Schrodinger's Gay Son, Or Does Truth Matter When A Meme Goes Viral?

By now you've probably heard the story: "Dad" overhears son "Nate" talking to boyfriend "Mike" about his difficulties in coming out so Dad saves him the trouble by penning a letter that explains that he knows, he's always known and, gosh darn it, he loves him anyway.

Here's the letter, as originally posted on Facebook:

Nate,

I overheard your phone conversation with Mike last night about your plans to come out to me. The only thing I need you to plan is to bring home OJ and bread after class. We are out, like you now. I've known you were gay since you were six, I've loved you since you were born. -

Dad

P.S. Your mom and I think you and Mike make a cute couple.

It's a great story -- assuming it's true.

Is it?

Who the hell knows.

Popularity vs. Truth

Originally published to Facebook by FCKH8.com last last week, the letter quickly went viral. It first came to my attention when it popped up in my Facebook feed and it's been just about everywhere else since: Mashable, Gawker, the New York Daily News and many more.

Everyone has it, but no one seems to be doing any real digging to find out who "Dad" is and whether "Nate" is a real person.

To be fair, Gawker made a half-hearted effort and came up with this:

The photo was sent in to FCKH8 by Nate himself. FCKH8 describes Nate as "a teen... who is a fan of our on Facebook," but declined to provide additional info.  This means we're left with a letter, sent via email to an activist site by an unknown source, and we have no way of knowing whether or not any of it is true - but we pass it along anyway because it makes us smile.

That's fine on an individual level, I guess. I see at least five bullshit stories a week pass through my Facebook feed, but they seem to make my Grandma happy so I try to look the other way.

The Media's Responsibility?

But I expect media outlets to fill a role not required of my Facebook friends: Due diligence in reporting.

Apparently, though, all bets are off once something goes viral. No matter how often - or how recently - a site has been fooled by similar stories. For example, here's the New York Daily News writing about a pig and a goat:

A real-life Babe saved the day for one distressed goat who couldn’t hoof it in the water.

Except it was all faked:

But prankster Nathan Fielder, decided to divulge that he staged the rescue just in time for the Thursday premiere of his new Comedy Central show "Nathan For You."

Bringing Out Our Best - And Our Worst

Getting back to Super Dad, we don't know whether or not Nate is a fictional construct, dreamed-up to drive support for LGBT causes. But this letter has all the hallmarks of feel-good fiction:

  • Why would Nate have trouble coming out to a Dad who appears to be the greatest Dad in the history of Dads?
  • Why is Nate talking so loudly on the phone about it?
  • Why does Dad write a letter rather than talk to his son?
  • Why hasn't anyone spoken to Nate on the record?
  • How long did this family go without OJ and bread in service of the punch line?

There may be valid answers to these questions, but that doesn't mean the questions shouldn't be asked.

The fact that we desperately want stories like this to be true might speak to the best of us, but the parallel fact that the story was published over and over again with no apparent fact-checking speaks to the worst media excesses. If Dad's letter turns out to have been faked, the media's failure to vet FCKH8's sources could deal a serious blow to the LGBT causes the letter seems meant to bolster. And the sites that published the story will bear some responsibility for that.

 

Top image courtesy of Shutterstock.