Gravity Falls and the Vanishing Symbol: A Disney+ Illuminati Mystery

Where did you go?
Image: All images via Disney

Gravity Falls was a series that thrived on mystery. Not just for the characters, but also for the audience, who spent the show’s two seasons deciphering codes, reading hints, and solving puzzles lovingly cultivated by creator Alex Hirsch. Now the animated series is on Disney+ and there’s a new mystery afoot—one that Hirsch says he had no part in and has no idea why it’s happening.

Hirsch pointed out that Gravity Falls episodes have erased the symbol from Grunkle Stan’s fez, leaving it blank: “Apparently the geniuses over at Disney+ decided to remove Grunkle Stan’s fez symbol for no reason, but then accidentally left it in the thumbnails because even they can’t keep track of what they’re pretending to be concerned about this week,” he wrote.

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We’ve reached out to Disney for clarification on why the symbol has been erased, and have sought additional comment from Hirsch. In the meantime, io9 has watched through Gravity Falls on Disney+ and can verify that the symbol has been removed from Grunkle Stan’s fez (with an unexpected twist, which we’ll get into below).

This includes his scenes in episodes...

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...the opening credits sequence...

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...and even the merchandise Grunkle Stan is selling in his shop!

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Fans of the series will know that the fez, much like everything else in Gravity Falls, isn’t merely an aesthetic choice. It means something. Specifically, it’s part of the Royal Order of the Holy Mackarel, a secret society modeled after the Shriners, a Masonic fraternity that’s been around since 1870. Grunkle Stan’s father was a member of the Royal Order, and it was confirmed in a companion book that that’s where the fez came from.

As far as the symbol, you can spot it on the Zodiac—a bit plot point that I won’t get into as it would spoil some things. But what it means remains a mystery that wasn’t helped by the fact that Hirsch altered it slightly in the middle of the show. Even though it’s never been explained, there are plenty of fan theories about the symbol. These include it representing Stan as being a phoenix rising from the ashes, or an inside joke playing off Hirsch’s DeviantArt handle.

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So yes, a relatively minor but still important part of the show has been erased without explanation. But that’s only the start of the mystery.

Halfway through season one...the symbol comes back.

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The first 13 episodes have the fez symbol missing, but it returns in “Bottomless Pit” and remains in all subsequent episodes. As Hirsch pointed out on Twitter, it’s also present in all of the episode thumbnails, including those where the symbol was already removed. This could change if whatever is happening is an ongoing process, but as of now, Grunkle Stan’s complete fez is still there from episode 14 through the end of the series (and the short films).

What does it all mean???

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It could be that Disney+ is leaning into the overall vision of Gravity Falls, giving us a new mystery to try and solve...one that not even the creator himself knows the answer to! Or perhaps the Shriners are deeply entrenched in the Disney empire, and are trying to crack down on anything that could expose them. But that’s stupid. The most likely answer is usually the correct one, and I’m guessing it’s just another example of Disney making strange choices that are botching the debut of one of the biggest streaming services of all time.

Or maybe...that’s what exactly they want us to think.

Update: 11/15/2019 2:00 p.m.

After doing a bit more digging, we discovered the fez symbol change previously mentioned did take place in episode 14, “Bottomless Pit.” There are reports that the first symbol was later removed before originally airing in certain countries because it was considered offensive, possibly for its resemblance to the Nation of Islam flag. This would mean that Disney+ had uploaded that version for some reason instead of the original (which is still available to watch on Hulu for the time being, if you’re curious). We’re still waiting on comment from Disney.

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About the author

Beth Elderkin

Video Editor and Staff Writer at io9. My doppelganger is that rebelling greeting card from Futurama.