I am on Facebook often. Social media is part and parcel of being an author (The Travelers, Saguaro Books). You have to stay connected. Some parts of social media I enjoy more than others. Honestly, I find the Facebook part mostly taxing.
I often wonder if Mark Zuckerberg is actually an evil alien trying to destroy us through Facebook
Wasn’t Facebook supposed to bring us together? That was its goal right? I’m starting to feel like it was a lie and Mark Zuckerberg had more nefarious ideas in mind.
Clearly, I don’t actually think he’s an alien or evil. But, I do have a love/hate relationship with his creation and think it’s contributing to a lot of misinformation and friction in the world, giving voice to some seriously insane ideas and allowing those voices to mute reason.
Still, when I’m scrolling through posts, I try really hard not to unfriend or ignore people who have very differing opinions from me, no matter how frustrated those opinions make me.
How does this relate to metaphors?
Well, recently I read a Facebook post from a friend who is the polar opposite of me in pretty much all ways and this person made a comment using a metaphor about how liberals are lemmings, following their leaders blindly off a cliff. I am certainly in the “liberal” category.
After reading this comment, it took all my might not to respond. Not because of the comment about following blindly over a cliff, but because of the metaphor about lemmings.
As a writer, I love a good metaphor or a simile if you want to be direct about it. They both work. However, the lemming one is overused and abused. I was almost as annoyed by said persons lack of metaphorical imagination than the continued abuse of lemmings for metaphor itself. Almost.
So why am I so upset about lemmings?
Because it’s not true. Lemmings actually do not follow each blindly over a cliff, essentially committing mass suicide.
This little “fact” (or should we now say alternative fact) has been perpetuated year after year after year thanks to Disney. Yep, Disney. They created a documentary, and I use that term loosely, called “White Wilderness” in the 1950s (red flag #1) about the strange suicidal behavior of lemmings. Guess what? They faked it.
Lemmings actually do not follow each blindly over a cliff, essentially committing mass suicide.
Get ready to be horrified animal advocates or anyone with a soul.
A 1983 investigation by a producer from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation found out that those lemmings supposedly committing mass suicide by leaping into the ocean were actually thrown off a cliff by the Disney filmmakers out of a truck. Wow. That’s not suicide. That’s murder.
And those scenes you always see of them running together (aka “lemming migration”) toward the cliff, also staged using careful editing, tight camera angles and a few dozen lemmings running on snow covered lazy-Susan style turntable. No joke. Again, Wow.
Other red flags about the documentary, if you don’t want to believe this.
- “White Wilderness” was filmed in Alberta, Canada, which is landlocked. It’s pretty hard to jump off a cliff into the ocean when there is no ocean.
- Also, lemmings don’t live in that part of Canada. It’s not a natural habitat for them.
Don’t believe me?
There are so many scientifically-based articles debunking I can’t even count them. Here are just a few.
Here’s what’s true about lemmings
- Lemmings endure super harsh environments, living in Arctic and subarctic regions.
- Lemmings kind of have superpowers. They can change their fur color! It goes from brown to white in winter.
- Some lemmings even have front claws that grow longer in the winter.
- Lemming fur is also waterproof and they are great swimmers.
- Although lemmings migrate together when populations grow large to find new habitats (not to throw themselves off cliffs), they are otherwise solitary creatures.
- Lemmings are vegetarians! (My kind of animals!) Their diet is based on the leaves, roots, bulbs, seed, grass, berries and shoots.
- The natural enemies of lemmings are birds of prey (owls, hawks, gyrfalcons), foxes, wolves and stoats. (And apparently Disney documentary producers with trucks.)
So, actually, the lemming metaphor is a compliment.
When someone says “Don’t be a lemming.” Now you can say “Why not? Lemmings are great!” And, as a whole, if we’re going to use a metaphor let’s make sure it’s based in some sort of reality, not perpetuated falsehoods. That just does a disservice to metaphors. They didn’t do anything to you.
However, if you really think about it, using “lemming suicide” to make a political point, especially considering it’s based on repeated misinformation and a lack of understanding of science and nature, now there is your real metaphor.