Run The Jewels The Berenstein Bears

How El-P Ruined Childhoods and The Berenstein Bears

Photo by Diana Levine

Before reading this, we recommend you go to a secluded area to contain the blast radius when your mind explodes. Take a deep breath, close your eyes, and count to fuck. What’s the earliest memory you have of your childhood? Are there specific details that stand out? After all these years, why is it still ingrained in your membrane? More importantly: Can you prove that this moment was real?

Memories are fickle mistresses and can be easily recast after being exposed to new information—factual or fallacious. In his book Play, Dreams and Imitation in Childhood (1962), Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget describes a vivid memory he maintained until the age of 15, when he found out it was contrived:

There is also the question of memories which depend on other people. For instance, one of my first memories would date, if it were true, from my second year. I can still see, most clearly, the following scene, in which I believed until I was about fifteen. I was sitting in my pram, which my nurse was pushing in the Champs Elysées, when a man tried to kidnap me. I was held in by the strap fastened round me while my nurse bravely tried to stand between me and the thief. She received various scratches, and I can still see vaguely those on her face. Then a crowd gathered, a policeman with a short cloak and a white baton came up, and the man took to his heels. I can still see the whole scene, and can even place it near the tube station. When I was about fifteen, my parents received a letter from my former nurse saying that she had been converted to the Salvation Army. She wanted to confess her past faults, and in particular to return the watch she had been given on this occasion. She had made up the whole story, faking the scratches. I, therefore, must have heard, as a child, the account of this story, which my parents believed, and projected it into the past in the form of a visual memory.

After reading Piaget’s anecdote, it’s hard not to wonder if any of our own memories have been falsely implanted. Which brings us to El-P and a legendary family of bears.

Before we go any further, this is going to be a lot more interesting if you conduct a simple experiment. Pick 3–5 random friends and send them the following message: “Hey, quick question: Without checking Google, do you remember the name of that family of bears from the children’s books?” Assuming you’ve provided as little context as possible, you should start receiving answers ranging from “The Bearenstein Bears” to “What the fuck are you talking about?” Keep track of the response that are somewhat close to ending in “stein” and the ones that are somewhat close to ending in “stain.”

At this point, you’re probably assuming the debate at hand is how to correctly spell this widely successful children’s book series. But shit gets much deeper. A quick Google search for “Berenstain or Berenstein” returns numerous conspiracy theories pertaining to an alleged name change via time travel. One of the more interesting theories comes from Reece, founder of the Wood between Worlds, “blog of the world’s worst scientist.” On August 23, 2012, Reece posted an in-depth theory about how this spelling discrepancy indicates the existence of a parallel universe. (Within the post, Reece references a reddit thread from April 2014, so it probably wasn’t published in August 2012, but let’s not go down that rabbit hole.) The original post is engrossing, but Reece’s follow-up post published in 2014 is much more digestible. Here’s the ultimate takeaway:

Combined with my existential angst over the spelling of the bears, I thought of an explanation. It was probably the silliest, most outlandish thing I’ve put forward, but I put if out there. For those not familiar with it, I claimed that two of these “universes” in the complex-dimensional spacetime have two different spellings of the name. I will henceforth call these Universe A and Universe E. In Universe A, they are spelled “Berenstain”. In Universe E, they are spelled “Berenstein”. Whatever else is true, we currently live in Universe A. However, at some point, it seems that some of us once lived in Universe E. Now here we are, inexplicably in Universe A, and completely befuddled.

At this point, you’re probably wondering how such a crock of shit could be concocted from a seemingly mundane spelling mistake—which means you’re from Universe A, so get the fuck out of here and let the rest of us from Universe E try and put our brains back together, together.

After stumbling into this wormhole—thanks to El-P—I did the logical thing and called my mom, who’s been a teacher since I’ve been alive, but recently changed jobs. Over the phone, she pronounced the title as The Berenstein Bears, but said she didn’t have any of the books on hand. Five minutes later, she text me the following:

The Berenstain Bears text from Mom


After collecting the fragments of my brain for the second time, I headed back to Twitter to share my findings with the man who’d brought me here. El-P was coming to terms with his own parallel shifts and searching for proof of The Berenstein Bears. However, the more he searched for answers, the deeper he unknowingly immersed himself into the “Berenstain rift.”

Around 3:44 a.m. today, El-P decided to embrace his fate and impart the knowledge he gained from his travels into the fourth dimension of Berenstain.

But, was this the same El-P who initially exposed us to the Berenstain vs Berenstein alternate universe conspiracy? I had to find out. Luckily, he was still able to receive email in whatever parallel universe he was currently exploring.


Mass Appeal: Are you, in fact, the same El-P that was informed about the Berenstain bears/ Berenstein bears alternate universe conspiracy?

El-P: Honestly, I don’t know anymore. At some point, clearly, everybody in this timeline suffered a schism, forcing us off of our predetermined track and splitting us from our original reality. That means we are all not the original version of ourselves anymore. This is clearly reflected in the fact that although we can remember that it was always “The Berenstein Bears,” we can also see that, at least according to this reality, it was in fact never that. Therefore, it is highly possible that the mere realization of this fact may have indeed split out realities once again, producing a new post-Berenstain rift self. It should be noted that despite the fact that I coined the phrase “Berenstain rift,” said phrase may have already existed in this newly joined reality.

Of the multiple instances of yourself that exist in these parallel universes, which would you be most excited to meet and why?

The really rich one. Just want some hang time on the yacht.

If you could record a track with Jan and Stan Berenstain, what it would it be called?


In this new post-Berenstain rift self, what’s the most important thing we can teach the children about The Berenstain Bears/The Berenstein Bears?

The world is a lie.

We’re grateful that you opened our eyes and unfastened our minds. Thank you, Universe El-P.

Run The Jewels The Berenstein Bears

Artwork by Cal Skuthorpe

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