You're trapped in a weird and inexplicable situation. Nothing you do seems to get you any closer to sorting it out. However will you escape?
Simple: it's all just a dream. Once you know that, you're free.
It doesn't have to be a literal dream. Maybe you've been hooked up to a Lotus-Eater Machine. Maybe you're having a hallucination thanks to your enemy spiking your drink. It could be a magical perception-altering spell. Whatever.
The key thing is that as soon as you realize that it's not real, you snap out of it.
There is some real life support for this: most people have found themselves suddenly woken just as they realize that they're dreaming. This may be a defensive mechanism to prevent sleep disruptions (the state of being aware that one is dreaming, called "lucid dreaming", cannot cause a breakdown of the mechanisms that normally prevent behaviors such as sleepwalking, contrary to popular belief. Many people enjoy lucid dreams and try to have as many as possible, generally with only positive side effects). But anyone who has experienced sleep paralysis knows that it's not always as simple as that. (and if you've ever been able to control sleep paralysis, things get more complicated).
Pinching is generally used as a method of dream detection because it is said that we don't have the sense of touch in a dream. If it's real, then you'd feel the pain from a pinch. This has been debunked by lucid dreamers, who can feel pain/touch in a dream. More recommended is to consciously attempt to read things in the environment (the parts of the brain related to language processing are less active in a dream), which often results in either garbled text, or the text changing every time it's viewed.
See also Did You See That Too? for seeking confirmation that something is real. Unrelated to Adam and Eve and Pinch Me (the novel or the childish prank). Not to be confused with the use of self-inflicted pain to free themselves from a dream or an illusion, which is Dream Emergency Exit and Slap Yourself Awake. Compare In the Dreaming Stage of Grief.
- K-On!: In maybe the third or fourth dream she had that day, Azusa rightly guesses she's in a dream and asks dream!Mugi and dream!Ui to pinch her, and she laments that she won a trip to Finland in that dream.
- In Lucky Star, doujinshi artist Hiyori is approached at Comiket by a man who offers her an opportunity to write for Comptiq. She pinches her cheek, finds that it hurts, and thinks for a moment that it was reality... until she wakes up and discovers that she was, indeed, dreaming, and can feel pain in a dream.
- Parodied in Ranma ½: When Akane goes on a date with Ryōga, he's sure that it must be a dream — so he hits his head against the wall hard enough to cause structural damage to the building. It doesn't hurt, so he thinks he must be dreaming. However, the real reason it didn't hurt is because he's just that strong after training with Cologne.
- In episode 30a, after waking up from two nightmares related to their mother in a row, Mametchi and Chamametchi pinch each other to make sure they're not dreaming a third time.
- In Yume Kira Dream episode 11, the fictional celebrity duo D2 visits the Kira Tamamori shop and gives Yumemitchi and Kiraritchi some D2 cards. Yumemitchi and Kiraritchi pinch each other to make sure they're not dreaming, then get excited since they actually met D2 in real life.
- Happy Heroes: In episode 49, Doctor H., is excited over Miss Peach saying she's actually willing to date him, and asks Happy S. to punch him to see if he's dreaming it all up. Happy S. whops him with his Happy S. Punch.
Doctor H.: You know, a nice, light punch would have sufficed.
- The Hair Bear Bunch: At the start of "The Weirdo Map" (Gold Key #8), Peevly issues weekend passes to the bears. Bubi pinches himself to see if he's awake.
- Exploited in a JLA comic. The heroes are trapped in a dream-machine by the villain The Key; however, the machine is constructed so that realizing that they're dreaming and awakening will provide the energy for the machine's true function.
- In Supergirl (2005) issue #22, the titular heroine's dream starts to fade as soon as Lightning Lad explains that she is dreaming.
- The Phantom Zone: Charlie Kweskill suddenly wakes up from a long nightmare and finds himself in a dark room full of machines. He promptly pinches his left hand to check if he is dreaming or not.
- In Zot!, Jenny "woke up" to find that she had dreamed Zot and his parallel world, until she realized it was a dream.
- This Calvin and Hobbes story has Calvin falling from a great height. He figures it's just a dream, and that all he has to do is look down and gasp, and then he will wake up. Doesn't work.
- In this Garfield comic, when Jon learns that a woman wants to go out with him, he says to Garfield: "Pinch me, I must be dreaming!", to which Garfield complies. Jon then wakes up in his bed, screaming.
- In one Slash Fic, the main character's just had sex with his best friend and isn't sure whether he's dreaming, so he pinches his friend, who asks him what the hell that was for. "But you're supposed to pinch someone to see if you're dreaming!" "You pinch yourself, idiot!"
- In the Portal fanfic Blue Sky, Wheatley asks Chell to touch him so she can prove she's really there, as GLaDOS messing around with his insides has been making him see things. She responds by painfully yanking him out of the wires connecting him to GlaDos.
- Fan fiction for The Lord of the Rings has many girls who fall into Middle-earth. If she wants out, she may deduce that she is dreaming, and try to wake herself. This never works, because it is no dream.
- In The Awkward Adventures of Meghan Whimblesby, when she sees the movie characters, she tries to wake from her dream. In chapter 1, Meghan pinches herself. In chapter 2, she tries to escape danger by shouting, "WAKE UP!" Then she bleeds. Because of her blood, Meghan concludes, "I'm not dreaming."
- I am NOT a MarySue dumps Caroline into bad fan fiction. She tries to wake herself as in The Wizard of Oz, by bumping her heels and saying "There's no place like home!", but it was not a dream.
- In the Friday Night Funkin' fanfic Two Idiots, Keith asks Cherry to slap him to make sure he's not dreaming any of the events of the story.
- In My Huntsman Academia, Izuku pinches himself every now and then just to make sure he isn't dreaming because he just feels so lucky and blessed to be able to come to Beacon and become a Huntsman despite being born a Broken Soul without an Aura or a Semblance.
- In The Web of The Spider-Man, Peter pinches himself and twists his own skin to make sure he isn't dreaming after waking up ripped and with superpowers. After confirming that he isn't dreaming (and that it really, really hurt), he's ready to jump for joy.
- Maybe the Last Archie Story: Invoked when Reggie Mantle wonders whether he is really talking to a cat, and Salem retorts "[He's] not about to claw [Reggie's] ankle to prove [he's] not dreaming."
- In Fox Rain, following the events of Volpina, Lila finds the actual Fox Miraculous in her bedroom (given to her by Master Fu after she scare away some thugs that were harassing him by saying that Ladybug was nearby) with Trixx coming out to introduce himself. Lila initially thinks that Trixx is some sort of imaginary friend, which he disproves by giving her a smack to her head.
- In Hero Chat, an Akuma traps most of Paris and the majority of Team Miraculous in their sleep. Marc is given the Goat Miraculous to enter Marinette's dream and wake her up, and she realizes she's dreaming because she never gave them a Miraculous in real life... ignoring the fact that her classmates are currently puppets.
Marc:That's what makes you think this is a dream?! Your classmates are puppets! Juleka is literally just Kermit in a wig!
- The Disney version of Alice in Wonderland ends with her being chased by the Queen and her subjects, begging the talking doorknob to let her out. The doorknob is still locked and explains that she is out, and shows her sleeping under a tree through his keyhole. Alice then shouts for herself to wake up.
- In Bee Movie, Vanessa stabs the back of her own hand with a fork to wake herself up when Barry the bee talks to her for the first time. It hurt a lot.
- The Hero Boy in The Polar Express does this to try and wake himself up on top of the titular train. It doesn't work, and he tries to wake up by throwing snow in his face, then burying his face in the snow. Both don't work.
- About halfway through the film Waking Life, the main character learns he can tell if he's dreaming by flipping light switches or checking digital clocks. Unfortunately, this knowledge doesn't help him wake up.
- Inception: The totems that The Team carries are supposed to be personalized ways of doing this; if the totem doesn't behave as you know it's supposed to in the real world, then you're in a dream. But Cobb points out to both Ariadne and Fischer that you can also tell you're in a dream by trying to think about how you got to where you currently are, noticing any impossible geometries and phenomenon, or other inconsistencies like rapid weather changes. The infamous ending focuses on Cobb's spinning top totem with the film cutting to black before the audience can see whether or not it stops spinning (Cobb's awake) or if it spins forever (Cobb's still in a dream).
- A deleted scene in Back to the Future — after Marty has realized that he's in 1955 from a newspaper — had him asking an passing-by old lady to pinch him. It comes out a bit brusque because he's panicking, resulting in him receiving a smack across the face.
- A similar gag is used in Airplane!, where Ted sees his love interest for the first time. He asks the man next to him to pinch him, earning a disgusted look.
- In the movie Vanilla Sky, Tom Cruise realizes that he is dreaming at the end of the movie when he finally removes the mask he wears to hide his disfigured face to find that his face is perfectly fine underneath. This prompts him to start shouting that he wants to wake up.
- In Rebecca Lickiss's Eccentric Circles, Malraux, unasked, pinches Piper to establish that it's not a dream.
- In Stanisław Lem's novel The Futurological Congress, Ijon Tichy is the victim of a hallucinogenic attack, and treats his doctors, revival after cryo-freezing and Fish out of Temporal Water setting as a product of his hallucinations, usually trying to fall back in a sewer he had originally been hiding in to snap out of it. He's absolutely right.
- In Robert Sheckley's short story Ghost V, the two main characters realize the air of the planet they've landed on contains chemicals that cause hallucinations; unfortunately, since Your Mind Makes It Real, knowing that they're hallucinations doesn't make them the least bit less dangerous.
- In A Little Princess, after Sara sees the food, furniture, and fire left for her in the attic, she marvels that for a dream, everything feels real, and then puts her hands by a fire. She draws them away quickly, saying that a dream-fire wouldn't be so hot. In the next chapter she admits to pinching herself repeatedly and "just now I touched a hot coal, on purpose."
- Doctor Who: In the spinoff novel The Stealers of Dreams, the Doctor scoffs at someone who literally pinches himself to remind himself that it's not just a dream. The Doctor explains that though a dream can feel real, when something is real you generally just know - so the pinching is unnecessary.
- The Big Bang Theory: When Sheldon wins a Nobel prize he wonders if he's dreaming, so Leonard administers a slap he'd clearly been waiting twelve years to give.
- Dog with a Blog: Karl and Avery pinch other to detect if they are in one of Avery's kissing dreams.
- The Nanny: Fran has a Dream Within a Dream about having huge feet and then waking up to Mr Sheffield making out with her after she tells him about it. When she wakes up for real, she pinches herself to make sure she isn't still dreaming.
- Subverted in The Suite Life on Deck: Bailey realizes she is dreaming when London calls her "the prettiest girl in the whole world" and tries to pinch herself to wake up, naturally finding that she can't feel anything in a dream.
Joe: Quick punch me in the arm so I know I'm not dreaming!!!...Ok I'm definitely not dreaming because that really hurt!!!Kevin: (Comically Missing the Point) Unless you're dreaming that it hurt so that was a dream hurt.Nick: (sofly punches Kevin) Was that dream hurt or regular hurt?
- Doctor Who: "Vengeance on Varos". Also "The Trial of a Timelord".
- Star Trek: The Original Series: "Specter Of The Gun". The realization that their situation is just a psychic projection renders Kirk and company Immune to Bullets. In their defense, immunity required a certitude of belief that could only be achieved via mind-meld to a nigh-emotionless Vulcan.
- Star Trek: Voyager: In "Waking Moments", Chakotay uses an embedded subconscious trigger to let him know if he's actually asleep (Earth's moon). He can then will himself awake by tapping the back of his hand three times.
- An early episode of Star Trek: Enterprise involved hallucinogenic alien pollen, but most of those affected didn't figure it out.
- Stargate SG-1: In "The Gamekeeper," SG-1 becomes trapped in a virtual reality simulation. They are then forced to relive events from their pasts. They soon realize that what they are experiencing isn't real.
- First Wave in approximately every third episode.
- The X-Files. Subversion: Mulder and Scully realize that they are trapped in a chemically induced hallucination, and are promptly freed. Wackiness continues to ensue, at which point it occurs to Mulder that there is absolutely no scientific reason that their having worked it out should negate all the hallucinogenic chemicals in their systems. It's the supporting cast who end up rescuing them for real.
- The George Lopez Show uses this twice when George eats a peculiar worm in his drink. Both hallucinations end with his Cuban father-in-law dancing in a worm suit.
Vic Palmero: You are having a hallucinogenic reaction to me. I'm in your belly. Watch me dance.
- Mildly subverted in Buffy the Vampire Slayer's season 4 finale. Buffy realises she's dream-fighting the First Slayer and wakes up. As she's looking around the Slayer attacks again. Buffy ignores her and wakes up for real.
- In the first season episode, Nightmares, where everyone's nightmares are coming true, Xander tries to get out of standing in front of his entire class while wearing only his underwear, by pinching himself.
- Eureka did it with a psychological tool.
- In an episode of the sitcom Newhart, after suffering through yet another day's worth of insanity from the locals, Dick pinches himself hoping he's dreaming. It doesn't work, but at the end of the series it's revealed that he really was dreaming the whole thing.
- In Married... with Children, Al says this to Jefferson, who responds by punching him in the jaw. Al promptly goes, "I said pinch me, not punch me!" Jefferson then grabs a big handful of Al's gut.
- The episode of Blackadder where he accidentally burns the only copy of the dictionary. The writer of the dictionary bursts in on Blackadder and says something to the effect of "I'm tired of the damn thing, it's rubbish, burn it". Blackadder is overjoyed, but then "Baldrick, who gave you permission to become an Alsatian?". Which is enough of a clue for Blackadder to realise and wake up.
- In one letters column in Nation Lampoon, a baseball player finally achieves his dream of getting signed to the majors, and says "pinch me!" Someone does...and the pinch severs a nerve and cripples his pitching arm.
- One Old Master Q strip have the titular character finding a duffel bag bursting with cash at random while taking a stroll. He immediately exclaims, "this can only be a dream" before biting his hand. Cue the next panel showing Master Q waking up in his bed.
"Damn it, I knew that's a dream!"
- National Theatre's 2014 production of Treasure Island has a variant: when the castaway Ben Gunn discovers that there are new people on the island where he's been marooned alone for years, he pinches them to test whether they're really there. Jim Hawkins takes it in good part, but Captain Smollett objects violently.
- Evoked by Franziska von Karma in Ace Attorney: Justice for All, where, after hearing that the killer had flown away from the crime scene the Judge asks Phoenix for his opinion.
Phoenix: Right now, I can't believe any of this! I'm not even sure if this day has been some kind of Kafkaesque dream... gets whipped by Franziska OWWW!!!Franziska: Now do you think its still a dream!? Huh, Mr. Phoenix Wright!?
Franziska whips the JudgeJudge: Uwaaah! What was that for!?Franziska: ...This is all a bad dream. I was hitting you on the cheek to test that theory.
- Hilariously echoed in Trials and Tribulations after another piece of similarly dubious testimony.
- In Erfworld, Parson, still not quite sure it's not all a dream, tries pinching himself to "wake up".
- In Ménage à 3 Gary finds himself handcuffed to an unconscious girl through no fault of his own (long story) and thinks he's dreaming, so he tries to supply his brain with a sensation that it can't replicate. As he's a virgin, he does that by groping her breast. Then he realizes that he's awake.
- In But I'm a Cat Person, Sparrow asks her friend Bianca to pinch her when she hears the stray dog that followed her home start talking to them.
- In The Order of the Stick, this is how Elan helped Roy and Haley escape the phantasm at Girard's Gate. He figured out that the resolution being provided for his own familial issues in this illusion was not realistic, and held on himself for long enough to communicate this to the other two.
Roy: So, what, we're still there? We're not at a wedding, we're just standing around in a dungeon in the middle of a desert?
Roy: Ah, hell. We are, aren't we?
[all three awaken from the illusion]
- At the near end of Supermarioglitchy4's Super Mario 64 Bloopers' "The Mario Parable", when Narrator sends Mario to be killed, the latter wonders he's just dreaming, and Narrator accepts with him by saying that everything is not real except him.
Narrator: Of course. None of this is real. I am real. You are not.Mario: (scene switches to Castle Grounds) I am Mario! Of course I am real.
- Bowser Jr. upon finding out he's in Chef Pee Pee's body in the SuperMarioLogan episode "Switching Bodies". He tries slapping himself and slamming into the mirror wall.
- Codename: Kids Next Door:
- "Operation UTOPIA": Nigel realises that he's in a hallucination the moment he sees Wally swim (the real Wally can't swim). Cut to chamber with Nigel in it, struggling to break free.
- "Operation WHITEHOUSE": Nigel wakes up one morning as the President of the United States and about to sign a bill to take away Children's rights. After escaping the White House, he thinks it is a nightmare and pinches himself to wake up, which fails. The episodes ends with the reveal that is was All Just a Dream, though it was really a simulation created by the same technology used in "Operation UTOPIA".
- Justice League:
Flash: Huh? This isn't supposed to happen.Dr. Destiny: That's because this time, there isn't going to be a wake-up call.
- In an episode where Superman is entrapped by a Lotus-Eater Machine and has to realize that his world was destroyed. In the same episode, Batman is attached to the plot device in question, and realizes it almost immediately—he knows, deep down, that his father didn't beat up the mugger, but was killed by him. A tearjerker moment for both, as Superman tells his scared son good-bye as Krypton explodes and Batman is forced to relive that terrible moment again.
- In "Only a Dream", Flash recognizes that he's in a dream a few minutes after Dr. Destiny shows up and believes that his alarm clock will wake him up.
- Spongebob Squarepants: In "Fear of a Krabby Patty", when SpongeBob hears that the Krusty Krab is now open 24 hours, he repeatedly pinches himself in the side and yells out in pain, realizing that he's not dreaming.
- Subverted in the story "Where Oh Where is Flick?" of PB&J Otter. Flick enters into a dream in which Mallard Man asks him to help him and he immediately says "I must be dreaming!" Mallard Man agrees that he is and Flick is perfectly cool with this.
- In one episode of Zig & Sharko, when Zig finds Marina next to him, he pinches himself with a crab just to be sure.
- In 2 Stupid Dogs, believing a situation too good to be true, Little Dog orders Big Dog to pinch him. After he complies, he tells him "Harder!"
- In "First Responders to the Rescue" from Doc McStuffins, when the boy Dev is accidentally transported to the Toy Hospital, Stuffy tells him that he's still in his bedroom and he's just having a dream. Stuffy sounds less than convincing, but Dev buys it. Then Stuffy decides to take it further by saying it won't hurt if he pinches himself, then does so and shouts in pain. It's then ruined completely when he accidentally steps on Dev's foot, causing him to feel pain too and decide that what's happening must therefore be real.
- Danger Mouse: DM and Penfold are confronted with sentient appliances in "Mechanised Mayhem." Penfold pinches DM.
DM: Ow! Penfold, what was the pinch for?
Penfold: I wanted to see if I was dreaming.
DM: Well, why didn't you pinch yourself?
Penfold: Ah, I might have been only dreaming I pinched myself.
- The Hair Bear Bunch episode "Raffle Ruckus" has Hair Bear winning the zoo in a raffle only to take on the same keeper responsibilities Peevly usually does. He's about to call it a night when the phone rings.
Hair Bear: Oh no! Tell me I'm dreaming! (after Bubi fields the call) It's no dream... it's a nightmare!
- In "Franklin the Fearless" from Franklin Franklin experiences Anxiety Dreams about riding down Thrill Hill with a Dream Within a Dream scenario. In the morning, when he wakes up, he hopes he's still dreaming, but a pinch confirms he's awake.