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,
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.