2174: First News Memory

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First News Memory
Psychology researchers say our 'flashbulb' memories of big events can be unreliable, but I clearly remember watching live on CNN as Challenger crashed into and destroyed the Berlin Wall.
Title text: Psychology researchers say our 'flashbulb' memories of big events can be unreliable, but I clearly remember watching live on CNN as Challenger crashed into and destroyed the Berlin Wall.


Seven xkcd characters are discussing their "first news memory", their first memory of an event that was reported by the news media. A person's "first news memory" can vary based on their age, the region where they grew up, and how in touch with the news they are.

The following is a breakdown of the memories given by the characters, in typical xkcd fashion:

Frame One[edit]

Four people are standing in-frame: Ponytail, Cueball, Megan, and Hairy.

Ponytail gets the ball rolling by posing the question. Cueball recalls the election coverage from the year 1988. As Randall lives in the US, this is probably the 1988 US presidential election in which George H. W. Bush defeated Michael Dukakis. Megan recalls the removal of the Berlin wall, which began in 1989.

Frame Two[edit]

The view pans right to show Megan, Hairy, White Hat, and Black Hat standing around.

Hairy recalls the Challenger explosion, which occurred in 1986. Many schools allowed teachers to bring a television to the classroom to show their students the launch, sadly unaware of the impending disaster the children would witness. However, Hairy remembers watching the footage in 1995, so Hairy's teacher was knowingly showing the students recorded footage of a disaster. Presumably, knowingly showing a number of young schoolchildren a traumatizing event led to the teacher's dismissal.

Frame Three[edit]

The view pans right to show Hairy, White Hat, Black Hat, and Hairbun standing around.

White Hat says that his first news memory was about the 2016 election (presumably the 2016 US presidential election), which is only three years prior to the publication date of this comic. As he is in his thirties, this implies that he spent most of his life completely unaware of the news.

Frame Four[edit]

The view pans right, leaving just White Hat, Black Hat, and Hairbun in-frame.

Black Hat's first sentence is normal in the context of the question, albeit making him older than the others. Given only the sentence 'we landed on the moon,' the 'we' is inferred to be 'the United States of America', 'the human race.', or maybe even NASA, as they might all be scientists. The first moon landing occurred on July 20, 1969. However, Black Hat goes on to say that 'my second memory is my mom telling us we were moving to Earth instead, to blend in with the humans.' This gives a completely different meaning to his first memory, as it is now implied that Black Hat is a humanoid alien who moved to the Moon, but whose mother then decided to move to Earth. Whether any news coverage resulted is unclear. Hairbun then remarks that this revelation explains Black Hat's odd (and usually disruptive) behavior. It is unclear whether Black Hat is telling the truth, but knowing Black Hat, and considering the fact that this would be unlikely to receive news coverage, he is likely intentionally trying to unnerve others. Another possibility is that Black Hat was the youthful victim of a prank by his own mother, with Hairbun's comment implying that such an upbringing accounts for the trollish aspects of Black Hat's character in the present day.

Title Text[edit]

The title text gives the claim that flashbulb memories of big events can be unreliable. Randall (or another character in the comic, possibly Hairbun) denies this claim, claiming to remember watching on CNN as the Challenger spacecraft crashed into the Berlin Wall. This is an inaccurate memory of these two events, as the Challenger explosion occurred in 1986 over the Atlantic Ocean, just east of Cape Canaveral, Florida, and did not occur near the Berlin Wall (in Berlin, Germany). Also, the Berlin Wall was intentionally demolished starting in 1989; it was not damaged by a space shuttle.[citation needed] It is possible that this memory also conflates those events with those of the September 11 attacks since the latter did involve three winged craft crashing into and destroying landmark structures.


[Ponytail, Cueball, Megan, Hairy, White Hat, Black Hat and Hairbun are all at a party, discussing their earliest news memories.]
[Panel with Ponytail, Cueball, Megan, and Hairy]
Ponytail: What's your first news memory?
Cueball: I always like this question! Mine was the 1988 election.
Megan: Berlin wall for me. You?
[Frame-less panel with Megan, Hairy, White Hat, and Black Hat]
Hairy: Watching the Challenger launch in class. We were so excited; everyone was horrified when it blew up.
Hairy: It was 1995.
Hairy: Our teacher got fired soon after.
[Panel with Hairy, White Hat, Black Hat, and Hairbun]
White Hat: Mine's the 2016 election.
Hairbun: ...aren't you in your 30's?
White Hat: Look, we're not all great about keeping up with the news, OK?
[Panel with White Hat, Black Hat, and Hairbun]
Black Hat: My first memory is when we landed on the moon.
Black Hat: My second memory is my mom telling us we were moving to Earth instead, to blend in with the humans.
Hairbun: This explains a lot.

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AAAAA, black hat is an alien confirmed in XKCD cinematic universe canon!!!1! Fabian42 (talk) 23:33, 10 July 2019 (UTC)

Should it be linked to Comics to make one feel old? it is kind of a similar theme. especially 1686: Feel Old. Also (not of the feel old series): 1093: Forget. --Lupo (talk) 05:56, 11 July 2019 (UTC)

First News Memory[edit]

The challenger disaster was my first news memory too. 19:37, 10 July 2019 (UTC)

The Challenger disaster was for me, too -- except I distinctly remember it being during my 8th grade year (two years after it had occurred). Earlier still would be Mt. St. Helens' blowing it's top (well, side) -- except it wasn't a news event, it was a life event (we lived in Idaho at the time, and had a lot of the first ash that came down...) 05:58, 11 July 2019 (UTC)
Wait... is the Challenger disaster my first news memory if I watched it happen live? 12:26, 11 July 2019 (UTC)

Bernie Sanders not being admitted into debates was mine... ProphetZarquon (talk) 19:54, 10 July 2019 (UTC)

The debate was with Moses -- Bernie is old. Barmar (talk) 19:59, 10 July 2019 (UTC)
And yet distinctly more lucid than Biden & more active than Trump. Bernie's age doesn't concern me much. ProphetZarquon (talk) 20:50, 10 July 2019 (UTC)

I'm sure I must have watched the moon landing, but I don't actually remember it (I was 8 at the time). I remember Nixon being elected, but I'm not sure if it was 1968 or 1972.Barmar (talk)

I was five and was allowed to stay up very late - i think I remember being allowed to stay up more than the moon landing. 22:10, 10 July 2019 (UTC)

I vaguely remember the last moon landing (family didn’t have TV for the first three) but I very clearly remember the first picture of Mars sent back by the Viking lander. They actually interrupted the regular programming to show it live. 04:23, 11 July 2019 (UTC)

If it's supposed it's first news memory you remember clearly, mine would be the September 11 attacks ... however, i'm sure it was nowhere near first news I was watching. It's just that the ones before were either hard to date (like some road accidents) or not visual enough (talking heads), so I don't remember if I watched that one in TV or read it in newspaper. Also, I suspect it was first news I saw outside of regular news show: they interrupted what was supposed to be in TV at that time, so I though it's some catastrophic movie first. -- Hkmaly (talk) 10:53, 11 July 2019 (UTC)

For me it was the German election results 1998, where Schröder became the new Kanzler. 3 Years later, 9/11 is much clearer on my mind however --Lupo (talk) 11:11, 11 July 2019 (UTC)

It's very hazy, I don't have many memories from when I was young but I recall McCain being defeated. 12:28, 11 July 2019 (UTC)

What comes to my mind was the Great Alaska Earthquake which I read about in the "Weekly Reader" distributed in elementary school. My memory is that I was about 8 years old, but in fact the Alaska earthquake was in March 1964 and I was 10 years old. Which makes the Kennedy assassination in November 1963 my first strong news memory. So this demonstrates the malleability of (at least my) memory. Rtanenbaum (talk) 13:22, 11 July 2019 (UTC)

My first news memory was watching the Apollo–Soyuz link-up from the Apollo side. NASA televised the opening of the hatch on the Apollo and shaking hands with the Soviet cosmonaut and I remember my mom explaining that that was happening up in space way above us. Nutster (talk) 13:59, 11 July 2019 (UTC)

Mine was the 1976 election of Carter over Ford. Mom was Democrat and her stepfather was Republican. His derision of Carter was...exuberant. Observer of the Absurd (talk) 16:20, 11 July 2019 (UTC)

You all make me feel very young... My first news memory was 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, but it's very vague... 09:28, 12 July 2019 (UTC)

For me, it was some news story about Tony Blair. No idea what the story was, and I know I've seen the news before that, but that's the first I can remember. It would have been the Fairford MIG 21 crash (mid air collision) in 1993. But I was camping there and had no access to a TV. I did however get to see fresh wreckage, both on the runway, and in the (otherwise empty) field next to the one I was staying in... 10:05, 12 July 2019 (UTC)

I'm so old that I already forgot everything, but I still remember the daily news on the 'Nam. Being about 14 and a German, I shouldn't have cared less, but I definitely rooted for the Commies. :P 13:51, 12 July 2019 (UTC)

Another old guy who remembers the JFK assassination. I remember the school principal announced it over the PA. I was 8 years old. We watched the entire funeral procession on TV at home. Of course with something that has been talked about for so long it's hard to forget. OldTimer (talk) 17:35, 12 July 2019 (UTC)

Margaret Thatcher, MP, gaining leadership of the Conservative Party. Can't remember when I later learnt she became Prime Minister, though. There's a gap. (*Insert joke about current leadership contest, here...*) 13:27, 14 July 2019 (UTC)

For me it propably was the death of [Uwe Barschel]. -- 07:28, 22 July 2019 (UTC)

Weirdly, my first dateable news memory is indeed the lunar landing when I was 22 month old, which occurred on my father's birthday. His main birthday gift, from my grandparents, was our first TV. The first thing we watched on it was the lunar landing. I have earlier memories I can safely date to when I was around 14 months old. Not counting nightmares I've had since I was a toddler that may be the birth experience. But that one's a bit of a stretch. — Kazvorpal (talk) 01:37, 2 August 2019 (UTC)

Oh, and it's worth note that famed actress Marilu Henner lost her virginity on the day of the moon landing. I know this because I watched her on a talk show, I think Late Night with Bob Costas in the late 1980s, and he was rattling off dates to test her eidetic memory. He gave July 20th, 1969, and she was flustered. She eventually said that's when she lost her virginity. He was amazed, and said he was going for the lunar landing. She was quite bemused. Oh, she eventually added that she lost it standing up in the shower. — Kazvorpal (talk) 01:37, 2 August 2019 (UTC)

Mine is the Wall coming down, and I know it´s original because I remember telling my schoolmates (5th grade) next morning while changing for gymnastics, and they were thoroughly unimpressed. ;) -- 20:50, 25 March 2020 (UTC)

Explain the comic[edit]

(Flashblub memories \ Mandela effect) I think we need an explanation of Flashbulb memories, for sure. ProphetZarquon (talk) 20:50, 10 July 2019 (UTC)

Details hazy[edit]

"Challenger crashed into and destroyed the Berlin Wall" ... 'That's right, isn't it?' - Dexter Walker (played by Daryl Mitchell) on The John Laroquette Show ProphetZarquon (talk) 20:50, 10 July 2019 (UTC)

Links to character pages[edit]

This comic especially felt like it needed links to character pages, so I added them. If we have a policy not to do that, please feel free to unlink. Jkshapiro (talk) 02:10, 11 July 2019 (UTC)


In comment on title text, I changed refutes to denies. Refute means to actually prove something is untrue, not the same as just denying it is true. One deals with proven fact, the other is unsupported opinion.

This is a definition, but it can also mean: "deny or contradict (a statement or accusation)", from the Latin refutare, to repel or rebut. OhFFS (talk) 15:29, 12 July 2019 (UTC)

Amnesia (frame three)[edit]

Has White Hat ever evidenced amnesia before? It just feels like such an unlikely explanation for his comment. Amnesia is a rare and notable thing, and there's something disproportionate about using it as a throwaway line in an otherwise unrelated strip. Jkshapiro (talk) 02:45, 12 July 2019 (UTC)