Note: I originally pitched this piece to cracked.com, who very nicely rejected it because “not everyone grew up like I did.”
When I was young my mother told me Buffy from “Family Affair” had crawled into a refrigerator, closed the door on herself and died. How or why you would do such a thing, I have no idea. Actually, Anissa Jones had died from a drug overdose at 18. Cocaine. PCP. Prescription drugs. I’m quite sure there was already a cautionary tale there—a much better one than the refrigerator thing. Which I’m guessing would only happen if you were on drugs.
People are always lying.
#1. Hello Kitty is not a cat.
Of course she’s not. The expressionless, anthropomorphic feline figure with the pointy ears, the whiskers, the paw-like, fingerless appendages… my bad. She’s actually a little British girl. Not that you would know—in case you never noticed, it’s not like she has a mouth to talk. Or to steal your breath… Oops, wait! She’s not a cat, y’all!
Hello Kitty expert Christine Yano and curator of the Japanese American National Museum in L.A. was schooled by Sanrio, Hello Kitty’s manufacturer, prior to a recent exhibit. “Hello Kitty is not a cat,” she was told. “She’s a cartoon character. She is a little girl. She is a friend. But she is not a cat. She’s never depicted on all fours. She walks and sits like a two-legged creature. She does have a pet cat of her own, however, and it’s called Charmmy Kitty.”
Hello Kitty was created with her own life story. Her real name is Kitty White and she has a twin sister named Mimmy, distinguishable by virtue of her yellow bow (Kitty wears a red one) but with the same ambiguous facial expression and emotionless black holes for eyes. If it weren’t for the jumper and the bow, she’d closely resemble a dead rat runt. Just what you want on your lunchbox.
She lives outside of London. She’s in third grade and she stands exactly five apples tall. “It’s interesting,” says Yano, “because Hello Kitty emerged in the 1970s, when the Japanese and Japanese women were into Britain.” Kitty and Mimmy. Should have guessed.
#2. Humpty Dumpty is not an egg.
Nope. It’s a cannon. As in the once-common piece of artillery that shot balls of stone. The lyrics of the nursery rhyme from Lewis Caroll’s “Through the Looking Glass” (1871) never describe Humpty Dumpty as an egg:
Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall;
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the king’s horses
And all the king’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again.
Historical speaking, Humpty Dumpty was actually the name of a cannon used by the Royalists during the English Civil War of 1642-1651. (I know, I had never heard of it either.) The cannon was strategically placed atop a church tower directly behind one of the walls surrounding the city of Colchester, England. The wall was blown away during an enemy attack by the Parliamentarians and Humpty Dumpty, well, you guessed it. He cracked. No más.
So where’d the egg man come from? John Tenniel’s head, that’s where, an illustrator for an 1872 edition of “Through the Looking Glass.” He took the name Humpty Dumpty and created a rotund, rosy-cheeked egg-shaped head with freakish arms, legs and an exceptionally disproportional horizontal smile. What a brilliant example of a word that sounds like what it means—the word for that being onomatopoeia—like “ooze” or “murmur” or “cock-a-doodle-doo!” I can’t help but notice his name isn’t “Itty Bitty.” Then he probably would have looked like a tiny eel.
According to Martin Gardner’s “The Annotated Mother Goose,” the rhyme was actually a riddle. Before Instagram, before the internet and silly top 10 lists, people entertained themselves with riddling rhymes. Compare the Humpty Dumpty riddle to one from “The Hobbit:”
A box without hinges, key, or lid,
Yet golden treasure inside is hid.
The answer? An egg.
#3. The 1971 book “Go Ask Alice” is not a real diary.
It’s written by a middle-aged Mormon woman named Beatrice Sparks with zero experience with drug addiction. It’s complete, utter hooey. However, speaking of cautionary tales, I can honestly say because of this book I was never once tempted to do acid for fear I’d have some kind of schizophrenic episode and end up strapped to a bed in a mental ward chewing my maggoty fingers to the bone. (It’s also the reason I used to put mayonnaise on my hair to make it “shining and soft enough to make anyone turn on.”) The cover alone freaks me out. It’s haunting.
The fake diarist is a shy 15-year-old who doesn’t fit in. She gets dosed with LSD at a party. The next thing you know she’s smoking pot, shooting heroin and dealing drugs to nine-year-olds at recess. She runs away, does more drugs and talks about the “dirty sonsofbitches” who “had taken turns raping us and treating us sadistically and brutally.” (Reminder: it’s fake. No 15-year-old talks like that.) She tries to go back to school, but she gets incessantly teased like Roller Girl in “Boogie Nights” for being a slutty, druggy skank. More drugs. Promiscuity. Homelessness. Prostitution. A visit to the insane asylum. She’s screwed.
She ends up back at home with her parents and vows to start over. The diary ends. According to the epilogue:
The subject of this book died three weeks after her decision not to keep another diary.
Her parents came home from a movie and found her dead. They called the police and the hospital but there was nothing anyone could do.
OK, you’re daughter went through all that and you left her home alone to go to the movies?! Way to go.
In 1979, Sparks revealed in an interview that although there was a real “Alice,” she had embellished certain incidents and added others from similar case studies from her work as a psychiatrist. No one seemed to kick up much of a fuss, probably because it kept kids like me off acid. Would I have felt differently if I knew it wasn’t real? Who knows.
#4. The Schoolhouse Rock “I’m Just a Bill” episode has it only partially correct.
Kids will remember anything if you sing it. Thanks to Monty Python, we know every sperm is sacred.
“I’m just a Bill” tells the tale of how an idea becomes a law. There’s Bill, a “sad scrap of paper” sitting on Capital Hill (which, by the way, is not actually situated on a hill like the mythical land of Oz). Some folks back home, five to be exact in various representations of ethnicity and socio-economic levels—including a man in a curious butcher’s apron—figure there ought to be a law requiring school busses must stop at railroad crossings. I’m not quite sure if we’re to surmise there had been an unfortunate incident.
They share their idea for a new law with their Congressman, a Rep. McCoy. He agrees, Bill ends up getting stuck in committee where two typically disgruntled-looking lawmakers do the finger-jab at each other while they debate about it. They argue behind closed doors and endure what I imagine is a lot of filibustering and bipartisan grandstanding (to use terms I hardly understand but sound vaguely applicable). But he’s lucky, because most most bills never get that far. Maybe because that’s why they look angry and discouraged as they’re held behind the red ropes by a security guard. Bill says if he passes the House and then the Senate, he’ll have to wait in line at the White House with the other bills: a military vet, an old granny, a sweet young couple and a hunter who clearly knows nothing about gun safety considering he’s jabbing the guy behind him. And if he gets through that whole nonsense, the president can still veto him.
The legislative process is a little more complicated. A small bunch of well-meaning citizens would hardly have the effectiveness it takes to gain the interest of their congressman for their idea, let alone get it to the bill-writing stage. Try it. Write your representative and tell them you think it should be illegal to dress your dog like a superhero because your neighbor likes to put a Batman cape on his poor, unwitting Maltipoo. Throw heart-yanking, political buzzwords in there like “animal cruelty” and “callous and deliberate misrepresentation” to make it sound urgent. How you find out who the proper representative would be, I have no idea… Give it a go. Report back.
And I can’t help but notice there are no lawyers, advocacy groups, or overworked, unpaid interns pouring over the technicalities and the structural concerns behind writing new legalese. What a minutiae-riddled nightmarish job that must be. Never mind all the corruption, lack of funding, corporate greed or what the New Yorker calls the “lawmaker-lobbyist mutual-enrichment cycle.”
Poor Bill. One thing for sure: it’s not easy for a bill to become a law.
#5. The “Crying Indian” in the commercial for “Keep America Beautiful” was actually Italian.
It’s Earth Day, 1971. A one-minute PSA debuted in 1971 showing a Native American man in a canoe paddling down a peaceful, tree-lined river. The tribal music swells as we see his oar hitting all kinds of floating rubbish as the scene turns into a post-apocalyptic zone of hideous industrial machinery. It’s serious.
He pulls his canoe up on an embankment. It’s trashed with styrofoam cups and other non-biodegradable crap. As if he isn’t depressed enough already, a car drives by and tosses a bag of what looks like half of an In-N-Out burger and some uneaten fries at his feet. “Some people have a deep, abiding respect for the natural beauty that was once this country…” we hear as the camera zooms in on his face to reveal a single tear rolling down his cheek. “…And some people don’t. People start pollution. People can stop it.”
It was named one of the top 100 advertising campaigns of the 20th Century by Ad Age Magazine, thanks to “Iron Eyes Cody” who became a Native American hero and the face of environmental activism. He even has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Too bad the guy was an Italian-American actor named Espera Oscar de Corti.
If you thought ex-NAACP leader Rachel Dolezal—the white woman who decided she was black—was the first person to identify with an ethnicity that couldn’t be further from their own, well, you’d be wrong. Oscar had been lying about his Cherokee ancestry since the age of 12 when he started working as an actor in Hollywood. Part of his backstory included a “wild west show” he put on with his father, Thomas Long Plume, and he was prolific in Indian lore. Dude, really? Your parents were from Sicily!
He wore a braided wig (a bad one), moccasins and even a headdress on occasion. He supported Native American causes and spoke against the evils of gambling and alcohol. Did he do it for the work? Like Tootsie? We’ll never know. Oscar never admitted the truth, even when his own family were like, “um, we’re Italian.” He passed away in 1999.
#6. Sea Monkeys are just shrimp.
I’m not sure what I thought they were, but I certainly don’t remember thinking they were shrimp. A hybrid of brine shrimp, to be exact.
Sea Monkeys have nothing to do with the sea or monkeys. And they look nothing like the alien creatures with the three-pronged heads they’re depicted as. “These shrimp live in salt lakes or salt flats, and when the water of a salt lake evaporates, the shrimp go into this state of suspended animation,” says Patricia Hogan, a curator at the Strong National Museum of Play. It’s called cryptobiosis. The lakes dry up. The shrimp get all salted out. And somehow they developed the ability to encase themselves in egg-like structures and survive for years, until it rains enough to give them a lake to live in again.
Their remarkable survival technique does nothing to explain why they live, like, less than a month by the time you revive the eggs in a tank at home. I realize we’re talking about a “highly guarded interplay of osmosis and controlled pH fluctuation,” according to weirdscifi.com. But making a kid wait a whole day to make sure the elements in the tank are right for the sea monkeys is about as realistic as making them wait for a light bulb to bake cookies in an EZ Bake Oven.
They breathe through their feet.
The males fight.
Anything sold as a “hatching kit” freaks me out.
#7. The real “Sybil” lied about having multiple personalities.
I had a teacher in high school who used to show us incredibly traumatizing movies in the name of embracing “honesty and upfrontness in a safe, educational environment.” One of them was 1976’s “Sybil,” starring Sally Field. I saw “The Exorcist” when I was 12. Sybil was worse. And not in a good way.
Shirley Mason, aka Sybil Dorsett was the subject of Flora Rheta Schreiber’s “Sybil: The Classic True Story of a Woman Possessed by Sixteen Personalities” on which the TV movie was based. Both the movie and the book are fictionalized accounts based on “true events” with regard to Dr. Cornelia Wilbur, a New York psychiatrist and her patient who came to her in 1954 as a thin, emotionally unstable young woman concerned over spells of unconsciousness she had been having. Hours or days would go by, and she would have no memory of what had happened when she woke up in strange hotels in different cities. She suffered from feelings of worthlessness, anorexia and body aches. Dr. Wilbur recognized it as a form of rare hysteria resulting in “fugue states,” where you basically spend a length of time as someone else.
Then a little girl named “Peggy” showed up to therapy. Peggy was angry. And Vicky, a mature and fancy 12-year-old who described ritualistic physical and sexual abuse at the hands of her own mother Hattie, a suspected paranoid schizophrenic. And 14 others, including two guys. Dr. Wilbur taped the sessions, and the book sold millions of copies. Everyone read it. And everyone started getting diagnosed with multiple-personality disorder, known today as dissociative-identity disorder, also known as a whole lotta crap in many cases. What they failed to mention was a letter Sybil had written to Dr. Wilbur, five years into her treatment:
I am not going to tell you there isn’t anything wrong. We both know there is. But it is not what I have led you to believe. I do not have any multiple personalities. I don’t even have a “double” to help me out. I am all of them. I have been essentially lying in my pretense of them. The dissociations are not the problem because they do not actually exist, but there is something wrong or I would not resort to pretending like that.
There are two ways to look at it. Either a) one of her personalities had written the letter because she really was crazy-cakes, or b) she was pretty much sane but had made it all up for attention. According to Debbie Nathan, author of “Sybil: Exposed,” tapes and transcripts from therapy sessions show “Sybil’s sixteen personalities had not popped up spontaneously but were provoked over many years of rogue treatment that violated practically every ethical standard of practice for mental health practitioners.” It’s more than a little possible Sybil and the doctor kept the ruse up together for the money from the book and the movie. And did you know there was “Sybil, the Musical?” Like, wow.
Killer whales are not whales. They’re dolphins.
An octopus does not have eight arms. It has two legs and six arms.
There is no such thing as a jackalope.
Cats should not drink milk. They are lactose intolerant.
The brontosaurus never existed.
Bugs Bunny is not a rabbit. He’s a hare.
There’s no such animal as a panther. A panther is any cat that can roar, like a lion or a tiger.
Possums don’t “play dead” in front of a dangerous predator. They’re actually in a state of shock.
Bees don’t die when they sting you, unless they do a messy job of it.
Rudolf the Red-nosed Reindeer is technically a female. Male reindeers lose their antlers in the winter.
#2 and #1 weren’t exactly fleshed out when I submitted this to cracked.com, It was probably going to be:
Betty Crocker was not a real person.
There’s no such thing as a dark side of the moon. (Science sucks. Way to ruin my favorite album.)
I’m still thinking, because I have a burning desire to round this list off to 10. And to think of something else for cracked.com. They are pretty darn clever over there.