Memories of naked Alexander Skarsgard

Sadly, this isn’t a racy memoir – I wish I could regale you with tales from my wild youth of actual experiences with a naked Alexander Skarsgard, but no, this is going to be more of that skepticism talk instead.  Sorry.  (For those of you who are disappointed to have landed here from your search for scantily clad Alexander, may I direct you here.  You’re welcome.)

So, yes.  Skepticism.  Ahem.  I started reading Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse novels around the time that True Blood premiered on HBO.  Thus, I tend to picture the characters as the actors who portray them on the show.  The books are great guilty pleasure fodder – steeped in Mary Sue syndrome and sometimes hilariously badly written, but on the whole, they’re very entertaining and addictive.  Now, I’m about to give some spoilers for the beginning of book 4, Dead to the World.  This occurs right in the first chapter or so, but just in case,

This

is

your

chance

to

look

away

OK.  A friend and I were eagerly awaiting True Blood‘s coverage of book 4.  Among other things, we were wondering if the show would have Eric running down Sookie’s road, completely naked, just like we remembered from the book.  Given that Skarsgard shows a stereotypically Swedish casualness toward on-set nudity, and Alan Ball is hardly squeamish about showing man-flesh, we thought they probably would.

Then some teaser pictures came out, and we saw that Eric Northman was there by the side of the road, looking adorably confused, and he was . . . shirtless?  We were sorely disappointed that they abandoned canon and put a pair of jeans on the Viking vamp.  We periodically complained about it to each other, and wondered why they would make such a stupid change.

Here’s why – they didn’t change anything.  He’s not naked in the book.  Despite the fact that we both very specifically (you might say vividly) remember that Eric Northman was described as running down the road naked, he wasn’t.  When someone informed me of this, I went to look at that chapter, so I could prove that I was right, and I read this:

I had only a moment to notice that the man was tall, blond, and clad only in blue jeans, before I pulled up by him.

And that, my friends, is how human memory works.  Things get garbled.  Relevant details get forgotten, while inaccurate components get inserted.  Some of it is random, but a lot of it is due to bias, or I daresay, wishful thinking.  It’s not that people deliberately confabulate – it’s that things that we expect or would like to be true become true in our recollection.  Other people can even insert new memories in our minds, deliberately or accidentally.  This is one reason why anecdotes are poor quality evidence, why eye witness accounts are a dangerous basis for putting people to death, and why a bunch of people using faddish psychological therapy accused their parents and teachers of horrific crimes that never happened.  Perhaps the scariest thing is that our degree of certainty that a memory is accurate is no guide to how accurate it really is.

So the next time someone tells you that their baby fussed much less once they wore an amber teething necklace, or that their cousin’s child showed no signs of autism until he got the MMR, or that the psychic on TV knew so much about people it must be real, reflect that they’re just reporting their memories of these events.  Aside from all the issues of anecdata, the placebo effect, post hoc ergo propter hoc, and all the problems that make individual reports poor evidence, they’re probably remembering things wrong too – unconsciously skewing the recollection to dovetail with their beliefs and expectations.

My friend maintains that Eric was naked when we read the book, it’s just that somehow all currently available copies of the book have been altered.  Thankfully, she does this tongue-in-cheek, as conspiracy theories are a whole other subject for another day.

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About Christine

I'm a full-time mother to two kids, an ex-lawyer, a breastfeeding counselor, a skeptic, and (to steal a phase from Penn & Teller) a "science cheerleader." You can e-mail me at skepticalmothering (at) gmail (dot) com.

Posted on January 9, 2012, in Skepticism and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. This is a great point, to which I would add only one comment, coming from my training as a sociocultural anthropologist: one thing that affects what we remember is what we expect, and our expectations are profoundly shaped by our culture.

    Brigette Jordan’s classic ethnography _Birth in Four Cultures_ carries a memorable anecdote that illustrates this. She describes “remembering” this universal expression of joyful celebration when a baby is born, then looking at actual video footage that she filmed of a Mayan family’s birth and noticing for the first time — even though she had BEEN THERE and at dozens of similar births during her fieldwork in Mexico — that nobody cheered when the baby was born. Rather it was the successful delivery of an intact placenta that brought cheers and celebration … because that signaled that the mother would survive instead of bleeding to death.

    Jordan realized that it was her own culture’s frames of normal behavior at a birth that had caused her to “remember” something she had not in fact witnessed, something that had not in fact occurred. So even the professional trained observer’s memories are suspect!

  2. That’s really interesting Rebecca! I have to say that knowing about this phenomenon in an intellectual way is a totally different experience from having it happen to you, with concrete evidence of what really happened. It’s very shocking, and a bit disorienting! And I imagine cultural expectations could be even stronger, because they’re “just how things are,” and because you’re likely to get reinforcement from everyone around you.

  3. Christine, did you notice that you’ve been featured on Skepchick? Check it out here: http://skepchick.org/2012/01/quickies-1-11/
    Go girl!

  4. I saw! Thanks for letting me know – I’m so excited! Hello, all you Skepchick readers!

  5. Hello Christine! (Yeah, I’m a skepchick reader.)
    Excellent post. :)

  6. I came over here from skepchick and holy crap I totally remembered that scene as Eric running down the road naked! Wow, must have been a lot of wishful thinking going on.

  7. Everyone I talk to about this also remembered him as naked. Well, except for the person who pointed out to me he wasn’t. But yeah, my friends share this article and also report that the people they tell react with, “Holy cow, I totally thought he was naked too!”

    Maybe Charlaine Harris has discovered some secret mind control literary technique?

  8. Ah, now I remembered Eric was wearing jeans because I remembered him taking them off in Sookie’s kitchen…and her washing them…but had many argue with me that I was wrong ;). It IS a very interesting point you are making, until you get the the part about anyone remembering something that goes against societal norms is PROBABLY remembering things wrong, too. I was agreeing with you on everything right up to that point! Ah, sigh. As comforting and as it might be to rely on collective memory alterations to make our world seem like a safe little bubble where the government can do no wrong, nothing that we don’t understand/supernatural exists and no way
    could traditional, old fashioned, silly folk wisdom could trump modern science…remember that our flawed memories can go either way. Be open to new ideas, for better or for worse – don’t second guess yourself all the time if you question the status
    quo. It’s okay to think differently, hey you PROBABLY have at least a 50/50 chance of being right! From the person that remembered Eric’s jeans being on, because she enjoyed even more him taking them off ;)

  9. He was naked. In my mind.

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