5 Random Coincidences That Invented Modern Pop Culture
The ancient Greeks believed that inspiration came from the Muses, goddesses who came down from Olympus to help common mortals create great works of art. But nowadays we know that creative minds get their ideas from pretty much whatever random shit comes their way.
This even goes for some of the most famous characters in recent pop culture history ...
Stan Lee's Laziness Led to the X-Men
The hardest part of coming up with a new superhero is the origin story. You can't just have a guy in spider-themed pajamas shooting webs out of his palms with no explanation -- that would be ridiculous. There has to be this whole elaborate (and often grossly implausible) backstory about how he became who he is. And you have to put some thought into it, because you just know there will eventually be six or seven movie reboots covering that exact part of the story.
"Let's go realistic and gloomy for this one. Third time's a charm."
Well, the Patron Saint of Comics, Stan Lee, was all too aware of this when he was trying to develop a new team of heroes back in the early 1960s. How in the hell do you come up with a story for every one of these "X-Men" characters that explains how they all got different powers at once? So Lee said, and this is the actual quote:
"What if they were just born that way? Everybody knows there are mutations in real life. There are frogs that are born with five legs and so forth. I can get these guys to have any power I want. I'll just say, 'Well, they're mutants. They were born that way.' Nobody can argue with that!"
Sadly, Lee didn't go on to create Five-Legged Frog Man, but this is how we got basically all of the X-Men: characters with insane powers who have them just ... because.
The spirit of not trying would live on in every X-movie.
From there, it was easy -- Angel got his wings because Marvel hadn't made a character who could fly yet; Iceman came about because Lee wanted a second Human Torch, so he built a power based on the opposite of fire. And to quote the man on Marvel Girl: "I hated the name Marvel Girl, but I couldn't think of anything better." OK, maybe it's better sometimes to not know how your favorite things are made.
He did eventually come up with something better than Laser Dong.
Make no mistake -- these are some of the most beloved characters in comic book history, and it's specifically because of who they are. The X-Men are hated by the world purely because they were born different -- it's not hard to see why that resonated with fans. Who knows how things would have turned out if Lee had spent a whole weekend inventing various radioactive animals to bite each of these people.
A Simple (Yet Creepy) Misunderstanding Gave Us Hannibal Lecter
Lots of crime novels and movies are vaguely based on real-life events -- a writer reads about some psychopath with a burned face murdering teenagers and thinks, "What if that guy had knife hands?" But the story of how Thomas Harris, the author of the Hannibal Lecter novels, came up with his most famous character is much creepier ... and totally random.
In the 1960s, Harris was writing for a magazine and was sent to a Mexican prison to interview Dykes Askew Simmons, an American inmate on death row for triple murder. Presumably his first question was "What the hell were your parents thinking when they named you?" Simmons, however, was not the model for Hannibal Lecter -- he was nothing like him.
"Well, for starters, I'm allergic to fava beans."
During the interview, Simmons told Harris a story about how he got shot by a prison guard, but his life was saved by a doctor. Wanting to get more details for his article, Harris asked to be taken to the doctor ("Dr. Salazar"), whom he naturally assumed was the prison's resident physician. If you're familiar with any of the Hannibal movies, you have some idea of what happened next.
No, that was when he left.
Rather than talk about the shooting, Salazar seemed more interested in manipulating Harris into psychoanalyzing Simmons, questioning the writer about Simmons' physical disfigurements, his victims, and "the nature of torment," a topic that rarely comes up outside of chats with murderers and truly disastrous first dates. Despite that, Harris admitted that the man had a "certain elegance" about him. After the meeting, Harris asked the prison warden how long Salazar had been working there, only to be told that the man was in fact an inmate -- one deemed too insane to ever leave. Salazar had been a surgeon who had used his skills to "package his victim in a surprisingly small box."
He was "inappropriate use of sporting goods" away from serial killer bingo.
Years later, Harris would write Red Dragon and use the idea of an insane, murderous doctor with a knack for understanding other killers as the template for his liver-munching psychiatrist Hannibal Lecter. Of course, as often happens in real life, Salazar's actual story doesn't involve a spectacular escape that includes flaying guards alive. Yes, Salazar actually did end up getting out of jail, but he dedicated himself to providing medical assistance to the elderly until he died in 2009. Quick, somebody make a feel-good Silence of the Lambs sequel about that!
A Glitch Led to Mortal Kombat's Ermac
Ermac, Mortal Kombat's telekinetic ninja composed of dead souls, has a pretty complicated origin story, even by the standards of a series where an undead warrior shoots harpoons out of his hands. However, his real-life creation was a tad more mundane. Like many of us, he was a mistake, but unlike us, he didn't come about when his parents got drunk at a Ramones concert.
"You're not even a real Kombatant. They adopted you from some traveling Street Fighters."
When series creator Ed Boon was programming the original Mortal Kombat, he kept a log of error macros, which he called "Ermac" for short. Developers include commentary not meant for public view in their code all the time, but "Ermac" accidentally found its way into a menu in the finished game. And, because the reference to Ermac appeared right next to references to Reptile (an actual hidden character), gamers naturally assumed that Ermac was an even more secretive fighter. Thus began gaming's most hilarious and/or saddest treasure hunt.
Remember, this was an era when, if you wanted to enjoy a game's secrets, by God, you had to work for them. Encountering Reptile -- the actual hidden character -- required players to win a flawless victory, without blocking, that ended with a fatality, on a specific level, while a silhouette passed over the moon (which only happened every six matches). Think about the sheer amount of repetition involved in discovering something like that. Now think about how far those same obsessive players were willing to go to find this other secret character "Ermac" that, oh, by the way, wasn't actually there.
"Keep putting in those quarters. You guys are so close."
Ed Boon never denied the rumors, probably because he thought it was funny watching players drive themselves nuts trying to unlock a secret that didn't exist, but he knew that "Ermac" would have to exist in future games. Thus, the character was added for the game's sequels, and Ermac's backstory and abilities were even inspired by theories that fans came up with.
Although it would have been funnier if his only backstory was "he's an obsessive fighter with way too much free time on his hands."
A (Barely) Passing Resemblance Led to Frasier's Brother
Any struggling actor can tell you that the most random shit can wind up landing you a role (fun fact: the character of Gunther on Friends existed purely because that guy was the only extra who could work a coffee machine). But then you get the truly baffling ones, like how David Hyde Pierce came to land his only famous role, that of Niles Crane on Frasier.
After Cheers spent 11 seasons showing us the funny side of chronic alcoholism, the show's producers decided to try their luck by taking one of its popular characters and giving him a spinoff. Then when that failed miserably they tried again with a series about the pompous psychiatrist Frasier Crane.
If you claim to remember this show, you are a goddamn liar.
For Frasier, they transplanted the good doctor to Seattle and gave him a supporting cast consisting of a cantankerous ex-cop father, a man-eating radio producer, and a quirky physical therapist who thought she had psychic powers, because if there's anyone you want taking care of your invalid dad, it's a possible crazy person. Notice anyone missing? Oh yeah, David Hyde Pierce's Niles, the even more neurotic fellow psychiatrist and kid brother who out-Frasiers Frasier.
That's because Niles was never meant to be part of the show -- in fact, in Cheers Frasier mentioned that he was an only child. But the casting director knew Pierce from the short-lived sitcom The Powers That Be and thought there was a striking resemblance between him and Kelsey Grammer. She showed photos of him to the producers, who agreed.
She also tried to get them to add a third brother played by Charles S. Dutton.
You might notice that these two men share no resemblance whatsoever. We don't know if it was just dark in the room, or if they were thinking of someone else ("Frasier is the mailman, right?"), but once Pierce was brought to their attention, the producers wrote the role of Niles for him. Keep in mind that his previous role was a neurotic, morose man whose patented running joke was that he kept trying to commit suicide:
By the way, Pierce was unimpressed with the Frasier script he was shown. He didn't see the point of writing in basically another Frasier in a show that, as the name implied, already had one. But a gig was a gig, and there are only so many chances in life to make millions due to some strangers mistakenly thinking you look like Kelsey Grammer.
A Gloomy Night and Charles Dickens' Dyslexia Create Ebenezer Scrooge
In 1841, Charles Dickens -- already a bestselling author -- was due to give a talk in Edinburgh and needed to kill some time beforehand. So he decided to walk through a graveyard, because the Victorians never got around to inventing non-creepy ways to have fun. While this may seem like the setup to his lesser-known work Attack of the Zombie Scotsmen, that night's stroll in fact led to the creation of everyone's favorite miser, Ebenezer Scrooge.
Whom of course you know from Oliver Twist.
As Dickens walked through what we assume was a thick Scottish fog, he saw the gravestone for a guy named Ebenezer Lennox Scroggie. The grave identified him as a "meal man," a reference to the fact that he sold cornmeal. But due to a combination of the gloom and Dickens' own mild dyslexia, he mistook the words for "mean man." Which, damn, talk about a rough way to be remembered.
Dickens was struck by a memorial that he thought would have "shriveled" Scroggie's soul by having to take "such a terrible thing to eternity." Two years later, he released a novel about a man whose legacy of stinginess would haunt him from beyond the grave, and thanks to Dickens, it's now about as popular to name your kids Ebenezer as it is to call them Adolph.
We kind of wish Dickens had stuck with Scroggie, because that's a damn fun name to call someone. But ironically, the real Scroggie was a wild and promiscuous party animal who got in trouble with the Church of Scotland for both knocking up a servant out of wedlock (supposedly in a graveyard, because apparently that's just where Scottish people liked to hang out back then) and interrupting the General Assembly of the church by grabbing a countess' ass.
"He yelled 'One!' then 'Countass ... get it?'"
Had Dickens known Scroggie's real-life story, it's possible A Christmas Carol would be a whiskey-fueled porno about a man who visits the Christmases of his various illegitimate children. As it is, one of the most famous literary characters in history came about because one of the greatest writers in history couldn't read a four-letter word.
Related Reading: Coincidences get coinci...denser. Morgan Robertson wrote about the sinking of the Titanic fourteen years before it happened. Also, the world is run by a vast left-handed conspiracy. We've got more: John Wilkes Booth's brother saved the life of Abraham Lincoln's son.