As I mentioned previously, both of the Larry-Boy episodes scared the crap out of youngster Lane. (I mean, there’s three of them, but only the first two were out when I was a kid.) The first one followed a format that I saw in a great number of kid’s morality plays. A normally honest kid is approached by a tiny little monster who urges them to lie, and when they give in, the tiny lie monster gets bigger and bigger, until finally it turns into a giant lie monster who destroys everything they have ever loved or cared about. Every single one of these stories terrified me, and while I can’t speak to the efficacy of this scared straight approach for kids in general, I ended up almost too honest; the “can’t lie very well even when it’s polite or appropriate sort.” On the other hand, some of that might have just been my general literal minded awkwardness.
In any case, this one begins with Larry telling Bob about an email he got from a kid who is tempted to lie to avoid trouble. To which Bob responds, “what is this email of which you speak?” and I started flailing because I just remembered that I was alive when the internet was a New Thing. In fact, I was fairly confused by and wary of it. Think Daisy from Downton Abbey’s first reaction to electricity and you’ve got young me and the internet. Eventually my youth group leader found out and sat me down, and said, “okay, let’s start with this thing called Google…”
Sorry, back to the episode. Larry begins a story about his alter-ego, Larry-Boy. A space alien crash lands in a small town, and Larry-Boy is called out to investigate, but before he can find it, it finds Jr. Asparagus, who has just broken his father’s collectible bowling plate. The alien introduces itself as Fibrilious Minimus, Fib for short, and convinces Jr. to blame his friend Laura. Jr.’s Father believes him, and Jr. and Fib go out to celebrate Jr.’s escape from consequences.
At first things go well. Larry-Boy drives right past them, and completely fails to recognize the alien as an alien. Perhaps he mistakes Fib for a weird blackberry? He eventually goes home in frustration. Meanwhile, Jr. is confronted, because his lie got Laura in trouble. He makes up another lie, blaming her brother Lenny, and then another, blaming cow snatching aliens, and then suddenly Fib is 70 feet tall, stepping on cars, breaking down billboards and taunting Jr. in a really deep, menacing voice.
While Fib rampages, Larry-Boy is back home playing Candy Land, stuck in the Molasses Swamp for 38 consecutive turns. I hear you man. That game sucked. It lures you in with Candy Cane Forest and Gumdrop Mountain, and you dream of visiting these glorious locations, only to be shuffled around madly, skipping all the good places and getting stuck in all the cherry pitfalls. First you keep playing, hoping one day you will learn the secret that will at least get you to Candy Castle first, then slowly you realize, you never had a chance. The cards decide who wins. You were either destined to win, an empty victory signaling nothing but the capriciousness of fate, or you never even had a chance.
Where was I? Oh, right, the rampaging personified lie. Larry-Boy is rescued from the futility of Candy Land by his superheroic duty… which he is utterly useless at. He’s only got gadgets that he doesn’t actually know how to use, and that are in their testing phase, and that
Archibald Asparagus Alfred installed without labeling them, because he’s the worst sidekick ever. Larry-Boy ends up ensnared by Fib as well, who begins to eat him.
But all that haplessness had a point to it. As Alfred’s magical computer analysis determines, Larry-Boy can do nothing to stop Fib. Only Jr. Asparagus can. Luckily, because Fib decided to eat the harmless foe before the one who can actually destroy him, and because Fib has Larry-Boy hanging halfway out of his mouth and is kind of sucking on him instead of biting or swallowing him whole, Jr. is able to overhear the exposition. He realizes that if telling lies made Fib big, telling the truth will make him small. When he admits that he broke the plate, Fib shrinks down into nothing and Larry-Boy escapes unscathed (but with all of the credit for defeating Fib, because rule of funny).
Jr. apologizes to his Dad, who forgives him and decides that being hauled through town by a giant alien and nearly eaten is punishment enough. Man, that guy never has to parent! How did he get that gig?
The funny thing about this moral about lying is that it is, itself, something of a lie. Grown-ups tell lies all the time. Some of them are the polite, “your hair looks nice” kind of lies, others are just simplifications and omissions, and some are even to protect someone. For example, if you are ever in an abusive relationship, and realize you need to make preparations to leave, but that your abuser will flip out if they find out you are preparing to leave and might actually harm you, LIE TO THEM! Do not feel bad about protecting yourself from someone who would hurt you if they knew the truth.
Not all examples of okay lies are even that dramatic. I am transgender. People assume I’m not all the time, because I’ve been on T for a while and I pretty much look like a short cis man. While acceptance of trans people is on the rise and many people wouldn’t do anything bad to me if they knew the truth, and as a trans man I am not quite so stigmatized as trans women are, there is still a chance that I could get beaten up by people who know the truth. Those kinds of horrible people exist. Furthermore, quite apart from the physical danger, outing yourself as trans often invites a lot of rude and invasive questions, often ones that the asker doesn’t realize is rude and invasive, and while I do like being a trans educator sometimes I do like to make sure I’m in a good environment and headspace for that before it happens. So sometimes I let the assumption that I’m cis continue, until I’m ready to out myself. That’s not about deception, that’s about privacy, and the reality that not everyone out there will respect mine.
However, this doesn’t change the fact that it’s important to teach kids not to lie. To begin with, when kids first begin to lie, they aren’t neurologically ready to understand the nuances above. Life usually does a good enough job of teaching them that as time goes on. They’re mostly lying for the same reason Jr. did; to get out of trouble. Furthermore, they’re usually doing it with ignorance of the larger consequences, just as Jr. ignored the fact that his lie would get Laura in trouble.
All these stories about lie monsters crushing the liar’s houses are hamfisted metaphors, but they are an attempt to get at a deeper truth; lies, even ones designed to protect us, also hurt us.
They hurt us by separating us from other people. When I don’t share my trans identity with someone, I’m establishing that person as someone I don’t feel comfortable being myself with, because part of who I am is transgender. I can take down that barrier eventually, especially if my lies have mostly been lies of omission, but if I’ve told a lot of active lies about things I did as a totally-not-female-assigned kid and the real reason I had to leave my family a few years ago, that barrier becomes very hard to take down without making the other person feel uncomfortable and betrayed. Every other lie I have ever told has in some way constructed a barrier between me and someone else.
They also hurt us by separating us from reality, which, as a philosophical skeptic, I am very much against. By telling a lie, I force myself to act as though reality is different from what it is. That is not comfortable, which leads to the third type of harm lies do; they have the potential to separate us from ourselves. Because of cognitive dissonance, we dislike having our thoughts, actions and words misalign. If we cannot return to the truth, often we let our lies take over, and come to believe the lies we told.
Did seeing my favorite character almost get eaten by a big purple monster help me come to that realization? I’m not sure. I’m not sure “scared straight” ever leads to real understanding and character growth, but on the other hand, I’m not sure it doesn’t. It’s one of those “more study required” things for me.