Last year, on Cinco de Mayo, five high school students were sent home for wearing "American flag T-shirts." You know, like this one.
Via NBC Bay Area
It was an outrage. Five kids just happened to come to school wearing Old Navy shirts or something that happened to have the American flag on them somewhere, and they got sent home by a touchy feely principal scared of offending the slightest sensibilities of Hispanic students. What better example of political correctness gone wrong? Headlines and blogs started blaring that it was now illegal to wear American flags in our own country.
Well, the five kids didn't show up dressed that way by coincidence, nor was it subtle.
According to some witnesses, the kids were yelling, "We live in America!" during the brunch break. The school had already seen trouble on Cinco de Mayo the year before and had actually asked students ahead of time to not wear flag clothes this year.
OK, you might think, those kids weren't innocent flag wearers who just happened to want to show American patriotism on that day by coincidence, but it's not illegal! It sure isn't! Not only did the kids never face any legal jeopardy, but the school board immediately overturned the principal's decision, so even the school discipline was reversed. So they weren't patriotic kids minding their own business who paid the price, they were jackholes who didn't end up facing any consequences. So don't worry! It is still A-OK to stir shit up and offend people in this country and play innocent. Hopefully people will think less of you, but you won't go to jail!
First Amendment. Love it or leave it.
While the mainstream news mostly deals in overblowing threats to our national identity and freedoms, email forwards and internet urban legends are free to just make up completely fake threats. One of the most treasured classics is the old "FCC Planning To Ban Religious Broadcasting" email forward.
When I first got this forward back in 1996 or something, I was pretty sure it was fake because the woman behind this ban was the obviously fake and badly spelled "Madalyn Murray O'Hair," but it turns out that's the most real thing about the story. Back when this story was invented, which was actually in the 70s, she was actually a notorious atheist activist and a great name to attach to this kind of story for an extra scare.
Via Alan Light
A truly terrifying figure.
O'Hair has been dead for at least 10 years and not only does that make it difficult for her to be the driving force behind an FCC ban on religious broadcasting, but there was never a ban proposed by anyone to begin with. "Petition 2493," that official sounding case number that makes the email sound so authentic, was a 1974 petition to stop religious institutions from using channels set aside for education, that's it, and even that was turned down in 1975. Despite all that, the story keeps evolving, albeit really slowly, as stories circulated by mostly old people will do, and over the years has worked in Touched By An Angel (they were going to ban it) and the election of Barack Obama (apparently they finally found a replacement to play the part of O'Hair after 34 years).
Facts be damned, though, people keep circulating it, because they know our freedoms are under attack and our government is a bunch of namby pamby concessionists always taking the side of People Who Aren't Like Us. If we tell our own personal anecdotes about why this is true, like how outraged we are that they are selling taco shells in the supermarket, our stories sound a little lame and petty. That's why we're happy to swallow someone else's extreme, outrageous stories to better justify our sense of persecution, even if they are only minimally plausible.
A quick browse of Snopes shows a good amount of creative horror stories about new trends in rape, like did you know rapists are offering women perfume samples in mall parking lots, but IT'S REALLY KNOCKOUT GAS? Or did you know they're using a "lost child" as bait to lead you back to a trap house rigged with AN ELECTRIFIED DOORBELL THAT KNOCKS YOU OUT? And today's cutting edge rapists aren't just knocking you out, they're mixing a drug called "Progesterex" in with their roofies so they can knock you out AND permanently sterilize you for some reason. Because most rapists are identified by paternity tests apparently.
Via Wikimedia Commons
"Congratulations, ma'am! We also have some bad news ..."
And it's not just rapists that are after women, it's also tampon companies, that supposedly fill tampons with asbestos to cause women to bleed more, so that, you know, they'll buy more product. My mom actually forwarded me that exact email. Thanks, Mom!
So why the fuck do so many women love repeating stories about how everybody is out to rape them and give them cancer? Well, like all crazy beliefs, it starts with a grain of truth. Women do have a few reasons to be more worried about attacks than men. They're physically weaker on average, and have more to worry about in a one-on-one attack. Most victims of rape are women. Women's purses are easy snatch-and-grab robbery targets. (Here's hoping the man-purse keeps making inroads.)
Via Lainey Gossip
Hey, if Tom Brady can do it ...
So a whole bunch of advice and support has sprung up to help women be smart and keep safe -- advice that started out as reasonable, practical tips, like, "Try to avoid walking alone when possible," and "Keep alert to your surroundings." Then they started getting more aggressive, with special women's self-defense classes and suggestions to carry pepper spray or a gun, and then just spiraled into paranoia, with classes that teach you what hairstyle a rapist is most likely to go for, and electrified doorbells.
Most stories people tell to get attention get scrutinized a bit, at least enough that laughably fake ones won't work. But if the story isn't a self-aggrandizing tale but told out of "concern" to "help your fellow women," people's defenses go down. You don't use the same critical eye you use on a story, because it's not a "story," it's a "helpful tip."
Maybe none of these types of stories push your buttons, but everybody's got a weak spot. If you ever run into a news story that gets you physically excited, make sure to take a step back and ask why you want it to be true so bad, and see if it's clouding your judgment. And then clean yourself up.
For more on ridiculous self-defense, check out The 13 Most Irresponsible Self Defense Gadgets Money Can Buy. And get more from Christina in The 5 Biggest Mistakes Women (Like Me!) Make On The Internet.