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Remember the Samsonite Gorilla?
May 22, 2008 11:18 PM   Subscribe

Can you provide examples of common false memories?

I discovered the phenomenon of false memory for myself when I realized a scene in a movie was not actually as I remembered it. At the time, this disturbed and upset me. It wasn't until years later that I learned the term "false memory", and in particular the work of Elizabeth Loftus.

Recently I decided to research the term "Samsonite gorilla", as I am old enough to remember a TV ad from the early 1970's that showed a primate battering around a piece of luggage inside a cage. When I was on the sideshow, Jim Rose would refer to the "Samsonite gorilla" as part of his stage patter. Much to my surprise, I discovered that the TV ad in question was for American Tourister luggage! The ape in the ad looks to be a chimp, as well!

Then it dawned on me that perhaps there are other examples of commonly held false memories. I'm not talking about common misinformation, but actual false memory. As you can see, part of the premise of my question is that others besides myself remember the "Samsonite gorilla".

Can you suggest other commonly held false memories?
posted by Tube to Society & Culture (40 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
 
This story might interest you.
posted by crinklebat at 11:31 PM on May 22, 2008


A lot of people "remembered" the scene with Luke and Biggs at the beginning of Star Wars because it was in the Star Wars Storybook, the novelization, and the radio drama. The footage only surfaced recently.
posted by zsazsa at 11:36 PM on May 22, 2008


I vividly remember being in a jet when I was maybe two and seeing a hand truck/dolly on the wing as we were flying. This is definitely false since you can't put anything on an airplane wing in flight and because I was 20 the first time I flew in a jet.

Also, Mr. Idiotfactory used to tell me about a huge culvert behind his childhood house and that it took him 20 minutes to get across it to the playground. We revisited his old home last year and it was just a tiny ditch. The size thing seems to be a pretty common false memory, things aren't as big or scary as they are when you're a kid.

I've heard the theory that as a youngster, the brain hasn't determined the difference between dreams and reality and records it all as real.
posted by idiotfactory at 12:08 AM on May 23, 2008


Also, I could've sworn I've seen the samsonite gorilla commercial, too. The one you linked above is new to me. The gorilla one actually takes place at an airport, after the baggage is checked in. It had something to do with what really happens with your luggage at an airport.
posted by idiotfactory at 12:11 AM on May 23, 2008


for those who are going "?!?" try this
posted by Dillonlikescookies at 12:24 AM on May 23, 2008


In Europe, I saw a documentary by a German film crew, in which they found all sorts of interview footage from the day (and the day or two after) JFK was assassinated. People told stories of what they were doing when they heard the news. About four decades later, the German film crew tracked down perhaps 15 of these people, and again asked them what they were doing when they first heard that JFK had been killed. Not a single one of them told anything like the same story as they had decades earlier.

After being interviewed, they were shown the footage that was taken of them in late 1963. All of the acknowledged that the person in the relevant footage was them, but they all seemed utterly perplexed that they had said what they said in 1963; many of them protesting that there was some tomfoolery going on with the footage and that "it wasn't like that at all."

It was pretty mind-blowing.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 12:38 AM on May 23, 2008 [9 favorites]


I wasnft around (America, or the planet) back then, but I got curious and saw this, which could explain the gorilla's "drift" from American Tourister to Samsonite (from Wikipedia):

Samsonite moved its marketing and sales offices from 91 Main Street in Warren, Rhode Island, to Mansfield, Massachusetts, effective 1 September. Samsonite had offices in Warren for 26 years. The building was decorated with an inflatable gorilla three stories tall, which remained along with a Samsonite retail shop at the Main Street building. The gorilla was the company mascot following a 1969 ad campaign.

So Samsonite DID use a gorilla as a mascot and in some "ads" (whether television or print, I don't know) as far back as 1969. It's easy to see how confusion between the two companies campaigns could have started. And now Samsonite owns American Tourister, apparently.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 12:45 AM on May 23, 2008


"Play it again, Sam." isn't a line in Casablanca.

Ingrid Bergman says "Play it, Sam." when she wants him to play "As Time Goes By."

And later, Rick (Humphrey Bogart) simply says simply "Play it!" when Sam is noodling around, after closing time, trying to get Rick to leave the bar.

But nobody ever says "Play it again, Sam."
posted by paulsc at 12:55 AM on May 23, 2008 [3 favorites]


I don't usually go into this, but people who claim to have been abducted by extraterrestrial aliens have VERY similar stories, including descriptions of their captors.

Also, something that kinda creeps me out is devil worship. MANY teens/adults truly believe being involved in "ceremonies" usually held in the woods or basements. Blood drinking, orgies, murder. Numerous girls have claimed to have been impregnated, their babies born and then eaten. That has ALWAYS weirded me out...especially when it was found that they had kinda made those memories up. HOW???

I don't really want to gross out or scare anyone...but this really was the first thing to come to mind. It also happens to be 2 in the morning, and I'm watching the x-files.

You know where you might find some EXCELLENT examples? Late 1930's to mid-1940's Nazi Germany. Look into that.

Good luck.
posted by hal_c_on at 1:53 AM on May 23, 2008


I don't usually go into this, but people who claim to have been abducted by extraterrestrial aliens have VERY similar stories, including descriptions of their captors.

That's an interesting one - the stories didn't start out the same, they converged over time.
posted by Leon at 2:55 AM on May 23, 2008


It's funny because I immediately have a film example that I thought about before seeing your more inside: people think they remember seeing Bambi's mother get shot. They didn't.

There are some good books on this subject, or so a friend of mine insists - I'll ask him for recommendations. There seems to be an idea now that so many of our long-held memories, especially childhood memories get twisted over time in ways that make our behviour at the time seem more extraordinary than it was, sometimes to the point where the memory is radically different from the reality.
posted by nthdegx at 3:30 AM on May 23, 2008


Are you looking for Common, as in everyone has a similar false memory? Or Urban Myths?
posted by Gungho at 4:12 AM on May 23, 2008


I swear I remember watching an episode of You Bet Your Life with Groucho Marx where he asks a woman why she has so many kids and she says "well, I love my husband" and he replies "I love my cigar too but I take it out once in a while". Apparently he never said it and the scene doesn't exist at all. I was pretty shocked when I learned that because I have a very clear picture in my head of him saying it.
posted by gfrobe at 5:00 AM on May 23, 2008


Apparently, Bra burning
posted by kimota at 5:08 AM on May 23, 2008


Many people falsely remember seeing Janet Jackson's nipple during Superbowl XXXVIII, when in fact they only saw this later, on the internet. During the live halftime show, it was common for people to be unsure what they had seen, unless they had a very large TV and were riveted to it.
posted by A Long and Troublesome Lameness at 5:20 AM on May 23, 2008


Best one I've heard, animated from a This American Life episode.
posted by Who_Am_I at 5:40 AM on May 23, 2008 [3 favorites]


Oh sorry, mine isn't a widespread memory. Here's a good example of what you were actually talking about: "That oughta hold the little bastards".
posted by Who_Am_I at 5:49 AM on May 23, 2008


A persistent criticism leveled against those who protested the United States's involvement in the Vietnam War is that protesters spat upon and otherwise derided returning soldiers, calling them "baby-killers", etc.... One of Lembcke's conclusions in Spitting Image is that there was not a single media report to support the claims of spitting. He theorizes that the reported "spitting on soldiers" scenario was a mythical projection by those who felt "spat upon" and was meant to discredit future anti-war activism.
posted by jammy at 6:25 AM on May 23, 2008


Remember when Captain Kirk always used to say "Beam me up, Scotty" on Star Trek? He didn't.
posted by burnmp3s at 6:31 AM on May 23, 2008


The Apple 1984 ad was seen by very few people in its initial broadcast. Can't find the article any more, but when it was 'properly' aired as a commercial it was only seen on one regional TV station at an odd time. Subsequent airings were mostly on news shows commenting on the ad. Maybe someone else here can locate the article.
posted by mattholomew at 6:39 AM on May 23, 2008


The Apple 1984 ad was seen by very few people in its initial broadcast.

The ad was originally broadcast during the Superbowl, which is watched by 10s of millions of people worldwide.
posted by Who_Am_I at 6:51 AM on May 23, 2008


"Play it again, Sam." isn't a line in Casablanca.

Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him well. -- not really in "Hamlet"

Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio -- really in "Hamlet"
posted by grumblebee at 6:51 AM on May 23, 2008


Newlywed Game "in the butt" is a weird twist on this. It was a false shared memory for 20 years... then they found the footage in question. Still unlikely that most of the witnesses ever saw it, given the pre-VCR era of the footage, but not false per se.
posted by smackfu at 7:00 AM on May 23, 2008


My psychoanalysis professor told us that most people see themselves as a third person character (like an out of body experience) in their first ever memory, and about 3/4 of our class agreed (including me).

Not really a false memory, but it's interesting that there is a sort of falsified element to a memory everyone has.
posted by pumpkin11 at 7:01 AM on May 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


Sounds like you're asking for specific false memories that are widely held. I don't have one of those (though I once thought I remembered seeing video of an event I wasn't present for but which my friends had told me about numerous times) but have a related item you might find interesting. It was a 1996 study by Crombag, Wagenaar and Van Koppen. Google those names with "plane crash" to find a lot of different references and related material, but the gist is this:

"The role of source monitoring in the creation of false memories about a real life event (the crashing of El AL Boeing 747 into apartment buildings in Amsterdam) was examined by Crombag, Wagenaar and Van Koppen (1996). They misled adults (including a large number of law students) into believing they had witnessed (seen on television) the plane crash when in reality they had only heard about the crash from media reports and seen the effects of the aftermath (no film of the crash exists). Crombag et al argue that the ease with which participants were fooled about such a serious event questions the `supposedly indelible' nature of flashbulb memories. Furthermore, a significant number answered detailed questions about the crash. The effects are attributed to source monitoring problems. It is assumed that while the participants in the study had heard numerous reports about the plane crash, they paid little attention to these instead they `seem to have imagined the various scenes using their common sense. These images become very real to them, and since to many subjects the source of these images was not obvious, the suggestion that they had seen them on TV, for many, proved irresistible. The authors go on to point out: "Conflicting and implausible information typically occurs in court cases; one witness contradicts another...Then all of a sudden `source monitoring' becomes of the essence, and that is why the law of evidence in many countries forbids or at least limits, the use of hearsay information in court." (p. 103). Crombag et al stress that witness in legal trials need to be explicitly reminded that they should only report what they know first-hand."

Taken from: http://cogprints.org/642/0/memon.rec_mem_review.html
posted by Askr at 7:42 AM on May 23, 2008


According to this MSNBC article, few people actually saw the 1986 Challenger shuttle disaster live.
posted by mhum at 8:02 AM on May 23, 2008


That has ALWAYS weirded me out...especially when it was found that they had kinda made those memories up. HOW???

That's a separate syndrome. Google "recovered memory" and Satan.


"Play It Again Sam" was the title of Woody Allen's movie. Maybe he's the reason people remember it that way?
posted by CunningLinguist at 8:08 AM on May 23, 2008


How about the mysterious photo of a thunderbird or pterodactyl nailed to a barn wall?
posted by kidbritish at 8:23 AM on May 23, 2008


WhoAmI: "Best one I've heard, animated from a This American Life episode."

Not to derail the thread, but why is it every time I find a link to an episode of This American Life I am subjected to lag? I don't have this problem, this consistently, with any other videos on the Web. In fact, this time, I clicked on the link and then walked away from the computer at least for an hour, which should have given ample time for the video to download. It burps and pauses anyway. I particularly had this problem over at the Showtime website when TAL first went video. I don't pay for cable so the only way I can watch these shows if they're made available on the Web. And since whenever I try to, they pause and burp, I just don't.

This sucks cuz I like Robert Krulwich and I like Ira Glass, but obviously not enough to actually pay for cable. So this is a conversation with two guys both great at conversation, and the animation is creative and topnotch, and still I get burps and pauses, seemingly for the sole reason that it's from This American Life and fate (and my wallet) won't let me watch the video version of it. I'm cursed.

As for false memory? I thought the song's lyrics were "Let's Get Retarded" but apparently everyone else remembers it was "Let's Get It Started" or something like that. I prefer my memory cuz it's funnier.
posted by ZachsMind at 8:51 AM on May 23, 2008


Dunno ZachsMind, that link is hosted at drawn.ca so it's not even an NPR or PRI subsite. But you're right about Let's Get Retarded.
posted by Who_Am_I at 9:16 AM on May 23, 2008


When Julia Child passed away, several people wrote or talked about the episode where she dropped a chicken on the floor, picked it up, dusted it off, kept cooking and said something like "Remember, you're alone in the kitchen!"

Apparently, this never happened.
posted by mumbleitaliano at 9:21 AM on May 23, 2008


In the commentary for Se7en, David Fincher says that people keep coming up to him **SPOILER ALERT** and asking why he had to show the head in the box, even though there is no such shot in the film. Their imaginations create the image, and afterwards they could not be convinced that it was never actually shown.
posted by Gortuk at 9:57 AM on May 23, 2008


As for false memory? I thought the song's lyrics were "Let's Get Retarded" but apparently everyone else remembers it was "Let's Get It Started" or something like that. I prefer my memory cuz it's funnier.

I'm pretty sure there were two versions of that song -- one for the radio.
posted by Airhen at 11:17 AM on May 23, 2008


idiotfactory: I've heard the theory that as a youngster, the brain hasn't determined the difference between dreams and reality and records it all as real.

Related AskMe thread.
posted by granted at 11:42 AM on May 23, 2008


The one that always gets me, as a Star Wars geek, is people convinced that Vader says "Luke, I am your father." He actually says "No, I am your father." A quick check of the Empire Strikes Back page on Wikipedia confirms this. But the phrase has entered pop culture to such a point now it's almost impossible to get people to believe he never says it.
posted by friendlyjuan at 12:20 PM on May 23, 2008


According to this MSNBC article, few people actually saw the 1986 Challenger shuttle disaster live.

True. I did, since I was in a mission control area at Goddard Space Flight Center during that launch. From the link,
What most people recall as a "live broadcast" was actually the taped replay broadcast soon after the event
...which I suspect is also relevant with 9-11 memories (especially here on the West Coast -- we were all asleep). In a similar way, video of the more recent tragedy was broadcast again and again, afterwards. People remember this, although the "live" detail isn't accurate -- but often nowadays, on the news, we see recordings labeled "live." However, these do not constitute false memories.
posted by Rash at 12:47 PM on May 23, 2008


In the commentary for Se7en, David Fincher says that people keep coming up to him **SPOILER ALERT** and asking why he had to show the head in the box, even though there is no such shot in the film. Their imaginations create the image, and afterwards they could not be convinced that it was never actually shown.

Interesting! Along similar lines, I discovered several years ago that a number of my friends "remembered" the robbery scene from Reservoir Dogs -- like, in the jewelry store itself (which is actually never shown) -- although they each "remembered" it differently.
posted by Karlos the Jackal at 6:08 PM on May 23, 2008


Just recently, there was a minor earthquake here in the midwest. The local news was awash with people who claimed to have felt it. Which would be nearly impossible since it happened at 4:30am, very far away.

I think a big part of this phenomenon is that as social animals, our desire to be part of the pack/tribe overrides rational thought.
posted by gjc at 6:58 PM on May 23, 2008


Another commonly misremembered line: "Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?" is not heard in the 1937 Disney Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The actual line is "Magic mirror on the wall, who is the fairest one of all?"
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 1:24 PM on May 27, 2008


Fairly often, I have trouble remembering whether something I remember was written in a book, or something from a show or movie. Most often, it's from a written source. I figure I just have a vivid imagination when I'm reading fiction.
posted by Goofyy at 7:30 AM on May 28, 2008


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