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Briefer Than They Think
aka: Shorter Than They Think
"Historical time has not yet run out for these tales... but even in the early nineteenth century the year contained only twelve months, and it is possible that in the near future the author (if the readers will bear with him) may be led to make use of hypothetical years, rather like those hypothetical moons used in the calculation of Easter: an 1812a as it were or even an 1812b."
Patrick O'Brian, introduction to The Far Side of the World

A form of Hollywood History related to Newer Than They Think, Older Than They Think or both. When a period of history (real or fictional) is given such weight and importance as to make it seem to have lasted a lot longer than it really did.

Compare Frozen in Time. For works of serial media, see Short Runners. See also Extremely Short Timespan.

Not to be confused with Small Role, Big Impact, which is about onscreen performances.

Examples:

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    Comics 
  • All of Astérix's adventures are supposed to take place between the conquest of Gaul and the death of Julius Caesar: that's six years, from 50 to 44 BC.
  • A fandom example: the Legion of Super-Heroes has had some eras that were either famous or infamous, but they really didn't last long at all:
    • Supergirl only had about 14 substantial appearances during her run (depending on how you count), with another 9 in the 1980's. The run of "Supergirl and the Legion" from 2006-2008 had about as many issues as Supergirl's entire set of Legion appearances back to 1960, and most of her early ones weren't even full length stories.
    • The Legion of Super-Pets only appeared 7 times and only had major roles in around four, also depending on how you count.
    • The Adult Legion appeared in 9 stories total (plus LSH #300, which wrote it out of continuity).
  • Batman first appeared in 1939's Detective Comics #27. Robin the Boy Wonder debuted the following year in Detective Comics #38. Modern retellings of the Dark Knight Detective's early solo career have stretched that era out to at least two years, a very busy period covered by Batman: Year One, The Long Halloween, various issues of Legends of the Dark Knight, a guest appearance in John Byrne’s Man of Steel, and featuring the debuts of the Riddler, Two-Face, the Joker (as the Red Hood), Catwoman, and Hugo Strange. Most of these villains originally debuted after Robin. Some of these modern retellings, however, may no longer be canon.
    • Similarly, a fact that comics blogger Chris Sims likes to point out is the length of the infamous "Batman uses a gun and kills criminals" era, often used to justify Darker and Edgier portrayals. Based on retellings of it, you'd think that it'd lasted until Seduction Of The Innocent. However, in Batman #4, Batman explicitly tells Robin that "we never kill with weapons of any kind." That comic came out in December of 1940, not even two years after Batman had been created, and it was written by Bill Finger and drawn by Bob Kane. And it stuck.
  • Between The Golden Age of Comic Books and the Silver Age was The Interregnum, often thought of as a lengthy dark drought in the superhero genre. If one measures it from the last appearance of the GA Flash (1951, All-Star Comics) to the first appearance of the SA Flash (1956, Showcase), it was only five years long. Given that DC Comics considers Superboy an Earth-1 (i.e., Silver Age) character, and Superboy debuted in 1945, it could even be argued that the Golden Age and Silver Age overlapped, and the Interregnum thus had negative length!
  • Ask any moderate comics fan who the core members of The Defenders are, and you'll immediately hear "The Incredible Hulk, Doctor Strange, Silver Surfer, and Namor the Sub-Mariner." Sometimes they'll add Nighthawk, or maybe Valkyrie. While Strange and Hulk have been on most versions of the Defenders, with Strange usually being the de facto leader, Namor and Surfer quit after just a few issues. People familiar with the original run will tell you that the Defenders never had a consistent lineup, and variously included nearly every hero and some villains active at the time.
  • Similarly, nearly every adaptation of The Avengers either mentions The Incredible Hulk or makes heavy use of him: see The Ultimates, the movie, The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes, etc. How many issues of the comic was Hulk a part of the team? Two. (He rejoined the team in Avengers vs. X-Men, to capitalize on the movie, but that was a comic written in 2012, and that was the first time he'd ever rejoined.) Flip open a comic from the 60s or 70s, and you're much more likely to see Black Knight, The Vision, Beast, The Incredible Hercules, or Moondragon, none of whom have managed Hulk's prominence on the Avengers in other media. Even Red Hulk has been on the team longer!
  • Wonder Woman's controversial 'I Ching' period was only twenty-five issues of her original run, extended to five years' time-wise by an intermittent publishing schedule. But it was during that period that the In Name Only Pilot Movie starring Cathy Lee Crosby was developed, and thereby lead to Lynda Carter's more traditional take being called at first 'The New Original Wonder Woman'. The Pilot Movie is known to even non-comics' fans, the original storyline, not as much, except for Gloria Steinem's denouncement of it.
  • In an early 70's issue of The Brave and the Bold, Catwoman appeared in a new costume and also joined the ranks of the remorseless killers in Batman's rogues gallery. Editors and fans alike denounced this so hard, it was Canon Discontinuity almost as it hit the shelves, and was even declared to happen on an alternate Earth not seen before or since. But Mego made its Catwoman figure based on this new costume, and in the age before endless variants were the norm, this was perhaps the only Catwoman figure made until Batman Returns came out.

    Film 
  • Star Wars:
    • The Clone Wars have been exhaustively documented in two prequel trilogy movies, an additional feature film, two multiple-season cartoon series, several videogames and novels, dozens of comic books...the list goes on. All this for a war that canonically only lasted 3 years.
    • The Empire itself also qualifies. It only existed for some 20-25 years, depending on what to set as the date of dissolution.
    • Likewise, the original Jedi Order was officially only "dead" for 19 years (not much longer than two presidential administrations) before Luke discovered his Force powers with Obi-Wan's help. For perspective, the original Order had existed for around 25,000 years by the time Palpatine executed Order 66.
  • Grace Kelly's movie career lasted just 5 years (1951 to 1956).
  • James Dean's movie career lasted several years and 3 movies.
  • Bruce Lee's film career included many bit parts in Hong Kong, but he only starred in 4 complete films over a 3 year period (plus Game of Death, which was unfinished).
  • The famous "kissing in the surf" scene in From Here to Eternity has been parodied and homaged a dozen times or more. In the original, it's three seconds long.
  • Batman's career in The Dark Knight Saga lasts less than a year, with a few days tacked on after an eight year retirement.
  • Citizen Kane somehow has acquired the reputation of being a very long movie. In fact, it doesn't even hit the two-hour mark (just barely, though: it runs 119 minutes). This is actually more of a generational thing: many movies of the 1930s were less than 90 minutes long (some weren't even 80 minutes long), so Kane seemed interminable by comparison. Kane also covers nearly 70 years of history, so it definitely has an epic feel.
  • Logan and Jean Grey spend less than a week together in the main X-Men trilogy, but their "relationship" is often remembered as one of the highlights of the series. They both live at Xavier's mansion in the first movie (which takes place over the course of a few days), but they don't see each other at all in the interim between X-Men and X2: X-Men United, as Logan leaves to look for the Alkali Lake facility and doesn't return until the beginning of X2. Even when Logan returns, he doesn't see Jean again (aside from one brief conversation with her) until the night before the climactic Final Battle—during which Jean dies.

    Literature 
  • The Regency only lasted 9 years, from 1811-20. Yet according to the romance novel industry, at least half of England's peerage and gentry must have gotten married during this time.
  • Conan the Barbarian left Cimmeria at the age of 17 and became King of Aquilonia by his forties. Considering that most of the countless stories and comic books about his adventures are set between those dates, he never had a day out.
  • Kir Bulychov's ''Alisa Selezneva'' is a similar example. There are dozens of novels and stories about her, and she is almost never described as below 8 or above 12. It makes for some very eventful four years.

    Live Action TV 
  • Mash and Young Riders both were on the air longer than the historical events they portrayed - the Korean War and the Pony Express, respectively. The latter was obsolete a month after it was founded due to the telegraph, and only lasted eighteen months.
  • The classic Batman TV series lasted from 1966 to 1968 — somehow, it ended up forming everyone's opinion of the caped crusader (active from 1939 to present).
  • Star Trek: The Original Series is the best-known Star Trek series, but it was also the shortest-lived of the five live-action Trek series, staying on the air for less than three years (September 1966 to June 1969).
    • Also, the fact that its famous "five-year mission" apparently lasted long enough to include a virtually limitless number of stories from television, books, comics, etc. In this case it helps that the end (and the beginning, for that matter) of the five-year mission has never been depicted in canon - Star Trek: The Motion Picture picks up some years after the end of it.
  • Chevy Chase was a cast member on Saturday Night Live for just over a year.
    • Same for Billy Crystal, Martin Short, and Christopher Guest.
  • Pointed out in an episode of Horrible Histories, where the cowboys sing about how they "only ruled the range for 20 years."
  • Police Squad! ran for only six(!) episodes, and yet somehow those episodes managed to inspire the enormously successful trilogy of Naked Gun movies several years later.
  • A stereotypical Doctor Who Shallow Parody will often involve Tom Baker's Doctor battling the Daleks—something that only happened in two stories that aired six years apart in a 50+ year Long Runner, and only one of which ("Genesis of the Daleks") is considered particularly memorable. The misconception likely stems from the common assumption that the most iconic Doctor and the most iconic monsters had to have fought each other more than twice, even though they didn't.

    Music 
  • The Notorious BIG only recorded two studio albums during his life, both with Harsher in Hindsight titles. Ready to Die was released in 1994 with Life After Death following three years later, less than a month after the rapper's death. Most of his best known songs ("Juicy," "Hypnotize," "Big Poppa," "One More Chance," "Mo Money Mo Problems") come off of those albums.
  • Almost all of the musical works Kurt Weill wrote in collaboration with Bertolt Brecht were created between 1927 and 1930. The Seven Deadly Sins (1933) is the only significant exception.
  • The notion of rock and roll being "the Devil's music", which supposedly dominated the 1950s, was, in historical terms, over almost as soon as it began. Rock-and-roll music penetrated the American consciousness for the first time on March 19, 1955 - the day The Blackboard Jungle was released in theaters. Less than 25 months later, on April 10, 1957, Ricky Nelson performed Fats Domino's "I'm Walkin'" on The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, signalling that rock and roll had fully entered the mainstream. While parents still didn't like rock music after that, they understood that, if Ozzie and Harriet could give it their stamp of approval, it must not be a social menace after all, and were at least able to tolerate it.
  • The Sex Pistols, credited with starting the Punk Rock movement, were together initially for only 2 1/2 years, produced four singles and one album.
    • Sid Vicious, practically the Face of the Band, was with the band for such a short time that they only recorded about 3 songs with him.
    • If you view the releases of the debut album of The Ramones and London Calling by The Clash as the bookends of the classic punk era, it lasted just 44 months (April 1976 to December 1979).
  • Buddy Holly's music career lasted a year and a half until his death in a plane crash.
  • Nirvana's mainstream popularity lasted about 3 years before Kurt Cobain's suicide ended the band. These days they are probably the most popular band after The Beatles - their posthumous releases easily outnumber the releases they made when he was alive.
  • Considering how strongly associated they are with the subject, The Beach Boys only sang about surfing from November 1961 to July 1963 (less than two years). The main reason it lasted that long at all was because Capitol Records and Murry Wilson constantly urged them for new material and they wrote new songs on the subject to pad out the three albums they did in that period (most evident on the second album Surfin' USA). Even though they have been widely recognised as mature artists since Pet Sounds, they're still viewed as a band of surfers by the general public.
  • The "classic" Guns N' Roses released three original albums, a Cover Album and a compilation (mixing an EP with some new songs) before the band was effectively over, yet similar to the Nirvana example they have been treated like they went on for years. A few years later Axl revived the band on his own, but not only for most it's Fanon Discontinuity (specially as aside from keyboardist Dizzy Reed and a cameo every now and then, only him remained from the golden years), he took 11 years to make an album.
  • The Spice Girls had maybe a grand total of 6 years together with 3 albums, 2 with the entire group, and two tours to their name.
  • Delta Goodrem, despite her immense success and opening the door for singer songwriters in Australia, has only had 4 albums out in the last 10-11 years. Influenced the likes of Gabriella Cilmi and Missy Higgins.
  • Amy Winehouse only released two albums in her lifetime, yet despite this she inspired and paved the way for arguably the most successful female singer songwriters of her generation. Adele, Lady Gaga, Paloma Faith, Rebecca Ferguson, Emili Sande, Jessie J, Duffy and Florence Welch have all personally cited Amy Winehouse as both a huge influence on their music as well as for paving the way for them and making it easier for them to enjoy huge success all over the world.
  • Disco's heyday was just a flash, it didn't enter the mainstream until 1974 and it wasn't until 1977 that most hits associated it with it came out along with Saturday Night Fever. Disco Demolition Night meanwhile was in 1979 just two years later, and by the end of 1980 it had all but faded entirely.
  • Cream lasted from July 1966 to November 1968, but produced four studio albums, one a Distinct Double Album with a live disc, the other a posthumously released album also partially recorded live, and a number of posthumous live releases. However, in tht time, they became one of the most influential bands of The Sixties.
  • Similarly, Jimi Hendrix in his lifetime only managed to produce three studio albums (one a double disc), several standalone tracks released as singles, an album of live-recorded originals with Band Of Gypsys, and a large catalogue of unreleased and unfinished material, live recordings, demos, runthroughs, rehearsals, jam sessions, session work, sittings-in with various artiststs, alternate takes, etc. which still (as of December 2013) have yet to be fully unearthed and released. And his highly influential and revolutionary career as an artist in his own right only lasted from September 1966-September 1970; his last official album release came out in 1969. And that's not counting his pre-Experience career.
  • David Bowie's star-making stage persona Ziggy Stardust came and went in less than two years. He toured as Ziggy from January 29, 1972 to July 3, 1973, during which time the The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars and Aladdin Sane albums were released. By the end of 1973, he'd jettisoned his Spiders from Mars backing band, with the British Invasion Cover Album Pin Ups and the 1980 Floor Show TV special featuring them, and while the Ziggy look persisted for a while afterward, by the 1974 Diamond Dogs tour he'd left that behind too.
    • Even shorter-lived than Ziggy is the Thin White Duke persona, even though Bowie's post-glitter career is often equated with it. The Duke was created for the barely LP length Station to Station and Bowie toured in character for a few months. Then he moved to Berlin to clean up from his prodigious drug use, effectively starting the next phase.
  • They've now got major legs - perhaps forever, or at least until the group's core members die - thanks to the Nostalgia Filter, but Kiss were at the top of the rock-music charts for a relatively short time. They didn't gain a mass fanbase until late 1975, hit the peak of their popularity in the summer of 1977, and were already slumping by 1979. Since then, they've had only scattered success as recording artists, notably Lick It Up in 1983 and Psycho Circus in 1998.
  • Janis Joplin recorded four albums in three years—two with Big Brother and the Holding Company, and two as a solo artist. She became a star with the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival and was dead three years later.

    Mythology 
  • Classical authors calculated the dates of the foundation and destruction of mythical Troy: it stood for less than a century.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • The "Attitude Era" was relatively brief, lasting almost exactly four years. What's weirder is that it's often cited as the phenomenon that epitomized WWE in The Nineties, although the first stirrings of it didn't occur until the decade was already half over! It didn't officially begin until Bret Hart and "Stone Cold" Steve Austin had their main-event match at WrestleMania XIII in March 1997, and ended abruptly in March 2001 when WCW and ECW were purchased by WWE and Austin shockingly joined forces with Vince McMahon and Triple H.
  • In his autobiography Controversy Creates Cash, Eric Bischoff brags that WCW Monday Nitro regularly beat WWE Monday Night Raw in the Nielsen ratings. This happened for only about two years - in other words, less than half the time span during which these two shows were competing.
  • Actually, many major wrestling storylines wrap up after a surprisingly brief amount of time these days, largely because Viewers Are Goldfish. The huge "Immortal" storyline in TNA, for example, lasted only about a year and a half; for context, WCW's New World Order (the stable that directly inspired Immortal), lasted twice that long.

    Theatre 
  • The entirety of Romeo and Juliet covers just five days, from Sunday morning to Thursday evening. The two lovers meet on Sunday night, get married on Monday, part on Tuesday morning, and kill themselves on Thursday.

     Western Animation 
  • The Jetsons' original run was one season, 1962-63, 24 episodes. More weren't made until The Eighties.
  • Recess lasted from 1997 to 2001 with 65 episodes, one theatrical film in 2001, and three direct-to-video titles released between 2001 and 2003. Because Disney never acknowledged the show ending and promoted it as much as the shows still making new epiosdes after its cancellation, many fans believe it ran until at least 2006.

    Real Life 
  • While the city of Babylon had been in existence for thousands of years, the Chaldean Neo-Babylonian Empire only lasted from 612-539 B.C., and the empire was already in considerable decline for a number of years before it fell. The entirety of what popular culture considers "Ancient Babylon" including the Hanging Gardens, Ishtar Gate, etc. all came from the reign of Nebuchadnezzar II (reigned c. 605-562 BC). After he died, it all went to seed.
  • Classical Greece: While Greece has a history of thousands of years, almost all of the non-mythical people and events that the average person can name are from 500 to 300 B.C. This includes the rise of Athenian "democracy", the Greco-Persian Wars (when 300 is set), and the rise of Alexander the Great. Most of the ancient writers whose texts have survived to the present day (excluding Homer) had overlapping lifespans. The United States has already been a republic for longer than Athens was a democracy. This might be from a tendency by the average person to conflate Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome (the latter of which did go on for quite some time).
  • The "Seven Wonders of the Ancient World" were simultaneously intact for 21 years, 247-226 BC. The Colossus of Rhodes in particular was an intact statue for 66 years and a pile of rubble for 880 years.
  • Rome is not free of this either. For example, almost every Roman soldier in fiction will wear Lorica Segmentata, a type of armor that was on production from roughly 20 to 300 AD. Compare it with what legionaries wore in the Samnite Wars (4th century BC), Punic Wars (264-146 BC) and the late empire (300-450 AD). The late Roman Army was in fact very "Medieval" looking, with a lot more reliance on cavalry hailing from stone fortresses than on the famed legions of earlier periods. In general, fictional depictions of Rome tend to be concentrated on the very late Republic or the early Empire. Most Roman Epics were set between about 70 BC (Spartacus) and about 50 AD (I, Claudius). A very brief period considering the whole history from the founding of the Republic to the fall of the Empire in the West (and longer if you count the Eastern Empire, which continued for another millennium).
  • A lot of people get the wrong impression that Muslim Spain was only the Caliphate of Cordoba (or even worse, the Kingdom of Granada) and as a result think that it was a splendid, unified and tolerant state during the whole period of 800 years between Tariq ibn Ziyah's invasion and the Christian conquest of Granada. In reality, the Caliphate itself only existed between 929 and 1031, and it was downright decadent from 976. Before 929 it was an emirate, not as powerful or splendorous for most of its existence as in the Caliphal period (and quite a bit chaotic during its first decades of existence, by the way), and after 1031 it dissolved in petty statelets that were controlled from time to time by their Christian or (North African) Muslim neighbours and life could be quite nasty there sometimes. The 'Reconquista' itself could be considered another example of this trope, as it actually ended de facto in the 1250s when Ferdinand III of Castile conquered the entire Guadalquivir Valley and Granada became a Castilian protectorate.
  • Many of the classic elements commonly associated with The Middle Ages, such as plate armor, longswords, infrequent bathing, etc. were only around in the The Late Middle Ages.
  • Out of over a hundred years of the Hundred Years War, most plays, films etc. focus on Henry V's Agincourt campaign (1415), Joan of Arc's active involvement (1429-1430, 15 months) and her trial (1431, 3 months).
  • For most of their existence the Aztecs did not have an empire. They were vassals of other Nahua cities up to 1428 and only began to expand in the 1440s. Thus, when the Spaniards showed up in 1519, the Aztec Empire was less than 100 years old and many of its provinces had been held for less than 20 years. Many of the men who fought for Cortés were actually rival natives looking for a rematch.
  • Similarly the Inca Empire, Tawantinsuyu, was also less than 100 years old (1438 - 1533), having entered a period of rapid expansion which had been still going on just before the Spaniards showed up, put on hold as they entered a civil war over who would be Sapa Inca (caused by an epidemic of smallpox that beat the Spanish). As a result, once Pizarro was able to capture Atuhualpa (many spelling variations), who had recently won (and ordered his opponent, Huascar killed) and decided to kill him, they were able to lead many natives against the remaining Inca leadership. Unsurprising as they deliberately tried to emulate Cortés.
  • The American (i.e. USA) Colonial Period can count as well. Disregarding earlier Spanish settlements in Florida and the Rio Grande valley - as US schoolbook history tends to - the era lasted from the founding of the first permanent English settlement at Jamestown in 1607, until the official end of the Revolutionary War in 1783. For those keeping score, that's 176 years. By contrast, Mexico was a Spanish colony for exactly 300 years, Cuba for nearly 400, and Bermuda has been a British colony for even longer than that.
    • Also, for most of colonial American history there were fewer colonies than the Thirteen who broke away from Britain in The American Revolution. Georgia was founded in 1733, a mere 42 years before the Revolution started. At the time of independence, the founder of Georgia, James Oglethorpe, was still alive, as were many of the original settlers. There's a reason that most of the South was Loyalist right up to the end of the war.
  • The "classic" pirate era lasted about thirty years, from around 1680 to 1710. Blackbeard and Anne Bonney were a little after this, 1718 or so.
    • Granted, most "pirates" had been privateers in the British or French Navy before that, and the buccaneer communities in Hispaniola date back to at least 1630.
  • The "Antebellum" Deep South: While technically, perhaps, the term antebellum could mean all of U.S. history before 1860, what most people think of as The Old South, with a cotton-based economy and big white-columned plantations everywhere, was mostly from about 1830 until The American Civil War. 31 years. Less than one person's lifetime. Outside the "tidewater" coastal areas, much of the South was not even settled by whites until after the War of 1812. For example, the Atlanta that burned in Gone with the Wind had not existed in any form at all before 1836, had been called that only since 1847, became a city of any importance only a few years before the war started, and wasn't even Georgia's capital until a few years after the war ended (Georgia has had more places serve as capital than most other states; immediately prior to the American Civil War, the capital was in the tiny town of Millidgeville, and Macon briefly served as the capital in between the two).
    • This was only Truth in Television on the Atlantic Coast - particularly Virginia - and the Gulf Coast (and a few waystations along the major rivers), which is probably where the idea of associating it with the entire South came from. Even in the coastal areas, it was perfectly possible for a person to live from the time cotton began to be grown widely (a little after the cotton gin was invented in 1793) all the way to the time of the American Civil War. This is, admittedly, a little misleading; before cotton was king, tobacco was tops.
      • Robert E. Lee's father had fought in The American Revolution (Robert was a child of his old age) — though contrary to popular belief, his father was not the Founding Father Richard Henry Lee.
      • Abraham Lincoln was a teenager when John Adams and Thomas Jefferson died, and indeed, Jefferson was still president (though a lame duck) when Lincoln was born.
  • The Whig Party gets quite a bit of historical attention, but it was dissolved only 27 years after its creation (in 1833), which puts its existence at not only less than a fifth of the entire existence of the Democratic or Republican Parties but also less than the careers of many current Congressmen and Senators. This isn't surprising since when the party was formed it didn't have much of a unifying platform beyond opposition to Andrew Jackson. Once Jackson retired from office the party lost its purpose and became nothing more than a bunch of squabbling factions incapable of governing effectively. Of the four Whig Presidents, none served a full term, and John Tyler, who held the office the longest, was opposed by most Whigs. The leading Whig Senators Henry Clay and Daniel Webster did succeed in passing the Compromise of 1850, but their party split on the issue, and Clay and Webster dying two years later only hastened the party's disintegration.
  • Inversion: the period of massive immigration to the United States is often perceived as having begun in the 1880s or 1890s and having been largely over by World War One. Actually, there was steady migration from north-western Europe throughout which was supplemented by a burgeoning surge from the 1850s to the 1900s and a relative decline thereafter. However, there were still far more immigrants immigrating post-war than ever before, despite the bans on non-European immigration. Immigration has never dropped below the pre-surge level since the surge ended, even though white people no longer made up the majority of immigrants when non-whites were again allowed in post-WWII. The reason the immigrants from the turn of the century are discussed in American History classes is because from about The Fifties to The Seventies (and beyond in some parts of the country), most Americans were either the children or grandchildren of these particular immigrants, and so they were more interested in the ones from Europe than from, say, Mexico.
  • The Pony Express lasted about a year and a half between launch and being obsoleted by the telegraph. That is from 1860 to 1861 (the first year of The American Civil War). It was never profitable.
  • The Wild West: Although the expansion of the United States from the Atlantic to the Pacific took up most of the 19th century, nearly all Westerns take place between the end of the The American Civil War and 1890, the year the US Census Bureau declared the frontier "closed": 25 years. Western-themed TV series like Gunsmoke ran for so long that their depiction of this period borders on Medieval Stasis, which is ironic considering that the whole reason this era was an exciting fictional setting in the first place was that it was a time of great change.
  • The zenith of European colonial empires only lasted two or three generations. A very elderly man in early 1960s Africa might have seen everything from the coming of the British or French to independence. This was obvious at the time because it was called the Scramble For Africa. In 1870, only 10% of Africa was European. by 1900, only Liberia and Ethiopia were left free (and the Italians invaded Ethiopia later, while Liberia had begun as a colony). However, it also lasted a lot longer than you might think. France and Britain still owned most of Africa as late as 1960. Portugal never gave up its colonies right through the 1970s until an anti-fascist revolution in Portugal itself (the leftists who won immediately gave up all of Portugal's remaining colonies except Macau). The coming of the Empires did end the sale of Africans to European and Arabic merchants for good - which had been going on for many centuries by that point (though less than 300 for the Americas trade).
  • The gunfight at the O.K. Corral in Tombstone (1881) lasted about 30 seconds or so in real life. Most depictions of it stretch it out to several minutes because of its legendary status.
  • The gold standard was the international monetary standard for only about 40 years, from the 1890s through the 1930s, give or take a few years depending on the country—shorter than the fiat system currently in place. Prior to that, most countries operated on the silver (or in the case of the US, bimetallic) standard.
  • America was only in World War I for about a year officially, from April 1917 to November, 1918. It ended as soon as the army turned up in Europe, though that's because Imperial Germany risked and lost everything on the Ludendorff Offensive because they knew they needed to win before the US Army arrived.
  • Russian Communism from Red October to Mikhail Gorbachev was only 74 years, that is 1917 to 1991. (The actual Soviet Union lasted for only 69 years, since it wasn't founded until 1922.) You could very easily be born under Czar Nicholas II and live to see the breakup of the Soviet Union.
    • A famous example of a man who saw both the birth and death of USSR: Sergey Mikhalkov, the author of the lyrics to both the anthem of the USSR and the post-Communist anthem of the Russian Federation, born in 1913 Russian Empire and died in 2009 Russian Federation.
    • Incidentally, Gorbachev was the only Soviet leader to be born in the Soviet Union. All his predecessors were born in the Russian Empire.
    • In other words, less than one-fourth as long as the Romanov dynasty. The Romanovs ruled from 1613 to 1917, 304 years.
    • Likewise, the experience of Communism from Estonia down to the area that now constitutes Poland only lasted 44 years, c. 1945 to 1990.
  • Inversion: the Great Crash of 1929 was not the sudden and screeching halt to the Roaring Twenties it is typically depicted as in fiction. The Great Crash of 1929 only set The Great Depression in motion, the American economy stagnating until hitting rock bottom in 1933; the wave of major bank failures began in Fall 1930 and went on for several years. The Roaring Twenties were a time of burgeoning problems covered up by prosperity, or the illusion thereof, which served to make the collapse seem far more sudden than it really was - much like the current depression.
    • Anyone with a passing knowledge of Southern United States history comes away with a very different picture than just New York ticker-tape and the Kansas dust bowl. In the South, the Depression started earlier and lasted longer. This was in many ways a long-term consequence of to the Cotton boom of the previous century and its traumatic ending. Not for nothing did Franklin D. Roosevelt dub The South the USA's 'Economic Problem Number One'.
  • The Empire State Building was only the tallest building in the world for 36 years, from 1931, when it surpassed the Chrysler Building note  to 1967, when the Ostankino Tower was completed. Even so, forty years is a good long time when you consider that the title of "world's tallest building" moves around every few years now.
    • Inversely, the builders of the CN Tower in Toronto, Canada in 1976 thought it would be surpassed as the world's tallest freestanding structure relatively shortly. Instead, the decline in the need for broadcast towers meant that it kept that title for 34 years.
  • Those Wacky Nazis only controlled Germany for twelve years, 1933 to 1945. Possibly inverted, since most popular culture conflates Nazi Germany with just the war (which lasted six years) or the Final Solution (which began in earnest in 1942).
  • Stuff about World War II made in the United States always starts after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and many are set from D-Day onward, unless they're for the fringe market of Eastern Front enthusiasts. The period from D-Day to V-E day, when most American-made WWII works are set, was only 11 months, June 1944 to May 1945. This is probably a subtrope of America Saves the Day.
    • Fighting on the Chinese Front (i.e., the Second Sino-Japanese War) began in 1937.
    • The PRC and ROC have made claims of WWII starting, undeclared, as early as 1931 - when the Imperial Japanese military invaded Manchuria.
  • Strangely enough, the Apartheid system of white minority rule that existed in South Africa, Namibia, and Rhodesia (the southern district of which constitutes modern Zimbabwe) can qualify. Although life for local black Africans in these areas was far from pleasant during the colonial era, most of South Africa (settled by Europeans long before the other two) was in local hands (some black, some white) for much of the 19th Century. The whole of South Africa was conquered by Britain by 1902, and given independence as the Union of South Africa in 1910. Sure, the rulers were white, but "Empire" =/= "rule by white people".
    • Apartheid as a legal framework came into being in South Africa after the Afrikaner-run National Party won the Parliamentary elections in 1948, and it ended with the first multiracial elections in 1994 - just over 45 years. South Africa imposed the system on South-West Africa (modern Namibia, a former German colony) in 1966, and kept it in place until Namibian independence in 1990 - 24 years. The white minority of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) saw what their South African comrades were doing, thought it was a great idea, and adopted it themselves when they declared unilateral independence in 1965, and it remained on the books until the end of minority rule in 1980 - 15 years. Although with that last one was a doozy...
  • It's worth noting that Red China has been reforming (1979-present) longer than it was ruled by Mao Zedong's version of Communism (1949-1979).
  • The Berlin Wall stood for only 28 years, 1961 to 1989. People usually think it is longer because they conflate the wall with the Iron Curtain.
  • The whole flowers-and-drugs Swinging Sixties was this in England. It lasted for the summer of 1968 for a very few people before people realised they had lives and careers to get on with.
    • The authentic San Francisco/Haight-Ashbury hippie scene similarly only lasted around a year and a half (spring 1966 to autumn 1967).
  • The Khmer Rouge only controlled Cambodia for about 3 years and 9 months (April 17, 1975 to January 8, 1979), which manages to make the utter destruction and massive death toll they were responsible for even more unthinkably horrific. They were overthrown as a result of a war with the neighboring Socialist Republic of Vietnam, a war which went far to cast doubt on the Domino theory that had informed western strategy in the Cold War until then.
    • It could be easy to get this impression given how long some countries insisted Democratic Kampuchea (the Khmer Rouge regime) should keep Cambodia's UN seat. A number of countries took Vietnam's liberation of Cambodia as a slap to the face.
  • Dynasties in American sports are dominant for a briefer period than it appears, such as the Dallas Cowboys of the early 1990s, the New York Yankees of the late 1990s, and the New England Patriots of the early 2000s. Also, the period during which they are contemporarily perceived as dynasties is even shorter.
  • The Taliban only really controlled Afghanistan for about five years (1996-2001). The rest of the time they were just the biggest fish in the pond. You can still find old and even middle-aged men there that remember a time when their women didn't have to be covered from head to toe and not show their faces just to be considered proprietous... and that's ignoring the areas in the northern mountains that the Taliban never conquered.
    • This is also true of many parts of the Muslim world. As recently as the 1970s and 1980s, the vast majority of the Muslim world was dominated by secularism and varieties of "socialism" and there was little difference between women's fashion there and in the West. Since then, however, there has been something of a resurgence of piety—brought on, many social scientists think, by the increasing prosperity and consequent ascendancy of the region's middle class. Some have even called them "the new Calvinists" after the similarly pious and similarly mercantile Europeans of the 16th-18th centuries.
  • Al Capone was leader of the Chicago Outfit for 6 years (1925-1931).

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