Sat Nov 20 18:24:56 EST 2010

running down a dream

There exists a virulent disease plaguing the world. I speak, of course, of email forwards.

Email forwards are a memetic virus, of course, not a biological one, but they are arguably just as damaging. Anyone with middle aged relatives knows about forwarded email, as old people have an enduring love affair for it. Email forwards have some interesting properties: they're entirely self-contained, so there can be no correction of errors by the source, like if you just linked to a website; and they can be very easily edited at any point in the chain, edits that are almost impossible to trace.

The combination of the two makes forwarded email the most wretched hive of lies and outright fabrication I have ever seen.

So it was with some trepidation I read what appeared to be, hilariously, an email forward wrapped in a demotavator template, posted by a twit named Beo in #erfworld.

Hilariously, I recognized the story, a Pulitzer Prize winning Washington Post article from April 8th, 2007, titled "Pearls Before Breakfast", but mutated almost beyond recognition by three years of edits, changed to a maximally virulent form, without much concern for factual accuracy. He played for 43 minutes, not one hour. He was recognized, by Stacy Furukawa, a Commerce Department employee. She tossed in $20, but that wasn't counted towards the total, since she knew who he was. The person who stopped at 6 minutes was in his early 30s, not exactly "young." The incident with the 3 year old kid was true, but it happened around the 16 minute mark, not at 10. It also fabricates several other children, with an authoritative tone, which aren't mentioned in the original article.

Beo wasn't being terribly forthcoming on where he got the link, besides "from a camwhore imageboard chatroom." (Presumably he means "channel" here, which is what they're called in IRC.) Since he wasn't being helpful, I started googling. Searching on the URL revealed the reddit post which was posted at 7 am on November 20th. Incidentally, that post has a rating of 56%, with 7,742 mouthbreathing Digg refugees voting it up, and 6,023 people with half a brain voting it down. I contacted the user who submitted it, satantangoinparis, who said he got it from a image dated November 19th.

Most of the text is from a terrible blog post from September 12th, 2009, as is the article image. That post, in turn, seems to be based on a email forward that was circulating in December 2008, as documented by Snopes.

The jumps between email and blogs is interesting. The meme mutates more rapidly in email, where it is both authoritative and anonymously editable, but spreads far more widely on blog posts and social media where it can infect tens of thousands of minds, while email forwards are limited to a couple dozen people at a time, per generation.

Typical for an email forward, the point is the most insipid of moralizing. While the Washington Post article is much more restrained in its "people are idiots" message, the thrust of the email forward seems to be that only children can recognize true art, (these are the same children that voluntarily watch The Wiggles, mind) and that you should always give money to buskers, just in case you're on a high-concept episode of Candid Camera.

So I guess the lesson here is that email must be destroyed. That, or old people should be banned from forwarding it.

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