First Posted 2016-02-05

Not. The tabloid papers used to do this a lot. The Hearst papers would feature gruesome photos of accident victims on the front page to sell papers. True or not, Hearst is accused of helping to start the Spanish-American War. The tabloids would gin up some wild story about 50’ (why only 50′? They were 100′.) dragons being discovered on the shores of the Loch Ness. Then, the dragons, for unexplained reasons, fly off to be found laying flame to the White House and eating the first family. Crazy, right?

Fire Breathing Dragon

Yeah, crazy. Recently, though, Rolling Stone made headlines with an incredible story of an innocent, young co-ed who was gang raped by violent, out of control frat pledges who had been told to all have sex with her. She was pushed down, landing on a glass coffee table that shredded her back, and the shards of glass were digging in deeper as the pledges pounded away. Great imagery. Vivid, a nice amount of blood, fits a stereotype of frat boys and sorority sisters.

It was published as news, as fact. It was just as true as my headline about a dragon eating the White House and the president being dead. No more or less true than my favorite example of outrageously untrue a few months back—that aliens were assimilating us through our cell phones,  explaining why some folk seem schizophrenic. They are an unwilling host to an alien that has taken over their body. Which explains Obama’s behavior? Maybe.

The UVA story, as it stayed on the front burner for the usual two weeks, had everybody lining up to console the girl, persecute the pledges, and promise to change the culture of the University to be more respectful of women. There were protests. The usual suspects made signs and chanted slogans on various college campuses. People ran with the idea of the story and renewed familiar tropes about men as dogs, as out-of-control phallic monsters who only want one thing—an unbroken few hours of TV watching the game. Why? What did you think I’d say they want?

Some people want stories to be true and bad enough that they plant their flag on the story being fact. The story scratches all sorts of resonating itches about how their world works. So, instead of slowing down to fact-check, they launch from their own iteration of cherished Queen Victoria tropes about hapless women and boorish men. This fits the theme of this site. We act on stories, on how we explain our lives through story. If the rape story was true, then definitely a long conversation about relationships between men and women needs to happen in our colleges.

But . . . and this just makes a mess of that, the story isn’t true. A year on as discovery has happened in various lawsuits, testimony from depositions has been released. She made the story up. The alleged victim lied. So, the choices & behaviors that were launched on the assumption that it was true are now at risk of being challenged. It may be that perhaps educating fraternities and sororities on etiquette when drunk & horny isn’t such a need. Maybe Obama isn’t secretly a space alien. Maybe I’m just nuts. Perhaps I can put away my tinfoil hat?

Tin Foil Hat

Listen, we can’t escape story. We’ll narrate our lives and make choices based on how we tell our story whether we do so in a sane manner or not. The task isn’t to fight story-telling. It is to be conscious of our own habits in narration and how those habits manifest in our behavior and finally, how our habits in narration and behavior affect those around us. Maybe we can choose to tell the story a different way so the story fosters better behaviors.

Something happened to a girl at a party at UVA. The initial claim was that she was forced to perform oral sex on five pledges. The story still lurks about as urban legend because it has enough popular tropes about relationships on college campuses. It’s a dirty, sexy, taboo fantasy of some. It exposes an underbelly of popular culture we play peek-a-boo with. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to iron my tinfoil hat.