One afternoon last week, a friend of mine shared online with me a cute little parody about terror alert levels that she said John Cleese had written. It was mildly amusing, but if I had to point to the biggest flaw in the piece, it would have to be that it wasn't, technically speaking, written by John Cleese.
"Don't believe everything you read on the Internet."
You see, my friend had just seen this funny little write-up which was posted by someone else, read it, enjoyed it, and then decided to forward it along, keeping in tact the attribution which it had somehow acquired. Now granted, I am not the world's foremost expert on John Cleese. But it seemed a little too much like a hackneyed Internet forward from 1990, and not enough like the clever witticisms of one of the Monty Python crew. So, I did a little online research, and found out that indeed, it had been falsely attributed to John Cleese. Unlike his Monty Python colleague, I couldn't just sit by and be Idle.
So I mentioned to my friend that it was not, in fact, by John Cleese, although to be fair she wouldn't necessarily have known that. Misattribution defeated for the day, right? Wrong.
"Yo Berkshires, watch out for misattribution, this bad pollution never had solutions."
Later that same evening, another friend of mine shared on Facebook an essay with an introduction explaining that the beautiful essay attached was by none other than famed stand-up comedian George Carlin. The first paragraph was, admittedly, vaguely reminiscent of one of his fast-paced comedy bits from the 1980s, talking about how we have more of this and less of that, higher this, lower that. The second paragraph, after a sentence, included the phrase "and we pray too seldom."
And that's when I knew, there was no possible way that George Carlin had written this essay. See, I grew up listening to George Carlin. George Carlin used to say that religion had convinced people that there was an invisible man in the sky. He was confounded by prayer, saying that either people rudely pray to god on his day off, or they pray to ask god to change his divine plan. Carlin used to say that he worshipped the sun (because he could see it), and would only pray to Joe Pesci, because it was just as effective.
"I fully support all Catholics who want to skip church to pray to Joe Pesci instead."
-- Pope Francis
Then again, It's not as if Internet misattribution is anything new. For many years, cut-rate parody songs have been forwarded around with Weird Al's name on them. Heck, one of the very first mp3s I ever downloaded back in the late 1990s was Pachelbel's Canon. The composer was listed as Beethoven.
But I think random people who write random things on the Internet are just afraid nobody will read them. And I can empathize; if you tell your friend there's a new column by Seth Brown, nobody cares. But if I say this column was written by Jerry Seinfeld, it'd be worth reading.
"What's the deal with humor columns? Who says, ‘I need something funny that's too short to get really interesting, but too long to tell as a joke?' Who are these people?"
Seth Brown is a humor writer, the author of "From God To Verse," and will tell his Facebook friends this column was written by Jerry Seinfeld. His work appears weekly in the North Adams Transcript, and weakly on RisingPun.com.