Friday, 23 November 2012

Telephone and Urban Legends

I first began participating in public speaking competitions when I was in the fourth grade.  It was a surprise to everyone - my peers and teachers, alike - that I would be able to do it.  I was shy and introverted, but I was very well-received by my peers and they consistently unanimously voted me in to represent them at the annual Legion public speaking competitions.

In the eighth grade, I delivered a speech that was more like a 5-minute comedy act about dating.  I discussed what it meant to date at the age of 13: what it felt like to have a crush, to ask the object of your interest out on a date, the awkward talk with the parents for permission and dealing with rumours about your crush.

Oh, what I would do for a copy of that speech.  Actually, if I tried, I could probably recount most of it. I do remember incorporating a bit about the 'telephone' game.  It was about rumours, how quickly they spread and how they mutate. My more liberal elementary school administrators appreciated my candour.  The Legion did not.

It was what happened after the competition that remains most memorable.  One of the judges stopped to hand me a ribbon for my participation and pose with with.  She plastered on a tightly held smile, and with her gaze on the cameras, she leaned in close to me and condescendingly whispered Watch out for those rumours!  The smile was wiped off my face.  All I could think was that I was just telling the truth the of matter.  Why is that an issue?

So the other day, when a true story in which I played one of the main characters came back around to me as a rumour:
(1) two years after the fact;
(2) from the most unexpected source;
(3) through what had to have been at least 20 "telephones"; and
(4) grossly inaccurately to the point where my character had been morphed into an unrecognizable form, namely a young male (which happens to be fortunate because it could then never actually be tied to me),

it was the recollection of reciting my speech on dating that came to mind. It didn't matter how old I was when I wrote it.  It didn't matter what the story was.  It was the idea that with each transmission, the story underwent a transformation.  It was understanding that no one cared for the truth, even though that was what they claimed they were interested in. It was that I knew all of that even as a naive 13-year-old. Experience has only ever reconfirmed this for me.

How does a story change over time?  In what ways and why?  It isn't always unguided.  Some transformations are the crafty handiwork of unconscionable people.
There was an error in this gadget