Posted by: wtfwjd? | May 22, 2008

On toothbrushes and flag pins

Burgundy boy asks:

part of me simply can’t believe this kind of whisper campaign actually works. we’re more than a decade into the email age, we all get a fair number of email forwards every week. and they’re almost always completely wrong. wouldn’t exist if it weren’t supplied by a constant stream of bogus emails. why would anyone take an email forward as a credible source of information?

They play into a preexisting belief narrative. Like all urban legends. Scary black man gets into elevator and says “hit the floor.” Scary black men drive around with no lights on, looking for good samaritans to shoot. Scary black men destroy honeymooner’s vacation memories. Scary black man cleans up pretty good but under the suit really hates America.

Urban legends play on societal neuroses, the desire to believe anecdotes that support a preconception (a word that’s very close to prejudice), and the power of storytelling.

Oh, and the people getting these forwarded emails (and believing them) tend to be a little bit older and a lot stupider less sophistacated more provincial regular* than you or me.

* Chris Matthews


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