'Cuz I'm still
That I'm still asleep."
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.
- In Akame ga Kill! when Esdeath and Tatsumi are teleported away to a distant island, Tatsumi, thinking it's an illusion asks Esdeath to "hurt me". Esdeath is overjoyed, because she thinks this means Tatsumi is a masochist and as an insane sadist with a Villainous Crush on Tatsumi, she thinks this makes them a better match. He quickly corrects her.
- Many a Shōnen hero has managed to free himself from a villain's illusion by the use of self-inflicted pain (e.g., stabbing himself in the leg, breaking his own finger, etc...) like Sasuke Uchiha during the Chuunin Exam in his first fight against Orochimaru or Vash the Stampede while facing an opponent that could nullifying all of his senses for a few seconds. The above example in Akame ga Kill! was caused by Tatsumi remembering that his mentor Bulat did this to overcome hypnosis.
- Played for tears in Sailor Moon. In the first season finale, Usagi is sitting alone in the snow after all four of the other Inner Senshi die one by one, each sacrificing themselves for her. She tells herself that she is only dreaming, and when she wakes up everyone will be there and tell her good morning.
- 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.
- From 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.
- 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.
- Tamagotchi has two instances where this happens:
- 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.
- Subverted 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 (Volume 5) issue #22, the titular heroine's dream starts to fade as soon as Lightning Lad explains that she is dreaming.
- In Zot!, Jenny "woke up" to find that she had dreamed Zot and his parallel world, until she realized it was a dream.
- 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.
- One 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 Mary Sue 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 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."
- 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.
- 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.
- Wild Arms the Nothronychus in The Land Before Time: Journey of the Brave asks Mr. Threehorn this at one point. Mr. Threehorn just glares at him, so he just pinches himself.
- In Fun and Fancy Free, Bongo pinches himself the first time he sees Lulubelle to make sure he wasn't dreaming.
- 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.
- The Zucker/Abrahams/Zucker team originally used the gag mentioned in the Police Squad example below in their feature film Airplane!, in the Flashback scene where Ted Stryker relives his first meeting Elaine and asks a sailor seated next to him in the bar to pinch him. The sailor becomes visibly uncomfortable and slides away.
- Brittany says this twice in Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel; the first time is when the Chipettes enter Ian's penthouse for the first time, and the second time is moments before Ian mentions barbecue.
- 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.
- 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 plot element in Inception. Pinching alone's not nearly enough; a 'kick' of some sorts is required to forcibly eject the dreamer from their dream — the sensation of falling backwards that causes your protective instincts to start you fully awake. This causes a problem when a dream has the protagonists floating in zero-gravity, meaning they can't fall.
- In the live action Scooby-Doo: Shaggy and Scooby come across a buffet of hot dogs in a forbidding castle (ignoring the suspiciousness of that, of course).
Shaggy: Wow! Look at this, Scoob! It's like a medieval Sizzler! Pinch me, I'm in heaven—OW! It's just an expression, Scoob!
Scooby: Roh, right. Sorry.
- 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."
- In Rebecca Lickiss's Eccentric Circles, Malraux, unasked, pinches Piper to establish that it's not a dream.
- Wizards of Waverly Place: Justin says this line upon meeting Rosie.
Justin: I feeling like this is all a dream like someone should pinch me...AWWWW NELVIS!!!!
- 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.
- Amusing variation: In Police Squad!, Drebin mentions in his narration that at such a moment he asked the guy next to him to pinch him. Said guy, a big ugly bruiser, gives him an odd look and very carefully backs away.
- Used humorously in The Suite Life of Zack and Cody:
Carey: I'm dreaming...NO ONE PINCH ME!
- Later 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:
- "The Deadly Assassin". The Doctor is able to escape the Master's traps by denying that they exist. Also "Vengeance on Varos". Also "The Trial of a Timelord".
- 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.
- 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: 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: "The Gamekeeper".
- 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 the Monk episode "Mr. Monk Meets the Playboy," Randy is so awestruck when the team enters Dexter Larsen's bedroom while questioning Larsen about the murder of his publisher that he asks Stottlemeyer to pinch him. Stottlemeyer naturally says "no".
- 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.
- Barenaked Ladies' song "Pinch Me" references this trope by name, though in this case it refers more to aimlessly drifting through the aftermath of some big occurrence that hasn't fully sank in for you yet.
- 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 Sinfest, a flood of good luck makes Slick ask for this.
- 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 El Goonish Shive, lucid dreamers can exit magic dreams by pinching themselves. The Rant notes that you can experience pain in dreams, but because this trope exists and magic is powered by intent, pinching yourself is the obvious way of signaling "I want to wake up now"
- At the near end of SMG4's Mario 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, "Op 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.
- 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.
- Played straight in Spongebob Squarepants in the episode "Squilliam Returns".
Squidward: Pinch me, I must be dreaming... ow!Spongebob: If you need anything else, just ask.
Spongebob: I must be dreaming! Pinch me, Squidward!Squidward: Pinch yourself, you ninny.
- Subverted in Krusty Dogs:
- 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.
- King Julien in The Penguins of Madagascar: "I must be dreaming the most horrible dream inside my head! Quick, pinch me, now bite me, now slap my face and spank my right buttock!"
- 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.
- Ready Jet Go!:
- In "Space Junk", Sean is flying outside the saucer, collecting garbage, with a guy named Zucchini. He then asks Sunspot to pinch him, which he does.
- This also happens in "Whole Lotta Shakin'", and in "Zerk Visits Earth".
- 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!