"Oceania was at war with Eastasia: Oceania had always been at war with Eastasia. A large part of the political literature of five years was now completely obsolete. Reports and records of all kinds, newspapers, books, pamphlets, films, sound tracks, photographs—all had to be rectified at lightning speed. Although no directive was ever issued, it was known that the chiefs of the Department intended that within one week no reference to the war with Eurasia, or the alliance with Eastasia, should remain in existence anywhere."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. Subtrope of, and is most likely to happen when history is, Written by the Winners. Un-person is a variety where individuals are "retconned away". Deceased Fall-Guy Gambit is another form of this. For when the past isn't so much completely changed as painted in a more favorable or less favorable light, see Treachery Cover Up and Historical Villain Upgrade. When this trope is about constantly denied fears or threats, then it is No Mere Windmill. If the authorities literally change the past, that's a Cosmic Retcon. Not to be confused with the Doylist Orwellian Retcon, where later editions of earlier parts of the work are changed to fit into the retcon.
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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.
- In the ending of Mobile Suit Gundam 0083: Stardust Memory, Kou is initially court-martialed and receives a prison sentence for stealing the GP-03. All data on this Gundam and the other machines that were part of the Gundam Development Project are later deleted, in order to get rid of any evidence that the Federation was developing nuclear weapons. Kou is then released, as he can't have stolen a Gundam that doesn't exist.
- 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 Nineteen Eighty-Four 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.
- Dragon Age: The Chantry is well-known to rewrite historical documents to suit its politics at the time, glorifying not-so-great people because their nation or descendants happen to be in the Chantry's current good graces; and retroactively villainizing, erasing, or race-lifting heroes whose race, magical ability, and/or nationality is at odds with the Chantry's current political shit list.
- The Elves: Despite the Enslaved Elves of Tevinter fighting alongside Andraste, the Chantry's "Bride of the Maker," to free all of Southern Thedas (human and elf alike) from Tevinter's iron grip, a few centuries later the Chantry struck Andraste's elven general Shartan out of all historical and religious texts and declared any mention of him blasphemy, just because of their war against the Elven Dales. Even after forcibly converting the entire elven race to either convert to Chantry worship or hide out in the woods, the Chantry refuses to acknowledge any past elven heroes, going so far as to Race Lift Ameridan, an elven mage dual-Creators/Maker worshiper from the Dales who lived shortly before the Fall of the Dales to a devout Andrastian human muggle because it fit their own ideal image.
- Mage heroes also often find their magical abilities conveniently left out of historical documents and retellings of their exploits, such as the aforementioned Ameridan. In Dragon Age: Inquisition, Cassandra notes how unfair it is that the mages who helped her save the previous Divine (basically Fantasy Pope) from a dragon attack got increasingly left out of retellings of the rescue until they were forgotten entirely, while she alone was eventually promoted to Right Hand of the next Divine, just because she happened to be the only non-mage in that rescue.
- The Chantry also does this for minor personal details, like sexuality. In Dragon Age: Inquisition, if the Player Character is male and romances Dorian, Dorian can remark at one point that he wonders how long before the Chantry writes that part out of retellings of the Inquisitor's life?
- That probably has to do with the fact he's from Tevinter and nothing to do with the fact they're both men.
- They also do this to Andraste herself. One Chantry sister, in the first game, comments on how current Chantry preachers would have you believe that Andraste converted most of Southern Thedas and defeated Tevinter by handing out flowers and singing, when in actuality she was a ruthless war general who defeated her enemies through brutal war campaigns.
- 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.
- 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.
- Final Fantasy:
- 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.
- Another corrupt church, in Final Fantasy X, the Temple of Yevon, declared Yuna a traitor and tried repeatedly to kill her. When they decided they needed her? That traitor business was just a rumor started by the Al Bhed. Never mind that they no doubt announced Yuna's supposed treachery through their official channels....
- 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.
- Mass Effect:
- 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.
- Joker's theory is that they believed Shepard, but couldn't admit that during the second game "because, you know... Cerberus". It's not entirely implausible; while Shepard is irritated that the Council seems to have ignored the threat, war assets like the volus's Thanix-equipped dreadnought and salarian stealth dreadnoughts don't get built overnight.
- Garrus was given a relatively important advisory position prior to Mass Effect 3, and although he dismisses it as just something done to make him shut up, the turians aren't people who tend to stick someone in a pointless position, and despite the Alliance getting curb-stomped on the first day of the Reaper attack there's indications that senior officers aside from Admiral Hackett were also taking the threat seriously, enough that when it became clear something was happening they immediately called Shepard for advice. The implication is that while the Council and assorted Council governments didn't publicly agree with Shepard, three of the four Council species (and some allies) were quietly doing things to get ready just in case. The only ones who didn't seem to were the asari.
- In New Dangan Ronpa V3, the mastermind Tsumugi Shirogane decided to connect the events of the in-universe reality show and the meteor shower to the rest of the Dangan Ronpa franchise by making it so that the sixteen students all went to Hope's Peak Academy and that Makoto Naegi was the one behind the Gofer Project.
- 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.
- In Kevin & Kell, after Angelique and Bentley frame each other for the death of a Herd Thinners predator by a rabbit extremist group, it's revealed the killer was actually Bentley's daughter Danielle (accidentally). Bentley decides that since Angelique did such a good job framing him, they should let it stick.
- Family Guy:
- In "To Live and Die in Dixie" the Griffins are relocated to a hick town when Chris sees a crook commit a robbery and Peter gives the crook their address. The town 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.
- In "Road to Europe" Brian and Stewie go to Munich, and while riding a tour bus Brian points out that the travel brochures completely omit any mention of World War II. The tour guide is infuriated by Brian's transgression and starts angrily yelling in German.
- 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 Jack 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 Jack and his legal wife to be killed and then ground them into chili, which he'd fed to Jack's legitimate son and Cartman's half-broter Scott Tenorman.
- In Steven Universe, the Great Diamond Authority leading the Homeworld Gems have been apparently doing their best to cover up how badly things went for them in the Rebellion. They even went as far as to Un-person Pink Diamond after Rose shattered her, to the point that only Rebellion veterans seem to remember that she existed at all,.
- However, the Diamond Authority's cover-ups were all about the wrong idea, since Rose never actually shattered Pink Diamond... Because she was Pink Diamond all along.