Fact, Fiction, Reality, and the Mandela Effect

Posted: September 17, 2018 in Entertainment, Fiction, Life, Needless Things


I love the Mandela Effect. It’s essentially been around for longer than I’ve been alive, but it only got the name we now more commonly know it by in the last few decades. For those of you unfamiliar with it, it’s the belief by some that a false memory they and others share is, in fact, a real memory and proof that the timeline has changed or people have unknowingly slipped over into a parallel dimension with only small differences when compared to theirs. Oh, and in the case of the timeline thing, only they remember the other timeline.

While confabulation or pseudomemory phenomena has always been around, it was the release from prison of Nelson Mandela that created a large ripple in people’s collective false memories. Huge numbers of people swore that they remembered news story after news story of Nelson Mandela dying in prison. The fact that he was now being released had to mean that something had gone wrong with time or they had slipped dimensional boundaries. After all, they certainly couldn’t be misremembering something themselves, and their view that they were right was bolstered by the large number of other people claiming the same thing. It became such a large movement that the phenomena of massive groups of people holding a false memory recently acquired his name- the Mandela Effect.

While that’s a large example involving a major figure in world politics, there are any number of examples of the Mandela Effect on a smaller scale. Sometimes it nothing more than large groups of people remembering a misquote or a line from a parody of something big in pop culture rather than the actual line and then feeling that the actual line is the wrong one.

Play it again, Sam.

Luke, I am your father.

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?

It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood…

Hello, Clarice.

All of those are lines ingrained into pop culture memory at this point. Each line is one that’s been repeatedly quoted in television and movies, comic books or comic strips, by comedians, by critics, or just by friends hanging out and joking around. The thing is, not one of those lines is an accurate quote from their attributed source materials; and one, the Silence of the Lambs quote, just flat out never existed in the film it’s attributed to. It was later used in Hannibal though. 

But there are entire communities who insist that these quotes as they remember them and in the context they remember them really happened. There are entire videos on the internet devoted to explaining how the line delivered by Hannibal Lecter in his and Clarice’s first meeting no longer being that line in any available version of the film is just one more bit of evidence that people have slipped from one dimension to the next or the timeline has changed.

Sometimes it’s a matter of words being spelled differently than people insist they’re spelled. Froot Loops has a stylized spelling that many look at but totally gloss over while things like the Berenstain Bears have a name where the last few letters are close to a far more common name ender such as “stein.” Still, other products, from peanut butter to candy bars, have become the source of confusion that has fed into the theory.

Occasionally it’s something that was always there, but the nature of it essentially hid it in plain sight. Did you know that the lower half of C-3PO’s right leg was actually silver and has been silver on the big screen since his first film appearance? Most people don’t. I didn’t for the longest time. The nature of a reflective silver surface means it reflects the scenery around it; including the gold leg next to it. Plus, there are only so many scenes where you see all of C-3PO and you’re not likely to have been focusing your attention on his lower leg during those scenes. The thing is, 99.9% of the licensed products out there don’t show this, and so most people think his entire body is gold. But if you go back and look, you can actually see that, yeah, he has a silver leg in the film. Somehow, despite the fact that decades of official items of merchandise have remained unchanged, proponents of the Mandela Effect point to this as proof that reality changed and only they remember the original, true, all gold C-3PO being on film.

Silver Leg

Sometimes it’s a shared memory by film fans. Recent stories about the Mandela Effect came about due to a huge number of children in the 1990s growing into adults who swear on their lives that actor/comedian Sinbad starred as a genie in a children’s film called Shazaam. There are entire communities on the internet insisting the film existed, sharing (and thus reinforcing the pseudomemory) descriptions of favorite scenes, and declaring this to be proof of large groups of people having been shifted from one timeline or dimension into another.

There are far older examples of film fans remembering something that doesn’t exist that predate the Mandela Effect being a thing with that name. Peter Jackson did his version of King Kong and included a famous scene planned for but not completed in the original. This would be the spider pit scene. The original scene was set up to be shot in stop motion, and reportedly a few frames were even shot, but it supposedly was never finished and then dropped as a scene for the final film. Over the years, there have been film buffs who swear the scene was filmed and finished and then only edited out of the final cut for reasons of runtime. They swear they’ve seen the entire scene- complete in all its glory –at some convention years ago or on some special about famous movie monsters. Thing is, no one has ever been able to track down the footage they claim they saw or the special they claim showcased it.

People have offered up any number of rational explanations for what they may have really seen ranging from fan-made recreations to other similar movie footage shown while the unfilmed scene was being discussed to a montage of pictures of the actual creatures that were going to be used that fans turned into moving footage in their minds over time. Interestingly, while some fans still insist they’ve seen the footage, no one has used this false group memory as the cornerstone of the theory that they’ve slipped dimensions or the timeline has been changed.

That idea seems to be a relatively new thing.

It seems like an odd combination of really outrageous denial of reality combined with a bizarre form of almost extreme narcissism. It starts with a person or a group of people who discover that they were wrong in some way about something, but decide that they simply cannot have been wrong about whatever it is. When all evidence points to them and others being wrong, they decide that the evidence must be wrong or, even better, it’s actually evidence that they’re somehow special. They and they alone in this reality are the chosen few who are able to remember the lost timelines or who (albeit unwillingly) travel the dimensions. Why can’t they just accept the fact that the human mind is a really screwy thing?

It’s terrifyingly easy to create a false memory. Your brain will do it without you even trying or without others trying to plant one in there. I know that in my case I can remember things that aren’t accurate to what I saw when I actually saw them. They couldn’t be.

I’m a film buff. Back in the VHS days, there were films you could only get in foreign languages with American subtitles. I watched any number of films with actors speaking German, French, Chinese, Japanese, etc. while reading words on the bottom of the screen. When I think about some of these films, I don’t remember the foreign language being spoken on screen unless I work at it. I remember the film images as they were, but in my mind, I hear the actors speaking the English translation in their voices. I first discovered my favorite horror host, Count Gore De Vol, when all I had in my bedroom was a dinky little black and white TV. I later got a color TV and finally got to see his show in color on a regular basis. Funny thing is, these days I remember every show segment I ever saw- even those I could have only seen in black and white -in color.

“’Scuse Me While I Kiss This Guy”


Certainly, music can be used to show that people’s ears and people’s brains don’t always work together in the best example of a perfect union. They’ve written entire books and dedicated entire websites to the fact that large groups of people have misheard lyrics for some of the most famous songs in music history. In many cases hundreds or even thousands of people all across the country not only misheard lyrics, but they misheard the lyrics in the same or a similar way. People just flat misheard lyrics for years and no one retrofit the misheard lyrics into proof of an alternate reality. Well, unless you think at one point in a changed reality Hendrix really did want to smooch with some guy he was with and commemorated it in song.

Sometimes I hear about some new thing making the Mandela Effect a topic of the moment in the news again- even if only peripherally -and just kind of laugh. There are people out there who get deep into what many people might consider “unusual” thought and topics that never went where the Mandela Effect people have gone. This would be the UFO/paranormal/cryptozoology crowds.

If you know anyone who is into cryptozoology, you will eventually hear about the legendary lost Thunderbird Photo. The Thunderbird Photo is a photo that many in the cryptozoology community swear they saw in a magazine, on a TV show, in a newsletter, in a book, or wherever else it was. The photo was reportedly a real photo from the late 1800s or early 1900s of a group of men standing with (depending on what faction of believer you hear it from) the body of a freshly dead pterodactyl-like creature or a freshly dead giant bird ala the American Indian thunderbird legends. Thousands of people over the years- and probably more like tens of thousands –have claimed that they’ve seen it and even at one time owned the magazines and/or books that featured it.

There’s just one tiny problem with the photo. The photo doesn’t apparently actually exist. Over the last 25 or so years, this has become something of a holy grail in crypto circles. People have been searching for this photograph almost to the point of insanity over the years, and no one has been able to locate the photo in question.

Various possible solutions have been put forward inside the crypto community over the years by those who have started to come to the conclusion that this either an inaccurate memory or an entirely false memory. Various people have put forward the notion that the desert was African rather than American, and that the photo some people actually saw was hunters standing around a Marabou stork. The memory than mixed with the memory of crypto tales of giant birds still flying the skies of turn of the century America and fused into one somewhat inaccurate memory.

Marabou stork, in Richard Tjader, The Big Game of Africa, 1910

Marabou stork with wings outstretched

Other suggestions that are equally plausible come from sources like author (True Giants: Is Gigantopithecus Still Alive? and Thunderbirds: America’s Living Legends of Giant Birds) Mark Hall. Hall put forward the idea that the description of the photo is both so simple and so vivid that it’s easy to build it into a memory over a short amount of time discussing it. You very quickly construct the image in your head and feel like the image is familiar. Then multiple people discuss it, reinforcing the descriptions of it, and literally build an artificial shared memory of it.

It’s an interesting idea. I tend to think the answer is a combination of those two leading theories. But what I find the most interesting is that leading people in that field have actually worked towards coming up with a plausible, realistic, and logical theory to explain why a photo so many people claim they remember may never have existed. Let me say that again in a slightly different way. People who want to believe that there are communities of giant hominid creatures living hidden and largely unseen all across the United States, giant winged birds/lizards flying in the skies over the American deserts, living dinosaurs splashing around in US lakes and just off the coasts, and giant, prehistoric sharks hanging out in the Mariana Trench as well as having some heavy crossover in the UFO, lizard man, and/or paranormal communities are the ones offering the plausible, intelligent, logical, realistic, and sane ideas here.

In the meantime, there are people out there who would probably laugh at the beliefs of that community of people who are even now claiming that they are either the special few who are able to remember dead, rewritten timelines that 95% of the rest of the world’s population has forgotten or that they are in fact (even if unwilling) interdimensional travelers.

This is the thing that sometimes shocks me the most about the Mandela Effect. I’ve seen Temporary Detention Orders issued on people for less than them declaring that they genuinely believe they’re from another dimension. But there are people walking around out there- mixing and mingling with the general population –who are adamant about the “fact” that they’re from another dimension or that they are part of the special few who can remember the changes to the timeline like “the neighborhood” instead of “this neighborhood.”

“It’s a beautiful day in this neighborhood…”

When you think about it, these people are not the same as the people who claim they believe in UFOs and alien abductions. These people are the same as people who claim they are the aliens. The theory of the Mandela Effect itself is a fascinating one, but the concept of people embracing it as a more likely and realistic explanation for why they remember Curious George having a tail when they were children, but finding no book, comic, or cartoon from their youth showing Curious George with a tail is almost terrifying.

I’m also amazed we haven’t seen the concept snatched up and incorporated into a dark fantasy or horror film. How far would someone who truly believes in such a thing and desperate to “return home” go? What would they do to others? Would it be real or not? It’s like the alt reality version of 2006’s Bug.

I’ve taken a bit of a liking to the Mandela Effect in the last couple of years because of stuff like that. It offers up interesting theoreticals in discussions and for fiction. The people who really believe it though? They’re nuts.

Jerry Chandler is a lifelong geek who, while enjoying most everything fandom has to offer, finds himself most at home in the horror, dark fantasy, and science fiction genres. He has in the past contributed to websites like Needless Things,  Gruesome Magazine, and others while occasionally remembering to put up the odd musings on his own blog. He’s been a guest on several podcasts from the ESO Network, on Decades of Horror, and on the Nerdy Laser. He is also a regular co-host on The Assignment: Horror Podcast as well as the primary writer for its affiliated blog.

  1. Lander7 says:

    The new X-Files did an episode on The Mandela Effect.

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