I was having dinner with my mom t'other night, and she related a story about how, on a first date, a woman's bare posterior had become frozen to a car, and the guy she was on a date with had to pee on her in order to get her unstuck. This was, apparently, sent to my mom by a friend via e-mail, in which it was described as having been a segment on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. It all sounded a bit made-up to me and, after checking around, I learned that it was, indeed, untrue.
This sort of thing happens all the time. Well-meaning people hear (or read) of a funny incident, and pass it along so that others might have a chuckle. They don't really doubt its veracity, and so there is often no intent to deceive. I've witnessed this scenario play-out on social media sites, most notably on Facebook. They will become memes that people share, and can take the form of either supposedly true stories (that are not, in fact, true), or quotes that are attributed to various famous people, when in fact someone made them up (or they're attributed to the wrong famous people).
Then, of course, there's author James Frey, made famous by being featured on Oprah's Book Club for writing a memoir (also known as 'non-fiction'), inspiring many people with its harrowing passages, only to have it later discovered that the work was fiction. Made up. Not true. False. Oprah was understandably upset, but what boggled my mind more than anything about the situation was how a debate occurred between some as to whether or not it mattered that Frey's memoir was untrue.
Indeed, many of the aforementioned scenarios -- made-up or misquoted quotes, fake stories passed around via e-mail, and people attempting to pass-off fiction as non-fiction -- are (when uncovered as false) given a shrug of the shoulders at best, and a sterling defense at worst. "What does it matter if [x] person said it, or if it was [y]?" I've heard some folks ask, rather defiantly. Also: "Does it matter if the story is true? Did it make you laugh? Did it make you think? Isn't that what's important?" And, regarding Frey's controversial work, I've heard folks remark, "Does it really matter if what he wrote really happened? If it helped people, then that's the main thing."
This is an issue that reaches into our fundamental core and asks two important questions. The first is: Do you care if you're lied to? And the second is: Does knowing the correct nature of something matter to you? If you answer "no" to both questions, or simply shrug your shoulders, then I guess it doesn't matter. And, yes, a quote, or a work of fiction, can have a profound effect on us. In that sense, the truth of the thing doesn't matter.
What matters to me is at least having an honest record. I like to know what's up. I've already admitted that something fictional can have an impact on me, so just go ahead and be straight with me about it. It's the lying that bothers me, the falsehoods, and the reasons why they might be done. Lay bare the truth (or fiction) of something, and then let me decide it on those terms. I appreciate the truth, and so should you.