Mucking Out The Augean Inbox

By Travis Lyle a.k.a DJ Hedmekanik
In the world of myth, the gullible give swift carriage. Urban myths are rendered humorous when their true origins are revealed and the miscommunication of the ‘broken telephone’ system is obvious. Myths in their original from served to provide a vehicle for moral and practical messages, but when they morph into nothing more than another reason to fear your fellow man and the world outside your door, they become sinister.

In the age of electronic information, myth has taken on a malevolent tinge. Nowadays, you’re liable (if you have regular access to a computer and email) to be the recipient of scare mail. It’s urban myth on steroids, made all the more credible by virtue of seemingly authentic references. Scare mail stories are attributed to fictitious newspapers, ‘articles’ are copied which contain fake names, practices, places and date-rape drugs. And the time taken to forward these little snippets of horror is less, of course, than the time it will take to do a little amateur sleuthing conducted via Google, or any other search engine. This is the problem here – people are lazy, so they’d rather just FWD this odious sample of how evil mankind can be to each other.

So the convinced (and markedly outraged) recipient becomes a carrier, and goes on to infect all who have the misfortune of being only an email away. Particularly virulent scare mails go on to become a scare mail epidemic. The string of recipients shows just how many are willing and, indeed, gullible enough to forward this dreck on in the noble pursuit of warning their fellows. Which is a good virtue, neighbourly even. If it is based on fact. The thinking of the willing participant would seem to be ‘We don’t have time to question this - we must warn the others, they could be in danger!’

Lock the doors. Can’t trust anyone these days. Malice lives on every street.

A well-known scare mail example is the story about a ‘gang initiation ritual’ practiced by Bloods and Cripps gangsters which involves a car that flashes its lights at you, the supposed prelude to being shot. The only problem with this is that there are no Bloods or Cripps in South Africa. They’re from South Central L.A. This one may come with the following scare title: FWD: - This actually happened to my mother’s cousin’s dermatologists’ veterinarians’ daughters’ Hatha yoga instructor’s grandmother!!! WARNING!’

There was the girl that was given ‘the sterilization drug, Progesterex’ – a drug claimed to be used in conjunction with Rohypnol, so that rapists could drug and sterilize their victims. A quick google would show that this substance is entirely fabricated. Claims abound of victims being abducted and raped by ‘five men’ after being abducted at the ‘Jet Bar’ in Miami. Or was it the ‘Cro Bar’ in Houston? Maybe it was the ‘Gaz Club’. Soon enough the tale becomes embellished with some local detail and is given a new lease on life as it makes the leap from being an American urban legend to FWD: Fwd: fWD:/;;: - ‘READ THIS - something that could happen to YOU!!!’

The latest drivel to slop onto my desktop is Joseph Farah’s sterling piece of fright writing which was preceded by the lovely Fwd: Fwd” ‘Whites must Get the Hel [sic] out of this country!’. Joseph Farah is a discredited conservative journalist who seems to leave a trail of foul-smelling ooze across whichever page he sullies with his bigoted bile. The basic drive of it is that the blacks of South Africa are awaiting Nelson Mandela’s death, which by Farah is claimed as the trigger to a mass slaughter and exodus of whites. Apparently, the ‘Communists’ (Christ, there’s a lot of hair on that chestnut!) are the orchestrators of the plan, which is ‘widely known by Africans who now tell any white they have differences with “Wait till Mandela’s gone”. So there you have it folks – daardie bliksemse Rooi Gevaar is terug. Quake, o ye honkies, quake, for the Night Of The Long Panga is nigh. Oh, you got that one too? It obviously got a whole bunch of people, because it’s still doing the rounds - shame on you and a pox on your house if your FWD’d that nasty piece of work.

The problem is that, as with scare mails of similar ilk, people lap this up like custard. Obviously, legitimate stories must be given an audience – the net is the greatest single mobiliser of our time and its ability to not only make masses of people aware of worthy causes but also provide a platform to harness support should be put to use at every opportunity. Real matters of concern such as missing children, crime and environmental crises should very well be given the time of day – no sensible person would dispute that. However the work of scaremongers and doomsayers should not be made all the easier because people leap blindly onto the bandwagon without any thought of checking the facts. The world is scary enough without us allowing ourselves to be made even more paranoid.

Everyone wants to tell the shocker over the dinner table. It’s great being the centre of attention as you tell such an intelligent story which addresses such an important issue. All those faces, rapt with attention. The same applies to email. But please, for the love of God, take time to check the facts.

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