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Dewey Defeats Truman

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Sometimes, a writer inadvertently creates an Alternate History, which causes problems when referencing later events. The reason? Real life has simply progressed beyond the fictional events, meaning that the work suddenly becomes inaccurate. Adventure thrillers are especially vulnerable to this, as they are often written 20 Minutes into the Future. Sometimes, the writer will refer to later events such as 9/11, In Spite of a Nail. In other cases, what was a series of adventure novels experiences a Genre Shift and becomes some kind of science-fiction or true Alternate History.

Anything that doesn't have The Internet is prone to this, which is everything written before the mid-90s but set after. Anything vaguely similar to the 'net as we know it, tends to be limited to looking up a remote, probably centralized, database. The idea of it being a many-to-many medium doesn't seem to have occurred to many people until it actually happened.note  For examples of fictional not-quite-Internets, see The Alternet.

The science-fiction version is a special case, where dates or rates of technological advance become invalidated by the march of time. Zeerust is an aesthetic version, where "futuristic" designs wind up dated.

The title comes from a famous newspaper headline. The Chicago Tribune printed the predicted winner of the 1948 presidential election on its front page. By morning, the headline was proven wrong. The example became especially infamous as a photo of the victorious Harry Truman holding up the paper in triumph became an iconic image. Ironically, this example is a downplay of the trope. The initial run of newspapers that made the claim was immediately intercepted and destroyed, but not before one of Truman's cronies got a hold of one, providing for the famous photo op. The fact that the Tribune was an arch-Republican paper hostile to Truman didn't help any matters.

See The Great Politics Mess-Up for a particularly frequently encountered example.


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    Comic Books 
  • Martian Manhunter was originally from a thriving and prosperous Mars. After space probes found Mars to be barren, a Retcon was introduced to explain what had happened to J'onn's people.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Back to the Future is loaded with this.
    • Part II's version of 2015 predicted flat screen TVs, hundreds of channels, and the increase in popularity and decrease in cost of plastic surgery, and The '80s nostalgia among a few other things. Also, paper newspapers look like they're still around too, if only just. On the other hand, flying fusion-powered cars, hoverboards, realistic holographic displays, and dust-repellent paper are either impossible or very uncommon. And it doesn't cost $50 for a Pepsi. Lawyers got to keep their jobs, too.
    • Also, a Cubs-Miami World Series in 2015 became impossible as long as both franchises remained in the National League. Of course, the fact these teams had the two worst records in the NL in 2013 would've made a World Series by either squad unlikely, anyway. (Although the Cubs did come closer than anybody thought they would, defeating the St. Louis Cardinals to win the 2015 NLDS, only to lose to the hated Mets). Good job predicting there'd be a Miami team though (the Florida Marlins were formed in 1993 and became the Miami Marlins in 2012), even if they got the name wrong (the Cubs World Series happened in 2016, with them winning and ending the century-drought that was still very much in effect during the Back to the Future trilogy).
    • In one that crosses with "Funny Aneurysm" Moment, "Queen Diana visits Washington". Not only did Princess Diana leave the royal family through a divorce and then die tragically long before, but HM The Queen is still alive, well, and reigning in 2015.
    • They made a close call by predicting the United States would have a female President. The Democrats could have chosen Hillary Clinton as their Presidential candidate but instead chose Barack Obama.
    • One of the more amusing mispredictions: The continued existence of Pontiac. Why they even decided that a Toyota dealership would switch to selling American cars in the first place is a mystery, especially since '80s futurism was heavily inspired by a Japan Takes Over the World mentality; which will not likely happen after Japan's bubble economy burst during The '90s.
    • Another amusing misprediction is the existence of Jaws 19. The Jaws franchise ended after the fourth movie (this one may be intentionally mispredicted, seeing as how the Jaws 19 poster with the "This time it's REALLY personal" tag was a Take That! to Jaws: The Revenge after that film was ripped apart by critics and audiences and became an instant Old Shame to Universal and its crew).
    • The films predicted some form of sensor technology for video games (as suggested by Elijah Wood's comment remarking on the Nintendo Zapper being "like a babies toy" for using his hands). The prediction rang false however, as while such technology does exist (Xbox Kinect), it has a slim following among the industry at large at best and ridiculed at worst, resulting in people still using their hands.
  • 2012 intended to predicted The End of the World as We Know It without success... Although one could make the case that it was just Roland Emmerich making use of the silly "Mayan prophecy" mumbo-jumbo for the purpose of fitting as many natural disasters as he could in a single film.
  • Split Second: This dystopian sci-fi action movie predicted that London would become partially flooded by 2008 as a result of Global Warming, giving the monster in the film a place to hide in the mass of abandoned buildings and subway stations. Suffice it to say, this prediction was a bit off.
  • Demolition Man: An especially weird case. Released in 1993 (so not long after the L.A. riots, which undoubtedly informed a lot of its themes), it predicted that Los Angeles would turn into a criminal-run hellhole by 1996, so it got that much right, and California does have a reputation for being a bit of a nanny state, but turning convicts into human popsicles and subliminally programming their rehabilitation? We're still waiting on that one.
  • The original Planet of the Apes pentalogy eventually fell victim to this. The original film was released in 1968 and focused on a space crew that set out for an interstellar mission in the far-off year 1972. The third movie, released three years later, had two talking apes arrive from the future one year after the mission from the original, which was two years away at the time. By the time the fourth movie was released, it was the same year interstellar travel was supposed to be possible according to the original, and when the fifth movie was released another year later, there were no talking apes from the future, obviously.

  • Deliberately spoofed in More Information Than You Require, which is apparently set in some kind of Alternate History where, among other things, Dewey Defeats Truman, and in the follow-up volume, That Is All, we learn that Hitler drowned while on vacation during the 1930s. Roosevelt was right there and he allowed it to happen.
  • Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan series gradually developed from a series of "Well, it could have happened in real life" techno-thrillers into a full-blown Alternate History.
  • Lord of the Flies features a nuclear war breaking out sometime in the late 1950s, making it this trope if you block out all the heavy-handed symbolism.
  • Sometime Never: A Fable for Supermen has a nuclear war where there shouldn't have been, though Roald Dahl is just looking for a convenient time to kill humanity.
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey. All of the Space Odyssey series have already been invalidated this way, one way or another. For example, the first three books all feature a still-existing USSR; the backstory of 2061 involves a revolution in South Africa in the 2030s which overthrows the apartheid regime; then of course there's the invention of HAL. Arthur C. Clarke went on record to state that the 'sequels' were actually stories taking place in alternate universes when current events surpassed his stories.
  • Isaac Asimov's novels have Ridiculously Human Robots, but no personal computers and (in most novels) even no television. His short story History, published in 1941, mentions that Hitler died on Madagaskar.
  • Robots and Empire claims nuclear fission power fell into disuse following the Three Mile Island disaster in 1979. Chernobyl is conspicuously not mentioned, despite having been far worse, since it occurred shortly after the book was published.
  • Averted in a Mark Twain short story.
  • Larry Niven's Known Space has humanity midway through colonizing the solar system and beginning to get slowboats to nearby habitable systems ready by this point in its history, as well as widespread death penalties to force organ donation.
  • Nineteen Eighty-Four predicts a decidedly dystopian '84 that did not come to pass. Not that we wanted it to anyway. Although it did predict iPods and flatscreen TVs. And the NSA's warrant-less surveillance of everything on the internet. Of course, it wasn't specifically said that the book takes place in 1984 (Winston explicitly says he's not sure what year it really is) — Orwell simply flipped the last two digits of the year it was published (1948). The book was originally going to be called "The Last Man in Britain"; a trace of this remains when O'Brien tells Winston that "if you are a man, then you are the last man". And given Big Brother's ability to lie about everything to the point of altering the definition of "truth," there's no way for anyone in-story to be sure what year it is, either.
  • Dream Park by Niven & Barnes has California decimated by an earthquake and associated tsunami in 1985. The second sequel bumped this to 1995, after which the authors threw up their hands and let it stand as an alternate-history Verse.
  • Robert A. Heinlein is often credited with inventing the idea of an author linking his works into a single timeline and coining the term "future history." Nonetheless, he eventually had to declare his Future History to be an alternate universe (and he then introduced inter-universal travel so those characters could visit worlds more like our own).
  • Averted in G. K. Chesterton's The Napoleon Of Notting Hill. After an introduction in which he pokes fun at authors and pundits who make authoritative-sounding predictions about the future only to inevitably run afoul of this trope, he announces that he is setting his story the better part of a century in the future, and that apart from one major, and deliberately silly, change to the operation of the British government, he is assuming that the future will be exactly like the present. The marvelous thing is that, a hundred years later, his book actually does stand up to this trope far better than most of his contemporaries. Make of that what you will.
  • The Man Who Brought the Dodgers Back to Brooklyn was written in 1981, but largely takes place in 1985-88. A few of the changes are necessary for the story to work; for instance, the LA Dodgers' mid-Eighties stats ended up being pretty good in Real Life, but had to be abysmal in the book to help the characters buy out the team.
    • A minor aversion occurs with the 1988 World Series; the Dodgers make it to the Series in the book, just like they made it to the actual '88 Series.
    • Played straight with the book's central premise, though. As of 2014, the Dodgers are still in Los Angeles.
  • The Chalet School in Exile (1940) has the Chalet School relocate from Austria to Guernsey to escape the Nazis. Shortly after it was published, the Nazis invaded Guernsey. The Chalet School Goes to It (1941) establishes that they almost immediately re-relocate to Wales.
  • Ready Player One was written and released in the middle of the Great Recession. The book takes place in a world where the Recession never ended, stretching into the 2040s. The real Great Recession officially ended in 2009, but most people had felt the last of its effects by 2015.

    Live-Action TV 
  • 24. Season 1 was written and filmed pre-9/11 but was set in 2004. By the second season, 9/11 had happened, and the Department of Homeland Security suddenly existed when it hadn't before.
  • Space: 1999, like Arthur C. Clarke, was covered later by stating it had taken place in an Alternate Universe.
  • The Star Trek franchise initially had the Eugenics Wars occurring in the 1990s. There were a couple attempts to fix this one. Deep Space Nine's "Dr. Bashir, I Presume" claims that it actually happened later sometime, while a series of books suggests that they were "secret wars" where the actual historical events were being manipulated from behind the scenes. One series of comics just says "screw it, we're going all in" and has Khan destroying Washington D.C. and Moscow in 1992.
  • Sabrina the Teenage Witch spoofed the famous Dewey Defeats Truman moment when Jenny won the race for Class President against the popular cheerleader, Libby.
  • In the Live Episode of Roundhouse, the dad (John) insists that the family eat out to celebrate the son's (Ivan) victory at the Anytown little league tournament, which was to happen the next day. When Ivan corrects John, the latter states that "tomorrow, Anytown will beat Rivaltown just like we've done for the past 30 years. Don't you read the papers?" He then whips out a newspaper where the top headline is "Anytown Defeats Rivaltown". Ivan goes, "Hey, why did they print that already?!?" to which John replies that they'll have something to shred for the ticket day parade. Bonus points for the newspaper having the trope name as the second headline.
  • With frightening accuracy, Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In averted this. In their "News Of The Future" segment they mentioned that in 1988, twenty years from the time the episode was telecast, Ronald Reagan would be the U.S. President and the Berlin Wall would come down. (Okay, the Berlin Wall came down in November of 1989, but still close enough for jazz.)

    Video Games 
  • Modern Warfare predicted a civil war in Russia by 2011 which obviously did not come to pass.
  • Call of Duty: Black Ops II predicted that David Petraeus would be Secretary of Defense in 2025. Given the fact that Petraeus was caught up in an extramarital affair in late 2012 and ended up resigning as Director of the CIA just three days before the game came out, that seems really unlikely.
  • The original Ghost Recon predicted an ultranationalist party gaining power in Russia and launching an invasion of the Republic of Georgia to annex it in 2008, which quickly escalates into essentially World War III as NATO intervenes in their subsequent attempts to do the same to other former Soviet satellites like Lithuania; while Georgia and Russia did get into a war in 2008, it did not escalate into the larger conflict that is the focus of the game. Its expansions likewise predicted the death of Fidel Castro in 2006 and a second Eritrean/Ethiopean War in 2009. While the first has since come to pass (ten years late) there has still been no new war between Ethiopia and Eritrea.
    • Endwar has another World War Three, kicked off by a preceding nuclear war in the Middle East in 2014.
  • The background history of the Star Control franchise has the Small War of 2015, in which a small nuclear exchange took place between Middle East countries that year, killing several million people. That never happened in the real world.

    Web Original 
  • Fenspace has made it an official editorial policy that no real-world elected officials from after 2006 will appear to avoid bringing partisan political squabbles into the process of creating a shared universe. One story does mention Edward Snowden in passing though, and establishes that he did basically the same thing as in Real Life except for seeking asylum in near-Earth orbit instead of Russia.

    Western Animation 
  • Zig-zag on Freakazoid!: When Freakazoid goes back in time and averts World War II, he returns to the present and sees things have changed: Sharon Stone can act, Rush Limbaugh is a bleeding-heart liberal, and thumbing through a newspaper: "Cold fusion works... Euro Disney packed... No more Chevy Chase movies!"
  • The original last few episodes of South Park's season 20 Story Arc described Hillary Clinton defeating Mr. Garrison in the presidential election, an obvious parellel to her expected win over Donald Trump. When Trump won, the 7th episode had to be entirely rewritten between the time it was announced (1 AM of the day after the election took place) and the premier of the episode that same day specifically to avert this.