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Monday, December 7, 2020

What is "gaslighting"? See: Jelly-Filled Doughnuts vs. Riceballs

By LUDWIG VON KOOPA - We illustrate what gaslighting means via a Pokémon example.

If you are like KoopaTV's staff, you've been wondering for a few years what the heck “gaslighting” means. Usage of the term has increased dramatically in this post-truth era (after the 2016 United States presidential election), with more and more people engaging in it. These include, but are not limited to, sleazy politicians, deflective customer service representatives, ex-boy/girlfriends, and as this article will demonstrate, Kantonian Pokémon gym leaders.

use of the term gaslighting Google Trends 2004 to 2020 presidential election
There is a local maximum taking place right after the 2016 United States presidential election.
And throughout the President Donald John Trump presidency, the term gaslighting has only skyrocketed in usage.

Just try looking at the definitions of “gaslighting” and try not to be confused or puzzled:

  • Wiktionary: the act of manipulating someone psychologically such that they question their own memory, perception, and sanity, thereby evoking in them cognitive dissonance and low self-esteem.
  • to cause (a person) to doubt his or her sanity through the use of psychological manipulation
  • Urban Dictionary: an increasing frequency of systematically withholding factual information from, and/or providing false information to, the victim - having the gradual effect of making them anxious, confused, and less able to trust their own memory and perception.

Psychological manipulation to get one to question their very sanity? That sounds incredibly niche and specific, yet the term gaslighting is used everywhere. Has everyone in society suddenly become a psychological genius to pull this technique off? Probably not. But I think people are just referring to any semi-elaborate lying as an intricate conspiracy. People generally don't want to make you doubt your sanity, they just want to cover up for their own faults and failures.

However, in the case of Brock and Misty—the gym leaders of the Pewter City Gym and Cerulean City Gym in the Kanto region, respectively—they're definitely gaslighting (in the proper use) Ash (and Team Rocket) when it comes to referring to the rice ball food item as a doughnut. Check out this compilation of clips, documented from the episode Primeape Goes Bananas, as we discuss what gaslighting looks like in action:

Popular culture often faults Brock, the group chef, as the initiator of the gaslighting. But it was actually Misty, the girl, who started it. For context, the protagonist, Ash Ketchum, just came off a very upsetting call with Professor Oak about how his rivals are doing much better than him. Misty notices Ash's poor mood, and that's when she and Brock hatch their gaslighting plan (which Pikachu doesn't try to stop, in an example of group dynamics and peer pressure) to confuse Ash by continually referring to the rice balls as doughnuts.

Misty calls the rice balls as a doughnut once (while deceiving Ash into believing she's trying to help him), and then Brock does so no less than four times, before Ash starts to refer to the rice balls as doughnuts as well, which Misty affirms instantly. When Ash starts using the term doughnut, he's not in the best mental state. Remember, he just came off that humiliating phone call with Professor Oak, and now he's trying to capture Pokémon without weakening them first. (This was in an era where you're supposed to weaken Pokémon by battling them first before trying to catch them, much unlike today's Pokémon GO/Pokémon Let's Go era.) Somehow, he just got a rice ball in his Poké Ball instead of a Mankey, and Misty humiliates him on this point with cognitively difficult sarcasm, so... Ash is definitely losing his sanity, his memory (of how to catch Pokémon), and is all-around confused. Total gaslighting.

Team Rocket members Jessie, James, and Meowth were eavesdropping throughout this whole process, and they're also totally confused folks by the end, having just been repeatedly assaulted by Primeape. So, uh, they think doughnuts are the solution, too. (They never actually saw the food item, though, they only heard the word doughnut used repeatedly, so they'd have no reason to think it's not a real doughnut.)

If you think that maybe that's just what doughnuts look like in Kanto, I have evidence from Pokémon Paparazzi (chronologically taking place some weeks afterward the Primeape incident) indicating otherwise:

Pokémon paparazzi Brock got rice make rice balls riceballs not jelly filled doughnuts
When you got rice, you make rice balls.
...Brock says as he's holding up a rice ball, while calling it a rice ball. (Not a doughnut.)

So, yes, rice balls are a real thing, and everyone in Kanto already knows that. Brock wasn't gaslighting Ash later on because Ash wasn't in a mentally vulnerable position, so it would be less effective. Gaslighters prefer to prey on people who are already displaying signs of instability and weakness. It's less effective if the gaslit are able to recognise what's going on, after all.

I don't know for sure why Ash's supposed friends were manipulating him, but it probably has to do with the fact that he was (and still continued to be) an obnoxious little twerp that constantly put them into dumb and dangerous situations. Maybe if they could have more control over him—starting by changing his reality around one of his favourite activities, eating—their lives would be better off. It didn't work out that way, and I don't think it's a justifiable reason, but that's my theory on how these people think.

Ludwig hopes this article helps you better understand the concept of gaslighting. The actual etymology of it and the specific-ness of how it's supposed to be used are still confusing. If this article did help you recognise if gaslighting happened to you (or if you gaslit someone else), and you're comfortable doing so, you could share your story in the comments section below. While the whole world will be able to see it... the majority of the world doesn't read KoopaTV, so...

This explainer beat very stiff competition to win the Best KoopaTV General Article of 2020.


  1. thank you for helping gas lighitng. I gas lighting you :) my whole story is that i troll your whebsite so hopefuly this is helpful for u to make u queston ur sanity

    1. This isn't contributing to my own loss of sanity; it's to try to help other people recognise if they're losing their own. (Ideally, before it's too late.)

    2. oh ok thanks but i already knew wat it was

    3. Mmhmm.

      Did you appreciate my example?

  2. There's a very good movie called Gaslight, you should watch it. I wonder why this specific term has gotten so much use lately? Ah those classic English anime/game translations, they'd be complete laughingstocks if they did half the things they used to today.

    1. Which adaptation would you recommend?

    2. The 1944 version, with Ingrid Bergman. The first version may have come first(It's also more British than the 1944, compare it to "the Office" and British "The Office" tv shows), but the 1944 version is much much Much better. Probably because of Ingrid Bergman. I don't know how you feel about older movies, but I like this one and it perfectly demonstrates the word.

    3. Well, the 1940 one has a "full movie" video on YouTube while the 1944 one I'd have to pay for.


    4. You could watch the 1940 one, it's just not as good as 1944. Nothing super good to pay for though.

    5. So 1944 is "much much much better" than 1940, but 1944 is still not "super good"?

      That makes 1940 sound like crap.

    6. haha, well i think it's good enough. But not somthing you would pay money to see in this day and age. I wouldn't pay money for any of them. But that's just me, i don't pay for movies unless they are really spectacular or new. Otherwise i go to the library or pirate them. But don't tell anyone.

    7. ...Yeah, so, I can't go and nod my head approvingly at that, because wot if someone goes and applies that logic to justify not buying Ace Attorney?

      That said, I often don't find movies to be worth the price of admission.

    8. Games are completely different. even if you watch a movie ten times, that's still just about ten hours. Games last so much longer. Well, most of them do. There's no reason not to buy AA in this day and age, the trilogy is like ten bucks regardless of what form it comes in.

      Slight side note, I really don't like the new 3d models from the later entries, or the new investigation system. But I just finished Professor Layton vs AA. So I think I'm warming up to it.

    9. Well, Layton vs. Wright has a dissimiliar investigation systems and 3D models, so it probably won't get you used to, say, Ace Attorney 7.

  3. Not heard about gaslighting from this sort of perspective before. But I do feel I should point out that it hardly requires an intricate conspiracy for behavior to qualify as gaslighting. One of the more recent things I've heard is that an important defining characteristic of it is that for the person performing the gaslighting, their goal is to get the victim to trust the gaslighter's perceptions over their own--to trust the gaslighter more than they trust themselves.

    Quite a scary thought, to me. It's one reason I don't fully, 100% trust ANYONE--including myself.

    1. Well, you're either going to be putting in a lot of effort for that outcome (which should mean it's intricate... or you're good at improv), or you have low self-esteem to begin with and you're easy-pickings.

      I dunno, if you don't trust yourself, does that mean they've already won?

    2. No, because I don't trust THEM either.

    3. Do they need that to happen for satisfaction?

    4. Yes. As I said, the goal is for the victim to trust them more. I distrust everyone equally, therefore their goal cannot be met.

    5. I dunno, I still think you could scorched-earth gaslight someone where they don't have to trust you more.

      Like, the definitions I looked at don't require trusting the gaslighter!

  4. I accused my 6th grade teacher of gaslighting me when I managed to get in contact with her many years later. Said my classmates did like me even though they harassed me, ostracized me, hated me and some other redundant synonym. Maybe I used the word the wrong way after all.

    1. Before the "many years later" part I was stunned at the idea you were using the term "gaslighting" in 6th grade. Though maybe today's 6th graders ARE using it.

      Thanks for telling your story.

    2. im confused as to why u are contacting ur 6th grade teacher.... whod oes that

    3. Was part of my healing process. I am aware most are able to just forget and move on but my memories get stuck on a loop.

      I have recovered a lot after bonding with many people who wronged me a lot. I nearly committed suicide with my first born child still in the womb and no therapy helped me at all or medication so I went with what I knew for sure will heal me. Reconciling with people really helped.

      Mock me all you want but some people heal this way.

    4. 6th grade teacher dead? no problem, contact them with a ouija board!

    5. This is... such a bizarre comment for someone to decide to leave three years later, but there you go, ShinyGirafarig.


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