This classic was called Shazaam, of course — but in “today’s news that will totally blow your mind,” it never actually existed. And the reason why we all think it did is being hotly debated by Reddit truthers who have taken on Shazaam‘s existence as their pet cause.
Amelia Tait at New Statesman wrote an excellent deep dive into the Shazaam situation on Wednesday, December 21st, tracing the phenomenon back to its origins — a 2009 Yahoo! Answers post asking “Do you remember that Sinbad movie?”
People did, but no one could find evidence online that it existed.
A short time later, some Redditors were on the case, latching themselves on to a wide assortment of conspiracy theories on why this movie is impossible to find online.
The most popular and mind-blowing of these theories is called the “Mandela Effect,” made popular by both Reddit and a Vice article about the Berenstein Bears. Sorry, make that the Berenstain Bears — because even though the titular Bears were always Berenstains, there’s a whole contingent of people out there (raises hand) who distinctly remember the popular book series being spelled Berenstein.
If you’re wondering how these Bears are connected to Shazaam and South African anti-apartheid revolutionary Nelson Mandela, it all has to do with collective memory. A large group of people distinctly remember Mandela dying in prison, just as a large group of people distinctly remember the Berensteins and the existence of Shazaam. And so, according to the internet, that means that there are thousands of us with the same false memory who used to live in a parallel universe. A universe with a Sinbad genie movie, Berensteins, and a far earlier end for Mandela.
Vice‘s story led to the creation of the r/MandelaEffect subreddit, in which redditors can submit new examples of collective memory failure and debate hot topics like Shazaam, which has its own, very lively page. Because people don’t just vaguely remember watching this film, they remember details — like plot points, and even cover art.
“It said ‘Sinbad’ in big letters that dwarfed the other print,” a redditor named Don told New Statesman, with Jessica* adding “[It had] a purple background, featuring Sinbad dressed as a genie, back to back with a boy who looks about 11 or 12 years old. Sinbad has an annoyed expression on his face.”
Of course Sinbad is annoyed — because the film we’re most likely remembering is actually Kazaam, which starred Shaquille O’Neal as a genie granting a child’s parental wishes.
But redditors are still crying foul, claiming that either the Mandela Effect is totally happening or something a bit less sci-fi, like, say, Sinbad becoming embarrassed of the film and somehow destroying all evidence that it ever existed. (Something a bit far-fetched, as a genie film for kids sounds pretty much in line with the rest of the man’s career. And, like, would Sinbad really have that power?)
If you’re totally freaked out by this and not ready to buy into that whole alternate reality thing, know that New Statesman also spoke with Dr. Henry Roediger, a professor at the Washington University Memory Lab who offered a far more reasonable explanation.
“Lots of people remember detailed, but utterly false, memories,” he said, adding that one person’s report of a memory can influence another’s, making false memories spread.
“One person’s memory infects another,” he concluded.
So if you believe in ~ science ~ and the power of the human brain, it definitely makes sense why so many of us remember Shazaam, despite the sad fact that none of us ever watched this early-’90s masterpiece in our current timeline. But since so many redditors still want to believe, Fox Mulder-style, that the truth is out there, the search for Shazaam will almost definitely continue.