There were very few comments about a tag that Jennifer put on one of her stories, about two people listening to music so loud that they couldn’t hear trains coming. There’s a real and significant reason I publish such stories, but not everyone grasps that.
Here’s the story, from True’s 6 February 2011 issue:
His car stereo blasting, a Missoula, Mont., man proceeded to drive through an intersection and onto the train tracks. Unable to hear because of the blaring music, the unidentified man in his 30s stated that he never saw or heard the approaching train — until it crashed into his car just behind the driver’s seat. Despite extensive damage to the car, the driver was not injured. Things ended differently farther down the line for Amanda Byrne, 18, who was jogging on the train tracks in Rowe, N.M., with her earphones too loud for her to hear the frantic signaling of the fast-approaching train. She was hit and killed. (JW/Missoulian, Reuters) …I was trying to remember the name of that song, and then it hit me….
Two Brief Letters
Premium subscriber Lucy in Texas: “You, sir, are an evil, evil man — and you must be encouraged. I laughed out loud — the second belly laugh of my morning. It is going to be a GOOD day. Thank you for that.”
The second was from “TL” in South Carolina, verbatim: “Your comment at the end of this article was a little over the top. While she should have been more careful and running on train tracks is always ill advised. Making fun of an innocent girls death is no laughing matter. I have been a free subscriber for quite some time and I have been amused by your comments on criminals and corrupt politician, but I think this is where we differ in opinion.”
Here We Go Again
Again, we have a reader who assumes (remember: When you assume, you make an “ass” out of “u” but not “me”) that everything in True is meant to be funny. As anyone who has been paying attention knows, it is not.
While this one is black humor, it does have an underlying lesson in life, which I’ve spelled out before. If you think he’s sputtering now, imagine what he’d say if he realized there are lots of teens reading True!
My reply to TL was, simply, a link: https://thisistrue.com/not-funny/. (Go ahead and click it, read it, and then hit “Back” to finish this page. It’s fairly brief.)
His response was to say I was wrong, and he unsubscribed.
So, I’m wrong that True isn’t always meant to be funny?!
So he completely misses the point, and refuses to be prompted to think.
Oh well; I tried.
The Other Side of the Coin
So then I get letters like this, from Mike in Pennsylvania, which beautifully illustrates why I publish such stories:
I’ve been subscribing to the free edition of True since I was in middle school. As I recall, I found out about True from watching the long-defunct TechTV (admittedly, an unusual TV preference for a 12-year-old). Throughout middle school, high school, and then college, I made sure to read True every week and recommend it to everyone I knew. More than 9 years and a few different email addresses since originally subscribing, I’ve moved on to grad school. Now that I’m doing research and earning a stipend, I decided that it was time to spend the $24 on an upgrade. Thanks for all the laughs over the past several years (and for the ‘it would be funny if it weren’t true’ stories, too). I look forward to reading the full, unabridged issues from now on.
Many readers say they read the stories with their children. Those kids are getting real-life lessons on how people can and do make absolutely stupid decisions (like, say, jog on a railroad track with their iPod plugged into their ears?!)
When Mike was 12, he saw true examples of What Not To Do. He didn’t need someone to tell him the stuff he was reading about was stupid, he could see that. All he needed was for someone to tell him the truth, and he could see that it was true.
And in that environment, children can and do learn lessons about life, and inevitably, they learn something about themselves.
So many complainers want me to tone down stories, to not “make fun” of people doing stupid things. But how far ahead in life is Mike, and other people who have been reading these stories from a young age, because I won’t tone down the stories? I want them to learn the lessons! Maybe then, there won’t be so much stupidity — and death — for me to write about.
Yes: I Want Less Stupidity
I’d love to make my own job obsolete. Let’s just say I doubt that will happen. But if I can help just a small segment of the world — my readers? You bet: in fact, that’s one of my goals.
Sure, sometimes the stories “make fun of” some pretty tragic events, like the 18-year-old girl hit by a train. If, by writing about it, kids learn the lesson and, say, 2 or 3 (or 20 or 300) of them don’t die because they learned to be more careful from reading about someone like Byrne, that means her death meant something, doesn’t it?
I could ignore such stories, and maybe that lesson would never be learned by those 2 or 3 (or 20 or 300) kids, and then what did her death mean? I do know it would sting for the family if they read it, but if it was someone in my family, I’d want something positive to come out of it.
So yes: if (say) one of my nieces or nephews was the one hit by a train, you bet I’d publish the story in hopes that their death became more meaningful by providing an illustration for a young reader, perhaps saving their lives.
Yes: Kids Like the Stories
And why do young readers like the stories in True? Why do they read them? For the same reason you do: because they’re entertaining at some level. They (and you) wouldn’t read them otherwise, but while you get entertained (True’s first function), you can’t help but think about some of the stories too. That’s True’s second function: to provoke thought.
You can’t consistently get the second function without catering to the first.
It doesn’t have to be so extreme, of course. More likely a story of something less tragic — say, an arrest for an idiotic crime — will teach someone that “No, I can’t get away with it, and I don’t want my mug shot on the Internet!” Or maybe even something as simple as “I’m not sure I can trust politicians. Maybe I need to read up more about this guy before I vote for him.” And that’s not too bad, is it?!
So, I don’t know if Mike really learned anything or not, but I’d like to think so. I can say that I ran his note verbatim: I didn’t need to make a single correction for grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc. He was probably pretty smart already: after all, he chose to become a This is True reader!
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