The Mandela Effect and Berenstein/Berenstain Bears

by Jeph Johnson


"The Mandela Effect" is a multiple or parallel universe theory similar to the Berenstain/Berenstein Bears theory.  Both theories assume many people remember alternate death scenarios for Nelson Mandela and alternate spellings of the kid books authors' last names.  


The "Berenstain" spelling (which is the correct one) is easy to explain.  When most people associate the suffix of a name like "-stein" (as in Bernstein or Frankenstein) or "-son" (like in Johnson or Frederickson) they immediately mentally almost always adopt the more common spelling ("son" in the U.S., "sen" in Scandinavian countries).  While there are exceptions they are usually only remembered if a conscious decision is made to remember them.  When that isn't made the mind simply reverts to the default (more common) spelling.   And since Berenstain Bears books were most often read by new beginning readers, the spelling likely didn't register.  Those who picked up or were exposed to the books later remember the spelling as the way they assumed they'd be spelled.

My Nelson Mandela hypothesis is a little more sensitive, since it implies ignorance and subtle racism (or at least indifference to South African Apartheid).  The alternative reality theory states that many remember Mandela dying in prison in the 1980s whereas real history shows him being released from prison and serving as the South African President from 1994-1999 and dying in 2013.  What most people in America don't remember about the late 1980s was that unless you were socially aware of what was going on in South Africa, details of that struggle kind of all got lumped together.  We all remember most any person involved in the resistance movement was jailed. Nelson Mandela as well as another dude named Steve Biko who, unless you're a Peter Gabriel fan or the aforementioned "socially aware person", you likely only remember that in 1987 "some black guy in a South African prison died".  Since the years following Apartheid's eventual demise Nelson Mandela certainly retained the mantle of "most famous guy in that movement" yet his Presidency made few waves in the United States, it is quite probable that Americans (especially white Americans who prioritized the plight of South African blacks a bit lower in their minds than the Pamela Anderson-Tommy Lee sex tape) assigned Steve Biko's death to Nelson Mandela.  


Alternative universes may exist, but its much more likely that people misremembering things on a grand scale is more probable.  Besides, for those who remember those "Berenstein" Bears and Mandela's death in the 1980s, wouldn't they be able to produce old photographs of them as kids holding the books or finding newspaper clippings of Nelson Mandela's funeral?


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allets's picture

Thoughtful Write

Our thought time is controlled well here - the necessities of making purchases and working and continued breathing does not allow space for intern'tl news or history (not even USA history actually). Short attention spanning long periods of time. Thought provoking and allusion rich piece - allets -