Remember A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965) when Lucy said, "Get the biggest aluminum tree you can find, Charlie Brown! Maybe painted pink!" to Charlie Brown? Aluminum Christmas trees painted pink? Modern-day viewers are frequently surprised to find that that line wasn't merely a witty bit of satire about the commercialization of Christmas. The Sixties had their share of oddball kitsch, and the aluminum Christmas tree is a God's-honest-truth real example — it even came in pink (although it was not, as depicted in the cartoon, simply a hollow metal cone; imagine a modern fake tree, only shiny all over). In fact, that cartoon helped send the sales of aluminum Christmas trees into a decline.
Aluminum Christmas Trees result when a quaint element of Real Life appears in a work of fiction, but people viewing that work on a later day or in another country, or even simply aren't aware of the element, if it's obscure enough, mistake the element to be an Unusually Uninteresting Sight the writers made up. In the most extreme cases, they think the element is absurd and dismiss it as "unrealistic".
This can also occur in a period work when the writers did do the research, but the truth they uncovered is so bizarre or surprising that audiences think they must have just made it up. In this case, they may add a "Not Making This Up" Disclaimer.
There was actually a brief revival of real aluminum Christmas trees in the late 1990s, just about the time the baby boomers turned fifty and the late-1950s-early-1960s nostalgia revival got seriously underway; and actual replicas of one branch with a single ornament on it, most likely inspired by the Peanuts special. They continue to be popular in some quarters, especially in urban areas where the logistics of acquiring, transporting, and disposing of a real tree are more trouble than they're worth - especially when a fake tree can be reused year after year. You can still buy them online, along with slowly spinning electric wheels that reflect many colours (including pink) onto the tree.
Compare Technology Marches On, Seinfeld Is Unfunny, and Poe's Law. A subtrope of Reality Is Unrealistic, Values Dissonance, and Truth in Television. Can also be used as a means of Shown Their Work. Frequently found in Unintentional Period Pieces.
When this occurs in-universe, it's Eskimos Aren't Real.
Nothing to do with the Christmas tree the Skylab astronauts made from left-over aluminum cans.
It could simply be a case of Small Reference Pools.
open/close all folders
Anime and Manga
Darker than Black. The British Secret Intelligence Service is popularly called MI6, thanks to the James Bond series. So, the name "Secret Intelligence Service" seemed too "spy-like" to be real and looks like a fictional agency created by the show. MI-5 and MI-6 were real organizations with responsibility for domestic (MI-5) and overseas (MI-6) human-intelligence assets. details The terms come from offices in the British War Office in and around the World War I - 17 different MI — for "Military Intelligence" — numbers were used, from MI-1 to MI-19, handling a variety of war-oriented duties. Except for MI-18 and MI-13. There never was an MI-18. With the exception of 5 and 6, none had intelligence responsibilities as the term is used today.
Also with the British spies of Darker than Black- it's easy to think that the designs of November 11's cigarettes, black with white skulls on them, are just a joke. Nope, they are an actual British product, which fits perfectly with November 11's sense of humor.
Although it didn't reach Urban Legend level in reality, the whole "Rail Tracer" idea in Baccano! has some equivalent in reality. The original Murder, Inc. rode trains and committed hits in various cities so that their crimes were essentially untraceable, as police from the cities where the crimes were committed would naturally suspect local criminals, who likely would have alibis for the time the murders were committed. Completely intentional. The train-hopping assassin is kind of important to the plot. Welcome home, Claire!
In Naruto, there was some controversy over a claim that octopi eat sharks said by Killer B while fighting Kisame. In real life though, it's been known to happen.
The title character of Rurouni Kenshin fits this trope in two respects. One, he's loosely based on an actual person, and likewise, so were a number of the other characters (see below). Kenshin's original was named Kawakami Gensai. Potentially, Kenshin's bishonen to the point of Dude Looks Like a Lady appearance could be an example of this. Word Of God states that Gensai had feminine features and carried out assassinations in broad daylight because people thought he was a woman and allowed him to get close enough, and at one point was said to have hid out in a brothel following an assassination. It also might have something to do with Uesugi Kenshin note Kenshin is not Himura's birth name. He was orphaned and given that name by his master, who might have been inspired by Uesugi Kenshin, who was a famous swordsman, who is presented as a bishonen in some historical fiction works. On top of that, there have been some speculations that Uesugi Kenshin was secretly a woman.
Shinomori Aoshi was based off historical character Hijikata Toshizo, and his boss Kanryuu based on Takeda Kanryuusai. Also, there really was a Saito Hajime. And Saito Hajime was married, which the author predicted would be so unbelievable that there was a tag that said "This is historical fact" when Saito mentions he's married. He also spent much of his later life as a school teacher and died of an ulcer.
One episode of Lupin III shows Lupin in a race driving a six-wheeled car. At the time of production, the Tyrrell P34 was competing in F1, using the four small wheels up front to maintain traction while having better aerodynamics than a pair of taller wheels.
The Future GPX Cyber Formula series does a similar thing in some race cars, particularly the later incarnations of Asurada, which are basically futuristic versions of the Tyrrell P34 model used 15 years earlier.
In No. 6, Nezumi is cross dressing in a performance of a Shakespearean play and is well known for it. Those who aren't familiar with Shakespeare will think that this is Fanservice aimed at Yaoi Fangirls, using men to play female roles was an actual thing they did in Shakespeare's time.
John Titor was not some invention made for Steins;Gate. He was an actual figure from 2000 who claimed to be a time traveler from the year 2036.
There's a 1940s JSA comic that consists of anti-German war propaganda, which claims (among other things) that the German people are violent by nature. One example of this "natural German barbarity" was called "scar dueling," where young men from high-end academies would fence with the intention of scarring each other's faces, then wear the scars as a status symbol. More than one modern reader thought this was ridiculous propaganda, except it was an actual occurrence in German academies! The scar was called a ''schmiss." Left unsaid was the fact that the student organizations where this was so common were actually suppressed by the Nazis.
Mensur dueling is a tradition among many of the German equivalent to American fraternities ("Studentenverbindung", types of which include "Burschenschaften", "Corps", "Landsmannschaften" etc.) Nowadays it is not mainstream any more, which they were and it was in those times, and the scars ("Schmiss", pl. "Schmisse") are no longer a status symbol accepted throughout society, deliberately sought, deliberately emphasized (by deliberately bad stitching, by adding dirt to the wounds, by excessive use of alcohol specifically aimed at impeding the healing of the fresh wounds), which they were at the time, but rather a prominent (very recognizable, definitely not universally desirable) side effect. Here's the type of safety equipment◊ worn for a mensur duel in the late 1950's; unlike a normal fencing mask, it protects the eyes, nose, and throat but leaves the cheeks and forehead vulnerable.
In Star Trek New Frontier, it is assumed (though never said outright) that Katerina Mueller's scar was from a mensur duel from her Heidelberg days. Apparently, the practice is still in existence in the 24th century (though probably on the DL).
As in Watchmen, there really is a smiley face crater on Mars. This smiley face is called Galle (which is another huge element of the series). Dave Gibbons admits that was incredibly lucky.
Jughead's trademark beanie in Archie Comics was actually once a real fashion trend amongst teenagers during the years in which the comic debuted. They would cut up their fathers' old fedoras into jagged-edged inverted caps. Nowadays, Jughead's hat now just makes him look eccentric, or maybe just like a hipster.
Due to Jughead's Big Eater tendencies, some folks confused it for a Bland Name version of Burger King's cardboard crowns they give to kids.
One of the more frequent nitpicks about the Batman comics is the corruption of the Gotham City Police Department, from the Bronze Age onward. People thought that there's no way a major city could be that openly and utterly corrupt without someone (city government, the Feds) stepping in and cleaning house. Then you get a look at stories about New York City and Chicago, from as recently as the early 90s. Mob control of both departments (in addition to the courts and local government) was near absolute and took the FBI decades to break their hold.
The Faygo soft drink, beloved of characters in Knights of the Dinner Table, and the bizarre flavours mentioned (like Rock & Rye), is an actual US brand and not something Jolly Blackburn had made up. Fans of the Insane Clown Posse will recognize it as the band's drink of choice.
For added surprise, Rock & Rye is both a whiskey cocktail and a commercial liqueur made with rye whiskey and rock sweets.
Amazingly enough, Giant Size Man-Thing was an actual, six-issue, comic book series. Marvel had many "Giant-Size" comic books in the 1970s, in this case for the character Man-Thing. Other titles included Giant-Size Invaders,Giant-Size Marvel Triple Action, and the legendary (if less innuendo-laden) Giant-Size X-Men.
Astérix is mostly Purely Aesthetic Era and the kind of deliberately inaccurate things French children half-remember from primary school history, but the creators did do a lot of research by reading contemporary Roman reports, and occasionally this shows. For instance, according to the Romans (the Celtic people, as a rule, left no written records) the historical Gauls really were said to be terrified of the sky falling on their heads, and to have shot arrows at the sky during thunderstorms to just dare it to come down. Occasionally Cacofonix will be depicted with his instruments besides his signature lyre, usually a ridiculous-looking bagpipe-like thing and an even more ridiculous horn with an animal head, all of which are the instruments the real Gauls would have used - bagpipe-like instruments were known to have been played by the Romans (notably by Nero, who was also said to have been very bad at it), and the horn is a carnyx, a kind of early trumpet with a boar's mouth-shaped bell.
At Varius Flavus's orgy in Asterix in Switzerland, the women are wearing ridiculous, apocalyptic hairstyles with a bonnet-shaped mass of tight curls at the front of the head. That is a hairstyle seen quite commonly on busts of rich Roman women.
One gag in Asterix the Gladiator involves a trio of Romans in silly costumes walking into the arena covered in advertising slogans before a gladiator fight, while a couple of Romans in the background discuss whether or not people are bothered by all of the commercials. This is obviously a joke about television advertising but was an actual practice - gladiator matches were preceded by advertising and sometimes the gladiators themselves would carry advertising pennants, wear slogans or use sponsored equipment.
A story arc in the 1980s Old West comic strip Latigo starts with one character, who is a bit impractical and thoughtless, rejoicing at finding a "three-dollar gold piece". It's got to be a fake, right? Nope, the U.S. Mint tried it, from 1854 to 1889. Nobody liked it. In the 35 years it was produced, less than half-a million were struck, at all three U.S. Mint facilities, combined.
A Garfield strip where he put on another performance on top of the fence had money thrown at him by the resident of some distant Pacific island in the form of a millstone. The Yap islands in the Pacific really do use enormous round stone discs with a hole in the middle as a form of currency. See The Other Wiki for details. Anyone who grew up in the '60s or '70s would remember the Yap stone coin's frequent appearances in Ripley's Believe It or Not! on the funny pages, but everyone else...
In Elvis, Elvis' daughter listens to "Smurf Hits," pop songs with the lyrics rewritten to be about The Smurfs. Most people in Sweden, where Elvis is published, know that Smurf Hits is a real thing. But the fact that the song that Elvis' daughter is listening to, which goes "Kokobom smurf smurf, kokobom smurf smurf," is real will suprise a lot of readers since it sounds more like a parody.
In Good Night, and Good Luck., preview audiences thought that "the actor playing McCarthy" was way over the top. All clips of Joseph McCarthy in the film were footage of the late senator himself. To be fair, though, the editing of the film did significantly increase the "over the top" effect — much of it plays like a greatest-hits compilation of McCarthy's most extreme moments.
From Monty Pythons Life Of Brian, although it was intended as a metaphor for the British Left during the 1970s, We Are Struggling Together is also quite accurate to how Judean groups acted during Jesus' life and the writing of the Gospels. For instance, neither the Sadducees nor the Pharisees liked the Romans, but they also both disliked each other. The "What have the Romans done for us?" scene is very similar to a tractate in The Talmud.
From A Christmas Story: the "Red Ryder" model of BB guns really existed in The Thirties and weren't just a product of Jean Shepherd's imagination. Daisy manufactures Red Ryder BB rifles even today. They've been in continuous production, too, not reintroduced after the moviebecame popular. They were advertised in the back pages of children's comic books. While the Red Ryder didn't have "the compass in the stock and the thing that tells time", another model in the product line, the "Buck Jones", did have both a sundial and a compass in the stock. The Buck Jones was a 60-shot pump action, though, not a carbine action, 200-shot. The most likely explanation is that Shepherd merged the two models in his memories.
And "You'll put someone's eye out" was a warning that many mothers issued concerning it... in no small part because this was a distressingly common accident in the first part of the 20th century among suburban and rural boys who used such guns.
Lifebuoy Soap is almost completely forgotten now, but it's actually still being made.
Many viewers probably laughed at the "anachronistic" fountains on the grounds of the French royal palace in the 1998 movie version of Alexandre Dumas' novel The Man in the Iron Mask. Truth is, not only were they real, but they're also Older Than They Think: the Alhambra in Granada, Spain, has fountains powered not by electricity, but by gravity, with an aqueduct that brings water from the uphill Darro river. The very idea of gravity-powered fountains, in fact, dates back at least to the ancient Romans.
Pre-electricity fountains were to be found in parks and ornamental gardens throughout Europe at one point. They've mostly been replaced or fallen out of use now, though.
It's easy to assume that Kate, the female medieval blacksmith from A Knight's Tale, is just another piece of the movie's deliberate Anachronism Stew and Politically Correct History. But, according to the law of the Blacksmith's Guild of the time, if a blacksmith died and his widow was trained in the profession, then she was allowed to work as a blacksmith to support herself and any children from the marriage unless she remarried, and Kate refers to her late husband in one scene. There still survive examples of medieval craft works that were made by widows of guild members (we know this because in addition to their late husband's craft marks, which they were allowed to use, these women added a lozenge - the heraldic symbol for "female" - to assert their identity.)
Women were often allowed to be members of guilds in their own right, in fact, without regard to their husbands' trade. Some crafts—notably brewers in England—were largely monopolized by women.
Likewise, the presence of black cowboys in recent westerns. Many cowboys in The Wild West in the 1870s-90s were freedmen. It is their absence from the classic Western format of the '30s through early '60s that is inaccurate. This omission is hinted at in The Cowboy Way through one of the two main characters' skepticism concerning the existence of famous black rodeo performer Bill Pickett. Then again, very few characters in Westerns are actually cowboys, i.e., they don't drive cattle to market to earn their living.
Commodus deciding to fight a gladiator in the arena looks like a plot device to let Maximus get his revenge. The historical Commodus did actually fight in gladiator contests, although it isn't how he died.
The humongous bank vault door in TRON may look like a slightly over-the-top prop. It (along with the laser lab and computer room) is real and can be found at the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory. The door does weigh four tons; it serves to allow heavy equipment to access the laser lab. The false bits: it opening by itself (it's opened by hand — the hinges are nearly frictionless and perfectly balanced — one fit man can do it); the fancy but hackable electronic lock (it's locked by a simple manual mechanism inside — its purpose is to stop radiation from getting out, not thieves and spies from getting in); and the reaction closeup shot facing away from the door (this was shot in Disney Studios' parking lot).
Even in the film, the real opening mechanism is visible (standard-looking panic bar controlled latch mechanism) once the door finishes opening.
The climax of Terminator 2: Judgment Day involves a tanker truck full of liquid nitrogen crashing into a steel mill. That's not as ridiculous as people assume. Large volumes of liquid nitrogen are transported in tanker trucks in real life, because it's used in the manufacture of trunnion hub girders. And yes, trunnion hub girders are also real.
In Dr. Strangelove, General Ripper's paranoia about fluoridating water is most likely to come across as simply a manifestation of him being insane. However, his suspicion was shared by the ultra-right John Birch Society, and thus was an allusion to an actual conspiracy theory which was shared by people with similar ideology as the fictional character.
Sadly, this theory still exists. It is not uncommon in certain parts of rural small-town America to occasionally read local letters to the editor insisting on the "truth" of it (usually as part of a longer screed about the evils of government). Not helped when the "conspiracy" was given national voice in 2009 by conservative icon Glenn Beck.
Another thing from that movie: If you think it's unrealistic that a general like Turgidson would be so cavalier about killing millions of people in the name of winning the Cold War, you probably don't know about General Thomas S. Power, who was the commander in chief of Strategic Air Command from 1957-64. When the RAND corporation(parodied in the film as the BLAND corporation) advised that SAC not strike Soviet cities at the start of a war, Power replied: "Restraint? Why are you so concerned with saving their lives? The whole idea is to kill the bastards. At the end of the war if there are two Americans and one Russian left alive, we win!" Additionally, the RAND corporation itself really did come out with studies saying twenty million American dead would be an acceptable loss in a nuclear conflict.
The Anachronism Stew in Mel Brooks' History of the World Part I includes a "stand-up philosopher" in ancient Rome. There was a point in time when Romans actually hired philosophers to recite at dinner parties so that the host could look cultured. Which was just another custom they swiped from Greeks wholesale. In Ancient Greece there were traveling philosophers for hire who advertised their guest-entertaining services to wealthy hosts with pretensions of culture.
Just in case anyone was wondering about that scene in The French Connection where the traffickers are testing the purity of their merchandise... pure substances (such as heroin) have fixed melting points, but the melting point will become lowered if the substance is impure. So, if the powder tastes like heroin and melts at the right temperature (as determined by a Thiele melting point apparatus in this case), then it's got to be pure heroin. The trafficker's expert demonstrates all the salient points of the lab procedure, even displaying the mineral oil bottle just to show us that he's using the usual heat transfer medium.
Also, the entire plot is based on the real "French connection" case where raw Turkish opium was processed into heroin in Marseilles before coming to the US. Many other countries have also served as drug middlemen.
On top of that, real heroin was used for that scene.
CSA The Confederate States Of America contains several faux commercials for some very afrophobic products, including a brand of tobacco you need N-Word Privileges to say. Disturbingly (as is revealed at the end of the documentary), all of the products (with the exception of an electronic slave monitoring system) turn out to be real (though no longer existent) brands. Also, drapetomania, a "disease" believed to cause slaves to run away, was sadly once a real quack medical theory invented by a psychiatrist from Louisiana.
Darkie's Toothpaste was an actual brand sold in Taiwan which was also known as "Black Man's Toothpaste". After realizing the negative press they'd been getting, they changed the name to "Darley's Toothpaste" and changed the picture from a racist black caricature to a generic man in a top hat.
The Korean movie A Tale of Two Sisters is extremely symbolic, and there is a lot of stuff that goes on that doesn't immediately make sense and you have to think about it in order to get what is going on. Therefore, Western viewers can be forgiven for the Epileptic Trees they come up with in trying to deduce the symbolism of the tents right by the road in a scene where two characters are driving at night. These tents are actually a common sight in rural areas of Korea as they serve an agricultural purpose.
The World Sudoku Championship that featured in the mockumentary Colours By Numbers? It's real, as are some of the competitors mentioned.
To Hell and Back was based on Audie Murphy's experiences in World War II. Audie Murphy is famous for being an incredible Bad Ass and managed to earn every single medal the American military could award, and was even awarded medals by France and Belgium! Yet, despite how epic the film was, Murphy's scenes were actually toned down because he felt nobody would take his accomplishments seriously if they tried to portray them faithfully. Additionally, some folks didn't believe that he played himself in the film, credits or no credits.
The entire story in I Love You Phillip Morris counts as one of these; if the film didn't specifically tell you at the beginning that "This actually happened," there's no way anyone could believe it.
The tag line "More of this is true than you would probably believe" in The Men Who Stare at Goats pretty accurately sums up the weirdness that the movie is based on.
One example that kind of hurt the film is that the real organization covered actually used Star Wars references (such as calling themselves "Jedi Warriors"). Unfortunately, several reviewers assumed that this aspect was a labored Actor Allusion to Ewan McGregor and criticized the film for it.
After Its A Wonderful Life was released, Frank Capra received several letters complaining about the idea of a high school gym with a swimming pool underneath its floor, saying that no such places exist. Reviewers also knocked the scene as being too obviously contrived and unrealistic. The scene was shot at Beverly Hills High School's "Swim Gym", which opened in 1939 and is still used today. Of course, what it would be doing in a podunk town like Bedford Falls is slightly less justifiable
The same location and prank were also used in the 2000 teen flick Whatever It Takes, perhaps as an homage to Wonderful Life.
Also in Its A Wonderful Life, there is a brief shot of a rotisserie powered by a record player. That may seem improbable today, but those things actually did exist, and, in any case, it looks sufficiently Rube Goldberg to have been Mary's or possibly Uncle Billy's invention.
Nacho Libre: the story of a monk who wrestled under a mask to earn money for his orphanage? Too silly to be anything other than a comedy? Tell that to Fray Tormenta.
To a modern viewer, the "anti-drug" message of Reefer Madness is assumed to be straightforward. Not quite: that movie, and others like it, were made under the strict censorship of The Hays Code, which didn't allow lurid material unless some kind of moral statement was made. Adultery? Murder? No problem; filmmakers could tack on some kind of token "moral message", and stay within the rules of the game. Another infamous example is Child Bride, which includes an extended scene of a 12-year old skinny-dipping by claiming to draw attention to the problem of child marriage.
Movies and TV series, often considered cult nowadays, made by the director Stanisław Bareja after 1970 display many absurdities of living in the People's Republic of Poland that seem surreal even to Polish viewers if they are too young to remember this era.
A number of the complaints about inaccuracy in the Mel Gibson film Apocalypto actually fall into this category.
"Black panther" is actually a generic reference to any melanistic (atypically black furred) big cat, and jaguars, which are native to South America, do indeed produce melanistic individuals. The big black cat in the film is a female jaguar, not a leopard.
The Mayans did actually practice human sacrifice, though historians debate when precisely they adopted the practice. (However, most likely not to the extent shown in the film—large festivals in which dozens if not hundreds had their hearts dramatically ripped from their chests in full public view was more the purview of the Aztecs.)
They also did have a blue paint-like dye that they used to mark individuals before sacrifice.
The decapitation of prisoners was older, more important and more widespread than heart ripping among the Mayans, and like in the movie, it involved dropping the head down stairs and being caught in somewhat sport-like fashion by people at the base. This happened at ballgame courtyards (like the one the remaining prisoners are taken to later in the movie) rather than in temples, though. The part where they throw the bodies of the sacrifices down the temple's steps is entirely real, however. So the movie is combining and simplifying things here, not making them up.
The Mayan civilization had collapsed by the time that the movie is set (c.1500 AD), but the Mayan people were (and are) still alive and there were also small, dying cities still being occupied, even when the Spaniards arrived.
Today's Mayans celebrate many ancestral folk traditions (such as celebrating the end of the long count calendar on December 21, 2012, which contrary to popular belief was not interpreted as indicating the end of the world by them), and so do today's Inca.
Pirates of the Caribbean and some other pirate movies feature female pirates. Hollywood History? Not so! There were Pirate Girls, notably Anne Bonny, Mary Read, Jeanne de Clisson and Grace O'Malley. Zheng Yi Shao ended up being one of the most successful pirates ever and one pirate is in fact an Expy of her.)
Similarly, the commonness of The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything would imply that real pirates were all bloodthirsty ravenous wild men. Only a few of them were that terrible, but many liked to be thought of that way because people who're frightened out of their wits are much more likely to give up their valuables. In other words, yes, the Dread Pirate Roberts' reliance on reputation was sort of used in real life.
Some people have been surprised to learn that The Castle Aaaaargggh from Monty Python and the Holy Grail is a real place and not "only a model". It's called Castle Stalker, and it's in an inlet on Loch Linnhe in Scotland. 'Camelot' in the "Knights of the Round Table" song wasn't a model, either - it, and all other castles depicted in the film (other than the aforementioned Castle Aaaaargggh) were in fact Doune Castle in Stirlingshire, Scotland. Although the shots looking up at the French throwing animals over the battlements were done with a mock up (for logistical and safety reasons). On the special edition DVD, there's a surreal moment when Terry Jones and Gilliam travel to Doune Castle (and the other locations used in the film) - and buy a copy of their own movie script in the castle's gift shop.
To be precise, for the exterior shot of Camelot the Pythons used a (very obvious) model, for the interior shots (i. e. the "Knights of the Round Table" song and dance number) they used Doune Castle.
In fact, every single interior in the film is Doune Castle, and what's more, most of them are the same room.
The knights in the film are depicted to wear mail note oh well... dry-brushed wool, to be exact, due to budget reasons. Mail would be a perfectly realistic 6th century armor note the era in which King Arthur, assuming he was based on a real person, is estimated to have lived, and the Romans already knew of and wore it as lorica hamata. All other King Arthur films depict the knights being plate armored. Plate armor did not appear until 14th century.
Using animals as ammunition in catapults? Yeah, they actually did that in medieval siege warfare, since it was a convenient way to spread disease in besieged castles.
The Cloudcuckoolander monks, who smack themselves in the faces with wooden planks while chanting, are a parody of Real Lifeflagellants. And smacking themselves in the face with wooden planks is actually very mild compared to what the real flagellants did.
Hell, even the killer rabbit has basis in fact. It was inspired by real medievalreligious art, which often visually depicted the sin of cowardice by showing a knight fleeing in terror from a rabbit.
As mentioned in the Appeal To Worse Problems trope, an example was used about how in The Phantom Menace there were elected officials who happened to have titles such as "Queen", and that some places actually did elect monarchy, including medieval Ireland and early modern Poland. There are still elective monarchies, including Malaysia, Cambodia (where the King is elected by other members of the Royal Family), and Wallis-and-Futuna, a French territory in the Pacific Ocean, which is divided into three traditional kingdoms each led by a king elected among the local aristocracy. However, it should be noted that in these cases, it's never a truly open democracy, and a mere election of one of several high ranking aristocrats.
In some North American native bands, the children of elected chiefs are officially titled princes and princesses, although that title only matters while their parent holds office.
In Hamlet, the title character tells Horatio he endorses Fortinbras as king in the ensuing election. The Danish nobility of that era did, in fact, elect the king. By Shakespeare's time it had become common for son to follow father on the throne, but that was by no means automatic, and the Kings had to invest significant political capital in making it happen. It took a coup d'etat perpetrated by the reigning King (yes, that's a thing) in 1660 to make the throne automatically inheritable.
Many viewers of Boratdid not know that Kazakhstan was a real country. In fact, it is the ninth largest in the world and also the largest landlocked country. However, the "Kazakhstan" of the film resembles the non-fictional country In Name Only (and you can bet they were not freaking amused-government officials made a point of noting the large Jewish Kazakh community, who emphatically are not mistreated in the manner of the film).
This confusion led to an embarrassing incident at a 2012 sporting competition in Kuwait. Maria Dmitrienko, a Kazakh, placed first in an event and the tradition was to play her national anthem when she was awarded her medal. But the officials mistakenly played the fake Kazakh anthem from the movie rather than the real anthem. Dmitrienko handled it graciously and the officials apologized when their mistake was pointed out.
The system James Bond uses at the end of Thunderball is commonly viewed as the most unrealistic thing James Bond ever does, even in 1965. That device is the Fulton Surface to Air Recovery System, or STARS, a very real and very safe air recovery system, with only one death throughout its history, caused by improper use. The pocket-sized breathing device used by Bond during the movie, on the other hand, was fake but thought to be real, even by the Royal Navy, who tried to get some from the producers, only to be told it was only as effective as the user's ability to hold his breath.
One of the more ridiculous scenes in Live and Let Die involves Bond running over the backs of a bunch of alligators and crocodiles to get off an island before the carnivores can eat him. It's completely unbelievable... except for being real. According to the commentary on the film, they were planning to have Bond escape using his magnetic watch to pull a boat over, but felt it lacked excitement. They asked the animal handler on the set how he would escape from the island and he proceeded to do the "run-over-their-backs" stunt for the camera. The footage is actually of him doing it!
The "I say, let 'em crash!" Guy seen in Airplane (and earlier in The Kentucky Fried Movie) was a parody of a segment of 60 Minutes called Point/Counterpoint in which a Conservative and Liberal would debate an issue. Shortly after Airplane! was released, the Point/Counterpoint segment was replaced with the more familiar A Few Minutes with Andy Rooney.note The segment would be more famously parodied by Saturday Night Live in the "Weekend Update" segment that led to the immortal Catch Phrase, "Jane, you ignorant slut!"
The "smoking or non-smoking" line wasn't just invented for the joke; airplanes actually did have smoking sections at the time (the FAA would ban smoking on all flights a couple years after the movie came out).
This really applies to any TV show or film made before the smoking ban, including the famous "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" episode of The Twilight Zone, where William Shatner lights up right before seeing that thing... on the wing.
Anyone watching The Muppet Christmas Carol, a more comedic adaptation of the story, without reading the book or watching any of the more serious adaptations, might be surprised to learn that Scrooge's "more of gravy than of grave" pun was in the original novel.
In the trailers for Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days, Greg is shown getting a new cell phone called a "Ladybug" that looks like something straight out of the 90s and only calls home and 911. Some might think that that's just his parents being out of touch, but there exists a real phone called the Firefly that only calls numbers that the parents program into the phone, as well as 911.
Many critics and some viewers unfamiliar with stock-car racing thought the name of the main character in Days Of Thunder, Cole Trickle, was an over-the-top, too deliberately Southern name. But at the time Dick Trickle, a legend of the sport, was still racing.
From the same film, many viewers are unaware that the briefly-featured dinosaur they call the "spitting lizard" is actually based on a real genus of theropod dinosaur from the early Jurassic called Dilophosaurus. Granted, real Dilophosaurs were much bigger than those of the film, did not spit venom, and did not have an extendable neck frill.
During the opening sequence of A Hard Days Night, The Beatles are show running from fans at the train station. Well, except for Paul, who's disguised himself by wearing a phony beard. In the early years of Beatlemania, the Beatles really wore disguises in public to avoid being seen.
People got so caught up in whether or not The Amityville Horror was fake that people thought the DeFeo murders was made up, and that the house didn't even exist.
Many viewers of Birdemic called "bull" on protagonist Rod's hybrid Ford Mustang. Turns out there is a California company that will convert any vehicle to hybrid or full electric - though it's expensive. So Rod's hybrid Mustang is plausible, though A) the film implies that Rod bought it as a hybrid, B) converting a muscle car like a Mustang to a hybrid massively misses the point of both muscle cars and hybrids.
Readers of Junichiro Tanizaki's In Praise of Shadows may be puzzled when the author waxes lyrical about the old custom of ohaguro, or tooth blackening. Yes, prior to the Meiji era, Japanese women would dye their teeth black with a ferrous solution; black smiles were considered more elegant than natural, ivory-coloured teeth. Here you go.
Also in Elizabethan England people were really fond of sugar and had the expected dental hygiene practices of Elizabethan English (ie none), with predictable results for their teeth. Those who could not afford their dose of sugar sometimes coloured their teeth to gain the proper look.
The Last Continent: you'd think that meat pies floating in pea soup wouldn't be eaten by anyone. Apparently it is a common late-night, drunk-food dish in Adelaide. Also commonly eaten by sober people during the middle of the day in other parts of south Australia.
In Mort, one of the early books from Albert's life is from, "Back before they invented spelling." Terry Pratchett isn't just being funny here. Prior to the rise of dictionaries, words were just spelled phonetically, with no real regard to consistency.
G.I. Joe comics had a similar storyline with the emergence of Cobra Island.
Good Omens mentions the angel Aziraphale's collection of Infamous Bibles, named from errors in typesetting. Amazingly, all of these Bibles (other than the Charing Cross and the Buggre Alle This) actually exist.
These Bibles included the Unrighteous Bible, so called from a printer's error which caused it to proclaim, in I Corinthians, "Know ye not that the unrighteous shall inherit the Kingdom of God?"; and the Wicked Bible, printed by Barker and Lucas in 1632, in which the word 'not' was omitted from the seventh commandment, making it "Thou shalt commit Adultery." The Bug Bible had "afraid of bugs by night" instead of "afraid of terror by night". There were the Discharge bible, the Treacle Bible, the Standing Fishes Bible, the Charing Cross Bible and the rest. Aziraphale had them all. Even the very rarest, [...] the Buggre Alle This Bible.
In Charles Dickens' Great Expectations, there is a character who has turned his house into a miniature castle complete with moat and drawbridge. To modern readers this may seem eccentric, but this was actually quite common for wealthy Victorians. Then again, it may also seem like the act of a rich idiot who wants to impress other rich idiots, and We Have Those Too here in the 21st century.
The character of John Blackthorne in Shogun is quite obviously invented by the author, surely? Well... no.
The "rest cure" described in The Yellow Wallpaper was considered a proper treatment for certain mental illnesses around the turn of the 20th century. The author went through it herself, and was quite happy to learn that her story helped to discredit it as quackery.
Hold on: a black bosun onboard HMS Sophie? Multiracial crews with sizable Muslim, Jewish, and Lascar minorities? East Asian crew members, and all living in relative harmony? Surely P.O'B. is rewriting a bit of Politically Correct History? As it turns out, nope. He wasn't. The Royal Navy's global reach and perpetual manpower shortage meant that it would recruit whatever seamen were available, wherever they were. It helps that the best captains and crews would largely ignore race—as long as you were a good seaman, you were in.
This is arguably an example of Eagleland Osmosis. Many modern audiences, both American and otherwise, don't seem to understand that racial segregation of the kind that existed in the United States and South Africa either didn't exist in other countries or was more loosely enforced.
All of the dishes in the late Brian Jacques' Redwall series are real. He found out about Turnip'n'tater'n'beetroot pie from a New York restaurant, in fact.
In The Game, Neil Strauss and his friends at one point end up taking the wrong road between Molodova and the Ukraine and end up in an unrecognized country that still uses Soviet imagery and propaganda wishing for a return to the glorious days of the USSR. That country exists.
In a way, "The Gift of the Magi" qualifies. It begins 'One dollar and eighty-seven cents. That was all. And sixty cents of it was in pennies.' Modern readers may assume an error by the author if they are not aware that the US minted half-cent, two-cent, and three-cent coins not long before the story was written. Any of these could be used to come up with $1.27 using no pennies.
Harold Lauder's chocolate Payday bars in The Stand. Payday Avalanche existed for a while before the book was written, then disappeared, then came back for a while,before vanishing again.
You might be forgiven for thinking the dire wolves from A Song of Ice and Fire are a D&D reference, but canis dirus was a real creature that went extinct 10,000 years ago.
One of the plot points in the Honor Harrington book At All Costs involves an expired contraceptive implant — a device which sounds exactly like (and is presented to the reader in the same style as) the kind of futuristic medical technology that David Weber might invent for his post-spaceflight universe, but which (in a less long-lived version than Harrington's) exists right now.
A Christmas Episode of Green Acres had Oliver eager for a traditional rural Christmas, and discovering 'traditional' in Hooterville meant aluminum Christmas trees.
During an early episode of Seinfeld, Jason Alexander objected to the actions of his character, George Costanza, insisting that no sane person in Real Life would ever react this way; specifically, quitting his job and turning up the next day as if nothing happened. Larry David informed him that he himself did exactly that when he worked as a writer on Saturday Night Live. This completely changed how Jason came to see the character, imitating Larry David from then on instead of his previous Woody Allen-like portrayal. Knowledge that all four of the core characters on Seinfeld are based on real people can lead one to view the early episodes of the show (when the correspondence was the most direct) in a new light. These people existed, and they were doing things like this in New York in the 1980s.
In the pilot episode, Jack mentions the GE Trivection Oven, an oven that combines three types of heat with ludicrously over-the-top descriptions of it. Though meant more as Biting-the-Hand Humor than Product Placement, NBC ran special commercials during the premiere to convince the world that yes, this was a real product. One episode featured a gold necklace with the acronym EGOT (referencing the quest for an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony) and said that it was originally made for Philip Michael Thomas. Younger audience members may not have realized that this wasn't just a random pop culture reference — the term "EGOT" was actually coined by Thomas, back in the '80s, when he frequently stated that his goal was to win all four awards. (To date, he has never scored so much as a nomination for any of them.) Thomas claimed at the time that the letters stood for Energy, Growth, Opportunity and Talent.
At least one fan of Merlin had this reaction to the mention of belladonna eye drops to 'make the eyes look more beautiful'. They were immediately corrected - belladonna dilates the pupils, so therefore did have this effect. Amongst others.
It was actually named belladonna (beautiful woman) after its using in cosmetic eye-drops.
The active ingredient in belladonna, atropine, is still used medicinally in eyedrops to treat near-sightedness.
Furthermore, dark-skinned Angel Coulby getting the role of Guinevere was derided by many as being anachronistic (despite the show being set in a fairy-tale kingdom). Even if the show wasn't an Anachronism Stewanyway, the presence of non-white people in pre-Saxon England was certainly not an impossibility.
In the commentary for Generation Kill, Evan Wright often had to state "this actually happened" during the more absurd, fantastical-seeming occurrences on the show. In fact, they actually had to tone down the more bizarre shit that the so-called Captain America pulled.
Pierce on Community tries to make a Forced Meme out of the phrase "Streets Ahead". The characters reacted with scorn towards him. It's an existing phrase in Australia and the UK, which is rather appropriate as another episode showed that Pierce always rips off other people even when he's not trying to.
In the BBC's version of Robin Hood there was much derision when the character of Isabella was appointed Sheriff of Nottingham. However, there was a female Sheriff of Lincolnshire in approximately the same time period, who (like the fictional Isabella) was appointed by Prince/King John.
Remember mockolate (fake chocolate made from suspicious substances) on Friends? Disgusting and potentially hazardous? Well, so does anyone who grew up in the Soviet Bloc. Hershey's and other chocolate companies are doing this now, replacing cocoa butter in their "chocolate" with vegetable oils. Critics have taken to using the "mockolate" term coined by Friends to describe it.
In one episode when Chandler and Ross's old wild partying friend nicknamed "Gandalf" comes to visit, some of the others don't get the reference—which would be unlikely today since the Lord of the Rings films have made the main characters' names ubiquitous.
The writers of Heartbeat learned that at the time when the series is set, bobbies were still wearing capes. They shot some test scenes with Nick wearing a cape but audiences felt it looked too weird so they switched to the more familiar modern-day overcoat. (And when some fans wrote in to point out the inaccuracy, the producers wrote back explaining that Aidensfield was in a region selected to test the new police uniforms before they were adopted across the country.)
In Sesame Street, the Count's obsession with counting seems like it would just be a Pun. However, in Eastern European folklore regarding vampires, one way to escape a vampire was to scatter seeds on the ground, as they had a compulsion to count them all, and would be distracted until they finished. This may also be the strangest ever example of Fridge Brilliance.
This was lampshaded in an episode of The X-Files when Mulder, being attacked by a vampire, reaches for his nightstand, where lies his gun and a bag...of sunflower seeds. He scatters the seeds and distracts the vampire, who laments that now he has to pick them all up, and does so compulsively as Mulder flees.
There were many complaints in online fandom about the Doctor Who episode "The Shakespeare Code" suggesting there were black people living in England in William Shakespeare's time. In real life, Queen Elizabeth I wrote letters to the Mayor of London complaining about the "great numbers of Negars and Blackamoors" in the city.
A similar case was President Nixon's black Secret Service agent in "The Impossible Astronaut". He actually had at least one black Secret Service agent in real life.
The very next episode revealed that Canton was kicked out of the FBI for wanting to marry a black man. Some felt this wouldn't even have occurred to someone in 1969—except the episode is set less than a year before a gay couple in Minnesota applied for a marriage license, and was also the year of the Stonewall Riot (the police action credited with starting the Gay Rights movement).
Many young Doctor Who fans may be surprised to discover that the Police Box design did not originate with the show.
The mysterious disappearance of Agatha Christie that serves as a plot point in "The Unicorn and The Wasp" really happened.
Barney Miller: Wojo had to improvise when the precinct room was out of coffee. Barney does a disgusted spit take at the result - hot Dr. Pepper. The soft drink company actively marketed this treatment of their drink in the early '60s, but it didn't catch on.
In the mid-to-late 1980s episodes, Nora Dunn and Jan Hooks appear on a recurring skit involving a Lifetime network show called Attitudes, which appears to be an outrageous spoof on the sort of shows that aired on Lifetime. It was actually a parody of a real show.
Ditto for Christopher Walken's The Continental recurring sketch. The kicker: Walken actually remembers seeing the original version as a kid.
Many viewers outside the the New York metropolitan area (and, to be honest, quite a few within it) thought that Joe Franklin was a character Billy Crystal made up for sketches on the show. He's very much real, and did in fact host the first TV talk show.
In the season 34 episode hosted by Anne Hathaway (her first time hosting), there was a CSPAN sketch showing various deadbeats who would be benefiting from the bailout during the 2008 housing crisis-cum-recession. Then-cast members Darrell Hammond and Casey Wilson played a couple named Herbert and Marion Sandler (no relation to Adam) who cheated Wachovia Bank out of a lot of money and made off like bandits. Lorne Michaels didn't know until after the sketch aired that Herbert and Marion Sandler were a real couple that actually did this (making the "People Who Should Be Shot" caption underneath them during their time onscreen a little uncomfortable to laugh at). Because of this, NBC's SNL video website and the network reruns edit out the entire part featuring Darrell Hammond and Casey Wilson as Herbert and Marion Sandler (though the shots of them as background characters weren't edited in any way). The Netflix version does show the part, but is edited to remove the "People Who Should Be Shot" caption and Herbert Sandler's line about thanking the U.S. government for letting them get away with their corrupt activities.
When Chevy Chase was doing Weekend Update, Michael O'Donoghue wrote a joke: "Well, the popular TV personality known as Professor Backwards was slain in Atlanta yesterday, by three masked gunmen. According to reports, neighbors ignored the Professor's cries of 'Pleh! Pleh!'" Chase later said he assumed O'Donoghue had made the whole thing up. But Professor Backwards was a real person (whose real name was James Edmondson) and he had been murdered that week as described. All O'Donoghue did was add the part about him yelling "Pleh".
Stargate SG-1's military base in Colorado, bizarrely burrowed into Cheyenne Mountain, is, in reality, fake...no, wait, it's NORAD's headquarters, and the Stock Footage so often shown of its entrance is the real thing, even though it looks like they just took some video of actors in uniforms marching around outside a highway tunnel. The ridiculously thick blast door, shown sealing itself whenever there's a crisis, is also real. Also, not only is there a real Stargate Program, it was actually weirder than the one in the show. (It's depicted—more or less—in The Men Who Stare at Goats.)
To add to the hilarity, there is actually a door in Cheyenne Mountain marked "Stargate Command". It's just a broom closet. The military put it there out of appreciation for the series.
In the How I Met Your Mother episode "Legendaddy", Robin didn't know that the North Pole was a real place. She only knew it as the legendary place of residence of Santa Claus.
There is a blog, Polite Dissent, that does reviews of every episode of House for medical accuracy; a typical episode will have several errors, mostly of the nit-picky variety, (excusable for the sake of story) and occasionally something boneheaded, obviously wrong. Such seemed to be the case early in the 7th season, when Dr. House was brought in to diagnose not a patient, but a set of lungs for transplant, kept in a glass box, which were showing signs of premature deterioration. A great deal of disbelief was shown at the show's depiction of the lungs, clean, dry, and sterile, in a clean, dry, sterile box. Cut to fans providing pictures and video of actual lungs ex-vivo, looking just like that, to the amazement of the other commenters, trained medical professionals among them.
Remember that subplot in Nip/Tuck where Julia and Liz started a cosmetics business with skin lotion containing human sperm? In real life, bull semen is used as an ingredient for hair treatment products and anti-aging skin cream.
In the 2003 MTV Movie Awards spoof of The Matrix Reloaded, the Architect, played by Will Ferrell, mentions that he created many video games except for Frogger, though he did name it, saying "Did you know they were going to call it Highway Crossing Frog?". Highway Crossing Frog was indeed the original name until Sega changed it.
Andy's bleeding nipples caused by extreme chafing in The Office (US). Sure, it sounds like some bizarre ailment to exaggerate Andy's danger proneness but it's a real thing that affects athletes. It's called "Jogger's Nipple." Cloth can be surprisingly abrasive when it rubs repeatedly over the same portion of skin made worse by the fact that nipples are fairly thin-skinned and sensitive anyway, especially when exacerbated by sweating, since the water will evaporate and leave salt behind, adding to the abrasiveness.
And 75 miles away is their conference rival Indiana University of Pennsylvania (yes, in the town of Indiana).
In the final episode of Fawlty Towers, Manuel is revealed to have a pet rat, which he insists is a hamster. While the other members of the staff are appalled due to a health inspector coming the next day, domesticated rats are quite real and in most cases are extremely clean, good-tempered and highly intelligent animals. In fairness to the staff, even if they knew about pet rats, they couldn't be sure that the health inspector would. An additional helping of this trope comes along due to the rat having wild coloration - which is completely possible even in domestic rats.
The series Dracula has a black Renfield, derided by many as an anachronism and/or political correctness. There were plenty of black people living in Victorian London, not to mention many Chinese and Indian communities as well.
Many American listeners thought that the "Electric Avenue" of Eddy Grant's early '80s hit song was a made-up name for a party place. In fact, it's a real street in London's Brixton neighborhood which gets its name from being the first market street in the area to have electric lighting and hosts a regular immigrant street market (and once you realize that, the fact that it's a protest song rather than a party anthem becomes clearer).
"Punk Rock Girl" by The Dead Milkmen features the lines "Someone played a Beach Boys song on the jukebox / it was 'California Dreamin''..." Some have expressed irritation at such an error, since "California Dreamin'" is of course by The Mamas & The Papas. Others have called it a deliberate mis-attribution - the main characters are portrayed as Quincy punks, so it would sort of be in-character for them to not know the difference. However, the song is actually referencing a Cover Version of "California Dreamin'" The Beach Boys had released as a single two years earlier (in 1986).
Perhaps because of its use in Super Size Me, "Rock N' Roll McDonald's" is one of the better-known Wesley Willis songs. Listeners tend to think it's just about McDonald's in general, and are therefore puzzled by lyrics like "McDonalds is the place to rock" and "people flock here to get down to the rock music". Rock N' Roll McDonalds is an actual place - a large flagship McDonalds restaurant full of rock and roll memorabilia in Willis' home city of Chicago.
Mel Blanc recorded a wild takeoff on Al Jolson singing, "Toot Toot Tootsie" (which Jolson sang in The Jazz Singer). Mel whistles a part of it. Just Mel being silly? Nope! Jolson actually whistled the chorus in his version of "Toot Toot Tootsie".
Journey's "Separate Ways" video is considered to be among the worst ever. Viewers who weren't alive when it came out often attribute that to the cheesy '80s clothing and hairstyles the band members and the model in the video are wearing, as if they were the absolute worst the era could offer. However, that wasn't exceptional for popular musicians of the time, and there are actually far worse examples in other bands' videos (Duran Duran, anyone?) which no one calls out today.
Myth and Legend
The Trojan War was long believed to have been pure myth until the ruins of Troy were actually discovered in Turkey. They still turned out to have grown in the telling somewhat, however. For one, there wasn't a single city of Troy, but many, each built over the ruins of the last. Which one of these, if any, inspired the story is hard to say.
Archaeological discoveries apparently related to myths and legends tend to be all over the place with regards to this trope. Each new find has different groups declaring that a tale is confirmed, disproven, or needs to be rewritten and all can usually offer up at least a token bit of evidence for their viewpoint. Even the discoverers themselves are often at odds with each other over how to interpret what they've dug up.
Many modern American viewers can't make sense of a scene in the original Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons. Lt. Green is manning the gun turret on a moon rover. After blowing up all the enemies (for the moment), he asks, "Do I get a coconut?" The response is something like, "When we get out of this, you'll have all the coconuts you can eat." This is often misinterpreted as a racist joke. It's actually a reference to Coconut Shies, where coconuts were a common prize. They're still common enough at fairs in England.
In the Dungeons & Dragons campaign "Living Greyhawk", there was a Veluna event where the heroes visited an anarcho-syndicalist commune near the border of the country. Many players claimed that this was a blatant reference to Monty Python and the Holy Grail that had no purpose in the setting. The author had to explain both on the Internet and repeatedly in person that much of Monty Python's humour was based on British politics, and that there once was such a political system.
Early Anglo-Saxon communities were rather democratic, often appointing a honcho solely to command in wartime and booting him shortly thereafter.
In pre-industrial societies, it would be quite common to find communes making collective decisions and informal positions of authority. Many people wouldn't even know the king's name; the young Chairman Mao didn't hear of the Emperor's death until two years after.
Even as late as the early eighties, some Chinese peasants were still referring to Deng Xiaoping as "the best Emperor we've ever had."
Aside from the precise term used as a title, he literally was.
Also, a lot of players may be surprised to learn that a fair amount of the more ridiculous monsters of Dungeons & Dragons are actually derived from real mythology, most notably the Peryton (a stag headed eagle that needs humanoid hearts to reproduce) and Al'Miraj (a giant unicorn-horned bunny)
One of the most iconic dragons, Tiamat, is a real part of the Babylonian mythology. Though she'd likely be less than pleased with the combining of recent edition rules' Power Creep, Power Seep with Badass Decay resulting in Munchkins measuring their character's killing power in "Tiamats Per Second".
If you're not a devout Catholic, you probably don't know that St. Cuthbert, the World Of Greyhawk god of mercy, is an actual saint (in fact, he's the patron saint of Northumbria). Along with Tiamat, he's one of the few real-life religious figures who remain in the default pantheon.
One may be forgiven for thinking that, due to frequently going for The Theme Park Version of feudal samurai culture, the majority of samurai family names in Legend of the Five Rings are faux-Japanese hackjobs. Well, several are, but the game gives us a good number of legit surnames as well: Shiba, Matsu, Yoritomo, Asahina, Isawa, Togashi, Ujina, etc...
A few others aren't proper PEOPLE'S names, exactly, but do reference things that were actually in Japan. Hida was the name of one of the old feudal provinces on Honshu Island, and Ikoma is the name of a mountain.
Most of the place names are technically Japanese, as well. At least, they use real Japanese words that make sense and were probably intentional... Just not in the right order. A notable example (which is both common and understandable, among novice speakers) is the usage of "no" as equal to the English word "of" rather than the possessive "'s".
Some of the names the designers of Magic The Gathering come up for the cards are actual archaic terms or derived from archaic terms. In fact, Doug Beyer hosted several linguistic looks at sets and divided certain names into "okra" words (real but strange), "twinkie" words (completely made up), or "tofu" words (made from real words, but are really alien), inviting readers to guess which category a certain word on a card fell into.
Performances of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) often result in the audience asking "did William Shakespeare really write that?" afterward; he did. Sort of. Many of the Shakespeare quotes are verbatim. note Quite a few are not, though; Hamlet didn't really use the words "Piss off" to Horatio, nor did Juliet reply to Romeo's "Call me but love, and I'll be new baptized" with "Okay, 'Butt Love'."
In Mozart's opera Don Giovanni there is a scene where there is a party where everybody is supposed to watch Don Giovanni eat. A satire on the decadence of eighteenth century aristocracy? An example of an absurdist flight of fancy? Not at all: watching the nobs eat was a popular form of entertainment in pre-revolutionary France. The Palace of Versailles even sold tickets to the King's meals. (Anyone could go, whether local or tourist.) It could be described as the eighteenth century version of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous; unfortunately, the logistics of providing viewing space meant that the food served, while superficially magnificent from the audience's point of view, was often cold, congealed, and barely edible by the time it reached the head table. And testing each dish and drink for poison meant that a glass of wine takes about 20 minutes to pour.
Given the changes made to the story of the von Trapp family in The Sound of Music, viewers might be forgiven if they assume that Georg's membership in the navy of landlocked Austria was invented as well, but they'd be wrong. Before 1918, Austria controlled a large empire including all of what is now Croatia and far-northeastern Italy (specifically, the city of Trieste). In that territory were numerous sea ports that were protected by a small but well-respected navy. The real Kapitan Georg von Trapp of the Austro-Hungarian navy had a pretty distinguished career during World War I in submarines: he was the commander of a submarine that sank an Italian cruiser.
In the original productions of the musical Spring Awakening, the punk rock-esque hairstyles some of the boys sported are assumed by many to be a result of the show's Anachronism Stew, but in fact, the director claims that they were inspired by some actual hairstyles in photos from the era.
Also, those unfamiliar with the 19th century play the musical is based on (if they even know there is one) can be surprised to find that many scenes from the musical that seem to touch on modern controversial topics, such as one featuring a kiss between two boys or the female protagonist's back-alley abortion, were, in fact, in the original.
Though Knickerbocker Holiday is so full of historical inaccuracies that some are even lampshaded, it is true that, at the time of the setting, New Netherland did claim the Connecticut River as within its territory.
Many gamers thought that Colin McRae was a dour Scottish rally driver character made up by Codemasters to narrate for their Colin McRae Rally series of driving games.
There's another take on the antitank dogs, and it's even more hilarious. Y'see, the original idea was to train dogs to run to the tank, drop the mine and return back. After all, the multi-use dogs are much more practical. Only the dogs weren't as stupid as to run all the way to the tanks under fire. They would leave the trenches, drop the mine right there and then jump back.
Additionally, the flying platforms seen in Metal Gear Solid 3 were jet versions of this experimental U.S. aircraft. Oh, and the drone used by Naked Snake at the beginning of Operation Snake Eater, and the WIG? Bothreal.
The flying platforms were actually a real thing. They really flew. Their main drawbacks were their short flying time, difficulty to fly, and incredible vulnerability and lack of redundancy.
And the Shagohod. One look at the Shagohod and you might think Kojima was going overboard with the mechanical designs. Thing is, however, there really were tanks designed to fire nuclear artillery. They don't actually function like the Shagohod does.
Speaking of tanks and the Shagohod. Those tanks that Snake briefly saw at Groznyj Grad, which Volgin later destroys while rampaging across Groznyj Grad? those were actually real, and Sigint's description when calling them is also their real history (although there were more factors to their cancellation besides simply a lack of funds).
A lot of people think CalorieMates are a fictional product but you can actually buy them in Japan. In fact, the only fictional products in the entire series are probably the cigarettes.
This may have been the case with the original Metal Gear Solid in terms of the weaponry, since they sounded and looked exotic enough to a lot of gamers first exposed to them. Every weapon is real, except the Nikita (though the concept is in missiles such as the TOW) and personal chaff grenades (chaff is usually an aircraft thing).
For those who are skeptical enough to believe that the Markhor is a fictional animal (considering Metal Gear Solid 3 has added fictional animals like the Baltic Hornets), they will be surprised to know that the markhor does exist and that its name really does mean "snake eater."
The Ear Pull event that Vulcan Raven mentions is a very much real event designed to test endurance although some Arctic Sports communities have banned it due to the squeamishness of their audience and the inherent danger it poses to the competitors (bleeding, stitches and the like).
The Stick Pull and Four Man Carry events mentioned in The Twin Snakes are also real events in the Eskimo-Indian Olympics.
Oh, and even The Muktuk Eating Contest mentioned in the original is a real event, meaning Snake wasn't just being snarky about Raven's size.
In a similar vein as the above: at one point in Alpha Protocol, nutbar conspiracy theorist Steven Heck asks the protagonist, à propos of nothing, if he knew the CIA once wired a live cat with radio equipment back in the 60s. Operation Acoustic Kitty reallyhappened.
Namco Museum Volume 4 for the original PlayStation contained an arcade game called Genpei Toumaden, which up until then had not been released in the North American. Retitled The Genji and the Heike Clans, the game features a "character" called "Taira no Kagekiyo". A number of American game players may or may not know that he isn't a character created by Namco for the game. Kagekiyo was a true historical person. A member of the "Taira" ("Heike") clan, he fought during Japan's "Genpei" Wars where he died in battle. In the game, he comes back to life and seeks revenge on the Genji clan.
"Dr. Ryuta Kawashima" isn't a character Nintendo created for the Brain Age series, he's a Real Life Japanese scientist whose research inspired the creation of the games.
Remember the Punch Gun, or its latest incarnation, the Ballistic Fist? There existed a real version of those gun-gloves, used mainly by spies as a concealed weapon. Not only that, but it functioned the same way- to fire the gun, you had to push down the plunger on the front by punching your target with it.
The company General Atomics International may sound like just part of the pre-War Fallout world's obsession with nuclear power. General Atomics is a real and still extant company. They even have robots (specifically, UAVs) as one of their major product-lines.
The Goodsprings General Store, Pioneer (Prospector) Saloon, and Jean Sky Diving school are all real businesses, although the last is in ruins in the game.
Most of the towns and settlements in the game are real. New Vegas is obvious, and Primm and Boulder City slightly less so, but Goodsprings, Nipton, Sloan, and Nelson are all real towns near the California-Nevada border (though all are very sparsely populated today, with Nipton being the most populous with around 60 inhabitants).
The Legion's Lottery Of Doom in Nipton, believe it or not, is also based on reality. Not the "of doom" part — Nipton was where Nevada residents went to buy tickets for the California state lottery (before Nevada got a state lottery of its own). And yes, it's in California despite being southeast of Goodsprings and Primm.
NCR Correctional Facility's real life counterpart is the now-defunct Southern Nevada Correctional Center.
The real world Whiskey Pete's Casino in Primm houses the exhibit of Bonnie & Clyde's death car, who were the basis for the Fallout verse's Vikki & Vance and the casino of that name.
As the above sentence implies, Primm is a real town — its other notable in-game feature, the Bison Steve Hotel (with its rollercoaster the Diablo) is based on the real Primm's Buffalo Bill's Hotel (with its rollercoaster the Desperado)
The Helios One power plant is present in the real world as Nevada Solar One.
Although the town itself is completely fictional, Dinky the T-Rex in Novac is modeled after the Mr. Rex sculpture in Cabazon, California, and named after the neighboring Dinny apatosaurus sculpture.
One quest has you raise a sunken B-29 that crashed into Lake Mead in 1948, which was a real event, and the real plane is still down there.
REPCONN is an ersatz of the real rocket fuel production company PEPCON, whose Henderson, NV plant was destroyed by a fire and explosion in 1988.
You can't, however, see the Statosphere (the inspiration for the Lucky 38) from Primm in real life. And the Stratosphere doesn't dominate the Vegas skyline in general the way it does in the game.
There are several real-life vintage hamburger stands named Dot's Diner. The one in Bisbee, AZ most resembles the chain in the Fallout verse.
In Kingdom of Loathing, one can mine for asbestos ore (a fibrous material used in fireproofing, until it was discovered that tiny particles of it tended to get everywhere and foul up people's lungs). There's a whole family of different minerals called "asbestos", you do mine for them, and some of them are chunky. Although the Kingdom of Loathing version was created when prehistoric fire-breathing dragons died and then were buried in landslides and such, undergoing a process similar to the creation of crude petroleum, which is probably not how the real thing forms.
Kingdom Hearts has Sea Salt Ice Cream, which is a favorite of many a character from the second game on. It sounds too weird to exist and if it did, the salt would lower the freezing point of the mixture, making it difficult to maintain a solid form in the real world. Not only does this stuff exist, it's sold in Tokyo Disneyland, where the creator of Kingdom Hearts tried it and loved it so much he put in Kingdom Hearts II.
Baslam in Ys: The Ark of Napishtim is a merchant who built a town, gathering the stone by dismantling ruins of priceless historical value. It sounds like a comically over-the-top bit of Corrupt Corporate Executive behavior, medieval fantasy-style... unless you know this has actually been done in real life. Multiple times. Medieval Cairo was built by raiding limestone from the pyramids, the Renaissance Italians would tear marble off of Roman buildings and melt down statues in order to get the materials needed for their own works, and numerous houses built in the immediate aftermath of the English Civil War contain identifiable pieces salvaged from castles destroyed by artillery.
Most of the tourist attractions in Sam & Max Hit the Road are based on exaggerations of real ones. Including the Mystery Vortex, although the size-changing effect isn't quite as drastic in real life.
With all the weirdness and silly humor associated with Portal, you'd think that Cave Johnson's moon rock poisoning was just another silly joke. In fact, lunar dust is an actual hazard to humans. It's just as destructive to human lungs as asbestos, since it's just as sharp and brittle unlike earth dust, which has been rounded by natural actions (wind, rain, etc) that don't exist on the moon, and you will die a slow, horrible death if you breathe in too much of the stuff.
Speaking of Skyrim, many farms in the game feature shaggy big-horned bovines that are labelled and referred to as cows. Their appearance has led some players to mistake them for yaks or claim that Bethesda got things mixed up. In fact, the cows are a very accurate rendering of highland cattle.
Some of the more memorable enemies of EarthBound are its animated enemy trees which explode when defeated. Not quite as farfetched as one would think: Australia (no surprises there) is home to the eucalyptus tree genus, which are prone to exploding when exposed to fire. Admittedly, they don't look much like EarthBound's exploding trees, and they certainly aren't animated or otherwise trying to kill you.
Before Wikipedia or the Internet, it was difficult to explain that Pokémon were inspired by mythological animals (for example, Magikarp's evolution into Gyrados is based on the legend of the "Dragon's Gate", a waterfall that will turn any carp that swims all the way up into a dragon).
Moonstone and sunstone are actual semiprecious stones.
A lot of Pokemon are also based on real-life animals that are better known in Japan than in other parts of the world. Manaphy and Phione are based on sea angels, for example.
Syphon Filter 2 has the caseless round-firing H11 assault rifle. Looks and sounds like science fiction, but it's actually a renamed version of the G11. Also, the BIZ-2 is a renamed PP-19 Bizon, which used a unique helical magazine. Even Harsher in Hindsight, there have been real-life cases of people being set on fire by tasers.
The antlions from Half-Life 2 are indeed named after a real insect (though real-life antlions share almost nothing in common with Half-Life's, except that they both like to hide under sand), in contrast to the obviously-fictional bullsquids from the first game.
Another appearance by antlions is in Pokémon— the Trapinch line are based on them.
Many a Pokemon fan complained about Trapinch's seemingly random evolution from a small, orange, big-headed bug into a green dragonfly-like creature, not realizing that it's based on the actual life cycle of the Ant Lion.
Even the most die-hard Mortal Kombat fans may be surprised to hear that the Lin Kuei was (and is) a real organisation. However, they had very little to do with the ones in the games (they were not actually ninjas - they were more like a secret monastic order of Crazy Survivalists), although there is a mostly-discredited theory that they inspired the Japanese ninja, as in the games.
The original Monster Truck Madness allows you and your opponents to drive monster trucks on water. As ridiculous and unrealistic as it might sound - not helped by Large Ham Announcer "Army" Armstrong—a modified Bigfoot monster truck actually drove on water in real life.
The majority of Halo fans most likely don't realise that "Master Chief" (or, more formally, Master Chief Petty Officer) is an actual rank in the US Navy. This has been exacerbated from the rank's use in fiction being heavily subject to the One Mario Limit.
In Fire Emblem Awakening, some people thought that Lissa's dress◊ was unrealistic and too over the top. Actually, it was inspired by wire-cage dresses which actually do exist.
One of F/A-18 Hornet's final missions, "Hole in One", has you destroy a nuclear shell-firing "supergun" built on the side of a mountain. One of these was actually partially constructed as part of Project Babylon.
In the Homestar Runner short "Meet Marshie," the titular talking marshmallow mascot advertises "all-marshmallow mayonnaise." To those not in the know, it just sounds like a silly (and rather disgusting) idea, but marshmallow creme is an actual product and is used for making actual sandwiches—for example, a peanut butter and marshmallow creme sandwich is called a Fluffernutter.
A lot of readers of Harkovast believed the strange, forward curving Junlock swords were a concept invented by the author (referred to by some readers as 'crowbar swords'), rather than based on the falx used by Ancient Dacians.
American Homestucks well aware of the existence of Fruit Gushers likely didn't realize that said fruitsnacks were a product of Betty Crocker until reading the comic either. Even then, they probably thought that was made up as one of the smaller examples of how much of the world the Betty Crocker corporation has control over.
The troll culture might seem like an over-the-top spoof of militaristic civilisations and Proud Warrior Races. In fact, many elements of troll society - including all citizens above a certain age being automatically drafted into the military, a strict class-based society with the lower classes being freely abused by the higher classes, and babies being left in a hostile environment at birth to fend for themselves - were practiced by the original Proud Warrior Race Guys, the Spartans.
How many people realized the "Sogs" featured in this Captain Crunch parody◊ were actual characters in old Captain Crunch commercials?
Digger by Ursula Vernon frequently invokes this trope; most notably with the Hyenas' creation myth, and the vampire squash. A direct result of the author having been an anthropology major in university, and being fond of showing her work (she often comments on her website about the sources of the various odd myths, folklore, and biological quirks used in her comic).
Trinton Chronicles features seemingly impossible future technologies, several of which are actually being tested in Europe and Asia right now, including:
Meg-Lev Trains: Trains that ride on magnetic thrusting power like a roller coaster using LMS launch systems. Japan is a world leader of this super silent and fast system but France is building an infrastructure based on Maglevs. The first commercially operated Maglev train was a 1984 low speed system at Birmingham airport. The first commercial high speed Maglev line is the Shanghai Transrapid, which was developed by the German company Transrapid International and completed in 2003.
Recycle Tanks: Pay-As-You-Recycle devices that give change for weight of aluminum, plastic, and paper.
Paper-Thin Phones: Actually real world tech is going into making cellphones disposable and paper-thin using nano fibers and microchips the size of ants.
Hydrogen Power Cars: A new fuel source using hydrogen gas to power cars. Testing in Germany mostly, although there was a bit of a push in California in the mid 00s. The main problem is people's fear of what will happen in an accident.
Parody example: In Metal Gear Awesome 2, the player is skipping through an annoying Cut Scene when Snake first meets Otacon (at Snake's suggestion). Halfway through, he stops skipping just when Otacon is complaining about Snake coming onto him, causing Snake to get annoyed the player had to stop skipping at that part. People not familiar with the game but familiar with the flash thought this was so weird it had to be a straight up Shallow Parody gag, but in fact the scene is a fairly direct spoof of an out-of-place Ho Yay moment that actually is in that cutscene, in which Snake starts feeling up Otacon asking if anything's wrong, and Otacon complains that Snake's "getting friendly all of a sudden" (in reality, Snake is checking Otacon for symptoms of FOX-DIE). It's also immediately after a cutscene 'chapter break', so a player skipping through could easily stop skipping exactly at that scene.
In a Whateley Universe story, Bladedancer and Phase complain about Generator's love of Hello Kitty gear. Bladedancer complains about a 'Hello Kitty maternity ward'. Readers found this one pretty silly. There is a real Hello Kitty maternity ward in Asia.
In Mega64's video of a fictional newscast reporting about the hype of Modern Warfare 2, Derrick reports that Obama plans to restrict the release dates of Modern Warfare 2 and all future Call of Duty games to Sundays only in order to prevent disruptions. This sounds like a cheeky joke that Mega64 would make but it's based off an urban legend where Japan decided to restrict sales of Dragon Quest to weekends due to children skipping classes and violence over lack of supply. While it's true that there were children skipping class to buy the game, the legend is false; there never was a law placed to restrict sales and the games being released on weekends was just a coincidence.
With more commonly used synonyms going around, you've probably never heard of the term "expunge" before reading anything from the SCP Foundation. The rather frequent and narmy use of the term doesn't help it sound too much like a real word either.
A disclaimer noted that Scientologistsreally do believe that all our problems are caused by nuked alien ghosts, which they really don't tell their minions until they're quite involved. It's hard to believe that all that is necessary.
The episode about Mormons has a similar disclaimer.
Another episode features Cartman tricking Butters that the world is coming to an end just so he can take his place when Kyle and his friends go to Casa Bonita. What some people may not realize is that the place isn't a figment of the creators' imagination, but rather an actual restaurant in the Denver, Colorado area. They have everything featured in the episode, from the more tacos flags to professional divers. There's even a second one in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
The Jonas Brothers spraying foam on preteen girls in season 13 premiere "The Ring"? That's real too. The little girl saying "My giney tickles" was actually based on a daughter of a member of the production staff saying it when she was at one of their concerts.
A lot of people would be surprised to learn that South Park, Colorado, itself is in fact a real place (as is Park County). While there is no town in Colorado by the name of "South Park", it is, in fact, a basin adjacent to Middle and North Park.
Some might not know that super AIDS is a real form of AIDS discovered in 2005.
Judging from YouTube comments, many people saw the parody of the Adam Sandler movie Jack and Jill before they saw the trailer, and didn't think the movie was real.
If you saw the episode parodying William Shakespeare's Hamlet before reading the actual play, you might be surprised to discover that the ear poison was used in the original, and not merely a comedic prop used in the parody. Shakespeare's usage was based on a contemporary urban myth circulating in the day (the murder of that myth was well-known, the method was unverified).
The episode "All Singing, All Dancing" opened with the family watching what seemed to be a Western, with The Man With No Name walking into a dusty town - and then breaking into song about 'painting his wagon' with Lee Marvin, horrifying Bart and Homer who wanted them to kill each other. The portrayal is exaggerated in the episode, which also inserts Lee Van Cleef dressed as Colonel Mortimer, but it surprised a lot of fans who later discovered the film Paint Your Wagon, starring Clint Eastwood and Lee Marvin, actually exists. And it was after Clint gained his credibility in the Leone westerns. And, yes, they both sang. Well... okay... but they both tried to. The song and wagon-painting scene aren't part of the musical, though.
In the 1996 episode "Two Bad Neighbors", Homer tries to trick George HW Bush into coming outside with cardboard cutouts of his sons, Jeb Bush and "George Bush Jr.". According to the DVD commentary, the writers had no idea there really is a "George Bush Jr.", and the joke was that Homer (being a moron as usual) made up a fake son.
A surprising number of people outside of Mexico and the south-western U.S. are, like Homer's quote above, startled to find that roadrunners are real. They're only about 6 inches high, they're not purple, and they don't say "Beep beep", but they're real. They're a kind of cuckoo.
In ''Sweets and Sour Marge" it is stated that The Duff Book of World Records, an obvious parody of the Guinness Book of World Records, was created to settle bar arguments. This seems like a non-sequitur making fun of the drunks in Springfield but this is the actual origin for the Guinness World Records. For the record, yes, it's the same Guinness that makes beer.
The episode "Lisa's First Word" flashed back to 1984 and included a running gag about Krusty's burger chain going broke due to an Olympic promotion that didn't anticipate the Communist boycott of those games. As Cracked points out, that actually happened to McDonald's that year.
When Gary Coleman is seen working as a security guard for a toy company in the episode "Grift of the Magi", it probably just seemed like a rather strange way to write him into the episode and like they were poking fun at the actor's size, but it was actually a very topical joke. Coleman really did work as a security guard for a while, gaining news attention about a year before the episode aired when he assaulted a fan who was pestering him for an autograph and insulting him while he was on patrol.
A number of people thought that Love Is... was something Homer made up.
Disco Stu's platform shoes with live (well, initially) goldfish in them? Real.
When Homer starts hallucinating in "El Viaje Misterioso de Nuestro Jomer" after eating too many spicy peppers, that's not just a G-Rated Drug: eating sufficiently spicy food really can cause hallucinations. Now, the Merciless Peppers of Quetzalacatenango that Homer ate, those are fictional. Ridiculously spicy peppers exist though. The currently highest contender is the "ghost chili" which is cultivated in India. For reference, it's described to be ten times hotter than habanero.
In "Mom and Pop Art", Homer tries to become a modern artist and Lisa suggests that he do something big and extravagant, citing the example of "Christo", who planted hundreds of yellow umbrellas next to a highway - some of which, she worryingly adds next, flew away and killed some children. The cited artist and the incident are real. It happened in Camarillo, California in 1991, and the only thing that contradict's Lisa's account is the fact that the sole victim was an adult woman.
A hamburger with donuts instead of buns and full of bacon? Surely that was an invention of The Boondocks! Nope, it's called The Luther Burger, is very, very real, and may or may not have been actually invented by Luther Vandross. Either way, you'll probably die if you try to eat it.
One of Squidward's favorite foods, canned bread, actually does exist in reality.
In one episode, the French narrator says that for Spongebob, every day is a holiday, even if he has to make one up, and then Spongebob is shown dressed as a viking for "Leif Erikson Day". Believe it or not, this is actually an observance in America, celebrated on October 9.
In the Family Guy episode "McStroke", Peter claims to be a businessman from Asia looking to invest in Mc Burger Town, as a way to spy on his local franchise. When the restaurant employee tells Peter that he doesn't look Asian, he says “Well, I guess we'll just take our millions of dongs elsewhere”. Most people probably thought that this was just Peter being stupid/a penis joke (or perhaps, a reference to Gedde Watanabe's character of the same name in Sixteen Candles), but dongs are a real currency (pronounced "dough-ng"), and in an Asian country to boot: Vietnam. Though at current exchange rates, a million dong is $48 US.
In one episode of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, a newspaper claims that Fluttershy has tail extensions. Many viewers will be surprised to learn that horse tail extensions are real products. Even better, using them in certain competition formats would actually be a scandal.
There is also the popular theme amongst the fans of depicting the ponies in socks. A lot of the fans think the idea is cute but absolutely ridiculous, and are a little more than shocked to learn that socks for horses are a very real thing.
In addition, Daring Do's nemesis, Ahuizotl, is actually a fairly accurate (Albeit Lighter and Softer) portrayal of a mythical aztec creature.
In the Martha Speaks episode, "Ronald is In", Ronald uses a psychology book to screw with Helen and friends and diagnose them with various fake ailments. While "worryitis" & "arrange-o-mania" are fake, one of them "decidophobia", is in fact a legitimate condition that people suffer from (though Alice didn't have it, obviously).
In the animated series of Clerks, there's a HUGE fanbase and following for a sitcom called, "The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer," about a kidnapped African man who became Abraham Lincoln's valet. Turns out that it was a real show.
In Sym-Bionic Titan, Ilana and Octus organize a food tasting party, one of the food prepared for it (they're also seen with it before and Lance serves it after the party) is fu-fu, which some fans of the show were surprised to discover was real.
One of the stranger episodes of Beavis and Butt-Head featured an appearance by "Sterculius, the Roman god of feces". A particularly childish instance of Toilet Humour? No (well, not just that). Sterculius was actually worshiped by the ancient Romans (he was in charge of making sure the fields fertilised, so he was more important than you might think).
Ambergris: Yes, it exists. Yes, it's essentially sperm-whale puke. Yes, it is a component in many high-end perfumes.
"Cartman Joins NAMBLA" might be the worst South Park episode ever on first viewing because the NAMBLA concept is too creepy even for Trey Parker and Matt Stone. Unfortunately, it is a real group (the "man-boy love" one, not the "Marlon Brando lookalikes" one), and once you know this, the satire makes sense. Even Trey and Matt said on the DVD commentary that they couldn't believe an organization like that exists.
Concession also had a story arc where the character Artie is taken to a NAMBLA meeting after being Mistaken For Pedophile, and the author had to assure people that it was a real organization and not something he made up for the comic.
John Oliver did something similar with the Domino's Oreo Pizza.
In the early days of the National Football League many teams used the wide appeal of Major League Baseball in the '40s to their advantage. So, yes, there were American football teams called the New York Yankees, Boston Braves (Now the Washington Redskins), Brooklyn Dodgers and Pittsburgh Pirates (now the Steelers. Get it?). The lasting relics of that era are the "New York Football Giants" (whose baseball analog are now based in San Francisco). While it may seem as such due to their prior home of Saint Louis, the Arizona Cardinals are not an example of this, as the name dates to their days in Chicago, and came from the faded colour of their once-maroon uniforms (they originally wore used, castoff uniforms from the University of Chicago Maroons).
Speaking of Chicago, the Chicago Bears are named that because they played in Wrigley Field, home of the baseball Chicago Cubs.
The NHL attempted this in its early years as well. There was, indeed, a Pittsburgh Pirates hockey team (which eventually moved to Philadelphia to become the Philadelphia Quakers, who later folded.)
Also, the "Steagles"? An amalgamation of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Philadelphia Eagles? Yes, that happened, too, during World War II, when both teams sent most of their players to war and had to consolidate their rosters to get a coherent team going.
And the Card-Pitt 1944 merger of the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Chicago Cardinals. It even lent itself to a derisive nickname, the "Car-Pitts" (carpets), due to their poor play.
A staple of many comedic routines: Lawn darts. Unfortunately, the high incidence of injuries caused by wayward darts led to them being banned in 1988.
The sharp, pointy metal ones any way. You can find fully plastic ones that look more like a combination of badminton birdies and rugby balls nowadays.
People tend to assume the name Zoltan is a sort of "joke" or made-up name, given the B-movie Zoltan: Hound of Dracula or the nerd cult from Dude Wheres My Car. It's an actual Hungarian name and is, for instance, the middle name of Hungarian-American author Steven Brust, Hungarian soccer player Zoltan Gera, fantasy artist Zoltan Boros, Five Finger Death Punch guitarist Zoltan Bathory, freelance automotive journalist Zoltan Scrivener, and orchestral composer Zoltan Kodaly, among others.
Along similar lines, Kermit is a real name. For several years Lucasfilm's official Darth Vader stand-in for promotional appearances was a man called Kermit Eller, who eventually got sick of the attention ("the whole Muppet thing just got old") and decided to use his middle name, Bryce, instead.
In an odd example from a few years ago that has already become almost nostalgic Christmas weirdness, some companies marketed upside-downartificial Christmas trees. Though it started as a department store's cheesy attempt at humour (so you can fit more presents under the tree!), there was a brief period during which they were quite popular. It's Older Than They Think, though, as 12th Century Europeans were said to have hung their trees upside-down from the ceiling.
Many Westerners were introduced to eating fertilized duck eggs through reality shows; mainly as a challenge to the contestants. Many still find it hard to believe that it really is a very common and much-loved delicacy (called balut) in several Southeast Asian countries like the Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. In fact, you can find the eggs sold by street vendors in those countries.
One of the producers for the show said that (at least, early on) all of the gross-out stunt foods on Fear Factor were a delicacy somewhere in the world, albeit they're usually prepped, cooked, and seasoned a certain way, and not eaten while still squirming.
Many of the award citations for Medal of Honor/Victoria Cross/etc. recipients qualify. This was lampshaded by Ronald Reagan when he was presenting the award to Roy Benavidez.
If the story of his heroism were a movie script, you would not believe it.
Look at The Other Wiki's discussion pages, in any language, on the Liger. Apparently there are a lot of people out there that not just doubt it, but actively refuse to accept that such an animal can exist. It probably doesn't help that occasionally a wiki vandal will add a reference to it being "bred for its skills in magic". On a similar note, the narwhal. Narwhals sound utterly ridiculous—effectively a seal with a giant unicorn horn, maybe two horns?—but are, in fact, entirely real.
Two suburban boys in their late teens, going camping for the first time, amazed at the fact that fireflies do as a matter of fact, exist, and are not special effects in media and little mythological bugs.
Or, indeed, adults from the West Coast of the USA travelling east for the first time.
They're not just real. They're carnivorous. Well, some are.
Not only are some carnivorous, some specifically feed on other firefly species. Fireflies use their light to attract mates, with each species having a unique pattern to the flashes they generate. Those that eat other species can often replicate the prey species' light flash pattern.
They are also poisonous. This can result in an unpleasant surprise for a pet who thought all bugs were edible.
Bedbugs are real. However, they're becoming freakishly common in cities in the Northeast US and Southern Ontario (Canada), particularly New York, Boston and Toronto, so nobody really doubts they exist anymore. Some do have problems believing just how brutal the damn things are.
They're not exactly dangerous to human health (they aren't known to carry any diseases and their bites are more or less the same as a mosquito's). They're just bloody persistent and extremely hard to get rid of. Not only can they go for months without a meal, but fumigation does not work very well. So you cannot starve them to death or poison them. Luckily, pest control has ways to get rid of them, so call them first before attempting removal.
Similarly, a group of non-Americans (primarily early-20s) traveling in the US were surprised to find that IHOP, the Cheesecake Factory, and Denny's were real restaurants and not no-brand-names-were-harmed TV inventions.
Ten years ago, a lot of people laughed at claims of "killer mold" in New York city apartments. Then Brittany Murphy and her husband dropped dead. Although the actual cause was determined to not be mold, it did raise awareness about black mold—which is a major problem in parts of the US that are known for sudden torrential rain, have poor drainage, and do not freeze (for instance, coastal east Texas).
Tattoos in Britain. Nowadays they are so associated with vulgar lower-class stereotypes that people refuse to believe that people like Queen Victoria and Winston Churchill had them. But in fact they were first brought to England by Captain Cook in the eighteenth century, having visited Tahiti, and became a craze among the upper classes (and, obviously, sailors). They were associated primarily with the upper classes until around World War II.
Oddly fitting, given that both "Britannia" and the "Picts" were names derived from being "tattooed".
Alcoholic root beer. The general consensus is that the soft drink commonly called root beer is actually a recent invention, but recipes for mildly-alcoholic beers using fermented sassafras root bark as a main ingredient have been around for at least some 200 odd years. Fun fact: they still make the stuff.
It is a frustrating experience for history enthusiasts to explain to others that the Ancient Romans, Greeks, Chinese, Aztecs and Egyptians had invented highly advanced technology. Try, for instance, persuading a skeptic that the Ancient Greeks already had steam-power (well, more of a steam-powered toy really, and it was never developed further) long before the Industrial Revolution. In fact, some things manufactured by ancient cultures have yet to be re-manufactured by our modern technology (Greek fire or Damascus steel, for example).
Articles in The Onion are often mistaken for being genuine - see Literally Unbelievable. An article called "Creationist Museum Unveils 5000 Year-Old Dinosaur" did the rounds via email several years ago, and while the story obviously was a fabrication, many people who saw through it were nonetheless unaware that the Creationist Museum itself is real.
There are several Transformers in Asian markets such as Optimus Prime transforming sneakers and Transformers style Disney characters that are often mistaken for a Shoddy Knockoff Product of the genuine article. These toys are actually both official and licensed
Some people don't seem to realize that Santa Claus was a real person. Although in fairness, the confusion can be justified when the only thing the real "Santa Claus" (actually Saint Nicholas) has in common with his modern day counterpart is the gift-giving generosity.
A few people seem to think that the notion of feathered dinosaurs is just something scientists made up to drive the bird-dinosaur connection home, or at best that only one or two "newfangled" dinosaurs that haven't been known during their childhoods wore feathers. Actually, some exquisite fossil sites (mostly from China) have been churning out feathered specimens non-stop since the middle of the '90s, and reevaluation of some older fossils has produced further proof of feathers. The physical evidence combined with cladistics have convinced paleontologists that pretty much all dinos belonging to the coelurosaurian clade (which to laypeople mostly mean raptors, T. rex and birds) are feathered or at least fuzzy. Even distantly related dinosaurs, such as Tianyulong, Psittacosaurus and (possibly) Triceratops, turned out to have been "hairy" quite recently. On the flip-side, some people aren't sure whether the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park were real or only made-up. While a lot of them were indeed heavily modified for dramatic purposes, or just plain inaccurate, yes, they were all based on real animals.
Remember that part in The Dark Knight where Batman goes to Hong Kong and gets that guy by hooking a balloon on a rope around his waist and sending him out a window to get picked up by a passing plane? Maybe you have also played Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater or Peace Walker and saw it there too, where it was called the Fulton Recovery System? It's real.
Another system was devised that used a fairly long nylon rope with a large loop suspended between two poles, to be snagged by a low-flying aircraft with a special hook, the other end being attached to a harness worn by the person to be picked up. This rather terrifying system actually works for recovering people from the ground (only because the nylon rope has enough stretch to act as a shock absorber and prevent the recovered person from being injured or killed). It was not widely used because the system needs a fairly large, fairly open area for pickup, and within a few years of this system being perfected helicopters became available and they could do the same job without needing a lot of special equipment and training for the person being picked up.
A Snipe Hunt is almost always a prank. But few people other without a keen interest in animal life (or birds in particular) seem to be aware that the snipe is a real bird. While much less dangerous than most snipe hunt "promoters" would suggest, they are really hard to catch or shoot (hence the origin of the term "sniper").
Before Twitter introduced verification for celebrity accounts — and occasionally after, as with Hillary Rodham Clinton — users not infrequently expressed doubt that a user claiming to be a celebrity was, indeed, that celebrity. Hence the number of handles that include the word "real" or variants, such as @ActuallyNPH
Still justified in a way, as many celebrity accounts still, in spite of their best efforts and much evidence in their favor, have a hard time getting verified.
When the platypus was first described and exhibited in London many people refused to believe it was a real animal and not a hoax.
The original scientist it was presented to actually declared it to be a fake and tried to "prove" it by cutting off the "obviously" sewn-on bill. This specimen is on display and the marks made by his scissors are still visible.
Actually, a good number of Americans didn't know that "in God we trust" being put on the US dollar and in the pledge of allegiance is a fairly recent thing. How recent? The 1950s.