The Internet is a calliope of error. You don't need me to tell you that. The off-key tootings of untruth are most obvious when it comes to politics. Those locked in endless cathexis of Barack Obama find themselves improvising fantasy to feed their hunger to continually castigate the president, warbling fresh misdeeds when the fact-based world is tardy about serving up new blunders.
And much deception grows like a coral reef around social issues — a false rumor cooked up by somebody a decade ago is endlessly passed around by those too excited to have something feed their bias to wonder whether something is so outlandish that it can't be true.
Politics and culture wars have such a lock on error, that it can be a shock to see something as light as entertainment news also be wrong, the result of not malice, but simple ignorance or laziness. Like this Celebrity.Answers.com post about actress Hilary Swank, one of "10 Academy Award Winners Who've Just Disappeared."
Not my usual fare, true. I was reading a story on the New York Post site, "Meme hottie sues site over mug shot." Embarrassing, yes, but I had seen the picture of this attractive gal, and it was interesting to learn about the real world person, one Meagan Simmons, behind that of those endlessly traded online photos. Suing the mug shot web site that vended her portrait, apparently. At the bottom of the Post page was "YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE" with the 10 obscure Oscar winners front and center.
Curious, I clicked on it for the reason people click on these. Torpor. Boredom. I'm battling the flu that's going around and didn't want to think. So this list. Four of the first six were women —Geena Davis, Renee Zellweger, Mira Sorvino, Kim Basinger—and it struck me that the career arc Celebrity.Answers.com is defining—famous for a decade then less famous—probably holds true for most actresses whether they won the Academy Award or not, just because of Hollywood's cruel demand for constant freshness and beauty unruffled by time.
Then we got to No. 7, Hilary Swank.
"Hilary Swank took home an Academy Award in 1999 for 'Boys Don't Cry,'" it reads. "She also hasn't managed to maintain her success as the decade turned and the 2000s began. She had a spot in 2006's "The Black Dahlia," which was a flop."
The post ends: "Swank could have seen a comeback in 2009 with 'Amelia,' but it wasn't a favorite among critics."
What it doesn't mention is that Swank won a second Oscar in 2004 as Best Actress for "Milllion Dollar Baby," a wonderful movie, and a big hit, co-starring Clint Eastwood, who also directed. That is not "just disappeared" in the standard definition of the term.
An oversight. Though a pretty big one. You would think that anyone —and there's no byline on lists such as these—purporting to write about the careers of actors would either know this detail, or think to check and find out. You would assume that Celebrity.Answers.com would have heard about its gaffe many times over, and just doesn't care to correct it. I asked them why they didn't fix it -- they invite questions. No answer yet.
I suppose the problem here is how these posts are written—churned out piecework by home sweatshop drudges paid minimum wage, if that, speed typing keyword clusters designed to hook some algorithm—the Academy Awards are tonight, so no doubt that is the lure. What the jumble of electrons say, whether they are true or false, is secondary, if that.
I'm biased, being a professional writer, but hope that, beyond self-interest, there is an actual value in being accurate and caring about such things. Or maybe times have changed, and the frisson of seeing something catty about Hilary Swank is the important thing here, and the fact that the item is completely wrong, a fine point, a detail of interest only to a small and dwindling band of aging nit-pickers. I sure hope not.