Pink Elephants

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The Beast of Bourbon. ♪ "Ain't I drunk enough?" ♪

The man whom we all know, stupid, unimaginative, whose brain is bitten numbly by numb maggots; who walks generously with wide-spread, tentative legs, falls frequently in the gutter, and who sees, in the extremity of his ecstasy, blue mice and pink elephants.
Jack London, John Barleycorn

"Pink Elephants" is a common way to refer to alcohol-related hallucinations. The term was originally coined by Jack London — himself a famous drinker — in his autobiographical novel John Barleycorn. It is now widely used to refer to any sort of alcohol-related hallucinations — even those that don't involve elephants of any color. (If a work has someone hallucinating actual pink elephants, it's probably a comedy exercising the Rule of Funny.)

What the stereotypical hallucination is likely to be varies culturally; drunk Americans tend to see pink elephants or snakes, Germans see white mice, and Russians have green imps. In Real Life, alcohol-related hallucinations are most commonly associated with "the DTs" (delirium tremens), which is a withdrawal symptom experienced by severe alcoholics, not a direct effect of the alcohol itself. In fiction, however, it's common to suggest that extremely strong drink will cause people to see hallucinations. There is a grain of truth to this—severe alcohol poisoning can cause hallucinations. But this is rare. Except in fiction.

A subtrope of Mushroom Samba, which covers hallucinations caused by drugs in general. May overlap with Marijuana Is LSD, which is about unrealistic depictions of drug effects. Compare with Single Malt Vision, where alcohol affects sight, but does not cause actual hallucinations.

Should not be confused with literal pink elephants which can occur in Real Life as a result of albinism. A drunk character who sees them may mistake it for this trope, causing them to swear off drinking. Can combine with You Have to Believe Me or Crying Wolf (if the drunk person routinely claims to see pink elephants, and now there's one in their backyard).


Examples:

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    Advertising 
  • Ale Delirium Tremens (itself a pretty strong brew) uses pink elephants on its labels and associated merchandise. The name refers to an acute episode of delirium that is usually caused by withdrawal from alcohol, first described in 1813 and also known as "the shakes".
  • A series of Russian social ads against alcohol abuse is built around the pun "squirrel"—"delirium tremens".note  Rated PG-14 for disturbing imagery. In part 1 (translated) the "squirrel" tells how he visited a drunk who was chasing spiders, hunted and roasted some imaginary critters, then tried to murder his wife. In parts 2 and 3 the drunk met his friend's ghost and joined street protests.

    Comic Books 
  • Discussed several times in the Lucky Luke comic "Western Circus": Luke sees a circus elephant in the middle of American prairie, and later mentions that if it was pink and he was drunk, he wouldn't have any questions. Some time later, after the elephant goes on a rampage chasing a guy who wronged it, Luke calms it down, saying that it was just hallucinating pink men.
  • Invoked in one Gaston Lagaffe strip, which involves an elephant borrowed from a zoo and painted pink, that Gaston plans to use to prank one of his friends with a tendency to drink. However, M. De Mesmaeker suffers collateral damage.
  • In an issue of Green Lantern Corps, alien GL Salakk gets intoxicated by a spiked drink and actually creates a horde of pink elephant-ish creatures.
  • In Action Comics #7 (December 1938), in a story in which Superman lifts an elephant over his head while performing at the circus, a drunk in the crowd exclaims, "I don't mind seeing pink elephants, but (-hic-) this is too much!"

    Comic Strips 

    Fan Works 
  • In Catch Me in Midair an in-labor Remus complains to Snape.
    Remus: Can't you be useful and give me some potion that makes me see pink hippogriffs until this is all over and our babe is here?
  • Summer of Bonding briefly mentions that it's illegal to plant Night-Blooming Ceffapods in a Muggle area because when they start seeing pink elephants, people think they're drunk.

    Films — Animation 
  • Dumbo features the most infamous example where a drunk Dumbo and Timothy blow alcoholic bubbles and start seeing literal Pink Elephants on parade, leading to a nightmarish Disney Acid Sequence musical number. When they wake up, they find themselves stuck on a tall tree. This Big-Lipped Alligator Moment was even the former trope image.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Lost Weekend has a particularly terrifying use of this trope, as Don hallucinates a bat swooping in and eating a mouse in the wall. Unlike many films, which have people seeing their Pink Elephants during their drunken binges, this one gets it right, and has Don seeing his mice and bat after his spree, when he's going through withdrawal.
  • George Valentin hallucinates a tiny version of himself, and then a whole scene from his last movie, while drinking himself into a stupor in The Artist.
  • In Dr. Kildare's Victory, a severely intoxicated man is running through the halls of Blair General trying to find his pink elephants.
  • The Absent-Minded Professor: The police officer assumes that Shelby was drunk and hallucinating when he describes the unseen flying car that gave him the "Shelby Stomp."
    Officer: Oh, that kind of a thing! Well, why don't you just blow into this tube and we'll see if we can't find out where that thing came from.

    Literature 
  • In Lord Jim, a minor character ruins his brain with alcohol and ends seeing a swarm of toads staring at him.
  • In Discworld, a possible side effect of drinking scumble is seeing hairy green spiders coming out of the walls.
    • Numerous creatures of this type are part of the unwanted retinue of Bilious, Oh God of Hangovers.
    • Played With in Mort, when one elephant gets drunk, and someone mentions that he's probably seeing pink humans.
    • Detritus also sees giant hairy spiders in Feet of Clay after performing a Fingertip Drug Analysis.
  • In chapter 18 of Raymond Chandler's 1943 Philip Marlowe novel The Lady in the Lake, a character refers to a doctor "who ran around all night with a case of loaded hypodermic needles, keeping the fast set from having pink elephants for breakfast."
  • In Charles de Lint's Jack of Kinrowan, an inebriated young woman sees a biker gang hunt down and kill a little man in a seemingly magical way one night. She first assumes the scene to be a hallucination, but one item from the scene remains: the dwarf's red cap. She later discovers that whenever she dons the cap, it allows her to see into the land of Faerie. Few humans can see it, but her drunken state allowed her briefly to break through.
  • As seen in the page quote, the Trope Namer is Jack London's memoir about life as an alcoholic.
  • In For Heaven's Eyes Only, a Gargle Blaster is described as being so potent that when you order one, it's served by a tiny pink elephant.
  • In Nelson Bond's "The Gripes Of Wraith", pink elephants seen in an alcoholic daze are referred to as "beasts of bourbon" by a Pungeon Master.
  • In James Joyce's (in)famous novel Ulysses, there is a chapter called Circe that's 150 pages long, written as a playscript, which almost entirely consists of drunken hallucinations. These include William Shakespeare as a ventriloquist dummy with antlers, two floating Oxford professors with lawnmowers giving Stephen advice, Bloom's grandfather appearing to talk about sex, a nightmarish Kangaroo Court, a Power Fantasy that lasts more than thirty pages but takes up less than a second of real time, and a Gender Bender hallucination in which Bloom turns into a prostitute and is raped. This is a classic work of literature, everyone.
  • In P. G. Wodehouse's Uneasy Money, Nutty sees a monkey and assumes this. Elizabeth, who wants him off the drink, pretends not to see it.
  • In Seanan McGuire's October Daye novel One Salt Sea, Toby hopes that a shrieking mermaid in a wheelchair will be taken for this.
  • In the original The Blue Lagoon, Paddy sees a "cluricaune" leprechaun and red rats after a rum binge, but he knows they are not real; "as real-looking as the real things, and though they possess his mind for a moment, almost immediately he recognises that he is suffering from a delusion."
  • In Son of Spellsinger an alcoholic rhino knight swears off the booze to help the heroes. Unfortunately, they pass through a magical effect that brings his DTs into reality.
  • Discussed in A Night in the Lonesome October: Quicklime remarks at one point that he keeps out of the way of people with hangovers because he's been told it's bad for people in that condition to be seeing snakes, though he's never understood why.
  • In The Terror Crozier has severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms. However, his sickness-induced visions prove to be prescient.
  • Invoked in the short story "Dave the Mighty Steel-Thewed Avenger" by Laura Resnick. Dave is a law student coming home after a night out. When he meets a large rodent which stands up on its hind legs and starts trying to tell him about his destiny, his first thought is "did this mean that two beers were enough to give me alcohol poisoning? Should I proceed immediately to the campus medical center and check myself into the detox unit?"

    Live-Action TV 
  • Referenced in the Our Miss Brooks episode "Cure That Habit", when Mr. Stone wrongly suspects Mr. Conklin of being drunk and having hallucinations.
  • Parodied in an episode of Thunderbirds, when a drunk guy on a boat sees Lady Penelope in fancy dress sailing past in the amphibious FAB 1:
    Drunk guy: I've heard of seeing pink elephants, but a pink Rolls-Royce at sea driven by Marie Antoinette is ridiculous!
  • Rab C. Nesbitt sees a pink elephant, the "Heebie Jeebie", after being told to give up drinking by his doctor in the season 1 episode "Drink". It spends the episode trying to convince him to continue drinking.
  • Invoked in the Star Trek: Enterprise episode "Regeneration" when Captain Archer recalls a story Zephrem Cochrane told about cyborgs from the future attempting to disrupt the warp-speed pioneer flight that led to Earth's first contact. T'Pol dismisses the story, noting that Cochrane was known for telling "imaginative stories" and was "frequently intoxicated".
  • Blake's 7. At the end of "Rescue", Villa (who's been drowning his sorrows for most of the episode) decides No More for Me after seeing the antagonist Rapid Aging and then turn to dust. "It'll be pink asteroids next."

    Music 
  • Mentioned in The Divine Comedy's A Drinking Song:
    We'll drink beyond
    The boundaries of sense!
    We'll drink 'til we start
    To see lovely pink elephants;
    Inside our heads, inside our beds,
    Inside the threads of our pyjama legs!
    So don't shoot 'til you see the reds of our eyes,
    And an army of elephants marching behind!
    From the day I was born,
    'Til the night I will die,
    All my lovers will be pink
    And elephantine!
  • Invoked in the Mystery Jets song "Veiled in Grey":
    I'll bet you wouldn't believe me
    If I whispered in your ears and said
    I can see a pink elephant
    And it's standing on the corner of the bed
    You'll just smile and roll your eyes to the back of your head
  • Spike Jones' song "Clink, Clink, Another Drink" (which featured a guest appearance by Mel Blanc in Daffy Duck mode), contained the following lyrics:
    Oh, ow, what do I do now?
    Pink elephants are running after me!
    Though that stuff was smooth as silk
    From now on I'll stick to milk
    Nothin' else to drink for me!
  • Irish singer Christy Moore's song Delirium Tremens recounts the various nightmares experienced by the subject after he drank a little too much, many of them based on Irish political figures of the time.
    I looked out from under the blanket up at the fireplace.
    The Pope and John F. Kennedy were starin’ in me face.note 
    Suddenly it dawned at me I was getting the old D.T.'s
    When the Child of Prague began to dance around the mantelpiece.
  • Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians' "Pink Elephants":
    Pink elephants on the table
    Pink elephants on the chair
    Pink elephants on the ceiling
    Pink elephants everywhere

    Pinball 
  • The drunks in the Fisticuffs Multiball mode of The Champion Pub sometimes mention that you're "turning all pink and... elephanty".

    Poetry 
  • In Alfred Noyes's "Forty Singing Seamen", it concludes with the narrator's offering this as the Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane explanation. To be sure, that included drinking the grog.
    Across the seas of Wonderland to London-town we blundered,
    Forty singing seamen as was puzzled for to know
    If the visions that we saw was caused by—here again we pondered—
    A tipple in a vision forty thousand years ago.
    Could the grog we
    dreamt we swallowed
    Make us
    dream of all that followed?
    We were only simple seamen, so of course we didn't know!

    ChorusWe were simple singing seamen, so of course we could not know

    Radio 
  • Referenced in the Our Miss Brooks episode "Cure That Habit", when Mr. Stone wrongly suspects Mr. Conklin of being drunk and having hallucinations.

    Video Games 
  • In Bioshock, all the items have a bit of flavor text which can be read from the menu. The homemade moonshine simply says "Oh god, I'm seeing things!", courtesy of some nameless bar patron.
  • Brad Wong, the Dead or Alive series' token drunken fighter spends all of DOA 3 and DOA 4 searching for a mystical wine called "Genra". At the end of 4, he actually does find it. His ending video shows him drinking it and tripping hard, though this may just be to represent his euphoria upon finally finding the liquor of legend.
  • In Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4, Ollie the Magic Bum sees pink elephants occasionally, and on the College level, he asks you to grind on some poles and logs to collect them all.
  • World of Warcraft:
    • One village in Outland contains pink elekks, which are only visible to drunk characters.
    • During Brewfest, pink elekks can be seen by drunk people around the major cities. The American players gets some quests for them, but these are removed in the European version, apparently for legal reasons: having a whole festival about getting drunk is okay, but letting this lead to hallucinations is prohibited because it somehow glamorizes drug abuse.
  • Referenced, in a way, in Among the Sleep: One of the protagonist's toys is a stuffed pink elephant. This foreshadows that the "supernatural" events of the game are the protagonist's way of coping with the abusive behavior of his alcoholic mother.
  • Dragon Age II references this when describing aquae lucidius, an incredibly potent liquor brewed from wyvern poison, which supposedly leaves the drinker "seeing purple dragons for days".
  • In Nexus Clash, the Achievement Badge for drinking sufficient amounts of booze is actually called "Pink Elephant Rider". Due to the Stat Grinding system inherent to Nexus games, it actually makes you more powerful. Exactly how is one of the few things the series' elaborate lore doesn't attempt to explain.

    Web Animation 
  • A Strong Bad Email from Homestar Runner mentioned a drink called "Pink Elephant Pants."

    Web Comics 

    Western Animation 
  • Looney Tunes:
    • The short "Punch Trunk" features a tiny elephant that wanders around the city, causing mass panic. But when a drunk sees it, all he says is "You're late" and wonders why he isn't pink this time.
    • An earlier cartoon, "Calling Dr. Porky", has a patient being harassed by a band of pink elephants.
    • Yet another cartoon ("Hobo Bobo") has the young elephant Bobo trying to get to New York from India, and told that the best way to sneak onto the ship is to paint himself pink. Because nobody will admit to themselves that they're seeing a pink elephant. It works, but it turns out to work a little too well once he gets to the city.
  • The Simpsons:
    • When the town is accidentally dosed with peyote, The Alcoholic Barney is able to drive off his threatening monster hallucinations by consuming enough liquor to summon a friendlier pink elephant hallucination. Curiously enough, said pink elephant looks exactly like the ones seen in Dumbo.
      Barney: Thanks, Pinky! You've always been there for me!
      Pinky: (Winks)
    • In another episode, Barney is beating on the ground, yelling "Take that, snakes!" Lenny compliments him on rehearsing for Whacking Day (where the townsfolk whack snakes). Barney's reply: "What's Whacking Day?"
    • Invoked in a Halloween Episode where aliens come to Earth and Homer sees them land; they make sure Homer isn't believed by spraying him with rum to make people think he hallucinated the whole thing.
    • In "The Springfield Files" Homer sees what he thinks is an alien while going home from Moe's bar. The creature he saw was real but nobody believed him.
    • Invoked again with the Duff Days beer festival in "Pygmoelian", where pink helium balloons shaped like elephants are available for sale. Homer buys a balloon for Maggie, but it gets loose and floats into a meeting of Log Cabin Republicans who are trying to choose a logo.
  • Closed Mondays involves a drunkard who goes stumbling into an art exhibition and sees the exhibits come to life in weird and disturbing ways.
  • The Old Lady and the Pigeons While drunk, the gendarme hallucinates that the old woman has turned into a turkey.

    Real Life 
  • In the hospital, Theodore Dalrymple saw the effects of hallucinations and
    Withdrawing alcoholics may suddenly collapse and die; they may have epileptic fits; and their terrifying hallucinations may prompt them to behave in bizarre and dangerous ways, for example by throwing themselves from high windows to escape the pursuing monsters...Indeed, I have known such patients dive through windows of the upper stories of my hospital in order, as they supposed, to escape the monsters, or enemies, who pursued or were attacking them. (Interestingly, it has proved difficult to persuade the hospital administration that such patients should be nursed on the ground floor as a precautionary measure, suggesting a subliminal death wish, though not on the part of the patients.)
  • This Candid Camera Prank invoked this trope with an elephant painted pink and a pretend cop who refused to turn around until the elephant happens to be out of sight. The cop even used a breathalyzer on a few of the people who saw the elephant!

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/PinkElephants