturally in English. They all have to be motivated to spend their free time for the sake of one Visual Novel for months if not years.
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