Scams and lies

Readers respond to articles on Nigerian fraud literature, Jayne Mansfield's branding techniques and statements Beatles producer George Martin never made.

Published August 10, 2001 7:00PM (EDT)

Read "I Crave Your Distinguished Indulgence (and All Your Cash)" by Douglas Cruickshank.

Being a Nigerian, I hate, detest "419" fraud schemes -- both their perpetrators and the suckers who fall for them -- because of the victimization of the 100 million other innocent Nigerians that suffer from the embarrassing distrust the schemes engender for us in international commerce. Consequently, I have written frequently about "419" and found absolutely nothing funny about it -- until Douglas Cruickshank's article!

From the article, I finally get an impression that the letters are deliberately written to be "syntactically challenged," so that the gullible ones who get suckered elicit less sympathy than those who would have been caught by letters constructed by a more sophisticated-sounding crook.

Even after reading the article -- and laughing harder than I ever have -- I still believe that my country's government should take this international crime more seriously than it seems to have.

Furthermore, it should be prepared to pay my medical bills now that my ribs are cracked!

Thanks for the article. I shall ensure that as many Nigerians as possible read it. I hope that many potential scam victims read it too.

-- Mobolaji E. Aluko
Professor and chair of chemical engineering, Howard University

I was appalled by how patronizing Cruickshank's article was. I found his efforts at literary criticism of these fraud letters to be nothing more than an attempt to transform these crooks into some sort of African Amos and Andys. What he tries to pass off as a literary criticism of these 419 letters is really a vapid and transparent attempt to mock people who have turned to scams to make up for the lack of opportunity resulting largely from decades of colonialism. What's next, a fashion critique of 18th century slave trader wear? Or perhaps a charming review of the poetics of Ebonics? With this piece, this otherwise great magazine has hit a new intellectual low.

-- G.T. Gobena

You haven't even begun to encounter the incredible dynasty of Nigerian royalty. At least, not until you receive a marriage proposal with the promise of untold fortune as your dowry!

Not a week goes by that I don't receive some impassioned plea from no less than the son or nephew of Abacha. Of course, with such a plethora of proposals, I have been inclined to incite a bidding war amongst my suitors -- he with the largest purse would win my hand. Alas, none have chosen to respond to my overt greed.

In all seriousness, I appreciated your humorous rendition of the notorious Nigerian scam. But I must say that you underreported the longevity of the endeavor. As a college student in 1980, I first began receiving such proposals -- albeit by mail and fax. (As technology has progressed, so has the medium been exploited. Of course, the ROI must be greatly enhanced as e-mail is free, thus eliminating the overhead of "snail mail" letters and faxes -- and greatly increasing the audience these con men can reach.)

To be honest, my tongue-in-cheek responses to these urgent pleas always include an apology for the culpability of U.S. policy regarding the plight of that unfortunate country. It is a huge embarrassment to me that U.S.-based multinational corporations are responsible for the rape of Nigeria's resources. It's appalling that a country with the world's fourth-largest oil reserves should find itself in such dire, excruciating poverty. Between the corruption of its own officials and the greed of the Exxons and Shell Oils of the world, those poor people haven't a chance. (That's the real, untold story you should be telling!) I find myself regularly admonishing my African suitors to use their obvious creativity toward changing the circumstances of their nation, rather than trying to bilk hapless, gullible Americans.

I did enjoy your article and hope that you'll take a moment to contemplate the "back story" of the Nigerian dilemma.

-- Pamela Reamer Williams

I cannot begin to tell you how disgusted I am with the so-called 419 morons. I have received several of the same pathetic e-mails, and have on several occasions told these people to get a life. I'm a Nigerian by birth and I guess that sort of gave me a little exposure to know what kind of people are writing these letters, and what their intention is: to drain the life out of anyone that falls victim to their scam. Wole Soyinka, one of Nigeria's greatest authors, said it best in one of his television interviews: "We are dealing with very clever people."

Indeed, we are dealing with clever people that should have put their cleverness into foreseeing and building a better Nigeria rather than using their cleverness to corrupt it even worse. I applaud this article; reading it was as if you were reading my mind when putting this into writing. I plan on sending a message to these people next time I receive such a message in my mailbox. I will make sure the sender receives the same copy of e-mail 500 times. I wish and hope that one day these people will pay, and I mean dearly. But then again, I blame the victims -- I mean, how stupid do you have to be to fall for such stupid schemes?

-- Paul Orejimi

Read "Jayne Mansfield: The Brand Called Two" by Andrew Nelson.

I was working in the sports department of the Asheville Citizen in Asheville, N.C., the night Jayne Mansfield was killed and remember distinctly the dozen or so gruesome AP photos of the accident.

Following transmission of the photos, there was an alert (as there often was with Vietnam War photos: "Caution: The word 'fuck' appears on the side of the tank in Photo No. 1234") that several of the photos were of a more sensitive nature. One, especially, was striking. It was of a blond head sitting at the juncture of the convertible's body and the right windshield support post. It was, warned AP, Jayne Mansfield's head. Another photo was of her body, covered with a tarp or a sheet, with an obvious indention where the head would have been.

If Miss Mansfield was just "scalped," as Nelson contends, it was one hell of a scalping.

Also, I never considered Mansfield to be quite as "full-figured" as reported, having seen photos of her nude. She had an enormous rib cage, the result of weight lifting, but I doubt that her breasts were more than a medium "C" cup (huge by supermodel standards, but hardly bigger than the average woman's breasts).

-- Dan Smith, Roanoke, Va.

I found your article on Jayne Mansfield smarmy, condescending and lazy. You describe her as the anti-feminist, a woman exploiting herself for fame and fortune. But your paternalistic and judgmental tone is certainly as misogynistic. The story purports to be about the vagaries of creating a human brand, but you spend all of about three paragraphs discussing her branding and about seven denigrating her. You throw in a paragraph or two on Britney Spears and Madonna to give the article relevance and then mention that no one really knew Mansfield because she didn't reveal herself. Why not put a little work into the article and try to find who she was? You're relying on superficialities as much as you allege Mansfield did.

-- Anne Knowles

Andrew Nelson's otherwise thought-provoking attempt to discuss Jayne Mansfield as a capitalist product who lost her audience (due to an inability to alter the meaning of her "brand," i.e., her body, as public taste changed) unfortunately fails to take into account the fact that Mansfield's "career" was widely acknowledged as a joke, even during the period of her greatest success. In her two most famous mainstream films (both of which Nelson mentions only in passing), "Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?" and "The Girl Can't Help It," Mansfield is treated as an object of fun, and in neither comedy are her "characters" at all central to the narrative. She exists solely as a physical object to inspire thoroughly adolescent sex jokes.

After 1956, Mansfield's career as a mainstream star was essentially over. Since Mansfield could neither act, sing nor dance, the collapse of her "career" into sleazy exploitation pictures and burlesque was inevitable. Although a supreme product of the capitalist entertainment machine, Mansfield couldn't deliver the ultimate good -- talent of any kind. Not even the best image in the world can sustain a performer devoid of talent forever. In addition, the late 1960s replacement of Mansfield's overblown style of "beauty" by the likes of Twiggy, far from being a progressive development, was really no more than old wine in new bottles: The curve-free Twiggy incarnated a fantasy of female beauty even more childish than Mansfield's, in that it combined a naive girlishness with a body free of adult female characteristics. How could this change have been in any way progressive or closer to "reality," as Nelson seems to believe?

-- Bragan Thomas

What you characterize as a Broadway musical ("Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?") was definitely NOT a musical. Nor, in fact, was the translation to the screen, also with La Mansfield.

-- Jack H. Kindsvatter

Read "The Art of Lying" by Martin Lewis.

Thank you for getting the record straight. This was a perfect example of how the devil's radio works. All the Beatles fans around the world know that George Martin wouldn't be part of this kind of dirty work. Besides that, who can't admit that we all die -- sooner or later? In this material world, at least ...

-- Ilkka Yrja, Finland

Thank you for printing the Martin Lewis article on how the Mail on Sunday twisted and manipulated the remark made by George Martin re: George Harrison's state of health. Having been a huge admirer of Harrison's work for some 35 years, it was a terrible thing to read in my Sunday newspaper after George's assurances that he was feeling fine. Let's hope and pray for George and his family and that the tabloid press will give him the privacy he deserves to fight his latest battle.

Once again, well done for reminding us that some journalists will not let the truth stand in the way of a good story. As Harrison said in his autobiography, "He who tells all that he knows often tells more than he knows."

-- A. Devine

By Salon Staff

MORE FROM Salon Staff

Related Topics ------------------------------------------