5 Universal Beliefs That We Got Thanks to One Single Movie

Richard Nixon came up with one idea from a most ironic source
5 Universal Beliefs That We Got Thanks to One Single Movie

If you see something in enough movies, you assume it’s true. If every movie has bears growling or frogs ribbiting or vampires hating lemons, we assume that’s how the real world works, because movies are the only form of education we have. 

Sometimes, however, no trend is necessary. All it takes is one influential movie — one old movie that you personally never saw — to change the world, convincing everyone that...

Presidents Are Supposed to Wear Flag Pins

The president always seems to wear a flag pin on his lapel. Check out the two presidential candidates below, almost looking like they’re sharing a uniform, thanks to their pins.

Trump Biden debate


Because if one skipped on the pin, clearly that would change this debate.

Presidents, however, went almost 200 years without adopting the flag pin standard. They wore other lapel pins — a masonic symbol perhaps, or a military star — but not a flag. You might even say a president wearing a flag pin is redundant, since he’s already the president and his nationality isn’t in question. The first president to wear the pin was Richard Nixon, and his staff convinced him to adopt it after watching a 1972 Robert Redford movie called The Candidate. 

Redford plays a senatorial candidate, one who doesn’t actually wear a flag pin. He does wear a flower pin, and this image evidently convinced Nixon’s staff that they needed to go one step better than that to give their man respectability. The movie is satire. Redford’s character starts by speaking his mind, but his edges get sanded down, till he’s just repeating the same empty, agreeable lines. In the clip below, we see him giggling at his own bullshit in private, and also flashing a couple V-signs in a very Nixonian pose. 

So, Nixon starting wearing flag pins thanks to The Candidate. Then he left office in disgrace, so no one followed his example. But afterward came the 21st century and the attacks of September 11th, and politicians remembered the flag pin idea Nixon had pioneered and brought it back. As for Redford, a few years after The Candidate, he starred in All the President's Men, a movie we trust Nixon enjoyed just as much. 

Pirates Used the Pirate Accent

We have this concept of “pirate speak,” of a single accent that pirates use. The more pirate-y the pirate, the closer they’ll adhere to this accent. The strongest pirate accent in recent years may have come from Captain Barbossa in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, while various other characters in the same movies do their own lighter versions of this accent.

In reality, pirates couldn’t possibly all speak the same way, since they came from all over the world. Our idea of the pirate accent comes entirely from one actor, Robert Newton, and his performance in 1950’s Treasure Island. Obviously, a lot of our cultural idea of pirates comes from Treasure Island, since that’s the most famous pirate story of all, but this idea of how pirates speak came from one single adaptation and was absent from the novel. 

Newton gave Long John Silver that distinctive accent not because that’s how he thought pirates spoke but because he himself was from the West Country in England, and that’s a theatrical West Country accent. Some of the other pirates in the same production followed his lead, though not as strongly. There’s an alternate universe where that movie hired some guy from Pennsylvania instead, and generations went on to think pirates all sounded like they were from Pittsburgh. 

Rabbits Like Carrots

We all associate rabbits with carrots, but the two don’t go together naturally at all. The carrots we eat don’t exist in nature at all, as they’re the result of a whole lot of selective breeding. Rabbit like greens, and they can eat the leafy top of a carrot, but if a rabbit gorges itself on carrots, that’d be like you trying to live on cotton candy. 

The rabbit-carrot connection originated entirely from that carrot-eating cartoon character Bugs Bunny. As for why Bugs munched on a carrot in his screen debut...

...that’s because he was doing an homage to a movie from a couple years earlier, It Happened One Night. Clark Gable’s character in that movie at one point whips out a raw carrot and chomps on it while outside. Elmer Fudd could have laid down lettuce to bait his quarry, but by making him use a carrot, A Wild Hare sets up a gag where Bugs appears and eats it like Clark Gable. 

We’ve shared this fact with you before, but if you’ve still not watched It Happened One Night yourself, maybe you’d like to see the actual scene in question:

The plot finds an excuse for Gable to poke inside love interest Claudette Colbert’s mouth, then they talk about whether she should eat a carrot. There are some definite sexual undertones here. The whole movie is full of hints at sex, which wouldn’t be allowed in movies once the Hays Code went into effect a couple months later. In fact, sexual undertones are surely why it was named It Happened One Night, as the movie doesn’t actually take place during one night, or concern any night in particular. 

Mohawks Wear Mohawks

The mohawk is a hairstyle. It’s also a name for an indigenous people from the eastern United States, so you probably think that hairstyle is named after the people. Indeed, Mohawk warriors did have a tradition of removing the hair on the scalp other than a single patch, but the result wasn’t the hairstyle that we’d call a mohawk. The tuft would be at the back of the head, making what you instead might call a scalp lock or a topknot. 

Other people, like the Pawnee, did have mohawk hair. So, why do we call the hairstyle a mohawk, instead of a pawnee (or an oldcroghan, since we’ve also found the hairstyle on 2,000-year-old Irish bog bodies)? It’s because of another Claudette Colbert movie, 1939’s Drums Along the Mohawk with Henry Fonda. This movie featured native warriors with mohawk hairdos, and when people found they needed a name for the hairstyle when it became popular in the 1970s, this movie influenced their choice. 

Drums Along the Mohawk shows a frontier couple getting attacked over and over by natives until the American Revolution is won off-screen and everyone beams at the promise of a new nation. But that doesn’t mean it only portrays natives as bad guys. There’s one good native, played by prolific actor Chief John Big Tree. He acts kindly toward the couple — by giving Ford’s character a stick so he can beat his wife, to tame her. 

Rockets Should Count Down to Takeoff

When a shuttle takes off, we count down backwards from 10, a countdown that ends with the words “blast off!” That’s something we know as kids, as soon as we learn to count, or even something we learn to help us learn to count. But there’s no reason launches have to count backwards. They could just as easily count up from one to ten. Consider how, when you’re synchronizing some task with a partner in your everyday life, you’re more likely to do it “at the count of three,” counting up from one, than by counting backwards.

NASA got the idea of counting down to launches from a German film called Woman in the Moon. This Fritz Lang silent picture was the first ever big-screen depiction of rocket travel — Georges Méliès’ earlier A Trip to the Moon was a far less serious look at lunar travel. In the clip below, marvel as the countdown dramatically ticks forward. We alternate between updates on the time remaining and shots of our heroes (Cardigan Man, Wight Woman, Mouse Weirdo and Shaven Hitler):

Counting down was a narrative trick, not a scientific necessity. The numbers creep down to excite you, and then NASA borrowed that trick to make their lead-up to real launches just as dramatic. 

Countdowns really are thrilling. Just look at this very article. It could have counted up from one to five, and newcomers to this site may be baffled at why it doesn’t. “Is this a ranking from five to one?” they might ask. It’s not. But we count down to build anticipation nonetheless, and when the countdown ends, enjoy a feeling of release. 

Follow Ryan Menezes on Twitter for more stuff no one should see.

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