Promoted from the Ricochet Member Feed by Editors Created with Sketch. Of Memes, False Memories, and False Attribution

 

lincolnAround my door at the middle school I teach at, I have posted pictures of various historical figures along with inspirational quotations. Included among these is the one you see to the left. I included it both as a humorous touch, and as genuinely good advice.

I was reminded of this image today when I narrowly avoided falling for another false quote. I have seen the Trump meme below the fold pop up multiple times on the internet:

trumpI was leaning towards believing the quote, and considered bringing it up on Ricochet, as I never saw it discussed in our frequent arguments over the Donald. Fortunately, I saved myself some embarrassment by sticking to my policy of always double-checking quotes I’ve seen online.

Well, the explanation for why I’ve never seen this quote discussed in conservative circles is simple: It’s 100 percent horse manure. There is no evidence that Trump ever said this in any interview.

But what truly disturbed me in researching this was how many commenters on the fact-checker sites were convinced that they had seen Trump say this. Of course, none of them could actually provide video links, but they all swore they’d seen it (I even saw one commenter claim they’d seen the video just “this morning”), and that all the clips must have been taken down.

Now, barring the possibility that a massive pro-Trump conspiracy has scrubbed all evidence of this off the Internet, the simpler explanation is that these people are mistaken and have convinced themselves that — not only did they see the meme — but they actually saw video and now refuse to accept proof to the contrary. (I suppose they could be liars, but I think they’re genuinely sincere).

So, once again, my faith in humanity and popular enfranchisement is taken down a notch.

On reflection, though, I admit that there is one fact about which I refuse to concede my memory as being false, despite what the publishers may say. It regards to the Berenstein Bears. You remember the Berenstein Bears, don’t you? Popular children’s picture book that’s been around since the 60’s. Well, withing the past couple of years I learned that, supposedly, that lovable bear family’s last name is not spelled B-E-R-E-N-S-T-E-I-N, but instead is spelled B-E-R-E-N-S-T-A-I-N. Take a look!

berenstain bears

Does not the sight of that spelling cause dissonance among your synapses? Does not your brain rebel at this bizarre configuration of letters?

I distinctly remember reading “BERENSTEIN Bears” as a kid. And I’m not the only one. Online many people have gathered and discussed this creepy disconnect between the title we see on the books now and our own childhood memories. One popular theory, which I am subscribing to, is that we are remembering the spelling from an alternate reality/parallel dimension. There’s also the possibility that, in the late 1990s, somebody went back in time and changed the spelling. Or that Random House publishers have switched out all copies of the books with ones with the distorted spelling in an attempt to… I don’t know… summon Cthulu? I’m gonna stick with the alternate realities explanation for now.

How about you? Have you ever had the experience of coming across people remembering things that never happened? Or do you have vivid memories that apparently are false or erroneous?

And are there any popular memes/quotes you’ve noticed passed around the internet that you know are bupkis? I have many times been disappointed to find that cool conservative quotes attributed to Founding Fathers are often apocryphal, like the one below:

washington

Awesome words. I highly agree with whoever wrote them. Too bad there’s no evidence that it was actually Washington, though.

There are 59 comments.

  1. John Walker Contributor

    May I vent for a moment?

    Here goes another word for a well-defined and important concept, swept into the storm drain which is Internet popular culture. “Meme”, as an analogy to “gene”, was proposed in the 1970s by Richard Dawkins for the concept of a self-replicating cultural unit which is transmitted and competes just as genes do in biological evolution. This is a tremendously insightful observation, and many of the puzzles of human behaviour (for example, why is it that every generation or so collectivism/statism breaks out again despite its abject failure wherever it is tried and the demonstrated success of the alternative) make a lot more sense when analysed in terms of memes, or “memetics” (the analogue of genetics).

    In the last year or so, “meme” seems to have transmogrified to mean a picture with large text purporting to be a quote or expressing a sentiment of bumper sticker level insight.

    Must we lose this important word and concept? If so, with what shall we replace it?

    • #1
    • July 28, 2016, at 3:49 PM PST
    • 1 like
  2. RightAngles Member

    That Lincoln meme is hilarious! Good for you for putting it in the classroom. The Trump meme came across my Facebook feed more than once. There was also a Sarah Palin one that was so obviously fake that I found it on Snopes and outed the FB friend who had posted it. I posted the link confirming its falsehood and said in the comments that she should take it down. She never did. The mindset of her and her lib friends in the comments was “Well, it’s something she COULD have said” or “Well, it SOUNDS like something she’d say.” The facts take a back seat to the narrative. I left Facebook shortly after that. If I allow myself to dwell on it, I get filled with despair at the state of the American intellect.

    ps/ The Berenstain Bears were a childhood favorite of mine. I remember the “-stain” spelling because it’s so weird.

    • #2
    • July 28, 2016, at 4:00 PM PST
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  3. Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr. Coolidge

    I don’t get the Berenstain thing. I’ve always known it was spelled with an “a,” and in my mind I’ve always pronounced it “bear-en-stain.” I assumed that was the correct pronunciation.

    But I’ve certainly had the experience of remembering, with absolute certainty, things that I later learn did not happen the way I remember them. I’ve read about neurological research that shows just how unreliable human memory is; apparently, every time we recall something, our brains actually erase and rewrite the memory, often with unintentional distortions. If you keep telling a story from your childhood over and over, the memory will be replaced by the story you tell, even if the story drifts away from the actual truth.

    So when someone insists that they remember something that I know can’t be true, I generally take them at their word rather than assuming that they’re liars. They probably *do* remember it. Doesn’t mean it happened.

    • #3
    • July 28, 2016, at 4:03 PM PST
    • 1 like
  4. Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr. Coolidge

    Oh, and I long ago learned to follow a basic rule: never, never believe any quote you come across on the Internet, at least not without researching it further. Assume they’re all made up, apocryphal, or misattributed, and you’ll rarely be wrong.

    • #4
    • July 28, 2016, at 4:04 PM PST
    • 1 like
  5. The Reticulator Member

    Knotwise the Poet: And are there any popular memes/quotes you’ve noticed passed around the internet that you are bupkis? I have many times been disappointed to find that cool conservative quotes attributed to Founding Fathers are often apocryphal, like the one below:

    Many times I have tried to find the source of a quote and have not succeeded. A lot of these are from rightwise people on the internet.

    • #5
    • July 28, 2016, at 4:26 PM PST
    • 1 like
  6. Doug Watt Member

    The Reticulator:

    Knotwise the Poet: And are there any popular memes/quotes you’ve noticed passed around the internet that you are bupkis? I have many times been disappointed to find that cool conservative quotes attributed to Founding Fathers are often apocryphal, like the one below:

    Many times I have tried to find the source of a quote and have not succeeded. A lot of these are from rightwise people on the internet.

    Honest quote sites on the internet will say that the quote is attributed to an individual and their search can find no proof that the individual actually stated or said what was attributed to them.

    • #6
    • July 28, 2016, at 4:30 PM PST
    • Like
  7. John Walker Contributor

    The Reticulator: Many times I have tried to find the source of a quote and have not succeeded. A lot of these are from rightwise people on the internet.

    As an example, try to track down the origin of the oft-repeated quote:

    A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the majority discovers it can vote itself largess out of the public treasury.

    You can spend a day or more on the quest. As best as I can determine, nobody ever originally said it in that form, but a multitude of people have cited it in various forms, often mis-attributing it to people such as Alexis de Tocqueville. Here is a brief summary of the peregrinations of this quotation.

    • #7
    • July 28, 2016, at 4:37 PM PST
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  8. kylez Member

    2 over the last two days (put on FB by the same guy from my church):

    Margaret Sanger supposedly saying “colored people are like weeds and need to be exterminated”, with Hillary below, and a not-hard-to-believe quote from her about her admiration for Sanger. My first reaction was to believe the Sanger, but I went looking for it after it seemed excessively blunt. It apparently is not real, but a straw-man version of something she wrote using the metaphor of “human weeds”. I ended up not commenting on it, but yesterday I linked to Snopes on the following:

    Hillary supposedly saying “I will get the NRA shut down for good if I become president. If we can ban handguns we will do it.” This even attributed this to an interview with the Des Moines Register, August 8, 2015. I think Hillary is too smart to go to Iowa and say that. I happen to be on an old Newspaper site, so I went on and typed “hillary” and that exact date and paper. It didn’t come up.

    • #8
    • July 28, 2016, at 4:47 PM PST
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  9. Knotwise the Poet Member
    Knotwise the Poet Post author

    RightAngles:That Lincoln meme is hilarious! Good for you for putting it in the classroom. The Trump meme came across my Facebook feed more than once. There was also a Sarah Palin one that was so obviously fake that I found it on Snopes and outed the FB friend who had posted it. I posted the link confirming its falsehood and said in the comments that she should take it down. She never did. The mindset of her and her lib friends in the comments was “Well, it’s something she COULD have said” or “Well, it SOUNDS like something she’d say.” The facts take a back seat to the narrative.

    Aye, the truth can be so unaccommodating sometimes. As John Adams once said (and he really did say this one):

    Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.

    • #9
    • July 28, 2016, at 4:55 PM PST
    • 1 like
  10. Cow Girl Thatcher

    There is a posting I see every summer on Facebook from many well-meaning people that purports to tell the “true story” of the Star Spangled Banner. But it is totally wrong!! It’s a video, with a dramatic narration done by a man with a folksy voice. But the story he tells is completely WRONG!! I keep telling my friends, nicely as I can, that it is wrong. I’ve even looked up the original poster and commented to him that the story is not historically accurate at all. Sigh. Every year, I see that dopey video come up again, and again. [No, it didn’t happen during the Revolutionary War. No, there weren’t a large group of prisoners on a British ship being held in horrid conditions.] And one obnoxious aspect of it is that the real story of how the National Anthem was written is very inspiring, and really terrific. There’s no need to embellish or change it!

    • #10
    • July 28, 2016, at 5:05 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  11. John Walker Contributor

    Knotwise the Poet:Aye, the truth can be so unaccommodating sometimes. As John Adams once said (and he really did say this one):

    Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.

    Indeed, this is a verified quotation. I have often signed my E-mail with my own modified version:

    Facts are stubborn things. But then, so are idiots.

    Perhaps in the era of Brawndo, it will be attributed to John Adams.

    • #11
    • July 28, 2016, at 5:06 PM PST
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  12. Arahant Member

    • #12
    • July 28, 2016, at 5:06 PM PST
    • 1 like
  13. Weeping Member

    Knotwise the Poet: In reflecting on the topic, I must admit, though, that there is one fact about which I refuse to concede my memory as being false, despite what the publishers may say. That is in regards to the Berenstein Bears. You remember the Berenstein Bears, don’t you? Popular children’s picture book that’s been around since the 60’s. Well, withing the past couple of years I learned that, supposedly, that lovable bear family’s last name is not spelled B-E-R-E-N-S-T-E-I-N, but instead is spelled B-E-R-E-N-S-T-A-I-N.

    Does not the sight of that spelling cause dissonance among your synapses? Does not your brain rebel at this bizarre configuration of letters?

    Yes. Yes, it does.

    I distinctly remember reading “BERENSTEIN Bears” as a kid.

    So do I. Like you, I could have sworn it was spelled with an E instead of an A. That A just looks wrong.

    Online many people have gathered and discussed this creepy disconnect between the title we see on the books now and our own childhood memories. One popular theory, which I am subscribing to, is that we are remembering the spelling from an alternate reality/parallel dimension. There’s also the possibility that somebody in the late 90s went back in time and changed the spelling on us.

    LOL! Love it! Can’t decide which one I like better.

    • #13
    • July 28, 2016, at 5:29 PM PST
    • Like
  14. mollysmom Inactive

    @RightAngles

    There was also a Sarah Palin one that was so obviously fake that I found it on Snopes and outed the FB friend who had posted it. I posted the link confirming its falsehood and said in the comments that she should take it down. She never did. The mindset of her and her lib friends in the comments was “Well, it’s something she COULD have said” or “Well, it SOUNDS like something she’d say.”

    I just finished American/British writer Bill Bryson’s latest book, The Road to Little Dribbling. While passably good, and laugh-out-loud funny in spots, he simply couldn’t resist the usual liberal snark. In one passage he mentioned the canard—later admitted by its perpetrator to be a hoax—that Sarah Palin had called Africa a country. He really needs better editing.

    • #14
    • July 28, 2016, at 5:35 PM PST
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  15. The Reticulator Member

    I have a good memory. I remember things from the past very well. I often remember them wrong, but I remember them well.

    • #15
    • July 28, 2016, at 5:43 PM PST
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  16. Knotwise the Poet Member
    Knotwise the Poet Post author

    John Walker:Indeed, this is a verified quotation. I have often signed my E-mail with my own modified version:

    Facts are stubborn things. But then, so are idiots.

    John, that’s beautiful. I need that on a t-shirt or bumper sticker ASAP.

    • #16
    • July 28, 2016, at 5:48 PM PST
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  17. Cyrano Inactive

    Regarding the words attributed to George Washington, see this article, which finds a reference only as old as 1902. A technologically updated version appears in Robert Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. In Chapter 22, Professor “Prof” de la Paz states: “Comrade Members, like fire and fusion, government is a dangerous servant and a powerful master.”

    Whoever said it first was a perceptive individual indeed.

    • #17
    • July 28, 2016, at 5:53 PM PST
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  18. Matt Bartle Member

    kylez: Margaret Sanger supposedly saying “colored people are like weeds and need to be exterminated”

    I think there’s a version of that line in D’Souza’s Hillary’s America. I thought when I heard it that there were doubts about its accuracy.

    • #18
    • July 28, 2016, at 5:57 PM PST
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  19. Cyrano Inactive

    Knotwise the Poet:

    Aye, the truth can be so unaccommodating sometimes. As John Adams once said (and he really did say this one):

    Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.

    Attributed to Daniel Patrick Moynihan: “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.”

    • #19
    • July 28, 2016, at 5:57 PM PST
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  20. kylez Member

    As for the Trump quote 1998 just seems too early for someone to use the “Republican love everything they see on Fox News” trope. Looking it up now I see it first aired Oct 7, 1996, less than 2 years before Trump would have said that.

    • #20
    • July 28, 2016, at 6:13 PM PST
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  21. Jimmy Carter Member

    I met a lovely Lady and Our relationship developed so fast that We were in front of the Justice of the Peace in less than a year. Well, it fell through because I had to move on very short notice and She couldn’t come with Me.

    If You listen to Her tell the story You’d think I was stalking Her, She took Me to court and I got 20 months in county.

    I mean… really… Who You gonna believe….?

    • #21
    • July 28, 2016, at 6:25 PM PST
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  22. Man With the Axe Member

    Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr.: I’ve read about neurological research that shows just how unreliable human memory is; apparently, every time we recall something, our brains actually erase and rewrite the memory, often with unintentional distortions. If you keep telling a story from your childhood over and over, the memory will be replaced by the story you tell, even if the story drifts away from the actual truth.

    That has such serious implications for eyewitness testimony in court cases, when lives and fortunes are on the line and can be lost because of distorted (i.e., false) memories.

    • #22
    • July 28, 2016, at 7:30 PM PST
    • Like
  23. Man With the Axe Member

    John Walker:In the last year or so, “meme” seems to have transmogrified to mean a picture with large text purporting to be a quote or expressing a sentiment of bumper sticker level insight.

    Must we lose this important word and concept? If so, with what shall we replace it?

    I agree that it would be a shame if the original meaning should be lost. But I think that the people who talk about internet memes are not the same crew that are going to be talking about memetics. Maybe the word can serve both purposes without too much confusion.

    • #23
    • July 28, 2016, at 7:32 PM PST
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  24. RightAngles Member

    mollysmom :@RightAngles

    There was also a Sarah Palin one that was so obviously fake that I found it on Snopes and outed the FB friend who had posted it. I posted the link confirming its falsehood and said in the comments that she should take it down. She never did. The mindset of her and her lib friends in the comments was “Well, it’s something she COULD have said” or “Well, it SOUNDS like something she’d say.”

    I just finished American/British writer Bill Bryson’s latest book, The Road to Little Dribbling. While passably good, and laugh-out-loud funny in spots, he simply couldn’t resist the usual liberal snark. In one passage he mentioned the canard—later admitted by its perpetrator to be a hoax—that Sarah Palin had called Africa a country. He really needs better editing.

    Yes, @mollysmom! And there are far too many people who believe Sarah Palin (and not Tina Fey) actually said, “I can see Russia from my house!”

    • #24
    • July 28, 2016, at 8:39 PM PST
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  25. Ned Walton Inactive

    Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr.: If you keep telling a story from your childhood over and over, the memory will be replaced by the story you tell, even if the story drifts away from the actual truth.

    My children tell me that, but what do they know. So what if the snow was an inch deeper every year, that it was a degree colder every year, the hill (both ways) was a foot higher every year. I WAS STILL IN MY BARE FEET! :)

    • #25
    • July 28, 2016, at 8:44 PM PST
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  26. Brandon Shafer Coolidge

    There is also a lot of common remembrances of lines in movies that were never really said. As an example, Humphrey Bogart never said “Play it again, Sam” in Casablanca.

    • #26
    • July 28, 2016, at 11:50 PM PST
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  27. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher

    John Walker:

    Knotwise the Poet:Aye, the truth can be so unaccommodating sometimes. As John Adams once said (and he really did say this one):

    Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.

    Indeed, this is a verified quotation. I have often signed my E-mail with my own modified version:

    Facts are stubborn things. But then, so are idiots.

    Perhaps in the era of Brawndo, it will be attributed to John Adams.

    Can I quote you? :)

    • #27
    • July 29, 2016, at 3:14 AM PST
    • Like
  28. Owen Findy Member

    But what truly disturbed me in researching this was how many commenters on the fact-checker sites were convinced that they had seen Trump say this. Of course, none of them could actually provide video links, but they all swore they’d seen it (I even saw one commenter claim they’d seen the video just “this morning”), and that all the clips must have been taken down.

    This can be completely innocent. I’ve misremembered movie and TV quotes many times. Until I watch the movie again and correct myself, I’ll swear the quote was as I remembered; I’m thinking now of a quote from Hombre and another from season 5 of The X-Files. Also, eyewitnesses are notoriously unreliable.

    • #28
    • July 29, 2016, at 7:11 AM PST
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  29. Man With the Axe Member

    Ned Walton:

    My children tell me that, but what do they know. So what if the snow was an inch deeper every year, that it was a degree colder every year, the hill (both ways) was a foot higher every year. I WAS STILL IN MY BARE FEET! ?

    Tell them that the reason it’s not so cold now is global warming. Then they might believe you.

    • #29
    • July 29, 2016, at 7:12 AM PST
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  30. Owen Findy Member

    One popular theory, which I am subscribing to, is that we are remembering the spelling from an alternate reality/parallel dimension.

    This. I’m remembering events from parallel universes all the time. I remember a DJ referring — in the 70’s — to the late Joe Cocker. (I suppose he could’ve been kidding….)

    There are other examples I can’t now remember, but I know it’s happened more than once.

    Re the spelling: I’ve read that the brain/mind shoves percepts into known categories; if something comes along you’ve never seen before, the first thing your mind will do is interpret it with the pattern it most closely resembles. “Stain” is NOT a common ending of anyone’s last name, so you saw, “stein”, and never thought anything more about it.

    • #30
    • July 29, 2016, at 7:18 AM PST
    • 1 like