A few days ago, I reposted a rant I wrote in 2014. In that rant, which was originally composed on December 30, 2014, I went off about how annoyed I get when people want to “correct” each other’s opinions. At the end of the rant, I included a popular meme that included Betty White’s visage and the quote, “Why do people say “grow some balls”? Balls are weak and sensitive. If you wanna be tough, grow a vagina. Those things can take a pounding.” I also shared the original source(s) of that particular joke, which actually came from two comedians– Sheng Wang is partially credited, but it appears that he “borrowed” the joke from Hal Sparks, who did a hilarious routine on Showtime back in 2010. Have a look.
When I reposted that blog entry from 2014, I didn’t know that Betty White would die just two days later on New Year’s Eve, 2021. And in the wake of her death, people are, once again, sharing incarnations of that meme with the misattributed quote about how tough vaginas are. I’ve already seen it a few times, and, well, it bugs me.
If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you shouldn’t be surprised that the practice of misattributing quotes to celebrities bugs me. It’s especially irksome to me when the person who is being falsely attributed to a quote is dead. When a person is dead, he or she can no longer shield themselves against people who put words in their mouths.
In November 2012, Betty White was interviewed by reporter Michael Cragg for The Guardian. Even back then, the infamous vagina quote was being credited to Betty White. Cragg even begins his story with that quote before setting the record straight:
Why do people say ‘grow some balls’? Balls are weak and sensitive. If you wanna be tough, grow a vagina. Those things can take a pounding.” If you happen to look this quote up, you’ll see it attributed to notoriously sweet 90-year-old TV great Betty White. Only those words never passed her lips, and she’d quite like people to bear that in mind next time they see fit to quote it at her, as I have just done. “That’s what I hate about Facebook and the internet,” she sighs. “They can say you said anything. I never would have said that. I’d never say that in a million years.”
I know many people loved Betty White, and that funny quote sounds like something she could have said. I can practically hear her Golden Girls character, Rose Nylund, saying that. But she didn’t say it, and has said she never would have. She plainly said, “I never would have said that. I’d never say that in a million years.” And yet, ten years later, people still share that quote as a means of “honoring” her. Is it really honoring someone when you pair their visage with someone else’s words? Especially when that person has repeatedly and publicly stated that they’ve been misquoted or misattributed?
Betty White joins a long list of famous people who have been credited improperly for things they’ve neither said nor written. How many times have I seen George Carlin credited for writing The Paradox of Our Time, an essay that sounds a little “Carlin-esque”, but was actually written by Dr. Bob Moorehead? George isn’t the only one who has been wrongly credited with writing that essay. It’s also been credited to the Dalai Lama and an unnamed Columbine student. Obviously, many people think it’s a wise and thought provoking essay; that’s why it continually gets shared. But if people really think it’s such a great piece of writing, why not give credit where credit is due? Credit the real writer, Dr. Bob Moorehead, not George Carlin or the Dalai Lama. Take a minute to double check before you share, too.
Most of us have never met the celebrities we admire so much. I think that’s a good thing, since heroes often don’t live up to their images. I have a feeling Betty White was just as sweet in person as she seemed to be on TV, but I don’t know that for sure. She was an actress, and it was her job to be someone she wasn’t– to convincingly play a part on screen so well that people believed they knew her.
I think it’s important to remember that most of the things Betty White said while playing a character, were things that professional writers wrote for her scripts. She played parts that were initially created by someone else, and brought to life by her talent. So when Rose told a St. Olaf story, that wasn’t just Betty– that was also the person who wrote the script.
Even if that quote about the toughness of vaginas sounds like something Rose Nylund would say, we should remember that Rose Nylund wasn’t, in fact, Betty White. Betty was Betty White… and when she wasn’t playing a part, she was herself. And the vast majority of people who know her name and have seen her work, never actually knew Betty off camera. It probably was annoying to her that so many people assumed they knew her well enough to put words in her mouth, so to speak. But, in the Internet age, I’m afraid that is an occupational hazard, as she noted in her article with Michael Cragg of The Guardian.
I do hope that by sharing this post, maybe a couple of people will reconsider sharing that meme– funny as it is. The lady just died two days ago. I’m sure there are other things she actually said that could be shared instead of the “tough vagina” meme that appears to have been inspired by a couple of somewhat less famous comedians. Why not give Hal Sparks or Sheng Wang the credit? They would probably appreciate it, and since they are presumably still living, they can actually use the associated fame.
Betty White was a wonderful, talented, blessed performer who was with us for so many years. Surely we can find another funny quote that Betty actually said that we can share among our friends on Facebook or other social media. Or, better yet, instead of sharing quotes that famous people said, why not come up with some of your own wisdom? I’ll bet you can do it if you try hard enough. But… then you might have another problem.
Every once in awhile, I’ll say something clever and original, and Bill will laugh and say, “That’s funny. Who said that?”
And I’ll roll my eyes and say, “I did. Why is it that whenever I say something funny or interesting, you automatically assume I’m ripping off someone else?”
And then he laughs and apologizes, then admits that I can be clever and witty in my own right, too. In fact, he’s said that’s one of the things he likes about me.
I’m not sure why people feel the need to share quotes, anyway… I used to have a Facebook friend who almost never posted his own thoughts. He just shared things other people said. I wondered what the point of that was. Is that something people do in their everyday lives? Do people go up to others and say things like, “I don’t know who needs to hear this, but Gordon B. Hinckley said ‘Conflict grows out of ignorance and suspicion.'”?
I have seen many people use wise quotes online, but it’s not something I see out and about in public, not that I go out in public much nowadays. So why do we do it so often on Facebook? I’m sure some people do it to inspire thought, and there’s nothing wrong with occasionally sharing a profound quote… but I’m a lot more impressed by people who share themselves, rather the stale words some famous person said… or didn’t say. But there’s no pressure to be wise, either. Why not just be yourselves? And let famous people be THEMSELVES.
I know this post makes me sound terribly uptight… and, you know what? I’m gonna own that. We all have our little quirks. This is one of mine. Dead people, especially, can’t defend themselves against false attribution. I will keep complaining about it as long as it’s a problem… which means I’ll probably write another rant on this subject at some point. And if you don’t like it, as Eddie Murphy said, while imitating his drunk stepfather…