This week is Groundhog Day, an annual celebration of German heritage and the folklore that was brought over from the old country and adapted to life in America.
The origins of this day can be found in the German holiday of Candlemas, where part of the proceedings was a weather forecasting badger. Once my ancestors arrived in America (my father was the interesting combination of Native American and Pennsylvania German), they switched the forecasting varmint to a groundhog.
The tradition continues to this day, and it’s a fun time in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania as thousands gather for what is basically a giant party (just ask a student from nearby Indiana University of Pennsylvania). For the majority, I think people know it’s not meant to be taken seriously, just a fun celebration of our culture. However, and I know this from my time working in communications at AccuWeather, there’s a surprisingly high number of people who do take a rodent’s weather forecast seriously.
My email address was listed as a contact on the AccuWeather website and was the only one with a name attached because I worked with the media. People somehow found my email address and saw a person’s name and thought, “this guy was going to hear from me.” So, the emails from non-media types would range from people wishing cancer on me due to a busted forecast (which, by the way, wasn’t always the case, sometimes the forecast was correct) to yelling at me for raining on their kid’s wedding (no, really). Around Groundhog Day, I’d get emails about how much more accurate the groundhog was compared to meteorologists, and one year I got plenty of hate mail after a website feature ran a story about how “inaccurate” Phil has been over the years. Nature knows more than you, the emails would lecture, despite nature in this case being a semi-pet being yanked out of its pen and held in the air, nearly upsidedown, for the world to see its naughty bits illuminated by the television camera lights.
I know a few meteorologists who have commented that nothing happening with COVID surprises them due to their experience dealing with a science-skeptic public. Not helping was how news coverage of Punxsutawney Phil often had a weirdly serious tone, as if its proclamation of six more weeks of winter is to be considered for planning purposes. Not to mention that in central PA where I live and west-central PA where Phil lives, six more weeks takes you to mid-March, and in our neck of the woods, no more winter weather after mid-March IS an early spring. None of this makes sense as a serious view of weather forecasting, but some in the public seem to view it as so.
That leads us to a man who, as Adrastos has pointed out to us, used to play a crazy handyman on News Radio.
Joe Rogan is a comedian with a podcast that pre-pandemic was known for hosting a variety of people ranging from conspiracy loonies to Neil DeGrasse-Tyson. Which Mr. DeGrasse-Tyson may regret after seeing Tweets such as this:
too cool I just saw the Neil degrasse tyson episode 310 just today. u had him wit the fake moon pics he had no answers
— omarlives (@Omarlives2012) February 22, 2017
In a lot of ways, Rogan is a more malevolent version of Art Bell, the conspiracy guy whose Coast-to-Coast overnight radio program was legendary for its conspiracy peddling. Bell’s radio program, in the age prior to social media and COVID, was mostly harmless, a sort of fun look at the loony alternate universe that people who believe in reptillian aliens and chemtrails inhabit.
Unfortunately, Rogan is now viewed as a man with “answers” and his generous ego is fueling a level of narcissism that is dangerous in the hands of someone with millions of listeners. Similar to believing a rodent over a meteorologist, a lot of people seriously listen to his screeds about vaccines and COVID. It is difficult to know how many people his show may have indirectly killed, but it’s enough that Neil Young led a boycott of Spotify over their platforming of Rogan’s podcast.
And that leads me to this:
We did it, everyone. pic.twitter.com/uHBDedxGxu
— Jane Coaston (@janecoaston) January 26, 2022
Yes, that thread is referring to a conservative women’s magazine that has a feature disputing germ theory. As in, it’s a buncha bullshit.
No, really, this is a growing movement. Germ theory denial is growing. This does, unfortunately, make sense in our current world. What used to be parody is now our life. Movements long thought debunked are rising again, even pre-COVID.
As Coaston points out in her thread about this, these people believe that AIDS, cervical cancer, and Ebola are not real, and that anger at food causes food alergies.
All of this leads to a real issue we’re facing as Americans. In a world where there’s so much misinformation, where people share the most absurd ideas, and beliefs that used to be labeled as those of a nut have such a wide audience, how do we manage this and have free speech? We know people are dying from COVID due to believing crazy ideas about the pandemic. The people spreading them are dying as well.
It’s an alarming time in our country when our system is being used against us by bad actors. And I don’t know what the answer is.
The last word goes to Frank Yankovic, from the Groundhog Day soundtrack. Not a polka person? Then maybe don’t click on this if you don’t want to be tortured by an earworm for the rest of the week.