A couple of days ago I came across a post on a friend’s Facebook page freaking out about the nonexistence of a movie starring Sinbad. That sentence would seem fairly un-special and undeserving of an entire post on this here blog, but the catch to it is: they remembered having seen it. A LOT of people remembered seeing it. I remember seeing it (or at the very least seeing previews for it). This phenomena is known on the internet as the Mandela Effect (academically, confabulation). It’s a situation where a number of people claim to remember an event a certain way that differs from the evidence that can be provided. It’s weird.
And yet, provided with sufficient evidence to say otherwise, people continue to rail against these instances of collective memory for a kernel of truth supporting their thoughts. I did this when I first saw the articles popping up about this movie with Sinbad that never existed, and I did the same thing regarding The Berenstain (Berenstein) Bears a couple of years before.
An example of mispronunciation and misspelling, The Berenstain Bears rocketed into the conspirasphere when a number of individuals (including myself) remembered having seen and heard the “-stein” spelling for the children’s book bears when they were kids as opposed to the correct “-stain.” The authors’ last names are Berenstain, the books are all titled with the exact same spelling, but still—so many people remember a spelling that never actually was.
It’s a fascinating occurrence when a large number of people remember something incorrectly. It isn’t that they are lying to themselves or trying to believe something false, but rather, at some point something got mixed up, something became confused, and the memory being remembered is nothing more than a common misunderstanding. It isn’t so simple as that, though.
For some people it’s terrifying. Memories, sometimes, are all that we have. People we love, activities we had fun doing, places we visited, are sometimes all that we have left when a number of decades have passed, and the thought that any number of those memories could be corrupted, that what we experienced and did could actually be false, can bring about a sense of dread in some people that nothing is actually real. And maybe it isn’t. Maybe nothing is real.
A short article by The A.V. Club posits lightly the idea that The Berenstain Bears confusion could be proof of alternate universes. The thought being that someone, at some point, went back in time and tampered with the timeline, changing things from what once was to something else, including the Bears’ name spelling and everything falling under the Mandela Effect. Everything we remember actually did happen, but reality has become something else.
It’s a joke, sure, but it’s interesting to me, especially since having watched Westworld recently. The idea that what we remember isn’t actually true, that what was happened, but is different now, is at the same time fascinating and equally terrifying because those memories ground us. The mind is interesting because of it’s influence on us and examples like this give us a glimpse into what some people deal with everyday. And the fortunate thing for the majority of us is that we can admit we’re wrong: that Sinbad’s genie role was confused with Shaq’s or his role as a genie on All That, that the spelling we remember of The Berenstain Bears, we remember only because of the way we said it. Part of me would like to believe in the idea of time travel interwoven with these things, but it’s a little more comforting to settle on the fact that maybe I’m just wrong.