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Dewey Defeats Truman

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In 1989, this seemed like a reasonable thing to expect in 2015. Eight years later, on the other hand...note 

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. In the 1948 American presidential election, most people predicted New York Governor Thomas Dewey would beat incumbent President Harry Truman. The Chicago Tribune printed "Dewey Defeats Truman" in reference to this prediction on the front page of its November 3 edition (the day after the election). By morning, the headline was proven wrong. The gaffe became infamous as a photo of the victorious Truman holding up the paper in triumph became an iconic image.

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



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    Anime & Manga 
  • Mazinger Z spin-off New Mazinger was written in 1988, but the story happens several centuries after that World War III between America and Soviet Union left the planet devastated in the early 21st century. It is the early 21st century now, and not only nothing of it has happened, but also the Soviet Union collapsed shortly after the story's publishing.
  • Macross: The original Super Dimension Fortress Macross was broadcast in 1982 but featured an alternate history of humanity after 2009 when humans and aliens fight a devastating war over a transforming mecha battleship. It's beyond 2009 now, and we haven't even fought World War III and built mecha like they did in the series — we're behind schedule, in other words.

    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.
  • A 1986 issue of Swamp Thing took place during the temporal distortion period of the Crisis on Infinite Earths. Amidst the dinosaurs and aliens is a 1997-model car, which the artist renders as something out of The Jetsons. In the actual nineties, car designs leaned toward a much more streamlined and conservative direction.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Back to the Future Part II's version of 2015:
    • 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. On October 21, 2015.) 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 and league 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 was still reigning in 2015.
    • As shown above, the newspaper that mentions "Queen Diana" also suggests a female president. If it's referring to the President of the United States, that still hasn't happened (as of 2020).
    • 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 Pictures and its crew).
    • The films predicted some form of sensor technology for video games (as suggested by Elijah Wood's character'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.
    • Fashion styles are a whole category of mispredictions, but one of the more obvious is that no one is using two ties, quite the opposite, ties are nowadays falling out of favor in all but the most formal occasions, let alone office environments.
  • 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 using of the silly "Mayan prophecy" mumbo-jumbo to cram as many natural disasters as he could into one film.
  • Split Second (1992): This dystopian sci-fi action movie predicted that London would become partially flooded by 2008 as a result of Climate Change, 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 and that convicts be turned into human popsicles.
    • Among the frozen inmates is Jeffrey Dahmer, the real life cannibalistic Serial Killer. Dahmer was sentenced to over 900 years, so his still being in prison 2032 actually fits. However, the real Dahmer was killed by a fellow inmate roughly a year after the movie was released.
  • 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.
    • Sadly the film franchise did get a prediction almost right (though not to the extent predicted, thankfully): the film predicted that a virus would kill all cats and dogs in the world sometime in the 1970s. In 1978, the canine parvovirus pandemic did kill thousands of dogs worldwide, and a similar virus affected cats in the UK but was much more localized.
  • The ending of Memories of Murder assumes that by 2003, the Hwaesong serial murderer would still be at large. But in September 2019, the murderer was identified via DNA evidence as Lee Choon-jae, who had already been imprisoned since 1994 (with his original death sentence being commuted to life imprisonment) for murdering his sister-in-law in a similar fashion.

  • 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 Madagascar.
    • Asimov also has a short story happening in the 21st Century where the world is thoroughly split between the capitalist West and the socialist East to the point that Cuba became capitalist and South Korea was absorved by the North with no proxy wars or any other fighting among the sizes. Of course as we know, the USSR collapsed in 1991.
  • 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, "From The London Times Of 1904", which predicts the Internet and social media (actually far ahead of their time).
  • 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. Many of its more fanciful aspects that happened in the late 20th century (legal rights and translators for dolphins, mining and colonies on Mercury and Venus) have changed from prediction into alternate history as the decades since the series started have passed. On the bright side, organ harvesting isn't nearly as bad as it predicted either.
  • 1984 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 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 and Steven 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. . . only for another Recession to hit in 2020.
  • An example is the 1980s series The Zone by James Rouch about World War III in Europe.
  • Jules Verne's Paris in the Twentieth Century — written in the 1860s, and set in the 1960s. Its description of the future is surprisingly accurate, all things considered, though it does imagine a world that runs largely on compressed air.
  • Whitley Strieber and James Kunetka's Warday (1984) depicts a "limited" nuclear war in 1988. In a case of Write Who You Know the authors recount their (fictional) experiences in the war and travel across a devastated and depopulated America to show the consequences of the war. The eastern half of the country has been destroyed by bombings on San Antonio, New York, and Washington, D.C. and the breakdown of order while California is pretty much untouched and has become an undeclared separate country with closed borders.
  • In Eon from The Way Series, the book ends with Patricia escaping from The Way to an alt-earth where the Ptolemy dynasty never fell, and is now a member of a Mediterranean federation. The asteroid ship Thistledown also hails from an alternate universe, one where the Industrial Revolution took place in East Asia rather than Europe. It was written in 1975 and did not anticipate the collapse of the Warsaw Pact and the U.S.S.R. In this reality 2005 has come and gone without a nuclear war.
  • Alan Steele's Jericho Iteration, written in 1994 and set in 2013: St. Louis has not been destroyed by a massive earthquake and Cascadia, a nation consisting of Washington and Oregon, has not seceded from the Union.
  • Greg Egan's Zendegi, written in 2009 it has the Iranian theocracy overthrown in 2012.
  • An Island Called Moreau by Brian W. Aldiss has World War III happening in the mid-1980s between the USSR and "its Middle East allies" against NATO, Israel and China.
  • World War Z: The exact date is never openly established but the fact that Fidel Castro is still alive allows you to presume it's intended to be in or near the date it was published (2006). The most obvious failed prediction (thankfully) is the Zombie Apocalypse, however a series of political and geographical changes that happen as consequence of the war include: peace between Israel and Palestine (renamed Unified Palestine), the independence of Tibet from China, Russia turning into the theocratic Holy Russian Empire, Mexico changing its name to Aztlan and the aforementioned Fidel Castro not only alive but leading the democratization of Cuba. Of course some of these events may still happen but none of them would happen before the death of Castro who died in 2016.
  • Looking Backward The book correctly predicts the invention of radio, credit cards and skyscrapers but strikes out for the social changes, predicting the US and most of the West would become socialist states.
  • Hector Bywater's The Great Pacific War was actually written as fiction (it was published in 1925, the war in the book takes lasts from 1931 - 1933), but the naval conflict in the book had so many similarities to the actual Pacific war that happened soon after that it now seems like an alt-history novel.
  • Kamal And Barnea: Though the series is not explicitly about this, it quickly becomes so. It started as being set in some near future where the Israelis largely pulled out of the West Bank, and Yasser Arafat was President of the Palestinian state. After this was written, Israel eventually did pull out of Gaza, but Arafat died in 2004 and the West Bank remains occupied. Nor unfortunately is peace any closer more than twenty years on, contrary to what these books show.

    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 of 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. The Star Trek: Khan comic book just says "screw it, we're going all in" and actually has Khan destroying Washington D.C. and Moscow in 1992, making it straight-out alternate history, which is probably better.
    • There is also an episode of The Next Generation that states Ireland was unified in 2024 as a result of effective terrorism (presumably the IRA forcing out the British occupation) that aired years before the Good Friday Agreement was signed in 1998 that saw the conflict heavily reduced and made it unlikely for anything but a peaceful unification to take place. note 
    • Zig-zagged with "Assignment: Earth". The Enterprise is observing Earth on an unspecified date in 1968, and Spock mentions two major historical events happening on the day in question: an important assassination and the launch of an orbital nuclear warhead platform by the United States, the latter of which ends up being disrupted by the events of the episode, causing it to crash. Six days after the episode aired, Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered, on the same day NASA also launched a Saturn V rocket which suffered a malfunction and ended up going way off course. (The Saturn V was not actually carrying weapons and the problem was caused by a mechanical failure, but fanon is that the official story about Saturn V was a coverup.) On the other hand, Spock also mentions a coup in Asia on the same day and indicates that the nuclear platform launch was just one of many that occurred, such that "the sky was full of orbiting H-bombs" at some point, but neither of these came to pass. (Spock's prediction of an uprising in Asia is sometimes tied to a coup in Iraq, but that was over three months after the King assassination and the Saturn V launch.)
  • 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.) note  note 
  • Buck Rogers in the 25th Century quite possibly has the most ballsy prediction on this list. The show, which aired from 1979 until 1981, took as its main premise that Captain William "Buck" Rogers would be lost in space during a Negative Space Wedgie that would engulf his deep-space Ranger 3 exploratory craft sometime in the far-off year... of 1987. As of 2018, humanity is still trying to get back to the moon, let alone anywhere further afield, with a manned mission. And, more to the point of 1987, in real life, no space launches of any sort happened in the US that year, due to the Challenger disaster the previous year.
  • Lost in Space has the interstellar Jupiter 2 vessel sent from Earth to Alpha Centauri in October 16, 1997.

  • Journey into Space: The original series was produced from 1953 to 1958 and featured manned missions to The Moon in 1965 and Mars in 1971 and 1972. In Frozen in Time, which was produced in 2008, it is mentioned that the Ares embarked on a mission to explore The Solar System on June 8, 1973 and had reached Neptune by 1977.

    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.
  • Call of Duty: Black Ops III predicts the collapse of the European Union by 2025. It predicted that Italy, Spain and Greece would leave the EU by 2021. By that year in real life, only the United Kingdom had left the union. All things considered, the EU is in a lot better shape than predicted in many works, including this one.
  • 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 (albeit ten years late and without democratic elections as a result) 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.
  • Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games - Tokyo 2020 is set in the summer of 2020 when the Olympics are happening, when in real life, months after the game was released, the Tokyo 2020 Olympics was postponed to 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • 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 fortunately never happened in the real world.
  • The Framing Device of the original Assassin's Creed was set in the not-too-distant future of 2012. As 2012 came and went in real life and the Mayan Doomsday behind the use of this date was thwarted in-universe, the series dropped overt references to modern real-world events and dates.

    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.
  • In the lead-up to Super Bowl LII in 2018, the National Football League got in trouble when their Facebook page posted a promotional picture showing the Minnesota Vikings (whose home stadium, U.S. Bank Stadium, was the site of Super Bowl LII), and the New England Patriots (who were the defending Super Bowl champions) as the two Super Bowl teams. This notably occurred about a week before the conference championships were scheduled to take place. While the Patriots made it to Super Bowl LII, pulling off a 24-20 comeback win against the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Vikings were demolished 38-7 by the Philadelphia Eagles.

    Western Animation 
  • Zig-zagged 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 parallel to her expected win over Donald Trump. When Trump won, the seventh 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.
  • In the Batman Beyond episode "Mind Games", as Terry and Max are going over U.S. Presidents for school, Max describes Bill Clinton as "the fun one, then came the boring one.", with Terry retorting "They're all boring.". The episode aired during the 2000 presidential election, and the writers apparently expected Al Gore to win, but instead, George W. Bush ended up winning, and his stint as president was many things, though it's probably safe to say that "boring" wasn't one of them.

In-universe examples

    Comic Books 
  • Superman: Discussed and averted when Lex Luthor ran for President. Perry White asks Lois & Clark which headline they should post ("Luthor Loses" or "Luthor Wins") and says he doesn't want another Dewey Defeats Truman. Fortunately, they learn about Luthor's victory on time to avoid having to guess.

    Live-Action TV 
  • 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 ticker-tape parade. Bonus points for the newspaper having the trope name as the second headline.
  • The opening of Cavemen has a news paper saying "Caveman Defeats Truman" as a Historical In-Joke.

    Western Animation 
  • The Simpsons: In one episode, Bart Simpson is so sure he'll win the election for class president he decides to hold a victory party during recess. Unfortunately, recess is the voting time and everyone who would vote for him attended the party instead and Martin Prince wins the election by 2 votes to 0. The school newspaper allows Martin to mock a "Simpson Beats Prince" headline the same way the "Dewey Defeats Truman" headline was mocked.


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