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Patched Together from the Headlines

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Think Ripped from the Headlines meets X Meets Y.

You've heard of this sensational story. But, as you're watching, there is an additional element. It may appear in the case of a Halfway Plot Switch, or it may have been there from the very beginning. The key element is, rather than being merely Very Loosely Based on a True Story, you also recognize this from the headlines, just a separate one. It also need not be another particular crime, but a sensationalist topic that has gained a lot of press coverage. Very likely to involve No Celebrities Were Harmed and Composite Character.

Please note that this is not inherently negative. It can be a clever way of connecting multiple social problems in the same story, or simply a case of getting inspiration from more than one place. At its worst, though, it can be evidence of If It Bleeds, It Leads happening twice.


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  • The French comic Carthago is an amalgamation of various news stories and urban legends related to sea monsters— for example, Major Bertrand seeing something so shocking underwater that he can’t share it with the world is based on an urban legend about Jacques Cousteau, while the megalodon attack on the trimaran Crazy Horse is based on a real giant squid encounter by the crew of the trimaran Geronimo, and we have an adaptation of the story of the “U-28 Monster” as well.
  • Wonder Woman: Tempest Tossed takes inspiration from the refugee crisis around the Mediterranean, youth activism and human trafficking of children in the United States. Laurie Halse Anderson was very candid about her inspiration, saying that when she was offered the book she knew instantly that she wanted to do something that let her write in reaction to a haunting image of a life preserver belonging to a deceased refugee child she'd seen in an article and to write something uplifting about how active teenagers have been recently as human rights activists.

    Film - Live Action 
  • Arlington Road: The protagonist's wife dies in a misguided bust on a compound that is essentially Ruby Ridge, which is just the inciting incident that places her husband and son as next-door neighbors to a family who commit crimes loosely based on Timothy McVeigh's.
  • The Holy Office: The story is based on multiple inquisitorial records from the time.
  • Vox Lux begins with Columbine, and concludes with a beach-set shooting much like the 2015 Sousse attacks, while there's also a more than passing resemblance between washed up teen sensation turned dark and edgy adult singer Celeste and Britney Spears.


  • The Handmaid's Tale essentially imagines that the Iranian revolution took place in Reagan-era America, and features expys of Phyllis Schafly and the religious right during that period, including gay conversion camps and the anti-abortion movement. Atwood has said that every draconian element of Gilead was inspired by a real-life totalitarian regime or ideology somewhere in world history.
  • Emma Donoghue has credited Elisabeth Fritzl as the inspiration for Room, but the story also bears a resemblance to the kidnapping of Jaycee Dugard, in that Ma's kidnapper is a total stranger who abducted her on the way to school, but like Elisabeth Fritzl, she lived in total captivity for years, and her child's whole life.
  • Jame Gumb/Buffalo Bill in The Silence of the Lambs is a composite of Ted Bundy's Wounded Gazelle Gambit tactics to abduct women; like Gary Heidnik he keeps his victims imprisoned in a pit in his basement, and like Ed Gein, he uses their body parts for furniture and a skin suit.
  • Uncle Tom's Cabin basically consisted of Harriet Beecher Stowe gathering together a whole bunch of stories of actual people who were actually enslaved, then changing the names and adding in a plot to tie it together.

    Live-Action TV 

  • Depeche Mode did a song in 1986 called "New Dress", where nearly every line was taken from an actual headline.
  • "We Didn't Start the Fire" by Billy Joel is made entirely of this, referencing headline events all the way from 1949, the year of Joel's birth, to 1989, the year of the song's release.
  • Prince: The Title Track to Sign o' the Times lists off a number of real news stories that Prince saw in the Los Angeles Times and Minneapolis Star Tribune while flying from California to Minnesota in the aftermath of a 1986 earthquake in Oceanside. These stories included the worsening AIDS crisis, Ronald Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiativenote , and a murder by a street gang known as the Disciples.
  • The verse in Rush's song "Nobody's Hero" from Counterparts starts "I didn't know the girl, but I knew her family, all their lives were shattered in a nightmare of brutality" refers to the family of one of the girls murdered by Karla Homolka and Paul Bernardo. Meanwhile, the line "Hero — lands a crippled airplane..." refers to the pilot who landed the United Flight 232 in Sioux City, Iowa using only the engines to control it after the flight controls failed, saving 185 of the 296 people on board.
  • Savatage based a Rock Opera, The Wake of Magellan, on such events. One being the murder of reporter Veronica Guerin by drug lords. The second being the Maersk Dubai incident, were the captain of a freighter ordered discovered stowaways to be thrown overboard.
  • The "Weird Al" Yankovic song "Headline News", a parody of Crash Test Dummies' "Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm", contains verses relating to an American being caned in Singapore, the Nancy Kerrigan incident, and John Wayne and Lorena Bobbitt.

    Video Games 

  • In L.A. Noire, every single case is based on or loosely inspired by a real-life Los Angeles case in the 1940s.