3/9/07

Come On, Now

Oh man, did you read about that dude in Ireland who got arrested in the hotel room with the donkey? And how he was all rigged up in latex and handcuffs, but he couldn't get out of the handcuffs because the donkey had swallowed the key and then smashed up the room and the mini-bar and the cops had to haul the dude away? Oh, and he'd been seen hanging around with the donkey and talking to it a lot lately, saying stuff like "Isn't that right, Donkey?", and he even checked into the hotel under the name "Mr. Shrek?"

Can you *believe* that? Me neither!

In fact, like you, I actually was pretty skeptical about the accuracy of this report. Too many things made it too funny, like the defendant reporting that he did it because he had been advised to "get out and meet people." Oh, and then the the €2,000 fine for violating the "Unlawful Accommodation of Donkeys Act" of 1837.

Even the alleged hotel receptionist's name: "Irina Legova" sounded a little fishy.

And ultimately, yeah, it turned out to be a hoax. Not really an intentional one, as it was first posted in the satirical section of Galway First's website, but it still got reported as true in outlets around the world and was ultimately responsible for hundreds of thousands of hits to the site, crashing the newspaper's servers.

Lesson: a great story travels twice as fast as a true one. And that brings me to email forwards.

Now, I get a good number of fantastical tales in my inbox, and I'm not complaining. I like hearing about all the world's painted cats, free pancakes, incoming meteors and so forth.

And if you're one of the people who constantly sends me the latest story of how my cell phone will definitely kill me, Coca Cola is laced with uranium and Hillary Clinton mugged Santa Claus and gave his wallet to illegal immigrants, bring it on.

I've just got one little piece of advice. Actually, it's more of a request: www.snopes.com.

Urban Legends and modern mythology, verified or debunked as appropriate.

It's one-stop shopping -- comprehensive, well researched... there's even a search function, so you can quickly verify whether rubbing Chap Stick on your test sheet will really get you a perfect SAT score (no) or if Dr. Ruth truly was an Israeli sniper. (Yes!)

Much fun, and so conveniently located: You're already at a computer; you already have access to the web, otherwise you couldn't send the email. Just pop on over (bookmark the address for quicker reference) and doublecheck before you hit Send.

There's this one woman there, Barbara Mikkelson, who seems to have authored a good part of the articles, and I'd venture to say she's probably doing more to promote truth, knowledge and wisdom than any other single entity working today.

After all, *somebody* has to fight the flood of misinformation coursing through our nation's recipient lists, and ol' Barb is up to the task. All you gotta do is ask her.

*****

Now, for future reference, here are a few ground rules I've picked up that may help in determining when some strategic Snope-ing is called for:

- Stuff that's really, really funny or really, really scary. For an example of the former, see the balderdashily hilarious donkey story above, and for your false-alarm for instance, just read and rest assured that nobody really died from a heroin-filled syringe in the McDonald's playground ball pit. General rule: If something seems to confirm your worst fear, give Snopes a second to disconfirm it.

- Anything involving you getting money without working for it. This is a general red flag for life, not just email, but it bears repeating. Come on -- there is nobody representing an offshore dignitary who needs to use your bank account just for a sec to transfer his millions and you get to keep a couple hundred thousand for the trouble. Likewise, if you're African American the government is not really going to give you $5,000 off your taxes because of slavery.

- Anything that would be absolutely fantastic news for one political group or another. It's a shame, I know, but you really have to think about motives when reflecting on the latest Bill Clinton (or O'Reilly) sex scandal. Even when they end up panning out, they're almost always overstated at the beginning, or misrepresented somehow by overeager "reporters."

- Long lists of beliefs attributed to George Carlin, or Robin Williams or Dave Barry. Some people like to write their own funny (or semi-funny, or not funny at all) stuff and say those dudes wrote it. Those dudes didn't write it.

- Oh, and people injuring their genitals in humiliating ways. Unless there's video attached, and probably sometimes even when there is, you *know* three-fourths of this stuff is made up. Thank goodness.

*****

There. That's a pretty good start.

The way I see it, there's plenty of amazing stuff in this world, even if you limit it to factual items. A lot of it is on the Snopes site, in fact -- sometimes truth really *is* stranger than fiction. I personally find it way more astonishing after verification.

And of course, at the other end of the spectrum, I'm all in favor of a great, totally fabricated story or joke. I just like to know which one I'm dealing with.

So just, you know, next time you read about something like the ACLU trying to ban Christmas or Siberian scientists accidentally digging a hole to Hell, take a second to confirm its veracity.

And hey -- if it isn't true, don't let that stop you. Go ahead; add your own little embellishments! Why not take a crack at making it even *more* implausible?

How much better is it if the Titanic not only sank because it had a cursed mummy in the storage hold, but if the mummy was none other than... Mary Magdalene?!?!

Spirited to Egypt shortly after death by the Freemasons! Secretly sold to Sir Walter Raleigh and stashed in a hidden room of the doomed ship! And preserved all these years in an icy chamber at the bottom of the sea!

Hey! And then now efforts to retrieve the body are already under way, in an expedition to be led by... Oprah! And she's going to announce it on her show!

And if you'll just add your name to this email list you'll be put on the guest list for THAT VERY EPISODE, where a drawing will be held to see who gets to go along in the submarine and...

Happy forwarding.

3 comments:

penelope said...

AAAAAAAHHHHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHA!

(I would much rather people embelish them more... maybe then I'd start reading them. :) )

Anonymous said...

You've slipped right over the edge now, haven't you?

Love and hugs
Mom

Anonymous said...

I use Snopes.com all the time. Then I forward the links debunking the emails people send me and then they get mad at me because I've corrected them. They feel insulted and feel like I am being a smart butt. But really, I am just trying to spread truth. A lot of people don't like to hear the truth. I guess stories of donkeys in hotel rooms are more fun.