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Laughs & Lies


Lately I've noticed a number of vintage photographs with amusing, however inaccurate captions beneath them. The above picture was labeled "in 1921, early suffragettes often donned a bathing suit and ate pizza in large groups to annoy men…it was a custom at the time.” On tumblr this image was reblogged thousands of times and people added, "great form of protest--let's bring it back." I agree it would be an awesome form of protest, however while the picture is from 1921 it's actually from a pie eating contest at Tidal Basin. The only statement these women were making was that they liked pie and wanted to win a contest.
Another photograph I've noticed falsely labeled is the picture below, which was captioned "sex education class, 1929." Additional commentary was added for each person's unique expression and while the reactions would be quite hilarious if it was a candid, that's not the case. This picture is a screen capture from the film The Wild Party, starring Clara Bow. With that picture the caption is easier to debunk--candid 1920s photographs of classrooms really don't exist and also--why didn't everyone immediately recognize Clara Bow? The term "it girl" was coined after her,  Betty Boop was modeled in her style, and even the more recent film The Artist directed the lead actress to follow her style of high-energy acting. There's a wonderful BBC documentary on the actress that I recently spent an afternoon watching, available here. Like my earlier post on Louise Brooks, Clara Bow was a quintessential flapper who was first celebrated and then vilified for her more "modern" ways and humble roots. Hollywood loved her because she was box office gold, but other actors wouldn't socialize with her and despite the 56 films she made during her short career she is often forgotten when we discuss silent movie stars.
Aside from my tangent on Clara Bow, the question for me remains: why with the fake captions? Is this some wonderfully effective Internet prank--a joke between friends that went viral? Further, how many other joke captions out there am I believing? The second image brought an instant eye roll from me only due to my familiarity with Clara Bow; other silent movie stars are more difficult for me to place and thus photographs featuring them easier to deceive. I suppose all this serves as another reminder to not believe everything you read on the Internet...