Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Bad luck Mr Gorsky

There's no excuse for it.

Neil Armstrong allegedly uttered two famous lines on the moon, and the second was "Good luck Mr Gorsky" as he climbed back into the lander. Apparently, as a child he had overheard his neighbours the Gorskys arguing, with the wife promising the husband sex "when the kid next door walks on the moon."

This was presented to us with the assurance "this is a true story" at a meeting at church last night, and padded out with lots of supplementary detail: NASA assumed he was talking about a Soviet cosmonaut and checked their files but couldn't trace the man; Armstrong refused to expand on his comment until 1995 when Mr Gorsky died.

What a shame that it's just a joke made up by comedian Buddy Hackett – in, curiously, 1995. As a very quick and easy Internet search discovers.

In some versions it's apparently the oral variety that Mrs Gorsky is trying not to promise, but I don't think last night's speaker was ready to go there. It was still a good talk, good points ... just a little undermined.

I like to think I can detect an urban legend quite easily. There's something about them – the tone, the very faint stretch marks it leaves in your disbelief – that makes my antennae twitch. Some are just funny to tell as jokes. Did an Asian family in Weston-Super-Mare really think the miles of low-tide mudflat meant there was a tsunami coming? I don't know and frankly can't be bothered to check. But then, I don't intend to use this as an illustration in a talk.

With the internet, there's absolutely no excuse for not checking any anecdote you intend to repeat to reinforce whatever you're saying. And yet, up they come, time and time again, and the ones I hear most often are shoehorned into sermons or church talks. Christians do have a distressing tendency to believe anything told to them by another Christian without questioning. The first time, it might amuse, even if already the antennae are twitching. The second time, especially if one or more of the key features varies slightly ... well, that's when I tend to shut down.

What does it say? It says your talk is so flawed it has to be backed up with lies. It says you're so clueless you can't do a simple Google search, yet apparently people should believe you. Or maybe you're just a very nice guy without the slightest idea of how the world works ... so still not really worth listening to, sorry.

Another one that pops up frequently tends to be on talks about sin or guilt, in the format of:
[Arthur Conan Doyle / Mark Twain / A.N. Other] sent a letter to every man in town saying "Leave town at once – all is found out." [A quarter / half / three quarters / all] of the people who received it immediately left.
Unlike the Gorsky one, I can't find this at all on the web ... which itself makes me suspicious as to whether it happened to Conan Doyle or Twain or anyone at all.

For pity's sake, people, get it right or shut up.


  1. I agree entirely. Sometimes people should just check their stories. The number of times I hear silly stories and know they are inaccurate but am not in a position to do anything really infuriates me.

  2. i agree that you should check the stories, but at the end of the day it's not going to detract from the talk. in a talk you can use a story like that for three reasons. first as an ice breaker, second as a metaphor and third as an example. an ice breaker doesn't have to be true, and neither does a metaphor.
    so unless the speaker can find no examples in scripture or from God Himself to go with their crummy story, it won't have a negative impact on the talk itself.
    if they do find themselves with no spiritual back-up, then it still doesn't matter if their story-example is true or not, because you should be worrying about other things.

  3. Indeed, you can use the story in any of those ways, which means you should start by saying "There's a joke about Neil Armstrong" or "An apocryphal story about Neil Armstrong ..." Still amusing. Saying "this is true", when (a) it isn't and (b) you plainly haven't checked if it is, is another thing. And it's exactly how Dan Brown starts The Da Vinci Code.

  4. Is there any truth in the Da Vinci Code? Admittedly I've only seen the film once and not read the book but I'm often asked about it, and I have to reply that I don't really know. Are there any neutral websites that could shine some light on the topic?

  5. The Da Vinci code is a compulsive page turner (damn the man) that gets its geographical locations just about right. After that it's up for grabs with errors that range from the mild to the total howlers - and that's just in basic history, never mind whatever your religion is. I don't think you're ever going to find a truly neutral site, but wikipedia's article gets the balance pretty well as far as I can see.

  6. Couldn't agree more. Repeating these stories as fact when they're not just makes the whole talk seem less credible, so while it's a pain to check up on stories you barely remember, it's better than making up the details you forgot.


Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.