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'Sinbad Smith' and the troll pole: Two tales of things that are not as they seem

In this May 17, 2016, photo, actor Mr. T poses for photographers. (Mary Altaffer/AP)
In this May 17, 2016, photo, actor Mr. T poses for photographers. (Mary Altaffer/AP)

In this "Snacktime"-style episode — in which Ben and Amory each tell each other a story from the Internet — Amory shares a 10-year-old Reddit post with Ben showing a photo of a college student with an epic-looking wooden staff and a caption that baffled the photo's subject. Ben shares a Trivial Pursuit question that launched a mystery fit for a Redditor.

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Full Transcript:

This content was originally created for audio. The transcript has been edited from our original script for clarity. Heads up that some elements (i.e. music, sound effects, tone) are harder to translate to text.

Ben Brock Johnson: Hey.

Amory Sivertson: Hey.

Ben: Hey, we're here. It's me and you.

Amory: Still here. Five years. Did you know that? This is five years of making the show.

Ben: I know. I know.

Amory: We can go to kindergarten.

Ben: We can officially stop picking our nose. Because it's not OK. It's not OK and we will be ostracized. Endless Thread must recognize societal norms, starting now.

Amory: We need to learn how to tie laces. That's my New Year's resolution.

Ben: But we'll always be snackin'.

Amory: Never stop the snackin'.

Ben: And a whole life of Endless Thread snacking.

Amory: Yeah.

Ben: Yeah. We got some stories for you, right? You got one.

Amory: Of course, of course we do. Yeah. So, do you want me to go first?

Ben: Always.

Amory: OK, so Ben, 2023 is the 10th anniversary of a particular Reddit post that hit the front page back in the day and continues to pop back up around the Internet every once in a while. And I'm going to send you that post. Can you read the title of the post?

Ben: "This guy walks around my college with his staff everywhere he goes. I finally asked him why and he replied, 'Seen any trolls around here lately? Didn't think so.' "

Amory: OK, and then there's a picture that this person surreptitiously took of the alleged troll hunter sitting on the ground, legs crossed.

Ben: He's sitting on the ground in a classroom. Nobody has good posture when they're sitting on the floor of the classroom.

Amory: No. They have headphones on, backpack on the ground next to them. And then the aforementioned staff.

Ben: Yeah, the staff is glorious. It's got some of that twisty thing that you can kind of see sometimes in a staff. Like it's either ... it could be like a carved vine wood situation where it sort of like twists and twirls. It has one of those rubber things that you would put on a cane on the bottom of it.

Amory: For better traction, for gripping.

Ben: Traction and bounce. It's good. It's a good staff. You might be ridiculed slightly for carrying a staff, but you wouldn't be ridiculed by other staff people. This is a staff that a staffer could be proud of.

Amory: Exactly. So this is great, right? There's a witty response from this person about their staff. But then, fast forward to the dawn of 2023, and a post in our subreddit ... endless_thread.

Ben: You love to see it.

Amory: LOVE to see it. It's titled, "How I Became Reddit famous for 15 minutes without ever using Reddit." And this Redditor tells a story from 10 years ago, 2013, and begins, "I'm a wee lass in my mid-twenties just back from the U.S. Army, although I wouldn't figure out the lass part of that statement for another couple of years. My time in the service left me with leg pain that never went away and I resorted to carrying around a staff to help me walk because, well, staffs are f-ing awesome compared to canes if you're doing well enough to use them. Cut to one day, I come in to college and an acquaintance comes storming up to me. 'Did you know you were on the front page of Reddit last night?' Now friends, I didn't have more than the faintest idea of what Reddit was. As seen in that link, someone claimed that I had told them I carried the staff to kill trolls. Here's the thing: not only did I not know what Reddit was, I also hadn't ever talked to anyone about my staff, and I certainly didn't say it was my troll-killing stick, so to speak."

Ben: Are you telling me someone on the internet made something up? Is that what you're telling me, Amory?

Amory: I am, But. But. OK, let me let me let me continue here because the plot thickens. They say, "Honestly, I kind of wish I had come up with the comeback that the amateur photographer said I did, as it's not the worst comeback to someone asking why one is using a mobility aid. Ever since then, though, every once in a while when I least expect it, I'll see my old face in a listicle or something and be like, Oh, right. That's the time I was Reddit famous for 15 minutes, and apparently there's still the occasional quirky person who thinks about it other than myself. So that's my story. No big moral or anything, just one trans woman's story of apparently being a troll slayer IRL without knowing it." So, yes, you could say this is just the story of someone making something up on the Internet. And yeah, the OP from 10 years ago seemingly snapped a sneaky photo, put it online without this person's permission and fabricated a story behind it. Not great. So first I reached out to the Reddit noob who posted this on our subreddit and just tried to get a little more of the backstory and an update on how they're doing, maybe. And she wrote back, and here's what I've learned. Her name is Catherine or Cat. She works in the cybersecurity field for the corporate office of a bank.

Ben: Oh, now we get the lass part.

Amory: The last part?

Ben: Yeah, the lass part.

Amory: The lass part. Right, right, right. And she says, figuring out that she's a trans woman in the years since this picture of her was posted and got some attention, has made her life much, much, much happier.

Ben: But that's tricky, though, right? Because, like, you've got this picture of yourself in your assigned sex and your chosen sex, right, out on the Internet. That's... I suppose that could be painful.

Amory: Yeah, well, I did ask if the picture kind of took a troll. A troll, haha. Took a toll.

Ben: Took a troll! If the picture took a troll.

Amory: If it took a troll toll. I did. I asked her if it took a toll, had an effect on her in any way. She said the picture wasn't a big deal, to be honest, although I was confused as to why someone was making up a random narrative about me and still am. That said, I know some of my friends were upset about it because apparently one of the predominant debates was whether or not I was in some way developmentally challenged. And I'll admit that knowing that people thought that about me based on a random image and made up a pull quote, hurt some. She also wrote in our subreddit that she mentioned that she'd been wanting to tell her side of the story for a long time. And so I asked her why she waited 10 years to do it. And she said, "I didn't share my side of the story back then for a couple of reasons. First, there were already thousands of posts." Really, she means comments. "There were thousands of [comments] in the thread. I didn't think it would even be noticed if I did share it." Because again, she just she still doesn't use Reddit that much. She wasn't on Reddit then. She didn't know what was going on.

Ben: Little did she know that that's that's like one of the greatest genres of, you know, Reddit comment is when the subject jumps in and is like, "Yeah, actually, I'm here."

Amory: Yeah, yeah, yeah. She says for six months she'd occasionally get a, "Do I recognize you?" And after that, people have occasionally said, like, I saw the picture of you in a listicle. She says, "I think the big thing I tell folks is that obviously you can't control the internet or what people put on it, but to do your best, to take it in stride and keep a sense of humor, if you can."

Ben: Depends on what kind of staff you have. I'm sure there's an internet-controlling staff out there somewhere saying someone's got it. I don't know who's got it. Please, God, let's keep it out of the hands of Elon Musk.

Amory: Yeah, I did ask if she still had that bada-- staff and if she could share a current picture of it or of herself with it. And since this is based on, you know, fake information to begin with. She did send me some current pictures of herself. But as for the staff, she wrote, "I unfortunately lost it in a move. If I remember correctly, I actually found it at an Ace Hardware of all places...

Ben: WHAT?

Amory: ...and fell in love with it." But of course, I asked her if she had any idea who posted this picture and fake story about her. She says, "No idea. Seriously, it baffles me."

Ben: I'll tell you why I didn't look at the username. Yeah, it is a username. Even we, the disgusting, filthy show that is Endless Thread, probably cannot or should not say this name.

Amory: I won't say it. Yeah, we do know that she went to the northeast campus of Tarrant County College in Texas. And we do know the OP's Reddit username that we will not mention. So I clicked on it. I always do this just to see what I can learn about the person. And this, Ben, I would say, is where we are reminded of our humanity, because my first inclination was definitely to be like, "Oh, this person posting a photo of someone else without permission, creating a story around it to get upvotes on Reddit. You know, who does that, and why? Why would you do that?" And I don't know the real why, but I do know that when I scrolled through this person's Reddit history, it made me sad. They haven't posted anything in nine years, but their most recent posts were often in the Depression subreddit. They write about the trouble they had switching medications, saying things like, you know, "My anxiety is constant. I constantly fear for my life." One day they posted in the Ask Reddit sub, "Anyone just want to talk?" and then they go on and talk about how lonely and overwhelmed they are and that they contemplate suicide often. And then at a certain point, the posts just stop. So I don't know this person. I don't know their story, but I know that I felt a lot more compassion for them and could at least imagine why they might have posted this picture of Cat and her staff at the time. Because we all turn to the internet for validation and affirmation sometimes.

Ben: Yeah.

Amory: And sometimes we do it in really vulnerable moments when we could use some kind of validation.

Ben: I also think sometimes we post to the internet not realizing, you know, we're in this extremely online age where, you know, everyone can get excoriated for anything and, almost anything. And I think you also can look at that post and imagine the OP doing it in good, clean fun in their minds. Right?

Amory: Yeah, maybe they were just like I thought of this really funny thing and I want, I want an outlet to do it and so this doesn't give us permission to post untruthfully or especially at other people's expense. But the why of this post, there's some more context around this for me. And you know, I know that Cat is doing well today, according to her. I don't know how this person is doing today because they're, at the very least, they're not on Reddit anymore. But I hope they're OK. And I hope we when someone, when we see something that we're like, "Ugh, this person did this," we at least stop ourselves and try to ask ourselves why they might have done it. Because we're complicated, man. We're just ... we're messy, messy creatures.

Ben: Yeah, especially you. You're very messy.

Amory: Especially me. Fair, fair.

Ben: No, I'm with you. I'm with you. A little compassion in 2023.

Amory: Here here.

Ben: Let's do it.

Amory: All right, well, we've got to take a little break. But why don't you text a friend and tell them that you're thinking about them, just for fun. And then we'll be back in a minute, and Ben will tell me a story.


Ben: Amory, are you into trivia? Did you ever play the game Trivial Pursuit?

Amory: I LOVE trivia, even though I'm not very good at it. And yes, I did play Trivial Pursuit. Specifically the Star Wars edition, which I thought I was going to crush. And then they asked things like, "What was the name of the third ship to the left in the scene where blah, blah, blah, blah." And I'm like, I can't work with this.

Ben: Yeah.

Amory: So I get owned by trivia every time, but I do love it.

Ben: You're like, "My passing understanding of this universe will make me amazing at this game." And then they were like, Oh, no, no, no. It's more complicated. I'm also bad at trivia, but this story is about another Reddit post that I think reflects how sometimes trivia is extremely hard. This is in the Help Me Find subreddit. And you have seen this post, I believe.

Amory: I have.

Ben: Yeah. The post is titled, "This movie called Sinbad Smith starring Mr. T — I can't find any trace of it actually existing, but this Trivial Pursuit card says it does." So the question on the card is, "What movie stars Mr. T as Sinbad the Sailor trying to survive in today's New York?" So you know, Sinbad the Sailor, you know, it's like a historical fiction about a sailor, he goes on lots of adventures. He's like, a vaguely Middle Eastern version of Odysseus or something. You know, he has lots of exciting adventures. And apparently, Mr. T starred in this movie called "Sinbad Smith," in which Sinbad the Sailor from yore gets put into modern day New York City.

Amory: Sounds like the thing you'd watch at the sleepover when you're 11.

Ben: Yeah. It's kind of like a "Crocodile Dundee" vibes. So this is a mystery. This movie, you know, doesn't seem to exist, but, you know, Trivial Pursuit, which is as close to the official record as you ever might get when it comes to random facts, claims it's true. It's printed on the card! So instead of directly answering this question immediately, I am, of course, going to completely sidebar this and say that, before you pity the fool who doesn't know the answer to a Mr. T movie question, the first thing that I thought of was starring Sinbad, the actor and comedian, and it's called "Shazam!" Do you remember this movie?

Amory: I never saw it. But I know of it, yeah.

Ben: You never saw it, but you know of it.

Amory: Yeah.

Ben: OK. Interesting.

Amory: I'm sorry, is that unhelpful in this scenario?

Ben: Well, no, no, it's actually quite accurate, because. "Shazam!" There's a whole Reddit community based on this. Oh, starring Sinbad, the actor and comedian. A movie in which he plays. Can you guess? Do you remember?

Amory: The... the... Shazam!

Ben: He plays a genie. A magical genie.

Amory: OK.

Ben: "Shazam" is also a movie that actually never came out and doesn't exist.

Amory: Whaaat?

Ben: Yes. Despite in a huge Reddit community being dedicated to this and many people talking about it on the internet in you claiming to know about the movie, but having never seen it.

Amory: God, I feel like I can picture art for it.

Ben: Yeah. What do you picture? What do you see?

Amory: I could draw it for you. The Z looks a little like a lightning bolt. The Z is a little jagged. And it's orange.

Ben: OK.

Amory: So this is a Mandela effect thing? Clearly.

Ben: Yes. So, Mandela effect. Can you explain what a Mandela effect is?

Amory: Mandela effect is a collective misremembering or a collective thinking that something happened that didn't, really.

Ben: Do you know why it's named Mandela effect?

Amory: Oh, because people could have sworn that Nelson Mandela died. I don't know, people collectively remember Nelson Mandela dying before he actually died.

Ben: In prison, before he was released.

Amory: I thought he died in the Mandela effect.

Ben: Yes, in the Mandela effect, people thought Nelson Mandela died in prison, but in reality, he got out of prison, went on to become the president of South Africa and had a long life. So, this movie, "Shazam!" seems to be a case of the Mandela effect and one of the theories about the Mandela effect — the theories about the theory — is that there are multiple alternate universes and when we misremember something like this at a mass scale, when a number of people misremember or remember something that supposedly never happened, they're remembering something that happened in an alternate universe. And somewhere the universe kind of split, time split, and we're remembering an alternate timeline. So anyway, before we get too stoned on this, on this little journey, I want to say that, interestingly, one of the synchronicities here is that the comedian Sinbad, like Nelson Mandela, also has had people have a fake death memory/theory about him. There's a Snopes article about this. The Associated Press actually ended up contacting Sinbad and checking to see if he had died. And he was like, No, I am alive and well. So, you know, this is just another great example of how misinformation gets spread and becomes actually powerful enough that The Associated Press has to call and check on Sinbad. The sad little piece of news here is that Sinbad, unfortunately, did have a massive stroke in 2020. Sinbad is still with us, and he is trying to kind of heal from this stroke. Um, but let's get back to the trivia card that has nothing to do with Sinbad the actor.

Amory: Right! Sinbad the Sailor.

Ben: Sinbad the Sailor. Mr. T. The movie is supposedly called "Sinbad Smith."

Amory: Sure.

Ben: If you look at the top comment, you know, this is when Reddit works well. The top comment has the has the real answer to this. And it says, "The movie didn't get made. I can't get to the actual article here on Tampa Bay Times, probably because there's a paywall. But if you look at the text, it reads 'Too bad Sinbad plans have collapsed for Mr. T to star as Sinbad the Sailor in a big screen version of the classic tale called Sinbad Smith.' " So another poster says, "Likely the cards were written before the movie was canceled."

Amory: Which makes me wonder, what is the Trivial Pursuit — I've wondered this anyway, because...

Ben: Let's call their fact checking department. Come on.

Amory: Yeah, but no. But how are questions even written? Who does this? And what is the process? And how would you even know that the movie was in production? Like, was there someone at this production company for the movie that had a friend at Trivial Pursuit and was like, "Hey, we're working on this thing. You should put a question in because then it'll be really relevant by the time this edition of the game comes out."

Ben: Could be. Or there's just like an extreme film nerd who works for Trivial Pursuit, right? And so, like, part of their deal is like, OK, well, this is going to come out this game, this version of the game is going to come out in a couple of years. The movie will be out by then, you know, and maybe they just made a bad call. You know, I wish we could have all seen "Sinbad Smith."

Amory: Well, it's not too late, right? Mr. T's still around.

Ben: Yeah, that's true.

Amory: This could still happen.

Ben: Sinbad Smith discovers third wave coffee in New York City.

Amory: We could be the ones that make this trivia card relevant again.

Ben: Do we actually know Mr. T is still alive?

Amory: Yeah, I'm pretty sure. I would have heard that. I check on Mr. T regularly. I don't, but I'm going to now. Mr. T... Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. He's alive.

Ben: Well, Amory, this is a, you know, just a reminder that the movie "Shazam!" is not real, Mandela effect is a thing, we should check our facts — especially if we are working for Trivial Pursuit, the game. Do you have ideas of what our trivia team should be named, Amory?

Amory: Maybe we're the fools that Mr. T pities, so we're like The Fools to be Pitied. No, that's too long.

Ben: Yeah.

Amory: I'm never good at this.

Ben: I have a good one. Smart, dumb, dumb, smart. You can decide which one of us is which. I also had another one which was: Stabby and Gabby.

Amory: Oh, that's really good!

Ben: It's pretty good, right?

Amory: And if you don't get that joke, you have not listened to enough of our archive of episodes.

Ben: Please, please get on that.

Amory: Particularly the stabby part.

Ben: Also, we would like to know your trivia team names. I will also offer to give you a trivia team name if you tell me something about yourself so you can tweet at us, @Endless_Thread. You can hit us up on Reddit. Tell us either your trivia team name or tell us something about yourself and Amory and I will come up with a trivia team name for you.

Amory: Mm hmm. Since I'm clearly so good at it. But truly, we have fantasized about organizing a trivia night. And so if that's something that you're also interested in, let us know. Be loud about it. Because I've got this note in my phone. It's just bubbling over with great questions.

Ben: Folks, we'll talk to you next week. Thanks for listening. Stay cool forever.

Amory Sivertson Twitter Senior Producer, Podcasts
Amory Sivertson is a senior producer for podcasts and the co-host of Endless Thread.



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