There's a much overused aphorism that states that people fall into one of two categories: those who see the glass as half full, and those that see it as half empty.
Recently I've been grappling with a different version, the slightly less catchy "hilarious satire or deeply troubling home-schooled teen".
I'm referring to this letter to the editor that surfaced a week or two ago. In it Jasmin H, 14-years-old of Scargill, North Canterbury enlightens us as to the real menace presented by homosexuality. You might, if you were the kind of person who ponders this sort of thing, have thought that it was AIDS or even more troubling, the proliferation of fashion and makeover reality programming, but no, it's a far bigger problem than that. Homosexuality, if the words of Jasmin H can be taken at face value, threatens to derail human evolution. And also there are the ducks to think of, who may or may not evolve at a more rapid rate than us (because of their heterosexuality) and eventually be burdened with the responsibility of lauding their more advanced development over us, damn dirty apes that we are, or as Jasmin puts it:
"If homosexuality spreads, it can cause human evolution to come to a standstill. It could threaten the human position on the evolutionary ladder, and say, ducks, could take over the world."
But actually evolution isn't really a thing anyway so the whole imagined future in which ducks are at the top of the food chain is nothing but intellectual point-scoring as far as Jasmin is concerned. Also homosexuality is only something the Romans popularised (like feeding Christians to lions) so it has no place in the modern world. This is more or less the gist of the argument, but I do encourage you to read the letter in full because my summary really doesn't do this piece of writing justice.
The letter has since been picked up on by American sites like The Huffington Post and Gawker.com. I've read it myself several times and even now I just can't decide if this is the most brilliantly written satire ever to grace the letters page of a New Zealand paper, or if it's a jolly good reason to wish myself off this planet and as far way from the rest of humanity as a space programme funded by an energy drink will allow (24 miles to be exact).
Every time I think I've decided which one it is I swing back the other way, so in the interests of making clear my own thoughts on the topic I thought I'd break it down into pros and cons, fors and againsts.
Reasons to believe this letter is the awesomely satirical work of a comedy genius:
- It's exactly the sort of thing that I would write if I were lampooning homophobic ignoramuses.
- Literary allusion to "Animal Farm" in the second paragraph nods towards someone with an appreciation of allegorical writing, which is not the same as satire but let's just say they go to the same parties. Also, could anyone really allude to the quote "all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others" whilst writing a letter against marriage equality. Could even a 14 year-old be that clueless?
- Excellent spelling and grammar with the exception of the quoted passage which shows some inconsistent use of the subjunctive, but most people trip up on that from time to time. This could be because it's actually written by a 42-year-old named Bevan.
- Would a 14-year-old be very inclined to talk about her future children (and despair at their having to compete with ducks)?
- The claim that it's penned by someone who is home schooled. When it comes to ill-informed opinion there are some sectors of the community that regularly feature - young people who have been home-schooled, taxi drivers, and "long time listener, first time callers". It's almost too obvious.
Reasons to believe this letter genuinely is the depressing work of an actual home-schooled teenager:
- It's exactly the sort of thing a homophobic ignoramus would write.
- Literary allusion to "Animal Farm" in the second paragraph nods towards someone who has just had to write an essay about "Animal Farm" and feels like showing off about it.
- Excellent spelling and grammar. This might be uncommon amongst 14-year-olds generally...but not home-schooled ones.
- I'm almost certain I used "my future children" when debating important matters like this when I was 14. Teenagers can be unbearably pompous like that.
- Would a teenager feel compelled to include the manner of their schooling in the way they sign off a letter to the editor? If they're of the opinion that homeschooling provides a vastly superior education (because their mother told them so), then I can absolutely see someone doing that.
- Scargill is an awfully specific and obscure location for someone to use if they're making it all up.
- I feel that the letter doesn't have a strong ending. "...the ducks will get you in the end" just hangs there really oddly like the writer got to the end of four paragraphs and knew they had to wrap it up but weren't really sure how to do it. I don't think 42-year-old Bevan would have dropped the ball this way ...because 42-year-old Bevan (if he exists) is a motherflippin' genius.
So that's why I can't decide whether this letter is genuine or genius, though on reflection I might be leaning towards the former if only because I desperately want it to be the latter and this could be affecting how much weight I'm giving to the first set of bullet points.
If I could just go ahead and believe in things that I wanted to be true but which the evidence didn't support I wouldn't be an atheist, after all. Occam's razor is slashing away at my faith in humanity just a little and, upon reflection I think it more likely than not that this letter is the real deal. I really, really hope that it's not but I think that's just me wanting not to be incandescently furious at a minor.
But what do you think? Are there any points for or against that I've missed? Do you think this is the handiwork of a home-schooled teen or a hilarious troll?
Update: Damn, I just found out that Jasmin is for real. Now foraging for chocolate to cope with the overwhelming despair I feel at the loss of the great talent that was 42-year-old Bevan. Sigh.