#2. A Kurt Vonnegut Misquotation Confirms Everything Kurt Vonnegut Hates About the Internet
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Where You Think It's From:
In the fall of 1997, the transcript of a commencement speech given by Kurt Vonnegut at MIT began making the rounds on the Internet. The speech was pure Vonnegut: absurdist, cranky old grandpa giving wise if irreverent advice to the younglings. You might recognize it better as the lyrics to "Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen)," a hit single that director Baz Lurhmann made of the speech set to music:
"Ladies and gentlemen of the class of '97. Wear sunscreen. If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it. The long-term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists, whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience. I will dispense this advice now."
"What, no shout-out to West Campus? This speaker sucks."
The speech goes on to drop such gems of advice as "do one thing every day that scares you" and "keep your old love letters, throw away your old bank statements." Vonnegut's wife, who was apparently unaware of her own husband's writing and where he was doing commencement speeches, was sent the transcript by friends and felt overjoyed by how clever her husband really was to have come up with these words (his books, we guess, left her unimpressed). She forwarded the transcript to their kids, probably with a subject line that read, "Finally, your dad does something we can be proud about."
But Really ...
You've probably never heard of Mary Schmich, which is too bad for Schmich, because she's the real author of the speech that half the world can quote verbatim. In actual fact, it's not a speech at all, but a column that Schmich wrote for the Chicago Tribune.
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1999's "No Scrubs" also began as a Tribune editorial.
The irony here is that the whole fiasco only served to vindicate Vonnegut's massively low opinion of the Internet. On the Sunscreen Speech affair, Vonnegut told the New York Times, "I don't know what the point is except how gullible people are on the Internet."
Vonnegut was a lifelong neo-Luddite who refused to create an email address. At an early moment in the history of the Internet when people felt most optimistic about the potential for the Web to make the world a better place, Vonnegut compared the groundswell to the naive optimism surrounding the invention of television -- which turned out not to be the savior of man after all, but the place he went to check up on his Kardashians and Duck Dynasties.
So it goes.
And this being the Internet, where the only thing that proliferates faster than false information is a good conspiracy theory, people went further and accused Vonnegut of some clever bit of viral marketing. According to them, Mary Schmich was a character in Vonnegut's new novel, and the whole thing was a publicity stunt. To which we imagine Vonnegut shook his head, chain-smoked a pack of cigarettes, drew a bunch of stylized little assholes, and wrote the word "Internet" above each and every one of them.
#1. Nike Urges Everyone to Embrace the Willpower of a Double Murderer
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Where You Think It's From:
In 1988, the Nike sports company came up with one of the most successful ad campaigns of all time, and its beauty came with its simplicity: "Just Do It." The phrase didn't just inspire people to go out and look stylish; it inspired them to live life to the fullest. Unlike competing brands such as Reebok, which targeted fitness junkies, Nike's campaign went after couch potatoes, women, teens, and other people who needed an inspirational push to get out there, get active, and buy the product that truly believed in them: overpriced plastic shoes from Malaysia.
Nike intended no innuendo with the slogan. Or with their logo.
But Really ...
In the documentary Art & Copy, which traces the origins of several catchy slogans, advertising executive Dan Wieden revealed where he came up with the phrase that rocketed Nike to the top of the shoe business. He took a little inspiration from a multiple murderer named Gary Gilmore.
Clark County Prosecutor's Office
Gary's mother was a Mormon. For his last meal, he ordered coffee.
During the summer of '76, Gilmore had gone on a two-day robbery spree that resulted in him unapologetically shooting two men dead. When the law caught up to him, he was sentenced to death, and he welcomed the decision. Anti-death penalty activists tried their damnedest to stop Gilmore from being executed, but Gilmore was determined to die, so much so that he refused appeals, fired his lawyers, and told everyone to butt the hell out.
In the end, he got his way and became the first person in 10 years to be executed in America. As he faced his own impending death, his last words were "Let's do it."
Or possibly "Let's duet"; Gilmore didn't clarify.
Wieden, who was looking for a new advertising slogan at the time, found Gilmore's git-'er-done attitude toward murder and execution oddly inspiring. Of course, the slogan needed a little tweaking, but not much. And that's how a bloodthirsty killer's last words became the voice of a generation and made Nike shoes into a brand that teenagers would literally kill to have.
Related Reading: Here's an insane quote that's NOT bullshit: "All I know is that I am not a Marxist." - Karl Marx. Click here for further mind blowingness. Or click here to see Cracked editor Kristi Harrison revise some famous quotes for accuracy. If you're not pithed-out yet, we've got the greatest trash-talk in war history to set you up.