At some point in the earliest days of e-mail, the internet began to take away our power of critical thought. It moved in slowly, taking hold like a cancer and then spreading. It preyed on our trust. It made us think it wanted to protect us from things or tell us about interesting things of which we were unaware. But the truth was, it was making us stupiderer. Soon, like the bleating sheep it wanted us to become, we began blindly forwarding an unwarranted tonnage of unfiltered bullshit. Some of us were telling everyone we knew about reverse phone-number scams and how to make famous cookies and how to avoid getting knocked out in parking lots by perfume-bottle-wielding bandits and how to get Bill Gates to give you a couple thousand dollars and how every e-mail you sent equaled five cents toward a kidney for some sick kid whom the doctors were otherwise just going to let die.
At first it was easy to spot because it came through our e-mail. All you had to do was look for this in your inbox:
This served two purposes. First, it let you know that a steaming load of incorrect information was coming your way. Second, it clued you in that you knew a gullible person who thought you were gullible and who knew a number of other gullible people with equally gullible friends.
But in the last few years, this lingering evil has found a new outlet. The Facebook wall. No warning. No chance to look away. One day you pop open your newsfeed and someone you know, who until now had seemed a reasonable and intelligent person, is all but forcibly telling you that you desperately need to know about something like this:
You recognize it, of course, because it’s been on 12 billion Facebook walls along with its story: A bullfighter suddenly comes to a moral crossroads, the realization that his chosen profession is cruel and vicious, something he can no longer abide. And thus, mid-bullfight, he sits on the edge of the ring, an apparently forgiving bull standing before him, the former foe now a sympathetic ally.
This, appropriately, is bullshit.
Let’s think about this–which is something people haven’t been doing before slapping this photo and the sappy story tagged to it on their walls. First off, can you, as a rational, critical-thinking person, honestly believe that in the very moment a bullfighter is suddenly overcome with remorse for his chosen profession, the bull he’s been working toward killing, most likely half-crazed with a pain-inflicted fight response, is going to look at the guy sitting there in his despondence and think, in cow-thought language, “He appears to be coming to a decision of some great importance. He probably needs some time alone with his thoughts. I’ll just stand here passively.”?
No. That six-hundred-pound goring machine would smell the moment of weakness, seize it and put one of those nasty horns right through that guy’s spleen and laugh about it.
But let’s give it the benefit of the doubt, and say that the bull in question is in touch with his feelings. Let’s consider the bullfighter. Let’s say that, as in the case of Álvaro Múnera, the torero who is misidentified in the photo above, you have been a bullfighter since you were 14. You understand the bull and you understand how bulls act when you’re busily plunging swords into them while wearing painfully tight pants. You know–indeed, it’s been drilled into you–that you’re standing toe to toe with a fucking killing machine, the very species that has taken out people in your position because they slipped up for about the space of a heartbeat, if that. Given that, do you think that when your career-devastating moment of moral clarity hits you like a veritable bolt from the blue, you’d sit down three feet away from this murderous steak with a bad attitude? No. You might stop, yes. Perhaps you would leave the arena. You can do that. But would you sit down and give Mr. Angry Cow a free shot? Not unless along with your moment of clarity you also asked for a side order of suicidal.
So, no, what we are seeing here in not bullfighter and bull having a metaphysical moment of simpatico. It’s better than that. Because the truth of this captured moment highlights how people have just flung themselves bodily onto this bandwagon of pure manure and inflicted a wealth of disinformation on their friends.
See, what the bullfighter is actually doing is called desplante. This is a thing that they do in bullfighting. It’s part of the show. The bullfighter sits on the rail to show his disregard for and dominance over the bull. Now, we should all be able to agree that when you decide to be a dick to a bull, the bull has no actual understanding what you’re doing. It doesn’t think, “Wow, is he ignoring me? Is he actually pretending I’m not even here?” No, it does not. I would imagine what it thinks is more along the lines of “moo.” The bull doesn’t care that you’re being a dick. So you’re just showing off for the audience. If the bull makes a move on you, bam, you’re over your mock despondence and jamming another pointy thing into its baby backs.
The only shred of truth in this ever-so-overshared photo is that Munera did, in fact, become an activist crusading against bullfighting. You know, 150 or so dead bulls and a crippling accident later. Oh, wait–did the story under the photo not mention that Munera quit after being gored and left paraplegic? Of course it didn’t. That would just ruin the narrative. And just to fire one more nail into this thing, that quote that runs with the picture, the one about him looking into the bull’s eyes? Also not from Munera. That was writer Antonio Gala, who is not, nor has he ever been, a bullfighter.
How do I know all this? Stand by for a revelation, kids. When I first saw the photo, I was curious–because, again, it didn’t make sense. So I went onto our friend the interwebtubes and I looked it up. I ordered me a bowl of truth, and it was tasty. This revelation will repeat later in the post.
Hey, have you seen this one yet?
This is the one that got me going on this post. This irked me like crazy. But rather than bandy about on this one, let’s just cut to the problematic chase, which is this: The statue on the left was sculpted in 2007 by artist Theodore Bonev. It celebrates the 159th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, and it’s at a roundabout in St. Maarten. Those last two sentences contain about six quantifiable facts. How did I come by them? Again, I looked them up. I started at Snopes, which should be everyone’s first stop in the presence of perceived bullshit. Then I followed a link, the one I put right there in Mr. Bonev’s name, and it validated the information for me. (In fact, that page notes that “The ‘Lady Liberty’ statue at the Agrément roundabout is probably the best-known public sculpture by Theodore Bonev…”) My total research/debunking time: about 10 minutes. Here’s another fun factoid about Lady Liberty, which comes to you via the folks at Snopes, from a 1986 NY Post article they researched since it’s referenced in the longer, even more mistake-laden account that apparently spawned this photo: Lady Liberty’s face originally was the rich brown-red of the copper+ in which she is cast. The familiar green is the result of years of oxidation. For a few early years, explains writer Eric Fettman, the statue would have turned black* before the green began to set it. Fettman claims that the Statue’s creator, Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, knew this would happen. (Good metalworkers understand how metal works. Go figure.)
But hey, isn’t it easier to foster some extra resentment toward our country’s long-standing record of racial intolerance by claiming that we rejected a statue 123 years before it was created? Yes! We are some seriously proactive ignorant bastards, aren’t we?
I know that there are some anti-Snopes people out there, or those who would challenge my use of it as a source. (It’s been done.) But you can’t refute a reference that–hang onto your hats, outright sheepish believers!–cites its sources. Its legitimate sources. Holy research! Sweet mother of web-based-journalism, how can this be?
There are people in my own circle of friends who do this kind of thing all the time, this spreading of disinformation via their own lack of information. What makes me nuts is that several of these people have jobs that are fact-dependent, that require critical thinking or enhanced deductive capabilities. In some cases, lives are in the balance and only a well-considered action is acceptable. Intelligent, detailed, capable people who toss all that shit right out the window when they see a photo with words pasted onto it. Then it’s game on, facts be damned.** Some have been guilty of this since the Fwd:Fwd:Fwd: days, and they have gotten downright pissy with me for calling them out on this willful spread of low-grade ca-ca.
Why do I care, you ask? Because it’s a waste of time. Because I want to believe that the people around me aren’t knee-jerk emotional reactionists willing to dispense with logic because the internet is such a shining bastion of quality information. Because it takes no time at all to stop, consider, and question. Because truth is better than bullshit. Because right is better than wrong, especially when wrong does nothing to move us forward. In the first case here, we’re being sold a bill of goods that contains a number of lies. Do you want to spread your message that harming animals for sport is wrong? (And it is.) Then give us the truth of it. Not a misidentified photo, a mis-attributed quote, and a story that never happened. If you lie to me and I find out, why should I be on your side? If you make a fool of me for falling for your made-up scenario, why do I want to hear what you have to say? There must be enough true stories about this. I get that the one that yanks at the heart-strings might be the most effective. But asking other people to pass it off as truth? That’s just wrong.
In the case of the second picture, the intent is clearly to cast aspersions on white America–ooh, weren’t we bad, sending back the African-looking statue? I think we can all agree that white America has done enough actual and genuinely crappy things in relation to Africans and African-Americans over the last 200-plus years that what we don’t need is a fabricated version that can be disproved with one Google search. Are we so quick to believe that we are an awful species that when we see “evidence” of it–which, come on, has to raise a little suspicion just based on the size disparity of the statues–we take it as truth and repeat the lie without asking?
We want to be outraged. We feed on it and we regurgitate it and we force-feed it to others to validate our outrage. We let it override reason. We cease to think. Reaction without consideration = Facebook postings. The Fwd:Fwd:Fwd: of the new millennium.
Many years ago, during a period historians call “the twentieth century,” if you went around willfully spreading an endless stream of quantifiably incorrect information, you would have been referred to as what was known back then as “an idiot.” Honestly. You can look that up, if you can be bothered to take a moment and do the research.
Don’t be an idiot.
In the meantime, since pictures with words on them are the new Gospel, let me leave you with this, courtesy of my dear friend Mr. Ed O’Rourke, based on a photo taken by my dear friend Mr. Chris Tilden.
+A thank-you to reader David Duarte for catching an error in my post. The Statue of Liberty is made of copper, not bronze as I originally wrote. I looked too quickly at the quote in the Snopes article and didn’t go back to check!
*I recognize that there is a difference between a black-colored face and an African/African-American face. However, the original diatribe notes that “the dark original face of the Statue of Liberty can be seen in the New York Post [referenced above].” That darkness, noted as evidence of the statue originally being modeled after an African woman, was the color of the bronze.
**As a long-lost friend use to like to say, “I saw it spray-painted on a bridge. It must be true.”