If it’s on the Internet, it’s true

 

I was prompted to write after seeing this posted. I had seen it before and investigated the accuracy of the attribution, but thought now to talk about the bigger picture of how we collectively disseminate misinformation much in the same way our ancestors said the Earth was flat. It isn't, just to be clear.

The Guardian – Nov 10/2012
Betty White: TV's golden girl on 63 years in showbusiness by Michael Cragg
"Why do people say 'grow some balls'? Balls are weak and sensitive. If you wanna be tough, grow a vagina. Those things can take a pounding." If you happen to look this quote up, you'll see it attributed to notoriously sweet 90-year-old TV great Betty White. Only those words never passed her lips, and she'd quite like people to bear that in mind next time they see fit to quote it at her, as I have just done. "That's what I hate about Facebook and the internet," she sighs. "They can say you said anything. I never would have said that. I'd never say that in a million years."

I discovered that the original author of this quote is apparently Sheng Wang, a Taiwanese American stand-up comic. The following video dating back to 2011 shows the comic expressing this idea but not quite in the words used in the current Internet meme. Go figure. Our apologies, Ms. White.

Uploaded on Apr 12, 2011 by Mixtape Comedy Show
Mixtape Comedy Show – Sheng Wang (2:12)
Sheng starts to talk about this meme around 1:30.
 

 
Diana Vreeland
Diana Vreeland (1903-1989) worked in the field of fashion as a journalist and editor. It would seem logical she would say such a thing but she didn't. The quote comes from Erin McKean (b 1971), an American lexigrapher. (works on dictionaries… I had to look it up.) What's interesting is that in Ms. McKean's article, linked below, she starts off with a picture of Diana Vreeland. Did somebody see this then confuse who uttered the words?

A Dress A Day – Oct 20/2006
You Don’t Have to Be Pretty by Erin McKean
“You don’t owe prettiness to anyone. Not to your boyfriend/spouse/partner, not to your co-workers, especially not to random men on the street. You don’t owe it to your mother, you don’t owe it to your children, you don’t owe it to civilization in general. Prettiness is not a rent you pay for occupying a space marked ‘female’.”

Marilyn Monroe
I see a lot of stuff floating around attributed to our favourite blonde.

Goodreads: Quotes About Misattributed To Marilyn Monroe

“Give a girl the right shoes, and she can conquer the world.”
-Bette Midler

“Diamonds are a girl's best friend.”
―Jule Styne, The Songs of Jule Styne

“Being a sex symbol is a heavy load to carry, especially when one is very tired, hurt and bewildered.”
― Clara Bow, Marilyn Monroe: A Composite View

Immortal Marilyn (a fan site): Janie's take on Marilyn Monroe: Misquoting Marilyn
Marilyn Monroe was known for her 'Marilynisms'- witty little bon mots, usually an expertly blended mix of innocent and coquette, and her quotes remain popular still. But how many 'quotes' attributed to Monroe were actually said by her? With Marilyn quotes appearing on everything from t-shirts to wall decals to tattoos, how many of these oft-repeated words were never said by her in the first place? And how can you tell the difference?

An internet search of "Marilyn Monroe Quotes'', unfortunately, reveals countless misquotes, paraphrasings, and flat out ridiculous things attributed to
Marilyn, as well as quotes that were actually said by other people. Here's some of the worst examples.

 

Harry Potter
Garson O’Toole, the author of the web site Quote Investigator, does an excellent job of studying the history of the following aphorism.

If you want to know what a man’s like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals.
-J. K. Rowling

We may all know Ms. Rowling, but this idea has been floating around for a very long time and we can all be assured that the author is well acquainted with the various other writers who have expressed this maxim.

 

John Lennon
Once again, Quote Investigator looks into the history of the following quote.

Life is What Happens To You While You’re Busy Making Other Plans.
-John Lennon

Apparently, this first appeared in an issue of Reader’s Digest magazine dated January 1957 in a section called “Quotable Quotes” attributed to Allen Saunders, the author of the cartoon strip "Steve Roper". One could say that the greats quote the greats or quite simply, there is nothing new under the sun. Yes, it has all been done before.

 

Charles Bukowski
"Find what you love and let it kill you."
Charles Bukowski, (1920–1994), German-born American poet, novelist and short story writer

A little research led me to this blog on the Houston Press. The author, "Jef With One F", goes through various references and concludes with: "In light of other evidence we're going to have to conclude that the misattributed quote actually belongs to our own Kinky Friedman, and not poet Charles Bukowski."

Wikipedia: Kinky Friedman
Richard Samet "Kinky" Friedman (born November 1, 1944) is an American Texas Country singer, songwriter, novelist, humorist, politician and former columnist for Texas Monthly who styles himself in the mold of popular American satirists Will Rogers and Mark Twain. He was one of two independent candidates in the 2006 election for the office of Governor of Texas. Receiving 12.6% of the vote, Friedman placed fourth in the six-person race.

 

How does this all tie together?
In this digital age of the Internet, we have arrived at an unprecedented access to information.

Google About: Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.

Nevertheless, I have been struck, no I have been stunned by the misinformation being passed around. We may laugh at how our ancestors believed the world was flat, but we seem to be completely oblivious to our own ignorance right now, today. The above examples demonstrate to me how we repeat things we hear without ever verifying ourselves if the thing in question is true or not. Somebody told me therefore it has to be true. It's on the Internet so it's got to be true. Of course, it sounds like I'm being funny but I am dead serious. Pick any subject, politics, science, human relations, or sex, and we could go through a list of so-called facts or factoids ("an item of unreliable information that is repeated so often that it becomes accepted as fact"). Despite this incredible access to information thanks to such services such as Google, we human beings continue to practise what is seen in the following game.

Wikipedia: Chinese Whispers
Chinese whispers (or telephone in the United States) is a game played around the world, in which one person whispers a message to another, which is passed through a line of people until the last player announces the message to the entire group. Errors typically accumulate in the retellings, so the statement announced by the last player differs significantly, and often amusingly, from the one uttered by the first. Reasons for changes include anxiousness or impatience, erroneous corrections, and that some players may deliberately alter what is being said to guarantee a changed message by the end of the line.

What are the facts? What is the truth? With so many people giving their opinion, supposedly an informed, educated opinion, how do we work out who's giving us the straight goods? As somebody so humorously wrote of the far right in the United States: If you have faith, you don't need facts.

References

Wikipedia: Sheng Wang
Sheng Wang is a Taiwanese American stand-up comic.

Wikipedia: Betty White
Betty Marion White (born January 17, 1922) is an American actress, comedian, presenter, singer, author, and television personality. In 2013, the Guinness World Records awarded White with having the longest television career for a female entertainer.

Wikipedia: Charles Bukowski
Henry Charles Bukowski (born Heinrich Karl Bukowski; August 16, 1920 – March 9, 1994) was a German-born American poet, novelist and short story writer. His writing was influenced by the social, cultural, and economic ambience of his home city of Los Angeles ('LA'). His work addresses the ordinary lives of poor Americans, the act of writing, alcohol, relationships with women, and the drudgery of work. Bukowski wrote thousands of poems, hundreds of short stories and six novels, eventually publishing over sixty books. The FBI kept a file on him as a result of his column, Notes of a Dirty Old Man, in the LA underground newspaper Open City. In 1986 Time called Bukowski a "laureate of American lowlife". Regarding Bukowski's enduring popular appeal, Adam Kirsch of The New Yorker wrote, "the secret of Bukowski's appeal. . . [is that] he combines the confessional poet's promise of intimacy with the larger-than-life aplomb of a pulp-fiction hero."

 
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