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Well, I'll be darned...

"Roadrunners are real?"
Homer Simpson, The Simpsons, "Last of the Red Hat Mamas"
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An element that exists or existed in Real Life but is assumed to be fictional by audiences, often because it seems too unlikely, bizarre, or kitschy to be real. Truth really is stranger than fiction...

The Trope Namer is A Charlie Brown Christmas, from 1965. In the special, Lucy said "Get the biggest aluminum tree you can find, Charlie Brown! Maybe painted pink!". Aluminum Christmas trees? In pink?! Modern-day viewers are frequently surprised to find out that line wasn't merely a bit of comic exaggeration about Christmas commercialization. The '60s had their share of oddball kitsch, and the aluminum Christmas tree is a God's-honest-truth real example — it was produced in many colors, including pink — though it was an artificial tree with metallic needles, not a modernistic hollow metal cone as depicted in the cartoon, and usually called a "tinsel tree".note 

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So why do viewers of later generations assume aluminum Christmas trees must be fictional? Well, as it happened, A Charlie Brown Christmas caused the best-known inversion of The Red Stapler effect — it so thoroughly destroyed the appeal of this holiday decoration that sales plummeted like a rock, and the aluminum Christmas tree was taken off the market before the Sixties were over.note 

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In other words, this trope is in play when a quaint element of Real Life appears in a work of fiction and is mistaken for part of the fiction. The cause is always simple unfamiliarity with the object, so it is more likely to trip up an audience of people viewing that work from a different perspective, most commonly years after the work was released, or in another country. It doesn't hurt that other "aluminum Christmas trees" are, like the original, well outside the pale of usual experience and improbable by definition; even so, it's immensely funny (to people in the know) when an audience dismisses a Real Life element as patently absurd and "unrealistic".

This can also occur in a period work when the writers did do the research, but the truth they uncovered is so bizarre or surprising that audiences think they must have just made it up. In this case, they may add a "Not Making This Up" Disclaimer. Of course, something existing doesn't necessarily imply that it was common enough to just show up in the chronological and spatial span of the work or at the frequency it does in the work, which is why period pieces in which all the costumes are reconstructions or composites of documented outfits still manage to be fashionable for the period the works are written/produced in.

Compare Technology Marches On, "Seinfeld" Is Unfunny, Widget Series, Defictionalization, and Poe's Law. A subtrope of Reality Is Unrealistic, Values Dissonance, and Truth in Television. Can also be used as a means of Shown Their Work. Frequently found in Unintentional Period Pieces. If even the creators were unaware that the "tree" was real, it's Accidentally Correct Writing.

When this occurs in-universe, it's either Eskimos Aren't Real, or the work will give a "Not Making This Up" Disclaimer.

Nothing to do with the Christmas tree the Skylab astronauts made from left-over aluminum cans.

It could simply be a case of Small Reference Pools.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • Berserk: Kentaro Miura uses Rule of Cool to sprinkle his fantasy world with weapons, armors, costumes, architecture, and technology from various real life cultures and eras, to the point where it's hard for the layperson to distinguish between what he made up and what he borrowed from history.
    • Miura loves to draw elaborate and fantastical armors with animal-shaped parts and other decoration, many of which did not exist but are inspired by almost equally wild parade and costume armors that survive in museums; he even directly copies some museum pieces, such as the armor worn by lord Gennon in the Battle of Doldrey which is shaped to simulate puffed-and-slashed clothing of the early 16th century.
    • For the Kushans, a Fantasy Counterpart Culture of India with some "Arabian Nights" Days thrown in, he depicts real weapons and armor that most Western readers have never even heard of: examples include Silat's urumi swords, with multiple flexible whip-like blades, and the maduvu used by the monstrous Daka soldiers, which consist of two blackbuck antelope horns pointing in opposite directions and connected by two crossbars which serve as grips.
  • Darker Than Black:
    • The British Secret Intelligence Service is popularly called MI-6, thanks to the James Bond series. So, the name "Secret Intelligence Service" seemed too "spy-like" to be real and looks like a fictional agency created by the show. MI-5 and MI-6 were real organizations with responsibility for domestic (MI-5) and overseas (MI-6) human-intelligence assets. details 
    • Also with the British spies of Darker Than Black- it's easy to think that the designs of November 11's cigarettes, black with white skulls on them, are just a joke. Nope, they are an actual British product, which fits perfectly with November 11's sense of humor.
  • Although it didn't reach Urban Legend level in reality, the whole "Rail Tracer" idea in Baccano! has some equivalent in reality. The original Murder, Inc. rode trains and committed hits in various cities so that their crimes were essentially untraceable, as police from the cities where the crimes were committed would naturally suspect local criminals, who likely would have alibis for the time the murders were committed. Completely intentional. The train-hopping assassin is kind of important to the plot. Welcome home, Claire!
  • Naruto:
    • There was some controversy over a claim that octopi eat sharks said by Killer B while fighting Kisame. In real life though, it's been known to happen.
    • While the ones present in Naruto are stylized, some types of Japanese armor really did use forehead protectors, sometimes taking the form of a headband.
    • In Naruto Gaiden Karin is shown to have put Sarada's umbilical cord into a box. Many non-Japanese fans were confused by this, but it's an actual Japanese tradition akin to cutting a piece of a baby's hair and putting it away.
  • In Negima!, season one, episode eight, the twins mention a "walking club", which is about professional walking. There actually is a sport called "racewalking".
  • Rurouni Kenshin:
    • The title character fits this trope in two respects. One, he's loosely based on an actual person, and likewise, so were a number of the other characters (see below). Kenshin's original was named Kawakami Gensai. Potentially, Kenshin's bishonen to the point of Dude Looks Like a Lady appearance could be an example of this. Word of God states that Gensai had feminine features and carried out assassinations in broad daylight because people thought he was a woman and allowed him to get close enough, and at one point was said to have hid out in a brothel following an assassination. It also might have something to do with Uesugi Kenshin note , who is presented as a bishonen in some historical fiction works. On top of that, there have been some speculations that Uesugi Kenshin was secretly a woman.
    • Shinomori Aoshi was based off historical character Hijikata Toshizo, and his boss Kanryuu based on Takeda Kanryuusai. Also, there really was a Saito Hajime. And Saito Hajime was married, which the author predicted would be so unbelievable that there was a tag that said "This is historical fact" when Saito mentions he's married. He also spent much of his later life as a school teacher and died of an ulcer.
  • One episode of Lupin III shows Lupin in a race driving a six-wheeled car. At the time of production, the Tyrrell P34 was competing in F1, using the four small wheels up front to maintain traction while having better aerodynamics than a pair of taller wheels.
  • The Future GPX Cyber Formula series does a similar thing in some race cars, particularly the later incarnations of Asurada, which are basically futuristic versions of the Tyrrell P34 model used 15 years earlier.
  • In No. 6, Nezumi is crossdressing in a performance of a Shakespearean play and is well known for it. Those who aren't familiar with Shakespeare will think that this is Fanservice aimed at Yaoi Fangirls, but using men to play female roles was an actual thing they did in Shakespeare's time.
  • In Arpeggio of Blue Steel, the JDS Hakugei is a submarine with a rocket propulsion system. This is currently being researched by DARPA.
  • Many Axis Powers Hetalia fans have wondered why in flashbacks the male countries seem to be crossdressing as toddlers. They're not, that's boy's clothes. Until the early 20th century it was common in many countries for young boys to wear dress-like garments until they were at maximum 8 years old. When that happened they would begin "breeching".
  • One episode of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex centered around a computer program a person used that automatically traded stock, which continued even after the programmer died. In fact, those kinds of programs already existed and were in use when the episode was made, and have since become commonplace to the point that automated stock transactions are actually the majority.
  • Bleach: A flashback set 109 years in the past has Shinji telling Aizen that he's playing jazz music which is just becoming popular in the World of the Living. The fandom reacted with surprise that Tite Kubo, an infamous music geek, would be wrong about jazz existing back then. However, in a small joke sketch in that volume, the author informs the character that 'jazz' doesn't actually exist yet, leaving Shinji confused over what he's listening to. The implication is that Shinji is listening to ragtime, which these days is often viewed as an early form of jazz.
  • In JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders, Iggy's favorite coffee flavored chewing gum seems like something that was made up to western audiences, but it's a common product in some Asian countries. Wrigley's actually sold a coffee flavored gum for a limited time, and some specialty companies still make them.
  • In Continuity Reboot Sailor Moon Crystal, the retention of Game Center Crown may seem to run counter to its Setting Update to non-Japanese viewers, given the westernnote  death of the Video Arcade, and the 2003 tokusatsu's change to a Karaoke Bar, but though contracting, arcade gaming remains the largest sector of Japan's gaming market.
  • The English name of the Pokémon anime's protagonist, Ash Ketchum, would be easy to see as merely a punny play on the franchise's Gotta Catch 'Em All slogan. In truth, Ketchum is an actual English surname dating back centuries.
  • In the Universe Survival Arc of Dragon Ball Super, Goku gains a new power called Ultra Instinct. Ultra Instinct is a fictional (and supernatrual) version of something that can be achieved in real life, it's based off the concepts of Mushin and Flow.
  • In the 95th episode of PriPara, Mirei shows some moms at a playground a "Mama Ticket" she made. Most viewers outside of Japan assume that it's just a mother-themed PriTicket, but it's actually a spoof of mama cards.

    Comedy 
  • Some fans of Barry Humphries character Dame Edna Everage have been surprised to learn that her home town, the 50's middle-suburban dream Moonee Ponds, is a real suburb of Melbourne in Australia.

    Comic Books 
  • There's a 1940s JSA comic that consists of anti-German war propaganda, which claims (among other things) that the German people are violent by nature. One example of this "natural German barbarity" was called "scar dueling," where young men from high-end academies would fence with the intention of scarring each other's faces, then wear the scars as a status symbol. More than one modern reader thought this was ridiculous propaganda, except it was an actual occurrence in German academies! The scar was called a "schmiss". Left unsaid was the fact that the student organizations where this was so common were actually suppressed by the Nazis.
    • Mensur dueling is a tradition among many of the German equivalent to American fraternities ("Studentenverbindung", types of which include "Burschenschaften", "Corps", "Landsmannschaften" etc.) Nowadays it is not mainstream any more, which they were and it was in those times, and the scars ("Schmiss", pl. "Schmisse") are no longer a status symbol accepted throughout society, deliberately sought, deliberately emphasized (by deliberately bad stitching, by adding dirt to the wounds, by excessive use of alcohol specifically aimed at impeding the healing of the fresh wounds), which they were at the time, but rather a prominent (very recognizable, definitely not universally desirable) side effect. Here's the type of safety equipment worn for a mensur duel in the late 1950's; unlike a normal fencing mask, it protects the eyes, nose, and throat but leaves the cheeks and forehead vulnerable.
    • In Star Trek: New Frontier, it is assumed (though never said outright) that Katerina Mueller's scar was from a mensur duel from her Heidelberg days. Apparently, the practice is still in existence in the 24th century (though probably on the DL).
    • There is a Genius Bonus about that in Batman: The Animated Series, where Duvall tells Jonah Hex "You cannot defeat me. I am a Heidelberg fencing champion". Jonah is not impressed...
  • As in Watchmen, there really is a smiley face crater on Mars. This smiley face is called Galle (which is another huge element of the series). Dave Gibbons admits that was incredibly lucky.
  • Jughead's trademark hat in Archie Comics was actually once a real fashion trend among teenagers during the years in which the comic debuted. They would cut up their fathers' old fedoras into jagged-edged inverted caps (it's called a "whoopie cap"). Nowadays, Jughead's hat now just makes him look eccentric, or maybe just like a hipster. Due to Jughead's Big Eater tendencies, some folks confused it for a Bland Name version of Burger King's cardboard crowns they give to kids. The same style was worn by Goober Pyle on The Andy Griffith Show.
  • Batman:
    • One of the more frequent nitpicks about the comics is the corruption of the Gotham City Police Department, from the Bronze Age onward. People thought that there's no way a major city could be that openly and utterly corrupt without someone (city government, the Feds) stepping in and cleaning house. Then you get a look at stories about New York City and Chicago, from as recently as the early 90s. Mob control of both departments (in addition to the courts and local government) was near absolute and took the FBI decades to break their hold.
    • In Batman: Year One, several high ranking police members attempt to kill Batman by ordering the abandoned building he was in at the time bombed by helicopter. The idea of law enforcement air bombing residential city space seems absurd, but was probably inspired by an incident in Philadelphia which occurred a few years before the comic was written.
    • Linkara had thought that the News in the Nude segments of The Dark Knight Strikes Again were made up and was rather incredulous of the idea. While it is a paid service, Naked News is indeed a real thing.
  • Giant Size Man-Thing was an actual, six-issue, comic book series. Marvel had many "Giant-Size" comic books in the 1970s, in this case for the character Man-Thing. Other titles included Giant-Size Invaders, Giant-Size Marvel Triple Action, and the legendary (if less innuendo-laden) Giant-Size X-Men.
  • Superman:
  • Astérix is mostly Purely Aesthetic Era and the kind of deliberately inaccurate things French children half-remember from primary school history, but the creators did do a lot of research by reading contemporary Roman reports, and occasionally this shows.
    • For instance, according to the Romans (the Celtic people, as a rule, left no written records) the historical Gauls really were said to be terrified of the sky falling on their heads, and to have shot arrows at the sky during thunderstorms to just dare it to come down. Occasionally Cacofonix will be depicted with his instruments besides his signature lyre, usually a ridiculous-looking bagpipe-like thing and an even more ridiculous horn with an animal head, all of which are the instruments the real Gauls would have used — bagpipe-like instruments were known to have been played by the Romans (notably by Nero, who was also said to have been very bad at it), and the horn is a carnyx, a kind of early trumpet with a boar's mouth-shaped bell.
    • At Varius Flavus's orgy in Asterix in Switzerland, the women are wearing ridiculous, apocalyptic hairstyles with a bonnet-shaped mass of tight curls at the front of the head. That is a hairstyle seen quite commonly on busts of rich Roman women.
    • One gag in Asterix the Gladiator involves a trio of Romans in silly costumes walking into the arena covered in advertising slogans before a gladiator fight, while Caesar wonders whether or not people are bothered by all of the commercials. This is obviously a joke about television advertising but was an actual practice — gladiator matches were preceded by advertising and sometimes the gladiators themselves would carry advertising pennants, wear slogans or use sponsored equipment.
  • Many fans had thought that Linkara made up "It's magic, I don't have to explain it," unaware that it's a jab at Joe Quesada, who said it to justify the controversial changes made to Spider-Man in One More Day. The exact quote is a case of Beam Me Up, Scotty!, and was coined by a Spidey fan writing in response to the story. Quesada, upon being asked why he essentially responded with "It's magic. We don't need to explain it," in regards to the story, said that other Marvel characters used magic and no one needed an explanation for those.
  • One of the many things that Linkara criticized from the comic Holy Terror was the ridiculous looking knife on the cover page with spikes on the underside of the guard. In a later video, he says it was pointed out to him by a fan that the ridiculous looking knife actually exists, although the spikes on the underside of the guard would be detached from it if wielded as a weapon.
  • The Solicitine sisterhood in Castle Waiting have been criticised by some readers as imposing modern feminist ideals on Middle Ages female monasticism. However, they are very similar to the real beguine movement in Middle Ages Northern Europe, which similarly involved women living together as a religious order with significantly laxer conditions than full nuns - notably, and as depicted in the comic, they were allowed to own property and run businesses, and to leave the community without question if they decided that they wanted to marry a man.
  • People smile in disbelief today if you tell them Illustrator Frank Frazetta's art, and similar heroic fantasy creations including some pretty good amateur works, used to appear on vans. There was no place that did not have them.

    Comic Strips 
  • Knights of the Dinner Table:
    • The Faygo soft drink, beloved of the characters, and the bizarre flavours mentioned (like Rock & Rye), is an actual US brand and not something Jolly Blackburn had made up. Fans of the Insane Clown Posse will recognize it as the band's drink of choice. For added surprise, Rock & Rye is both a whiskey cocktail and a commercial liqueur made with rye whiskey and rock sweets.
    • Some fans were likewise unaware that Hawk the Slayer is a real movie. Though this may become less of an example since Hawk the Slayer has been featured on Rifftrax.
  • A story arc in the 1980s Old West comic strip Latigo starts with one character, who is a bit impractical and thoughtless, rejoicing at finding a "three-dollar gold piece". It's got to be a fake, right? Nope, the U.S. Mint tried it, from 1854 to 1889. Nobody liked it. In the 35 years it was produced, less than half-a million were struck, at all three U.S. Mint facilities, combined.
  • There was a Garfield strip where he put on another performance on top of the fence and had money thrown at him by the resident of some distant Pacific island in the form of a millstone. The Yap islands in the Pacific really do use enormous round stone discs with a hole in the middle as a form of currency. See The Other Wiki for details. Anyone who grew up in the '60s or '70s would remember the Yap stone coin's frequent appearances in Ripley's Believe It or Not! on the funny pages, but everyone else...
  • In Elvis, Elvis' daughter listens to "Smurf Hits," pop songs with the lyrics rewritten to be about The Smurfs. Most people in Sweden, where Elvis is published, know that Smurf Hits is a real thing. But the fact that the song that Elvis' daughter is listening to, which goes "Kokobom smurf smurf, kokobom smurf smurf," is real will surprise a lot of readers since it sounds more like a parody.
  • In one Foxtrot strip, Jason and Marcus, being confused what "fantasy football" means, play a tabletop game about fantasy creatures like dwarves and balrogs playing football. Something similar actually exists.

    Fan Works 

    Films — Animation 
  • The Statue of Liberty is a golden yellow in the first An American Tail movie. The animators showed their work, because the statue's skin is mostly copper, it really was that color when it was new. The greyish bluey green is copper oxide that formed in subsequent decades.
  • The Direct-to-Video film Annabelle's Wish also has an aluminum Christmas tree in Aunt Agnes' apartment when she's talking on the phone.
  • In Anomalisa, Michael arrives at a hotel in Cincinnati and is given the option of a smoking or non-smoking room, picking the former. The film takes place in 2005; Ohio did not ban smoking in hotels until the following year.
  • In Beavis and Butt-Head Do America, Mr. Van Dreissen picks up an acoustic guitar and plays a song called "Lesbian Seagull", which later reprises over the end credits sung by Englebert Humperdinck in the style of an Award-Bait Song. The song is silly enough that you'd think it was made up for the film, but the original version was released in 1979 by gay singer-songwriter Tom Wilson: The album it appeared on, Gay Name Game, featured both serious and humorous songs, so it's unclear whether the narm of this particular song was intentional after all.
  • In Despicable Me 2, Lucy uses a lipstick taser on Gru, a moment showcased in the trailer. Stun guns disguised as lipstick actually exist.
  • Many people who viewed Frozen were surprised to find that ice harvesting was an actual thing in the 19th century that was especially common in Norway and many other parts of Europe and North America. Blocks of ice were put into icehouses to store food before modern refrigerators existed.
  • In Inside Out, Riley stops at a roadside attraction with dinosaur statues on her way to San Francisco. What most viewers don't know is that there is an actual park like the one Riley visited in Arizona. They may know of the older, more famous Cabazon Dinosaurs in California, though.
    • The storyline of the Disney Infinity 3.0 playset based on the film starts when Riley accidentally changes the channel from a channel that showed nothing but videos of cats. The channel in question was based on the now defunct Puppy Channel.
  • In My Little Pony: Equestria Girls – Rainbow Rocks, the instruments Trixie's bandmates are playing look bizarre to some fans who haven't seen any live performances of electronic music. They're a fairly accurate representation of typical portable sequencers
  • As crazy as it seems (to American viewers at least), the pest control shop with all the dead rats hanging in the window in Ratatouille is an actual store in Paris. It's called Aurouze, and it's been around since 1872.
  • Winnie-the-Pooh: Pooh likes eating honey from jars, however the honey he eats is very thick and creamy looking. This doesn't resemble the gooey honey found in many stores, leaving many viewers stumped. The honey that Winnie the Pooh eats is crystallized, in contrast to "runny honey". Even gooey honey will crystallize if left alone for long enough though. Most honeys look like Pooh's honey, however mass-produced honey usually comes in "runny" form.
  • The Aracuan bird from The Three Caballeros is actually a real species, called the Aracua or Speckled Chachalaca. However, the real animal looks nothing like Disney's version.
  • Toy Story:
    • In Toy Story 2, Al lives in an apartment block that doesn't allow children, which is Truth in Television; 18+ only apartments do exist for various reasons, and became more common in the 2010s.
    • In the opening scene of Toy Story 3, Woody has to save a train full of orphans. Orphan trains actually existed in the late 1800s.

    Music 
  • Many American listeners thought that the "Electric Avenue" of Eddy Grant's early '80s hit song was a made-up name for a party place. In fact, it's a real street in the neighbourhood of Brixton in South London, which gets its name from being the first market street in the area to have electric lighting and hosts a regular immigrant street market (and once you realize that, the fact that it's a protest song about the 1981 Brixton riot rather than a party anthem becomes clearer).
  • "Punk Rock Girl" by The Dead Milkmen features the lines "Someone played a Beach Boys song on the jukebox / it was 'California Dreamin''..." Some have expressed irritation at such an error, since "California Dreamin'" is of course by The Mamas & The Papas. Others have called it a deliberate mis-attribution: the main characters are portrayed as Quincy punks, so it would sort of be in-character for them to not know the difference. However, the song is actually referencing a Cover Version of "California Dreamin'" The Beach Boys had released as a single two years earlier (in 1986).
  • Perhaps because of its use in Super Size Me, "Rock N' Roll McDonald's" is one of the better-known Wesley Willis songs. Listeners tend to think it's just about McDonald's in general, and are therefore puzzled by lyrics like "McDonalds is the place to rock" and "people flock here to get down to the rock music" and assume they are simply part of Willis' unconventional songwriting style. Rock N' Roll McDonalds is an actual place—a large flagship McDonalds restaurant full of rock and roll memorabilia in Willis' home city of Chicago.
  • Mel Blanc recorded a wild takeoff on Al Jolson singing, "Toot Toot Tootsie" (which Jolson sang in The Jazz Singer). Mel whistles a part of it. Just Mel being silly? Nope! Jolson actually whistled the chorus in his version of "Toot Toot Tootsie".
  • Listeners can be surprised that "the Rolling truck Stones thing" or "the mobile" in "Smoke On The Water" note  refers to the Rolling Stones Mobile Studio, a truck with a built-in recording studio that was owned by The Rolling Stones, who loaned it out to bands such as Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin to record music.
  • "Weird Al" Yankovic:
    • The song "The Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota" recaps a family road trip to see the world's biggest ball of twine. He also rattles off a list of other tourist traps they've visited in the past:
      Like Elvis-A-Rama, the Tupperware Museum,
      The Boll Weevil Monument and Cranberry World,
      Shuffleboard Hall of Fame, Poodle Dog Rock,
      And the Mecca of Albino Squirrels
    Even if you're aware that the world's biggest ball of twine is indeed a roadside attraction — if only from the number of other times it's been mentioned or parodied in popular media — and correctly assumed that it is indeed located in Minnesota (its creator's hometown of Darwin, to be exact), you'd probably think that list was made up like the rest of the song's details. Nope, they're literally all real places, even the last one, which could actually be referring to a number of different towns vying for recognition of their albino squirrel populations.
    • "Virus Alert" claims that the eponymous virus will "invest your cash in stock in Euro-Disney". Euro-Disneyland (now known as Disneyland Paris) was an infamous flop, but how could someone specifically buy stock in a particular Disney property? But no, he's referring to Euro Disney S.C.A., an independent company that built and operated the park in partnership with Disney and which, prior to 2005 (admittedly before the song was released, but probably not before it was written), did indeed have its own stock listing on the London Stock Exchange.
  • In the post-Thatcher era, many younger listeners assume that the line "It's one for you, nineteen for me" from The Beatles' "Taxman" was an exaggeration. It wasn't; the top marginal tax rate really was 95%. (Note that this means only income above a certain [very high] threshold was taxed at 95%.)
  • The Marty Robbins ballad "El Paso" begins in Rosa's Cantina. This cantina does exist in the same city and fans of Robbins and The Grateful Dead (who covered the song) make every effort they can visit the place.
  • Indie rock musician Kurt Vile is often assumed to be using a stage name, with some believing it's a pun on either Kurt Weill or Alan Moore (who once used the pseudonym Curt Vile). In fact, Kurt Vile is his real name, the similarities are a coincidence and his parents were apparently unfamiliar with Weill when he was born.
  • In Frank Zappa's song "The Blue Light", from Tinseltown Rebellion, there's a line about smoking the white stuff from the inside of a banana peel. As ridiculous as this sounds, people really used to think you could get high this way.
  • Kendrick Lamar's "HUMBLE" mentions "syrup sandwiches". It's an actual recipe where you put syrup between pieces of bread, similarly to jam.

    Myths & Religion 
  • The Trojan War was long believed to have been pure myth until Heinrich Schliemann succeeded in finding the ruins of Troy in Hissarlik, Turkey. They still turned out to have grown in the telling somewhat, however. For one, there wasn't a single city of Troy, but many, each built over the ruins of the last. Which one of these, if any, inspired the story is hard to say. It wasn't just Troy either; Greek cities mentioned in the story but not inhabited in Homer's time have been found, and some of the stranger pieces of equipment like boar-tusk helmets have been found dating to the bronze age.
  • Archaeological discoveries apparently related to myths and legends tend to be all over the place with regards to this trope. Each new find has different groups declaring that a tale is confirmed, disproven, or needs to be rewritten and all can usually offer up at least a token bit of evidence for their viewpoint. Even the discoverers themselves are often at odds with each other over how to interpret what they've dug up. At least part of this problem derives from a sort of ancient Memetic Mutation. Good stories spread, and locals alter those stories to relate to local heroes, events, and locations. It's often a mistake to attempt to point to an archaeological site as the source of a story, because it's just as likely that there are literally dozens of such sites scattered around. For example, the famous Twelve Labors of Hercules were likely originally the famous acts of ten or twelve different local heroes, whose stories all got clumped up and attributed to the most famous one.

    Pinballs 
  • The playfield freeway signs in Truck Stop refer to various towns with funny names, such as "Santa Claus, IN", "Smackover, AR", and "Metropolis, IL". These are all Real Life Cutesy Name Towns.

    Podcasts 
  • A more disturbing example pops up during the Cool Kids Table game Bloody Mooney. When Ms. Pear the detention teacher threatens to hit the students with a paddle, Jessica shoots back that she can't because it's 1986. The DM Alan, through the teacher, points out that striking students was actually still allowed until the nineties.

    Pro Wrestling 
  • Ric Flair and Harley Race both seem like obvious kayfabe names. They aren't.note 
    • Flair has three children who followed him in the business, all of whom use(d) the Flair surname. Older son David and now-deceased younger son Reid are full-on examples, with David using his first name and Reid his middle name. As for daughter Ashley, she started out using just Charlotte in the ring, but since 2016 has added the "Flair" name.
  • Likewise, a tag team named the Hardy Boyz seems totally made up, but Matthew Moore Hardy and Jeffrey Nero Hardy really are brothers and those really are their birth names.

    Puppet Shows 
  • Many modern American viewers can't make sense of a scene in the original Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons. Lt. Green is manning the gun turret on a moon rover. After blowing up all the enemies (for the moment), he asks, "Do I get a coconut?" The response is something like, "When we get out of this, you'll have all the coconuts you can eat." This is often misinterpreted as a racist joke. It's actually a reference to Coconut Shies, where coconuts were a common prize. They're still common enough at fairs in England. As is memorialized in the old novelty song, "I've Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts"
  • Many people would never believe you if you told them that Alice Cooper appeared on The Muppet Show in 1978. But he did — performing "Welcome to My Nightmare" dressed as a vampire and "School's Out" dressed as a devil, and trying to get the Muppets to sell their souls to him! (And yes, that episode did come in for some flak — to the point that the writers had to slip in a totally extraneous scene of Robin the Frog singing "Over the Rainbow" just to placate the censors.)

    Radio 
  • The Goon Show has Bluebottle talking about how when his grandad retired, his firm gave him "one of dem tings what it is that wakes you up at eight o'clock, boils the kettil, and pours a cuppa tea," which turns out to be Bluebottle's grandma, but you're supposed to think he was talking about a teasmade. Listeners from less tea-obsessed countries might think it's just more Surreal Humor.
    • Which, incidentally, is why in the video for Queen's "I Want to Break Free", Brian is woken by by an alarm clock that's blowing steam.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons
    • In the campaign "Living Greyhawk", there was a Veluna event where the heroes visited an anarcho-syndicalist commune near the border of the country. Many players claimed that this was a blatant reference to Monty Python and the Holy Grail that had no purpose in the setting. The author had to explain both on the Internet and repeatedly in person that much of Monty Python's humour was based on British politics, and that there once was such a political system. Early Anglo-Saxon communities were rather democratic, often appointing a honcho solely to command in wartime and booting him shortly thereafter. In pre-industrial societies, it would be quite common to find communes making collective decisions and informal positions of authority. Many people wouldn't even know the king's name; the young Chairman Mao didn't hear of the Emperor's death until two years after. Even as late as the early eighties, some Chinese peasants were still referring to Deng Xiaoping as "the best Emperor we've ever had." Aside from the precise term used as a title, he literally was.

      Although what is incorrect here is the use of Anarcho-Syndicalism as the name for the system used there. Communal decision making was often the norm in Europe but Anarcho-Syndicalism is a separate ideology based around revolutionary industrial unionism that would be really anachronistic in a pre-industrial world.
    • Also, a lot of players may be surprised to learn that a fair amount of the more ridiculous monsters of Dungeons & Dragons are actually derived from real mythology.
      • Most notably the Peryton (a stag-headed eagle that needs humanoid hearts to reproduce) and Al'Miraj (a giant unicorn-horned bunny).
      • One of the most iconic dragons, Tiamat, is a real part of the Babylonian mythology. That said, the mythical Tiamat as described in the Enûma Eliš looked nothing like the five-headed dragon from the show/game, and would likely be less than pleased with the combining of recent edition rules' Power Creep, Power Seep with Badass Decay resulting in Munchkins measuring their character's killing power in "Tiamats Per Second".
      • Similarly, many players might be surprised to learn that Bahamut is a real part of Arabian mythology, though just like Tiamat most of what you see in pop culture is a modern invention. Bahamut was never the mortal enemy of Tiamat (they're not even from the same pantheon!) and bore more resemblance to a fish than a dragon.
    • If you're not a devout Catholic, you probably don't know that St. Cuthbert, the World Of Greyhawk god of mercy, is an actual saint (in fact, he's the patron saint of Northumbria). Along with Tiamat, he's one of the few real-life religious figures who remain in the default pantheon.
  • One may be forgiven for thinking that, due to frequently going for The Theme Park Version of feudal samurai culture, the majority of samurai family names in Legend of the Five Rings are faux-Japanese hackjobs. Well, several are, but the game gives us a good number of legit surnames as well: Shiba, Matsu, Yoritomo, Asahina, Isawa, Togashi, Ujina, etc. A few others aren't proper PEOPLE'S names, exactly, but do reference things that were actually in Japan. Hida was the name of one of the old feudal provinces on Honshu Island, and Ikoma is the name of a mountain. Most of the place names are technically Japanese, as well. At least, they use real Japanese words that make sense and were probably intentional... Just not in the right order. A notable example (which is both common and understandable, among novice speakers) is the usage of "no" as equal to the English word "of" rather than the possessive "'s".
  • Some of the names the designers of Magic: The Gathering come up with for the cards are actual archaic terms or derived from archaic terms. In fact, Doug Beyer hosted several linguistic looks at sets and divided certain names into "okra" words (real but strange), "twinkie" words (completely made up), or "tofu" words (made from real words, but are really alien), inviting readers to guess which category a certain word on a card fell into.

    Theater 
  • In Hamlet, the title character tells Horatio he endorses Fortinbras as king in the ensuing election. The Danish nobility of that era did, in fact, elect the king. By Shakespeare's time it had become common for son to follow father on the throne, but that was by no means automatic, and the Kings had to invest significant political capital in making it happen. It took a coup d'etat perpetrated by the reigning King (yes, that's a thing) in 1660 to make the throne automatically inheritable.
  • John Adams wrote in one of his letters that if the Founding Fathers did not ban slavery, "there will be trouble a hundred years hence." He was off by fifteen years. The writers of the musical 1776 had to modify the line because they were afraid the audience would think they had made it up.
  • Performances of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) often result in the audience asking "did William Shakespeare really write that?" afterward; he did. Sort of. Many of the Shakespeare quotes are verbatim. note 
  • In Mozart's opera Don Giovanni there is a scene where there is a party where everybody is supposed to watch Don Giovanni eat. A satire on the decadence of eighteenth century aristocracy? An example of an absurdist flight of fancy? Not at all: watching the nobs eat was a popular form of entertainment in pre-revolutionary France. The Palace of Versailles even sold tickets to the King's meals. (Anyone could go, whether local or tourist.) It could be described as the eighteenth century version of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous; unfortunately, the logistics of providing viewing space meant that the food served, while superficially magnificent from the audience's point of view, was often cold, congealed, and barely edible by the time it reached the head table. And testing each dish and drink for poison meant that a glass of wine takes about 20 minutes to pour.
  • Given the changes made to the story of the von Trapp family in The Sound of Music, viewers might be forgiven if they assume that Georg's membership in the navy of landlocked Austria was invented as well, but they'd be wrong. Before 1918, Austria controlled a large empire including all of what is now Croatia and far-northeastern Italy (specifically, the city of Trieste). In that territory were numerous sea ports that were protected by a small but well-respected navy. The real Kapitan Georg von Trapp was one of Austro-Hungary's most decorated naval officers during World War I: he commanded two different submarines and was responsible for the sinking an Italian armored cruiser and a French submarine.
  • In the original productions of the musical Spring Awakening, the punk rock-esque hairstyles some of the boys sported are assumed by many to be a result of the show's Anachronism Stew, but in fact, the director claims that they were inspired by some actual hairstyles in photos from the era.
    • Also, those unfamiliar with the 19th century play the musical is based on (if they even know there is one) can be surprised to find that many scenes from the musical that seem to touch on modern controversial topics, such as one featuring a kiss between two boys or the female protagonist's back-alley abortion, were, in fact, in the original.
  • In Knickerbocker Holiday, Stuyvesant, obviously grasping for a Pretext for War, asserts that "the Connecticans have built a fort on the Connecticut River, within our territories." Though the musical is riddled with historical inaccuracies, particularly Stuyvesant's Historical Villain Upgrade (which is even lampshaded), it is true that New Netherland did claim the Connecticut River as within its territory at the time. New Netherland/New York gradually surrendered its claims to territory bordering on the Connecticut River through separate treaties with Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont.
  • A latter-day viewer/reader of the stage or film versions of State of the Union may wonder why Conover is so monomaniacal about gaining the support of party power-brokers for presidential candidate Grant Matthews, and is contemptuous of Grant's support with voters. The answer is that in those days, as had been the case throughout history and would still be true for a couple more decades, the party nominating process was controlled by power brokers. Party primaries did exist but were largely irrelevant, and in Real Life candidates really were nominated by people controlling blocks of delegates at conventions.

    Visual Novels 

    Web Animation 
  • In the Death Battle between Deadpool and Deathstroke, Boomstick makes up the alloy "boomstickium" in response to Deathstroke's promethium armor, only to get told by Wiz that promethium is a real thing, although it's still nothing like it's portrayed in the comics — it's actually a chemical used in atomic batteries.
  • Homestar Runner:
    • In the short "Meet Marshie," the title talking marshmallow mascot advertises "all-marshmallow mayonnaise." To those not in the know, it just sounds like a silly (and rather disgusting) idea, but marshmallow creme is an actual product and is used for making actual sandwiches — for example, a peanut butter and marshmallow creme sandwich is called a Fluffernutter. Of course, that didn't stop Homestar from using the mayonnaise to make Marzipan a veggie burger.
    • In one Strong Bad Email', Strong Bad misinterprets the "CA" after a correspondent's name as a title of "Certified Arborist". That sounds like the sort of word salad that he and his costars drop on a regular basis — and many browsers' spell checkers don't even acknowledge "arborist" as a real word — but there is indeed such a profession.
    • Similarly, in the game "Peasant's Quest," looking at a particular tree brings up the message "It's Arbor Day, Charlie Brown!" which is indeed the name of an actual Peanuts special and not a parody of how Peanuts had a special for seemingly every holiday.
  • In Ratboy Genius, Little King John gets an unsettling Villain Song where he sings about how he makes "Potato Knishes" in his factory. It's not uncommon to think "Knishes" is just a random. surreal-sounding word for the sake of the magic and the mystery. But no — a knish is an Eastern-European snack made of a vegetable filling (like potatoes) inside a baked, grilled, or fried dough covering.
  • Episode 8 of Inanimate Insanity II has Test Tube use a bag of rice to attempt to repair a damaged MePhone. As ridiculous as it sounds, the "bag of rice" method actually works in real life to repair water-damaged iPhones. Test Tube just didn't execute it properly, as Fan must not have provided all of the details.
    • Later in the same episode, Steve Cobs makes an off-hand remark about the time where he was a video game designer. It's a rather unknown fact, but Apple did at one point design a console—the Pippin—which predates Microsoft's Xbox by a good few number of years. Unlike the Xbox, though, the Pippin was a massive failure and was quickly discontinued.
  • Awesome Series:
    • In Metal Gear Awesome 2, the player is skipping through an annoying Cut Scene when Snake first meets Otacon (at Snake's suggestion). Halfway through, he stops skipping just when Otacon is complaining about Snake coming onto him, causing Snake to get annoyed the player had to stop skipping at that part. It scans pretty much like a standard Shallow Parody Queer People Are Funny gag, but in fact the scene is a direct spoof of an out-of-place Ho Yay moment that actually is in that cutscene, in which Snake starts feeling up Otacon asking if anything's wrong, and Otacon complains that Snake's "getting friendly all of a sudden", causing Snake to get embarrassed and flinch backwards (in reality, Snake is checking Otacon for symptoms of FOX-DIE). The scene also takes place immediately after a cutscene 'chapter break', so a player skipping through could easily stop skipping exactly at that scene.
    • The Awesome Series parody of Trauma Center has a gag where the doctor protagonist defuses an atom bomb. A number of viewers thought this was just one of the series's usual surreal jokes and were rather caught off guard to find that, no, there really is a scene in this surgery simulation game where you defuse a bomb.
  • Sonic for Hire: Seniqua is an actual given name. It's not quite as common of a name, especially outside the US, so many viewers thought this was made up.
  • If the Emperor Had a Text-to-Speech Device: During the Fourth special, Kitten stops Magnus' dramatic speech about the power and millenial legacy of the Ouija Board by asking "Why does it say 'Hasbro Incorporated'?" Hasbro really did make Ouija boards before, and own the trademark as well.

    Web Comics 
  • A lot of readers of Harkovast believed the strange, forward curving Junlock swords were a concept invented by the author (referred to by some readers as "crowbar swords"), rather than based on the falx used by Ancient Dacians.
  • Homestuck:
    • A number of readers on the MS Paint Adventures forum didn't realize that John's Trademark Favorite Food, Fruit Gushers, are an actual product. Ditto for WV's and Gamzee's Trademark Favorite Drinks, Tab and Faygo, respectively. More understandable if you're viewing the comic from somewhere outside of North America. American Homestucks well aware of the existence of Fruit Gushers likely didn't realize that said fruitsnacks were a product of Betty Crocker until reading the comic either. Even then, they probably thought that was made up as one of the smaller examples of how much of the world the Betty Crocker corporation has control over.
    • The troll culture might seem like an over-the-top spoof of militaristic civilisations and Proud Warrior Races. In fact, many elements of troll society — including all citizens above a certain age being automatically drafted into the military, a strict class-based society with the lower classes being freely abused by the higher classes, and babies being left in a hostile environment at birth to fend for themselves — were practiced by the original Proud Warrior Race Guys, the Spartans.
    • Another thing that surprises a lot of people is the fact that "I'm a Member of the Midnight Crew" was not made up for Homestuck: it was written by ragtime singer Eddie Norton in 1909. The a capella cover of the song usually featured in the comic is a modern performance, however, sung by David Ko in 2011.
  • How many people realized the "Sogs" featured in this Captain Crunch parody were actual characters in old Captain Crunch commercials?
  • Digger by Ursula Vernon frequently invokes this trope; most notably with the Hyenas' creation myth, and the vampire squash. A direct result of the author having been an anthropology major in university, and being fond of showing her work (she often comments on her website about the sources of the various odd myths, folklore, and biological quirks used in her comic).
  • The comments section in morphE were skeptical on the idea of Billy Thatcher being able to play a game of chess with Curio from dictation alone (no board and nothing to note where the pieces were). A comment read "how anyone could hold a game of chess entirely in his brain. Once there is a disagreement over the positions, it's basically over.". It turns out that not only is a dictated game of chess possible but grandmasters, such as Billy, are capable of running multiple games at once in their head. The present world record is 32 games running at the same time.
  • IDGet annual has strips dedicated to celebrating Cheap Plastic Frog Day, which actually is a legitimate holiday, it's just a regional holiday in Ohio.
  • Many Dumbing of Age readers who did not grow up in Christian North American households were surprised to learn that Hymmel the Humming Hymnal, Joyce's favorite TV show as a child, was a parody of a real Christian children's entertainment character: Psalty the Singing Songbook.
  • Concession had a Story Arc where the character Artie is taken to a NAMBLA meeting after being Mistaken for Pedophile. The author had to assure people that it was a real organization and not something he made up for the comic.

    Web Original 
  • Trinton Chronicles features seemingly impossible future technologies, several of which are actually being tested in Europe and Asia right now, including:
    • Meg-Lev Trains: Trains that ride on magnetic thrusting power like a roller coaster using LMS launch systems. Japan is a world leader of this super silent and fast system but France is building an infrastructure based on Maglevs. The first commercially operated Maglev train was a 1984 low speed system at Birmingham airport. The first commercial high speed Maglev line is the Shanghai Transrapid, which was developed by the German company Transrapid International and completed in 2003.
    • Recycle Tanks: Pay-As-You-Recycle devices that give change for weight of aluminum, plastic, and paper.
    • Paper-Thin Phones: Actually real world tech is going into making cellphones disposable and paper-thin using nano fibers and microchips the size of ants.
    • Hydrogen Power Cars: A new fuel source using hydrogen gas to power cars. Testing in Germany mostly, although there was a bit of a push in California in the mid 00s. The main problem is people's fear of what will happen in an accident (The Hindenburg was filled with hydrogen, and look how that turned out.)
  • In a Whateley Universe story, Bladedancer and Phase complain about Generator's love of Hello Kitty gear. Bladedancer complains about a 'Hello Kitty maternity ward'. Readers found this one pretty silly. There is a real Hello Kitty maternity ward in Asia.
  • In Mega64's video of a fictional newscast reporting about the hype of Modern Warfare 2, Derrick reports that Obama plans to restrict the release dates of Modern Warfare 2 and all future Call of Duty games to Sundays only in order to prevent disruptions. This sounds like a cheeky joke that Mega 64 would make but it's based off an urban legend where Japan decided to restrict sales of Dragon Quest to weekends due to children skipping classes and violence over lack of supply. While it's true that there were children skipping class to buy the game, the legend is false; there never was a law placed to restrict sales and the games being released on weekends was just a coincidence.
  • With more commonly used synonyms going around, you've probably never heard of the term "expunge" before reading anything from the SCP Foundation. The rather frequent and narmy use of the term doesn't help it sound too much like a real word either.
  • In one of Ashens' '80s toy videos, he reviewed a toy that came with a story on cassette tape. He dragged out an actual tape deck to play it, and fast-forwarded through the tape in order to find the interesting bits. Several of his younger viewers were surprised to discover that in some players, cassette tapes actually do make a high-pitched, garbled noise when fast-forwarded, and that it wasn't just a sound effect invented by foley artists.
  • The Fictional Video Game in which Noob is set mixes elements of real MMORPGs and completely made-up stuff and the fact is generally well-known within the fandom. As a consequence, someone sometimes assumes a feature is made up, only for someone else to inform them that it actually exists in a game.
  • Constable Frozen is a tumblr blog that specializes in surreal photo edits of Frozen. When the short Frozen Fever came out and images started trending on tumblr, some users were legitimately surprised that they weren't Constable Frozen's work.
  • The Black Guy Who Tips opens every show by mentioning that "The unofficial sport [of the show]... Is Bulletball! (And Bulletball Extreme!)". While "sport" may be too strong a term, Bulletball is real. Rod and Karen were on board even before Bulletball's creator brought it to Dragon's Den.
  • Considering the weirdness of the Don't Hug Me I'm Scared, you'd be surprised to learn that "Aspic" from episode 5 is a real food. It's a clear and gelatinous ingredient made from meat stock which is eaten on its own, or used to season and preserve meat in pies, mostly those of the pork variety.
  • Abducting little kids and elderly people by offering them free candy used to be done in Real Life.
  • Judging by the comments in several YouTube videos of Tattooed Teenage Alien Fighters from Beverly Hills, a lot of people were surprised to find that the show was real and not just a joke in Dragon Ball Z Abridged. Amusingly, this also applied to Team Four Star themselves: when they were writing the joke and needed the most obscure Western Toku show possible, Kaiser Neko's husband suggested Tattooed Teens, only for the others to say "That existed?!"
  • The web series Hot Bikini Beans available to view on YouTube.
    • The very title is named after the bikini coffee stand which the show centers around. Though coffee stands with baristas serving drinks in two piece swimsuits is more-or-less a Northwest enterprise, they have grown in popularity and do actually exist. Exploitation of sex appeal and the demand for coffee, is it really that hard to believe?
    • Also in Episode 2 of the series the character Cassie refers to "Sleep Dentistry" which just sounds to ridiculous to be a thing, right? Wrong. Apparently Sleep Dentistry clinics exist for people who experience anxiety at the dentist office.
  • Kickassia focuses on the main characters taking over Molassia, a "micro-nation" that's one acre in the middle of Nevada. Many people were surprised to find out that Molassia actually exists — and that they actually got the President to play himself. The part where another character is obviously just him in a different outfit also seems like a gag for the series, but it's actually a standard part of the bit and he has several more they didn't use. All the filming took place in Molassia as well.
  • In Two Best Friends Play Spider-Man Games the two spent a while bringing up increasingly weird misadventures of Peter, many of which seem absurd to casual listeners but actually did occur. The trope reached a new level when Matt asks if Pat remembers the time Mary-Jane died due to Peter injecting her with his radioactive semen, which Pat promptly declared was not real. It was actually from the Spider-Man: Reign comic.
  • In Wrestle Wrestle Spoony noted that in an earlier review of a WWF VCR game he played a clip of a really silly character intro, The Zombie, and fans thought he faked that somehow.
  • One episode of The Angry Video Game Nerd has the Nerd pull out and quote the philosophical text “On Bullshit” by Harry G. Frankfurt. An obvious joke, riffing on the Nerd’s love of calling things shit right? Nope. It’s a real book.


Alternative Title(s): Aluminium Christmas Trees

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