Sometimes your name is Mark Snow, and you have to compose the soundtrack that will transport viewers to a distant locale. Fortunately, there’s a synthesizer setting for that. Refer to the handy chart below for which button to push when your ethnic villain/victim appears on screen.
Mexico – synth guitar
As seen in: El Mundo Gira
Because you can’t tell the story “Two men, one woman, trouble” without cascading guitar arpeggios.
India – synth rattle
As seen in: Badlaa*
Do they use rattles in Indian music? Maybe it’s an obscure genre native to quadriplegic mystics in wheelie carts.
Jewish – synth clarinet
As seen in: Kaddish
To be fair, this will provide a helpful clue for modern audiences, for whom Williamsburg, Brooklyn has different associations these days.
South America – synth pan pipe
As seen in: Teso Dos Bichos
According to both subway musicians and Encarta ’96, pan pipes are a legitimate South American instrument. I’ll allow it.
Africa – synth pan pipe
As seen in: Teliko
Culturally, this seems less defensible. This article — which I can tell is credible because it’s written in Papyrus — indicates that pan flutes can be found in central and eastern Africa, but our knockoff Eugene Tooms in this episode is from Burkina Faso. I would be appalled, were this not just another nail in this episode’s coffin of mediocrity. Instead, I am miffed.
Asia – … synth pan pipe
As seen in: Hell Money, Nisei
While I’m starting to suspect that there’s a big old “FOREIGNERS” sticker over the synth pan pipe setting, there is a Chinese instrument called the paixiao that the soundtrack is trying to bastardize here. On the other hand, neither Wikipedia nor my trusty Papyrus-font website indicate any usage of pan pipes in traditional Japanese music.
American Indian – synth pan pipe wtf
As seen in: Shapes, The Blessing Way
The usage of synth pan pipes here would be less objectionable were it not juxtaposed with actual Navajo chanting, or were it not used to signal Albert Hosteen’s every entrance on-camera like some kind of racist cowbell.
Let us all take a moment to remember those pre-9/11 days, when almost any culture could be brought to life with the simple touch of a pan pipe emulator. Or maybe I didn’t notice these shortcuts because the Fight the Future soundtrack was so good, even playing it in a crowded Chick-Fil-A makes you think you’re about to get abducted.
Or maybe it was because I had never left the country the first time I saw these episodes, and was thus totally fine with the notion that the rest of the world was drowning in pan pipes.
* Why did you see Badlaa? The only record of it in my mind is the atxf nickname “Butt Genie.”