I really identify with Ernie in these sketches, not only because, if I have an interesting book, I can read in circumstances that other people would find too distracting, but because I sometimes don’t realize how annoying I can be to other people.
My mom has a habit of getting song lyrics wrong. She’ll sing something that’s very close but slightly off. It’s extremely grating. One time, when I was in high school, I corrected her on it. I was doing what I would want someone to do for me if I was singing song lyrics wrong: correcting me in private, so that I didn’t make a fool of myself by singing the wrong lyrics in public in front of strangers. But my mom didn’t see it that way; she felt I was being disrespectful and insubordinate. It turned into a big fight, after which I decided it wasn’t worth it to argue over petty things like song lyrics anymore, so I try not to correct or contradict her on anything. To this day, she believes that Sesame Street premiered before my oldest brother was born, when there is documented evidence that it actually premiered about 22 months later. Once my sister (who, incidentally, will also never admit that she’s wrong) pointed out the facts to my mom, but she dug in her heels and insisted otherwise. I stayed out of it; I’d learned my lesson.
My parents were visiting me over Labor Day weekend, and I got into a discussion with my mom about the musical Hamilton. She said that she was surprised that the musical was so popular since Hamilton had carried on with his slave lover, Sally Hemings. Without stopping to think about the consequences, I blurted out, “That was Thomas Jefferson.” Given the historical snow job that’s been done on Alexander Hamilton’s reputation, I just couldn’t stand to hear his name sullied with misinformation and his worst enemy’s misdeeds ascribed to him. Fortunately, it didn’t dissolve into an argument.
A couple weeks ago, I took issue with a certain Muppet fan site for making broad judgments of Happytime Murders on the basis of the trailer and other promotional material, which should always be taken with a grain of salt because they can be, and often are, edited in a misleading way. Trailers are essentially advertisements, and advertising is often deceptive and manipulative.
Anyway, this same fan site subsequently published a review of the movie by the same author, and wouldn’t you know it, all his prejudices about the movie were confirmed. I could have ripped the review apart for all the fallacious reasoning that was used in it, but I did not. Instead, I just pointed out one relatively small, concretely verifiable, easily correctable error of fact in the review. This is a fan site that exists, at least in part, to correct people who are wrong on Muppet or Henson-related facts, so I erroneously assumed that they would welcome the opportunity to correct their error so that it wouldn’t harm their credibility and ethos.
So I re-learned a lesson that I should have learned for good 20 years ago: people don’t like being corrected, even (especially?) if the facts are against them. I’m not saying it’s never worthwhile to correct people; I’m just saying choose your battles wisely, be prepared to accept the consequences, and don’t expect any gratitude.