My mind is like a Swiffer for weird facts. When I occasionally spout one, my close friends will give me a “thanks, Cliff Clavin”.
Yesterday I gained some insight into how those facts accumulate. I was writing my latest “Mitchell Mystery” and in reference to a scandal, a character mentions that a politician’s supporters would desert him “like lemmings off a cliff.”
Which got me thinking, do herds of lemmings really plunge off cliffs?
Supposedly, lemmings have an instinct to control their own population. When their numbers get too large, they allegedly herd up, head off, and plunge off a cliff.
This is false.
But one of the main reasons the myth has endured is that an Oscar-winning documentary by Disney in 1958 faked the phenomenon.
The film-makers trucked large numbers of lemmings to a site in Alberta, and cajoled them off the banks of the Bow River, near my home in Calgary. Tight camera angles and clever editing made it look like the lemmings’ natural habitat in the arctic, and made the Bow River look like an arctic sea.
Of course, the fortunate part for Disney is that this all took place in 1958. Had it occurred today, Twitter would have lit up like a California wildfire, Disney would have been forced to return the Oscar, their stock price would plunge like the box office of their 2011 film “Mars Needs Moms”, and they’d be pressured to endow a Lemmings Restitution Fund to safeguard the world’s lemming population and keep the furry rodents from, as the documentary solemnly intones, “A final rendezvous with destiny, and with death.”
(Shout out to snopes.com You are the sheriffs in the world wide web of misinformation. Outgunned, but undaunted.)