I'm a big fan of Mythbusters, and I've been interested in the Urban Myth even longer. Today was an interesting example of why.
Tokyo Inc's receptionist is a nice lady, my age, married (for the second or third time, I've lost count) to one of our long time plant employees (it's his third or forth as well, and his LAST wife was, for a while, Tokyo Inc's Accounts Receivable person). She has two sons (from assorted relationships) one three and one about 14. While she's a very sweet person, she is not what I would describe as terribly educated or blindingly intelligent. Let's just use the word "Redneck" and add that she has all her teeth and isn't bleaching her hair quite as much as she used to. Redneck Lite, let's say. She no longer lives in a single wide. I like her quite a bit.
When I walked up at break today to chat with her, as I often do, I found her looking at her computer somewhat tearfully. She was ill earlier in the week, so I asked if she was ok.
"I just can't read stories about kids anymore. They really get to me."
"What story are you reading?" I asked. I thought maybe some relative's child had died. She has a lot of relatives who have suffered assorted forms of death and dismemberment.
"My mom just send me this story about a little boy who died in one of those Playland things -- the one with all the plastic balls. He got stuck with a hypodermic full of heroin and died of an overdose."
My early warning radar pinged. "Oh, no, that's one of those stories they pass on email all the time," I said.
"No, it's true," she replied, wiping her face with a tissue. "There was a newspaper article and everything."
"It's like that snakes in a ball pit thing. It's not true."
"I know about that one," she agreed, "but this is different." Then she grabbed another tissue and blew her nose. "It just really gets me. I gotta tell my mom to quit sending me this stuff."
"Yeah." I nodded and slipped back to my office. Within a minute, I opened Snopes ,found the story and printed it out. I went up to hand it to her.
"Here's your story," I said. "See? Not true."
She started flipping through the pages. "It's not?" She wasn't giving up on it yet. "It's not true?"
"No. The newspaper article never existed, the people didn't exist. Not that you don't have to watch your kids in one of those playlands, but this didn't happen."
"Oh, wow!" she said. She was visibly relieved. "Hey, wow."
I walked off with a momentary sense of satisfaction (but I've done that with her many times. She considers me a fount of wisdom and knowledge, which is absolutely terrifying.) Then I started wondering how a woman gets to be over 40 and yet still falls for these stories.
And then I realized that a LOT of people fall for them. My dad took them as gospel on a regular basis, and he was not a stupid man. I remember some years ago when another friend at work came into my office to tell me about the friend of her cousin who woke up in a hotel room bathtub on South Orange Blossom Trail (Where all the best strip clubs and no-tell motels are found), packed in ice and holding a note saying his kidneys had been removed. Her particular twist on it -- both kidneys gone, local area -- horrified me so much that I never saw the logical holes in the story (like, you can't live long without at least part of your kidney, so why did the organ thieves leave him alive at all when they could have taken the heart, liver and corneas, too??) It wasn't until a year later, when I saw the story again (on Snopes) that I realized how easily I was duped. I like the term Snopes uses -- scarelore.
Have you ever fallen for one of those scarelore stories? Have you passed on an email urban myth or legend? Why are we so gullible?