Do you see the text on this page? All the silly, innocent tropes listed one after another, wasting your time and occasionally making reference to Firefly and xkcd. It's just a bunch of bored guys on the internet flaunting their cultural prowess, right? It's all in the name of entertainment, right? WRONG! In each word spelled out on the page, there is a message for you, and only you! And that's not all. The message is printed everywhere: the last novel you read, the dying tree in your front yard, the storm clouds over the Netherlands... they all know your secret! They have something to tell you... but what is it? WHAT IS IT?! They say this a trope under The Index Is Watching You - and possibly the symbolism of Everyone Is Jesus in Purgatory taken way too far. They say it's when a character believes that innocent or totally irrelevant phenomena conveys a special personal message which no-one else which understand, but I know better! It's really an Ancient Conspiracy! Of course!
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Anime and Manga
- Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei: One of Nozomu Itoshiki's many, many rants revolves around how painful it is to be notified about virtually anything in the Information Age, so he tries going out into the woods where no news can reach him. Unfortunately for him, this trope kicks in, and he struggles to block out information relayed to him from the strange movements of animals, the odd motion of sunspots, and of course, Crop Circles.
- Pretty much the plot of The Number 23.
- One of the symptoms the main character suffered in A Beautiful Mind was seeing government conspiracies everywhere. He posted them on the wall in his Shed Full of Crazy.
- In the Australian film Angel Baby, schizophrenic Kate believes that messages are being sent to her via Wheel of Fortune.
- The Trope Namer comes from Vladimir Nabokov's short story "Signs and Symbols". It follows an elderly couple whose son suffers from Referential Mania, in which "the patient imagines that everything happening around him is a veiled reference to his personality and existence." Of course, the story has so much random and bizarre imagery that in the end, it makes one question the difference between symbolism and all-out paranoia.
- In Going Bovine Cameron is suppose to look at various kinds of advertisements and find clues for where to go next in a manner similar to this.
Live Action TV
- In the Doctor Who episode "Blink", this is done with DVD Easter eggs. Note that on this occasion, it really is a message, and it's not particularly subtle; it quite clearly consists of the Doctor having a conversation with someone, but only his side of it can be heard. Many in-universe film nerds found it and tried to decipher it, but couldn't without the relevant context.
- Prophet, a supervillain from the Global Guardians PBEM Universe believes he sees personalized signs and omens that are directly referential to himself and his plans in everything. The shape of clouds, traffic patterns, the sound his rice crispies make when the milk hits them... everything. Most of the heroes think he's crazy... most of them.
- There is a real condition, called "ideas of reference" or "delusions of reference", which is all about finding personal messages conveyed in unlikely places. It's part of the diagnostic criteria of several mental illness including schizophrenia, delusional disorder, and bipolar disorder.