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Ah, the Berenstain Bears.
These fuzzy critters are hands down some of the most beloved children's literature characters of the modern age. Whom among us hasn't learned a valuable (if not a little heavy-handed) lesson from Brother and Sister Bear?
The Bears taught us such varied lessons as: you should stop being a greedy little asshole and share, and if you bite your nails you're a gross, disgusting person who deserves to be a pariah among your family.
The treehouse-living Bears love us so much that they're still teaching us—technically grownups—important lessons today. And they have one final major lesson in store for us: We all live in an alternate reality and nothing we know is real.
You could say that they are our Ursidae Neo.
The Bears are communicating these newfound realities to us through their name. Take a cold hard look at the wording above. Does something look wrong to you? Do you remember it being Berenstein with an E, not Berenstain with an A?
If you do, you're not alone. There are many who remember it this way. In fact, there are so many Berenstein believers that people in the know will cite that as proof that this is a glitch in the matrix. I've dubbed these individuals Berensteinites. I talked to quite a few people I know, and most of them remember the bears surname being spelled with an E.
"I only realized that 'A' reading to my kid about eight months ago," one of my friends said. "That was a disturbing bedtime."
To be completely honest, I am one with the believers of the E. I personally remember, vividly, the Berenstain Bears being spelt with an E and calling it that for years. Even during the writing of this piece, the misspelled name is right there on the tip of my tongue. I constantly need to go back and change all of the Berensteins to Berenstains because my mind is so set in its way.
Learning that I have been wrong all these years has caused what can only be described as a personal crisis of sorts.
The Berenst(E)ain Bear theory has been around for a few years. But it exploded last week when Run the Jewels rapper/music producer, and possible Berensteinite, El-P, went on, I assume of course, a weed-powered tweeting spree about it.
Unlike many other conspiracy theories, the doctrine of the Berensteins seems to be gaining traction due to the fact that readers can take a side. There's Team Stein and Team Stain and some of the people misremembering the fact, whatever they think that fact is, see that misremembrance as proof of a different, and possibly darker, timeline.
Several theorists in particular think that the Berenst(E)ain Bear conspiracy is proof of the Mandela Effect.
The Mandela Effect is the brainchild of Fiona Broome, and it pulls its name from when a large group of people all had vivid memories of Nelson Mandela dying in prison. A thing that in this timeline, as they say, never happened. The theory reasons that if there is a large population of people who all share a similar false memory then the phenomenon is "related to alternate history and parallel realities."
The whole thing makes total sense, right?
Like all complex and important issues, you must first understand the history if you want to understand the theory, and what a long and enchanted history the Berensteinites have. The first time someone noticed the bears attempt to warn us was back in 2009 on a dreadlock-dedicated forum. A user by the name of Burke posted in Dreadlock Truth asking why the pronunciation of his favorite childhood books has changed. In these days, no one grasped the issue at hand and the severity of the bears' true message. Other users just offered solutions that the Berenstein name "sounds Jewish" and the change could've been a result of neo-Nazi aggression.
The theory remained dormant for a number of years before it popped up on the humorist website the Communist Dance Party in a lengthy 2011 post. Although the words were written in jest, the writer—the false prophet—blows the whole Berenstain Bears theory open and relates it to the Butterfly Effect.
"At some point between the years 1986 and 2011, someone traveled back in time and inadvertently altered the timeline of human history so that the Berenstein Bears somehow became the Berenstain Bears," he wrote. "This is why everyone remembers the name incorrectly; it was Berenstein when we were kids, but at some point when we weren't paying attention, someone went back in time and rippled our life experience ever so slightly."
Little did he know how important that notion would come to be in the movement.
The next appearance of the theory came in the form of a 2012 post on the blog The Wood Between Worlds by a user named Reese, called "The Berenstain Bears: We Are Living in Our Own Parallel Universe." These 1,600 words would prove to be the main literature of this modern movement. It is simply the Berensteinites' New Testament, their Vedas.
In it, the blog's author makes a "modest proposal," one that implies that all of us are "living in our own parallel universe." He propagates that there are at least two universes; the "stEien" universe and the "stAin" universe. The author attempts to prove the theory as true, and breaks down into mathematical and scientific terms.
Here's a tidbit:
I propose that the universe is a 4-dimensional complex manifold. If you don't se habla math jargon, that means I propose the 3 space dimensions and the 1 time dimensions are actually in themselves complex, meaning they take values of the form a+ib, part "real" and part "imaginary."
From there, the theory gestated until it started appearing last year on a subreddit with the apt name Glitch in the Matrix. This is when the gospel began to spread. The subreddit is dedicated to those things that "we usually tell ourselves to forget, because they're just too out of step with what experience tells us reality should be like." The Berensteinites first major Reddit appearance occurred when they took over a post asking if anyone had ever seen a picture of Henry VIII eating a turkey leg. They have called this corner of the internet home ever since.
The Mandela Effect became such a popular subject that a subreddit dedicated solely to the idea was started in 2013. It exists as a place where people can see if misremembering the release date of "Boom Boom Pow" is proof of parallel universes. It is a bastion of intellectual thought. A recent post on the subreddit by dedicated Berensteinite Roxxorursoxxors laid out the plans for a 20-year experiment on his or her two-year-old to see if the theory is valid.
"I'm going to do my best to forget this debate even exists, not bias her, and make sure she has berenstAin bear books until she turns about 10," Roxxorursoxxors wrote. "At that point I will take them away. When she turns 25 or so I'll ask her to what they're called and have her write down the answer."
To try and get a handle on what may be the most important scientific theory to arise in the 21st century, I thought I would go to an expert. Dr. Henry L. Roediger is one of the foremost experts on false memories in North America, so I wrote him about the Berensteinites to get his thoughts. His response made it clear he believes what's happening is more Occam's Razor than X-Files.
"I'm not sure that misremembering one letter in a long name is a major league false memory," he wrote VICE in an email. "My guess is that in this case that "stein" is remembered because it is a common ending of many names—Einstein, Frankenstein, Goldstein, etc."
He's obviously a shill in the great Berenstain conspiracy.
I knew I couldn't believe this sole expert's account in regards to this notion, as Reddit is never wrong. So I wrote Random House, the publisher of the books since 1962, in an attempt to confirm this theory. In the email I asked if they had always spelled the name with an "A" and if they were certain there were no titles printed under the Berenstein name. Almost immediately after I sent the email I received a reply from the publishing house. It was supernaturally fast. Almost like they knew it was coming.
"Thank you for contacting the Random House Children's Books publicity department," they wrote me. "Please note that due to the volume of emails we receive daily, it may take some time for us to respond to your request."
A likely story.
They know the Berensteinites are on to them.
Follow Mack Lamoureux on Twitter.