You know nothing about your dad, right? Eric Cartman:
I know enough. My mother is a hermaphrodite
, so she is actually my father. Mitch Connor:
You really still believe that garbage? The people in your town sold you that line. Come on, you have to have doubted it all along. Eric Cartman:
How would you know anything about who my family is? Mitch Connor:
Heh! I know all about the swindles and schemes in this deadend town. You got lied to, kid, by the people who are closest to you.
Let's face it. Facts are rather inconvenient things. If people know exactly how some really bad things went down in the story, they might freak out a little bit, realizing that they live in a Crapsack World
and are liable to be killed senselessly and pointlessly for ridiculous reasons.
Enter the Internal Retcon. This trope allows the reigning authority figure (typically determined by Might Makes Right
) to force everyone to pretend like something else is what really
happened, simply because the consequences of the truth coming out are really dangerous. Who it's dangerous for, of course, is quite fungible. And an incompetent authority figure is going to do an equally incompetent job if they're trying to enact this trope for less-than-morally-above-board reasons.
Most popular as a way of ending either a story arc or a story proper. Naturally, spoilers are rather unavoidable in describing this phenomenon as a result.
is a variety where someone
is "retconned away". See Treachery Cover Up
for another sub-trope. Deceased Fall-Guy Gambit
is another form of this.
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Anime and Manga
- In Naruto the Third Hokage made it illegal for anyone to talk about the Kyuubi being sealed into Naruto in an attempt to give him a normal childhood. The children were simply told that the Fourth had defeated the Kyuubi.
- On orders from the Fourth Kazekage, Yashimaru lied to Gaara about his mother's death and claimed she had cursed him after the sealing drove her insane. She had actually died due to complications with the pregnancy and her final words were a smiling promise she would always protect Gaara. The Kazekage had hoped this lie would harden Gaara enough to properly utilize Shukaku.
- This is how the first issue of Sin City concludes. For obvious reasons, it can't come out that a member of the Roark family was involved with a cannibal serial killer, so the police force Marv to confess to all of the crimes committed by Roark and Kevin.
- One of these is integral in making the ending of Watchmen work — and the one character who refuses to go along with the plan is naturally killed.
- In the Pony POV Series, the Hooviet Empire run their propaganda machine on this, so they're always in the right in the eyes of their citizens. The best example is the war with the dragons, which despite their massive losses, they still manage to paint themselves as the winners.
- The Powers Of Harmony: Seems Celestia has altered details of the War of the Sun and Moon in order to make it sound less brutal than it was. She also erased all references to the Lunar army being sealed in Tartarus.
- It also seems the founding of Ponyville wasn't quite as easy and clean as Granny Smith has made it sound — apparently, the founders actually hunted down almost all of the timberwolves in order to eliminate the threat.
- A big part of how Men In Black works is that agents use Neuralyzers to wipe people's memories of alien encounters, replacing these memories with more plausible ones. When first involved in the use of one, Will Smith gets mad at Tommy Lee Jones for making a woman believe that her husband left her instead of getting killed and his body used by an alien, and promptly narrates a different Retcon stating that she kicked him out, that she's happy she kicked him out, and that now she wants to go shopping for nice things.
- Batman in The Dark Knight willingly takes the blame for Two-Face's crimes in order to preserve Harvey Dent's image (and thus all the criminal convictions he racked up) and to restore hope to the people of Gotham. Commissioner Gordon reluctantly goes along with the plan.
- A Nightmare on Elm Street: Nothing particularly interesting happened in Springwood, Ohio, in 1974. Nothing of great interest happened in the years between 1984 and 2003, either.
- Scott from Austin Powers was introduced as Doctor Evil's test tube son. The next movie reveals that he was conceived as Frau and a time-travelling Doctor Evil's lovechild and states the test tube was a lie.
- THEY TOLD YOU NOTHING BUT LIES!
- The LEGO Movie has this mentioned off hand when Emmet says that the local Mega Corp. makes all history books.
- The government in 1984 engages in this trope liberally. In fact the protagonist Winston Smith works at the RecDep of the Ministry of Truth, who are responsible for "correcting historical records" (ie, editing and censoring anything that disagrees with The Party's current statements.)
- The most extreme example of ret-conning is during Hate Week, when the orator who is busily lauding their ally Eurasia and condemning their enemy Eastasia switches the name of the two mid speech. As the crowd gradually realises that the celebratory flags and decorations of Eurasia are all around, they tear them down, supposing that saboteurs must have arranged for them to be put up. After all, "We've always been at war with Eurasia!"
- In Harry Potter, after Voldemort's return at the end of the Fourth book, the Ministry of Magic spends most of the Fifth book declaring that Voldemort has not returned at all and painfully persecuting anyone who dares contradict the official story. This ends badly, since they don't make much of an effort to convince Voldemort himself of this. Probably because they believed their own propaganda.
- In The Fall of the Kings, earlier in the setting world's history, the kings and their wizards were overthrown and the ruling nobility burned all the works about magic that they could find and made it illegal even to claim that magic was real. This causes some frustration for one of the protagonists, a historian living 200 years later who has trouble finding reliable sources for his research on the wizards. Especially when he proposes a debate to prove that the wizards' magic was real, disregarding the fact that the aforementioned law is still on the books...
- In the Kinky Friedman novel Armadillos and Old Lace this trope may be the motive for murder.
- Lieutenant Hornblower is an interesting example, in that it is the only book in the Horatio Hornblower series that is not narrated from Hornblower's point-of-view. The driving mystery of the book (and the two TV movies made from it) was how (the very unstable and paranoid) Captain Sawyer ended up falling down a gangway and being incapacitated. The only witnesses are Lieutenant Hornblower and Midshipman Wellard, both who had very strong reasons to dislike the Captain.
- Hornblower somehow managed to place himself in charge of the investigation, further keeping the loop closed. By the end of the book, Wellard has been reassigned (and then killed in a shipwreck), and Hornblower declines to discuss the matter.
- David Weber has written a few situations like this, enacted by groups such as Mother Church and Haven.
- Mrs Bennet in Pride and Prejudice often retcons her predictions so she was right all along. She fools no one except possibly herself but her daughters and husband have stopped bothering to point it out.
- In the Firefly episode "Jaynestown", the crew lands on a planet whose working class inhabitants worship Jayne under the misguided belief that he "robbed from the rich and he gave to the poor, stood up to the man and gave him what for." After the truth comes out, Jayne remarks that probably nobody who was there to witness it understood what happened and they're probably putting back up the statue of Jayne that Jayne himself tore down.
- In the Space: Above and Beyond episode The Enemy, the 58th are being debriefed on what happened on their last mission, where they were subjected to a new Chig weapon that amplifies fears into full-blown crippling phobias. After the debrief is done, the conversation between the troopers at the end indicates that they collaborated to leave out other far worse details.
- In the Horatio Hornblower movies Mutiny and Retribution, based on Lieutenant Hornblower in the Literature section, Captain Sawyer has fallen down a gangway, or possibly pushed. There are three witnesses in this version (Lieutenant Kennedy being added to the mix), all three sympathetic to each other and far less so to the mad Captain.
- By the end of the film, Midshipman Wellard cannot speak on what he saw because he has died in battle (fighting alongside Captain Sawyer, who is also killed), and Kennedy confesses to pushing the Captain, knowing that he will die of his wounds from the same battle before the investigation can proceed. It is implied in this version that Hornblower may have pushed the Captain, but the answer is never made clear for the audience.
- In Criminal Minds David discovers that his former Marine sergeant who saved his life in Vietnam hadn't done it alone. Another Marine had thrown his body on a detonating mine to shield the two while they got into cover. The government needed a living hero to give the war good PR so the other soldier's sacrifice was covered up and all credit was given to the sergeant.
- Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance and Radiant Dawn has you trying to prevent war from racing across the world in order to keep the evil goddess Yune sealed within the Fire Emblem. She wakes up anyway, but you learn that she's chaotic, not evil. Her Knight Templar counterpart is pretty nutty though. The only surviving person who knows what actually happened in the first place is the king of the Dragons, and he's the one who fabricated all sorts of stories and vilified the chaos god. Why? To prevent war from breaking out in the first place!
- Also, Lehran, also known by another name, knew the truth, but aided Ashera in sealing Yune and convinced Ashera, when she awoke, that the world needed to be purged.
- According to the "Wesker's Report" publications, Sherry Birken was taken from Claire and Leon's care by Wesker's agents after the events of Resident Evil 2. In Resident Evil: The Darkside Chronicles, though, it's declared that the government of the United States took Sherry after they found the survivors and they use her as a bartering chip to make Leon work for them, hence his involvement in the core-story of Darkside Chronicles and the chronologically-later Resident Evil 4. This was possibly the result of the fact that "Wesker's Report" was never released outside of Japan.
- The Thalmor from The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim have arranged it to make it seem like they were the ones to stop the Oblivion Crisis in their home territories, not Martin and the Champion of Cyrodiil. This allowed them to consolidate their power (and gained them the loyalty of the Khajiiti people) enough to wage a successful war against the Empire.
- The Framing Device for Final Fantasy Tactics is that the Corrupt Church had covered up their crimes during the War of the Lions, and erased Ramza, a crucial figure from that war, out of the history books. A few centuries later, a report detailing Ramza's exploits in uncovered and released.
- The Voth in Star Trek Online have degenerated into this when they show up in the game. They still keep to the Doctrine that they are both Delta Quadrant natives and the oldest species in the Delta Quadrant, but they've been forced to resort to harsher and harsher measures to keep that 'truth' going in the face of mounting evidence against it.
- In Mass Effect 2 the Council decided that publicly backing Shepard's warnings about the Reapers was a losing move. Any evidence was covered up and blame was pinned solely on Saren and the geth. Codex entries even refer to the Reapers as a "conspiracy theory".
- Curiously, in Mass Effect 3, Shepard can visit the Citadel Archives, the repository of the galaxy's most top-secret information. The entry on Sovereign's attack begins to repeat the cover story about the geth, but then identifies Shepard as a Spectre, and instead lists the actual story, including mentioning the possibility of Sovereign being a Reaper. This makes the Council's denial very strange, as it suggests that someone very highly placed believed Shepard's story.
- An open-ended example occurs in The Order of the Stick where Haley agrees to act as if her "leaving" the Thieves' Guild was a highly elaborate ploy to make adventurers everywhere hesitant to accept a Thief without Guild approval in their party lest that Thief turn out to be a secret assassin. It's open-ended because Haley kills Crystal and leaves the Thieves' Guild again—but it likely isn't in Bozzok's current interest to undo the Retcon, since it would also undo the public relations scheme.
- Ironically in the prequel book it turns out Roy wouldn't hire a non-guild thief already precisely because he didn't want to be killed by Guild assassins for hiring scabs, and she had to show him a forged membership card to get in the party in the first place.
- Family Guy: In "To Live and Die in Dixie", the town of Bumblescum holds an annual Civil War reenactment where Ulysses S. Grant is depicted as a drunkard who was easily defeated by Robert E. Lee. When Peter protests that the Union won, the townsfolk, particularly the ones who were actual Confederate soldiers, don't take it lying down.
- The Simpsons: Armin Tamzarian was legally declared the one and only Seymour Skinner, and nobody was ever to mention it again under penalty of torture.
- Doesn't stop Lisa from doing a Continuity Nod in a later episode. Lisa decides that, despite various numbered Snowballs that have died, the one she has at the end of the episode should be Snowball II. Skinner finds out, and starts to chastise her about it, and she responds, "I suppose that's for the best, Principal Tamzarian." Skinner backs off quickly.
- South Park: Remember the cliffhanger of the first season, which was resolved by revealing that Eric Cartman's father was his own mother, who was actually a hermaphrodite? It turned out that it was all a cover-up for the sake of the Denver Broncos, who didn't want to generate any controversy in an otherwise good year for them. The specific Bronco who fathered Cartman was actually Jake Tenorman, the right tackle of the team and the only Bronco who lived in South Park. He was bored during the week of the Drunken Barn Dance and had an affair with Cartman's mother. In a sad bit of irony, Cartman only learned this long after he'd set up Jake and his real wife to be killed and then he ground them into chili, which he'd fed to Jake's legitimate son Scott.