Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Have You Seen This Man? (Debunking the 'Dream Hoax')

'This Man'
You might have seen online posts asking 'have you seen this man in your dreams?' with accompanying images of a photofit drawing of an unattractive, but relatively commonplace male face. These posts tend to be accompanied by editorial text, explaining that this man has been appearing in the dreams of people across the world, and often give explanations such as 'astral projection' of a dream character - or other equally implausible, and un-empirically testable phenomena. This article aims to expose the urban myth and provide an explanation for why it has proven to be so popular. 

The website, dedicated to the myth claims in its headline that hundreds of people dream of this man every night. The website claims that in January 2006, a mentally ill client of a New York psychiatrist sketched an image of 'This Man' after he appeared repeatedly in her dreams, often giving her advice on her personal life. She was certain she had never met the man in her waking life. The psychiatrist circulated the image amongst other clients and subsequently, a number of clients, who saw the image, also claim to have been visited by This Man in their dreams. 

In 2009, the website was launched, stating that it was exploring the mystery of This Man and asking people to submit accounts of their own dreams in which This Man appears.

Since then, over 2000 people - none of whom appear to share any relationship or common trait - have reported also being visited by This Man in their dreams. A number of the dreams - some romantic, some nightmarish - have been recorded on the website, which also includes sketches of This Man produced by dreamers (see below). All anecdotal 'evidence' of This Man dreams on is recorded anonymously.

On the website there are also a number of photographs of posters/flyers appearing in public places around the world, with the original photofit image, asking if anyone has 'seen this man?' I have posted some of the images, below. 

Often, when This Man 'appears' in a dream, he gives strange, almost prophetic advice to the dreamer. In some instances dreamers have had relationships with This Man - falling in love with him, even if they identify as a heterosexual male in their waking life; or alternatively, have been subjected to a violent act or murder by him. All dreamers reporting the appearance of This Man in their dreams claim that they do not know or recognise him from waking life.

Here are some of the submitted accounts of This Man dreams from the website:

'I have had this recurrent dream for some years now. A tall, dark man shows me a picture and asks me if I can recognise my father in it. The man in the picture is this man I have never seen before, he looks nothing like my dad, nevertheless I inexplicably answer that I do recognize my father. At this point I usually wake up feeling very peaceful. Other times the dream continues, I am standing before my father’s grave, I place some flowers on the ground and I realise the photograph on the tombstone is missing.'

'I fell in love with him from the very first time I saw him in my dream. Even though if I think about it I must admit he’s really ugly. And yet each and every time, he sweeps me off my feet with his romantic gestures and sweet words. He buys me flowers, jewellery, he takes me out to dinner or to the beach to watch the sunset.'

'I have always had this dream of flying in the sky over my city and observing my friends from up there. Since I moved to another house I started meeting this man while flying. Not every single time that I have this dream about flying, but often enough. He flies too, but he never speaks.'

'The first time I had a dream about this man I was having a hard time at work. I had a dream about getting lost in a huge and deserted shopping mall. Suddenly this man appeared and I started running away from him. He chased after me for what seemed like an hour until I found myself against a wall in the kids’ area in a supermarket. At this point he smiled at me and he showed me the way out towards the cash desks and I woke up. Ever since that night this man has appeared in all of my dreams and he always gives me directions to get out of the dream and wake up.'

'I dreamt this man…was Brazilian and very handsome. He was a schoolteacher type with 6 fingers on his right hand. He said if the US had a nuclear disaster: go North!'

'I have seen this man in 3 completely different dreams. He was slightly different from the picture, but I recognized him immediately. He appeared suddenly and disappeared in the same manner. His message in all 3 of my dreams was: 'It’s all over'. That was repeated 3 times in each dreams. The differences in the picture and the man in my dreams are: his hair was a little longer in the top; his eyebrows were not as bushy. Other than that, he is identical. I had no fear of him, but many questions.'

The site also includes a section addressing potential theories for the appearance of This Man in dreams. These are reproduced below:

According to Carl Jung's Psychoanalytic Theory, This Man is an archetypal image belonging to the collective unconscious, which can surface in times of hardship (emotional development, dramatic changes in our lives, stressful circumstances etc) in particularly sensitive subjects. 

According to this theory, This Man is the image of the Creator i.e. one of the forms in which God manifests himself today. This is the reason why his indications and the words he utters during the dreams should be decidedly followed by the dreamers. 

This is the most interesting theory and the one that has the greatest implications, but it has also the lowest scientific credibility. According to this theory, This Man is a real person, who can enter people's dreams by means of specific psychological skills. Some believe that in real life This Man looks like the man in the dreams. Others think that the man in the dreams looks completely different from his real life counterpart. Some people seem to believe that behind this man there is a mental conditioning plan developed by a major corporation. 

This is a scientific psycho-sociological theory which claims that this phenomenon has arisen casually and has progressively developed by imitation. Basically when people are exposed to this phenomenon they become so deeply impressed that they start seeing this man in their dreams. This works on the basis of day residue (i.e. experiencing the image of This Man in waking life - and the image/theme emerging in a subsequent dream, because it has been imprinted on the subconscious mind of the dreamer. 

This theory states that the apparitions of This Man are purely casual. Normally we do not remember precisely the faces we see in our dreams. The image of This Man would therefore be an instrument which, in the subject's waking life, facilitates recognition of an undefined oneirical image.

However, the real explanation is a lot less scary than the website suggests - although equally as interesting. You see, the This Man myth is just that - fake. It was a hoax, created by sociologist, journalist and online marketer, Andrea Natella. Natella runs an online viral marketing company, Guerriglia ('Guerilla') Marketing, which specialises in 'subversive hoaxes' and 'weird art projects exploring pornography, politics and advertising' in the avant-garde tradition of the Situationists. The hoax has been reported on Vice (who initially believed the hoax, but then published a retraction article, highlighting the fact they had been scammed the very next day) and also the website. The latter site debunked the myth, claiming that its popularity is due to internet 'copypasta' and inclusion on a number of websites who bought into the hoax. In fact, Natalla's site was briefly acquired by horror movie production company Ghost House Pictures, in promotion for an upcoming film titled This Man, written and directed by American filmmaker Bryan Bertino - which, according to - is still 'in production/development'.

So - it seems that Natalla's viral marketing campaign was very successful indeed! However, the fact that this was a worldwide hoax does not mean that everyone who thinks they have met This Man in their dreams are lying. I tend to believe that the beauty of this hoax is the fact that once you are aware of it, it is possible that you experience This Man in your dreams, as a result of imprinting on the subconscious or the effect of day residue (our waking experiences which shape and influence the content of our dreams). There is also another theory - which would explain why some people claim to have met This Man before having seen his image (or learned of the story) online. This is the EVERYMAN THEORY. The theory works on the principle that the face of This Man is an amalgamation of many common male facial features, - it was cleverly designed as a kind of 'catch-all' which rouses an impression of familiarity in those who believe they have seen him in their dreams. Consider the following, for example:
  • His hair is full and yet also balding
  • His eyes could be any color at all
  • His lips are partly full (bottom lip) and partly thin (top lip)
  • He has no distinctive race/ethnicity
  • His face shape is simultaneously angular and round
  • Cover the lower half of his face and he looks old; cover the upper half and he looks young - so his age is non-distinct
  • Cover the right half and his eye is hooded, his nose large and his lips full; cover the left half and his eye is smaller, his nose petite and his lips thin - it's a very different face altogether 
These myriad common features mean that many people, from all over the world, might find familiarity in his face and therefore seek to perpetuate the viral nature of This Man, thereby furthering the goal of Natalla, in making this a highly popular and ubiquitous campaign based on free publicity.

'This Man' - Around the World

Cantalupo, Sabina, Italy

Senta, Serbia

Uiwang-si, Gyeonggi-do, South Korea

Vilnus, Lithuania 


San Ramon de Alajuela, Costa Rica

Buenos Aires, Argentina

Los Angeles, California, USA

Berlin, Germany

Sao Paulo, Brazil

Stockholm, Sweden

Zacatecas, Mexico

Hluhluwe Reserve, South Africa

Mc Allen, Texas, USA

London, UK

San Francisco, California, USA

Hamilton, New Zealand

Barcelona, Spain

Memphis, Tennessee, USA

Bilbao, Spain

Austin, Texas, USA

Auckland, New Zealand

Milan, Italy

Puerto Piritu, Venezuela

La Habana, Cuba

Rome, Italy

New York Psychiatric Institute, New York, USA

Rostov, Russia

 Washington, Virginia, USA