I’ve seen some pieces flying around the internet lately about “The Mandela Effect.” In short, this refers to the sensation that you’re living in some kind of parallel universe where reality has rearranged itself and changed, leaving only your memories of a past that no longer exists; or, to quote Wikipedia: “…a situation where a number of people claim to share memories of events which differ from the available evidence of those events.” (I like my definition better.)
Maybe you’ve seen the memes. The Berenstain Bears was actally The BerenstEin Bears, but it changed somehow, somewhere, somewhen. Sinbad starred in Shazaam, a movie that clearly doesn’t exist.
This is all pretty harmless, a few troubling webpages aside. Sure, there are some people out there who actually believe that visiting aliens, or shadow corps, or time-travelling emissaries from the future have mucked about with timelines and memories to make us forget about Sinbad’s breakout role, but they reside where they belong: on the fringes, where they can comfortably be laughed at, ridiculed, and finally, ignored.
But then I turn on CNN this morning — we’ve got a snow day* here in the suburbs of Atlanta — and I see that yet again, the man who will be our next president has lashed out with his favorite weapon, the mighty Tweet Scepter, against his perceived injustices. This time, against Meryl Streep, who pretty thoroughly lambasted him in her lifetime achievement award acceptance at last night’s Golden Globes. (One could make the argument that such an event isn’t the forum for such a criticism, but one would clearly never have seen any award shows.) The kernel at the center of her argument against him? This little gem:
“It was that moment when the person asking to sit in the most respected seat in our country imitated a disabled reporter. Someone he outranked in privilege, power and the capacity to fight back.”
It’s a trope in comedy, satire, and such: you’re allowed to punch up, but not down. Trump punches every which way. And in this instance, he swung his tiny oratorial fists in the direction of this reporter. It upset a lot of people, not least of which is Meryl Streep, who brought it boiling back to the surface during her speech.
So now he’s on Twitter calling her overrated and a Hillary shill — whatever, that’s par for the course — but then he’s also claiming he wasn’t mocking the reporter.
And then, there on CNN, is his mouthpiece speaking for him and insisting that he never mocked the reporter.
Here’s the problem: they can’t revise reality.
It happened. It was caught on film. In other words, it’s a fact. It’s a part of reality. We’ve all seen the clip, but here it is just to be sure:
Trump and his people are trying to convince us that it didn’t happen or that it didn’t mean what it obviously meant. They’re trying to convince us that the way they remember the event trumps (sorry) the objectively obvious reality that exists. But here’s the simpler truth: we all recognize that spastic arm-motion that all the middle-schoolers used to make fun of the “retarded” kids. The orange one executed it perfectly, at age 70, to make fun of somebody he didn’t care for.
So, big kerfuffle over this reporter thing again, but it’s only a microcosm of the bigger problem. Fake news has run amok. Hillary Clinton probably ran a child sex ring out of a pizza parlor; I read it on the internet. Aliens totally live on Mars; you can see their faces in our low-def cameras. 9/11 was an inside job; buildings don’t fall down like that.
This is the Mandela effect on a frightening scale. People — otherwise intelligent, fair-minded people — are convincing themselves on the daily that reality is not what it obviously is. They want to pretend that their own memory, their own perception of a thing, is correct when the objective, concrete evidence of the thing contradicts it.
And it’s bloody crazy.
The human memory? Yeah, it’s a squishy, sloppy mass of grey matter stitched together with duct tape and galvanized staples. Our memories are notoriously awful — this is demonstrably true. We screw things up all the time when we rely on our memory (which is why eyewitness testimony is basically the most unreliable evidence on the courtroom totem pole). You can even be tricked into “remembering” details of an encounter that you never even had. And yet, people — enormous swathes of registered voters — are trusting their memories, “trusting their gut”, and imposing an alternate reality on the actual one.
Thing is, though? “Mandela Effect” thinking? It’s really conspiracy theory with a less shamed-into-the-closet coat of paint. For reality to change requires a network of very capable entities working in concert, notwithstanding some damage to the fabric of space-time. But those things don’t actually happen.
Reality is what it is. It is up to us to accept that reality for what it is, rather than hammering it into a shape we’d rather it be.
I get it. Accepting reality is hard. (It’s why religion has had such a good run.) But what’s the alternative? We knowingly let people get away with lies? We allow ourselves to believe things, or forget things, because they make us feel better?
Let me drift away from the political to wrap this up (thank goodness).
For a long time (almost a decade, if not most of my life!), I sheltered in the belief that I could be a writer; that the only thing holding me back was a lack of inspiration, a lack of time. But that’s not an accurate representation of reality. What was holding me back was a lack of commitment and a lack of work ethic.
Owning up to that sucked. I had to accept that I had been a lazy jerk about my writing. It was a lot easier to pretend that I was capable, but I was just waiting to get motivated or inspired to do something about it. Out there, I’m lazy and unmotivated and maybe not even able to do this thing. In here, I can do it whenever I feel like it — I just don’t feel like it today.
But if I hadn’t owned up to reality? I wouldn’t have written even one percent — maybe even not one percent of one percent — of what I’ve written in the past three years. I would have sheltered in my alternate reality; the one where I was unproductive on my own terms. Where I believe whatever bullsharknado is on offer — especially the bullsharknado that bubbles up from my own gut.
And maybe some people would rather live that way, I dunno.
Me, I’ll take the jagged edges and freezing winds of the real world over the fluffy clouds and artificial heat-lamps of the fantasy world any day.
*Atlanta snow days do not actually feature snow.