Now and then a reader will write to say they’re outraged by a story — that it’s “not humorous”.
Most of the time, such readers are meant to be outraged. Stories in True are not always intended to be funny. For years, this web site’s introduction, on the front page, notes that the taglines (Randy’s commentary which ends every story) are meant to be “humorous, ironic, or opinionated”. With luck, the tag will be some combination of the three. But that “or” is important: “humorous” is only one of the possible attributes of a tag — and a story. That message, by the way, is repeated in the “Welcome” message sent out when you subscribed.
You know, the one that’s headed “PLEASE READ THIS MESSAGE”.
So let’s get specific. After a story about some kids who pulled a stupid stunt while driving a car (trying to “jump” an unfinished bridge — which ended tragically), one reader complained:
I never thought I’d be writing this sort of thing but there’s a line out there, and I fear you’ve crossed it with the, shall we say, appropriateness of [the story of] three dead young people in a stupid car collision (not really an ‘accident,’ was it?). I buried a son a few years ago following a much less explicable car accident. Let me suggest that you’ve not buried a child nor do you know intimately anyone who has. Otherwise I think you’d have given that story a pass entirely. —Michael in Connecticut
My “harsh” reply first: please don’t ever assume you know what my experience is; I’ve seen far more tragedy up close than anyone should ever have to see. Have you ever had to do CPR on a 7-year-old child? I have — and he didn’t make it. (He was not, however, my child.)
My other, more empathetic response is: I’m very sorry you had to go through that, Michael, and sorry the story brought your memory to the fore. I do believe, however, it is vitally important to tell these sorts of stories. People need to know about the pain their actions cause not just to themselves, but to the people that are left behind, and the families of the victims they take with them. Sometimes, too, my tagline is meant to elicit a bit of a smile; if a touch of humor helps people talk about it, fine, because you know that many, many parents who get True use such stories as an opportunity to bring up the subject of being responsible drivers to their teens, and you know most of those teens think the surviving driver’s excuse in this story was beyond lame. If that helps them slow down and be more careful with their friends’ lives, then I did my job very well.
So, a story’s “not funny”? Yep: that’s the point. True is definitely meant to entertain first, but it has another, equally important mission: to provoke thought. And, sometimes, to provoke outrage. True is about people doing often very stupid things. The only way to bring about change is to illuminate the problem, and to provoke action.
A story makes you angry? Good — I did my job: now go out and do something to change things. Blaming the messenger is …well… a stupid way to go about changing things.