Urban legends, satire and propaganda all have one thing in common. Since the advent of the internet, and particularly Facebook, the incidents of false and misleading information taken as fact has soared to mind-numbing proportions.
All too often I let myself rocket off to cerebral wonderland after reading a preposterous statement by a well-meaning friend that contains less truth than a tobacco lobbyist at a lung cancer inquiry.
On the positive side, the perpetuation of myth and legend as truth sometimes gives me inspiration for my next column, often when I find myself lacking any original thoughts of my own. I realize the need to tread carefully when pursuing this line of thought for I often have referred to my column, “Wick’s World,” as my version of the truth.
Satire is an entirely different category defined as “use of wit to criticize behavior.” I became an early fan of satire back in the 60s with the advent Mad Magazine. Who can forget Spy vs. Spy or Alfred E. Newman’s slogan “What - me worry?”
The internet is now filled with satirical websites purporting to be news organizations. One that immediately comes to mind lampoons Congresswoman Michelle Bachman. Although one may think she brings it upon herself with some of her outlandish unscientific remarks, the problem lies with the fact that many people take satire as gospel truth and spread it around the internet like a gas-wielding pyromaniac at the Great Chicago Fire. What was meant to be nothing more than a show of Saturday Night Live humor morphs into unfair gossip with no basis of truth.
Following George W. Bush’s Supreme Court appointment to the presidency, a new word entered our lexicon of vocabulary called “Bushisms.” This was not true satire, but a method of picking on a guy who liked to make up words and phrases. I may have held a grudge against this man’s political doings, but his “Bushisms” were not one of them. I did the same thing as G.W. while in high school and continue to do so to this day.
The satirical website Dailycurrent.com that inspired this column came out the day after Colorado’s initial day of marijuana legalization. The site spoofed public ignorance about the dangers/safety of pot with the headline “Marijuana Overdoses Kill 37 in Colorado.” Normally this headline would have me chuckling. This was not to be. Below the post, a friend on my Facebook page posted, “People, you need to read this.” The post was not to share the humor of the fallacious statement, but to point out the dangers of death from pot, which for the record is zero. One would have to smoke 20,000 to 40,000 joints to approach toxicity.
The gossip that abounds on the internet can be referenced by the neutral website snopes.com, the definitive internet resource for urban legends, folklore, myths, rumors and misinformation. Some urban legends do indeed have some basis in fact. There is the urban legend that circulates about the woman whose battery-operated remote control went dead and she found herself locked out of her car. Her rescuer simply asked, “Why don’t you use the key in your hand?”
I can verify this urban legend to be true. The lady with the dead remote was a postal customer. The rescuer was me, the postmaster.
In conjunction with the legends, myths and satire circulating around the internet is the disinformation known as pure propaganda. I responded to a Facebook post last night with the claim “10 Dead in California Whooping Cough Epidemic.” The gist of the article states that everyone should have a pertussis vaccine, current within the past five years. In the three-plus years since the fear-creating article, there has been no epidemic. There has been a dramatic increase in profits for the pharmaceutical industry.
Responding to an urban myth concerning gang member initiations and flashing headlights at oncoming cars, John Moore, a senior member at the National Youth Gang Center stated, “This is one of the wonders of the internet, that you can take something that has no basis in fact and make people believe it.”
Marvin Gaye said it best in the popular song “I Heard it Through the Grapevine.”
“People say believe half of what you see son, and none of what you hear.”