America in the Age of ‘Retcon’

Published September 20, 2023

Wall Street Journal

It was only two years ago that the term “retcon,” short for “retroactive continuity,” made it into the Merriam-Webster dictionary. Odd that it took so long: Retcon for some time has been the 21st century’s way of life—its metaphysics, almost.

According to the dictionary, the word refers to “a literary device in which the form or content of a previously established narrative is changed. Retcons are often encountered in serial formats such as comic books or television series.” It will help if you think of the 21st century as a comic book. Retcon retrofits the past plot to suit present purposes. It “serves as a means of allowing the work’s creators to create a parallel universe, reintroduce a character, or explore plot lines that would otherwise be in conflict with the work.”

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Mr. Morrow is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and author of “The Noise of Typewriters: Remembering Journalism.”

Lance Morrow is the Henry Grunwald Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. His work focuses on the moral and ethical dimensions of public events, including developments in regard to freedom of speech, freedom of thought, and political correctness on American campuses, with a view to the future consequences of such suppressions.

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