Making It Real: My 10 Favorite Defictionalizations

Jun 20, 2014 • Elliott Spelman

Thanks to Adam Lisagor, (previously) at kottke.org, I have stumbled across a word that seems very relevant to The RoShamBusiness: defictionalization.

Defictionalized objects are things written into novels or movies which then go on to become real-world objects.

After a little research, I’ve put together a list of my favorites.1One thing to note: Stuff listed here has “become real” to varying degrees. There is a spectrum of real-ness going on. If you don’t think these things belong in the same list, then you read the post very thoroughly and I thank you.

Soma

In Huxley’s Brave New World (1932), soma is the literal2May not be literal, depending on fictional soma’s chemical composition. opiate of the masses. It induces a state of euphoric docility, and Huxley’s dystopian government actively encourages its use. Huxley apparently took the name from a common Indo-Iranian plant that’s frequently mentioned in Vedic texts, so maybe soma has gone reality > fiction > reality, but either way, Meda Pharmaceuticals markets a prescription pain reliever called Soma. It isn’t as malignant as Huxley imagined, but as a society we still have our fair share of opiates.

Soylent

If you haven’t seen Soylent Green, I won’t ruin it for you. Just trust me when I say that soylent green is a very weird thing to name your product after.3Even if you’re basing the name off of the original short story which inspired Soylent Green, it’s still pretty weird. In real life, soylent is a meal replacement drink, supposedly popular in the tech community. The company has its critics, but also has [raised money from Andreesen Horowitz], so who the fuck knows.

Buzz Lightyear

Movie about popular, fictional action figure generates incredible real-life demand for mass production of action figure. This is already unsettling on some level, but given the film’s central conflict (Buzz’s upsetting realization that he is one of many identical toys), it’s also contradictory to Toy Story’s thematic arc. It’s as if after watching The Matrix, we all collectively thought, “that looks fun,” and built one/it.

Bertie Botts Every Flavor Beans

A lot of things from Harry Potter have defictionalized.4Quidditch, Platform 9 and 3/4, Butterbeer The Potter-verse is a lot like the Star Trek universe - its fictions are so ingrained in a collective generation that the label of fiction doesn’t really apply anymore. Is something still “made up” if everyone treats it as real?5My good friend Colin Dwyer assures me that the answer to this rhetorical question can be found here

Wonka Candy

Roald Dahl wrote the book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but it wasn’t until its 1971 adaptation that defictionalized Wonka-brand products first appeared. Quaker Oats actually financed much of the film in exchange for the rights to market Wonka-brand confections through a subsidiary. In the 40+ years since the movie, the Willly Wonka Candy Company of Itasca, Ill., (now owned by Nestle) has made some awesome candies,6Gobstoppers, Sweettarts, Laffy Taffy, Nerds, Fun Dip but it also must be the longest running cross-promotional advertising campaign of all time. I don’t know how to feel about this.

Bubba Gump Shrimp

I definitely know how to feel about this. It’s bad enough that Bubba Gump Shrimp Company is basically the Planet Hollywood Of The Sea. But let’s dig into it for a second. Part of the reason you name the whole operation after the character of Bubba from Forrest Gump is because you want to fulfill Bubba’s unrealized dream of running a shrimp-focused restaurant. Since Bubba tragically dies, it’s the best way to honor his memory. Except Bubba is fictional. They’ve carved out a feel-good food niche based on a fictional character’s dying wishes. It’s like naming a singles cruise Jack and Rose.

Red Swingline Stapler

Apparently Swingline only started mass producing red staplers after the demand generated by Office Space.7Why its single best idea never caught on, I have no idea There’s something emotionally manipulative going on here, too. Why do so many people want to buy the red stapler? There are other objects in Office Space that could have taken root. My guess: In buying the stapler, people feel a ping of solidarity toward the character of Milton, someone who is clearly mentally disabled and just needs a friend. It’s a purchase that enacts real emotion in the buyer via some imagined identification with a person who never really existed.

Holiday Inn

The movie came first. Proof, I guess, that over time the defictionalization can completely eclipse its fictional inspiration.

The Anaheim Mighty Ducks

Every sports team mascot is a kind of defictionalization, really. I mean, giants don’t actually exist. But Giants8New York Giants, San Francisco Giants, Yomiuri Giants, Gold Coast-Tweed Giants, etc. do. The inspiration behind most team names is a fictional, idealized character. The unique thing about the Anaheim Ducks, though, is the specificity of the character. The team has dropped the “Mighty” from their name, so technically they are just Ducks. Over time, they will shed their fictional inspiration and become just another sports team mascot. It really makes me wonder how many of these things just get lost in time. The other pop-culture-based sports etymologies that I can think of9Albuquerque Isotopes, New York Red Bulls rely on recent references.

The Nightman Cometh

This one isn’t as popular, but it’s a good example of a story spawning a story. In It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia’s fourth season finale, the characters stage an incredibly offensive musical called “The Nightman Cometh.”10Quick summary: There is a Coffee Shop Princess. She is in love with a small man/boy. While the man/boy is sleeping, the Nightman pays a Troll to gain access to the man/boys room. He sexually assaults the man/boy. The man/boy then turns into the Dayman and fights the Nightman. The end. The play is bad. The show’s main characters are idiots, so of course the play is bad. Yet there was enough demand for a live version of the play that the show’s cast put on a multi-city tour, selling out every venue. It’s basically the plot of The Producers, but in real life.11Which, given the history of The Producers, is all kinds of meta-confusing.