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Just kidding

Adam Curtis | 10:51 UK time, Monday, 18 September 2006

Back in February, the BBC News website published a story about a Sudanese man who had been obliged to "marry" a goat after being discovered having what can probably best be described as improper relations with the beast.

A graphic of the BBC News websiteVillage elders ruled that he could keep the goat, but would have to pay a $50 dowry to the owner.

This undeniably quirky tale was confirmed for us by the editor of a local newspaper which had carried the report. The editor is a trusted BBC stringer.

The story attracted much interest and amusement at the time, but was soon consigned to the archive.

However, last week there were some bizarre developments. That goat report was consistently showing up in our "live stats" box as the most widely e-mailed story on the site.

The story was even picked up (as if new) by the soaraway Sun.
It had not been re-published, re-written or revised. So how is it that upwards of 100,000 people a day were passing it on to their friends and acquaintances?

Or could it be that some crazed animal lover has been repeatedly hitting the site with fake requests?

We put our senior software engineer Gareth Owen on the case. His verdict is unequivocal. The demand was genuine.

During a single morning, the goat story was e-mailed by readers in Australia, France, Sweden, the US, Luxembourg, India, Malaysia, Tanzania, Estonia and many other countries.

Do a search on Google for "goat and marry" – and the story is everywhere. It even gets a mention in Wedding Ideas magazine.

It seems to be a fine example of the viral nature of the web. A story is picked up and passed on to an ever growing circle of readers – a sort of chain letter in cyberspace.

Only now are there signs that the interest may be abating. For the moment at least, the story is no longer registering as one of the most popular on the website.

But the experience has inevitably raised questions about whether we should do a follow up. Should we perhaps find out if the relationship is still flourishing? And what about the kids?

Comments

  • 1.
  • At 12:23 PM on 18 Sep 2006,
  • DaveP wrote:

I sent this to my girlfriend about a month ago after seeing it on the website. Even then it was up in the top emailed stories, if only briefly.

It's such a weird headline that stands out that it only needs to be up in the 'top emailed' or 'top read' sections for a short while for others to read it and pass it on.

At some point it hits critical mass and just goes global for a few days.

As to a follow-up story, yeah I do want to know. As long as you promise not to use that joke again.

  • 2.
  • At 12:24 PM on 18 Sep 2006,
  • Paul Beckitt wrote:

Haha, I remember thinking exactly this when I saw the goat story's email popularity last week.I think a follow-up is definitely called for, it would be far more interesting that all the Blair-Brown leadership rubbish we keep hearing about at the moment.

  • 3.
  • At 12:32 PM on 18 Sep 2006,
  • Michael Winston wrote:

''And what about the kids?''

Ouch!!!

It's very funny. People should make a study of the spread of these.

Gossip is often central to news in one way or another, often at the subconscious level.

I always find it interesting the difference between the type of stories people read themselves and the type they are willing to pass on to others. Why are they often so different? You would think if they found it interesting, they would send it on to the other person.

Like all things addictive we must be careful. Some people turn into news junkies. I've been guilty of that. It stops you getting on with your life (which if you sit back and look you can suddenly see is more important). As what can we really learn or do about the news? Too many goats are simply not good for you!

  • 5.
  • At 12:52 PM on 18 Sep 2006,
  • Nick Miles wrote:

Just to say thanks for the story and yes, if possible, could do do a follow on? Are the inlaws happy or are they bleeting about family problems already?

  • 6.
  • At 12:57 PM on 18 Sep 2006,
  • Aaron McKenna wrote:

It's the nature of the internet – so long as content is relevant all it takes is for one person to pick it up, link it, and have two people pick it up off them, two more after that and suddenly you've got a hot-running article. I doubt this would happen with, say, an article from 2003 on UK politics, but something "timeless" like the man-and-his-goat-story is interesting when it was published and six months later as well. Indeed, I've recently seen articles from as far back as 2005 on various subjects linked far and wide – so long as the content is relevant and/or interesting, it doesn't have a sell-by date.

The trick for organisations like the BBC and others online is exploiting this massive archive of information – not necessarily repeating the same stuff over and over, but putting relevant and interesting content within easy grasp, whether it be from 2006 or 1996.

  • 7.
  • At 01:04 PM on 18 Sep 2006,
  • Brian (Luxembourg) wrote:

I want to see the wedding photos!! I bet she looked gorgeous in her dress. And what would the first dance have been...?

  • 8.
  • At 01:05 PM on 18 Sep 2006,
  • Pete Kimble wrote:

I find it unfair that you describe this man's 'wife' as a beast in your opening paragraph. He is clearly fond of her, or would never have got into this situation.

  • 9.
  • At 01:14 PM on 18 Sep 2006,
  • Robin wrote:

How can we forward your (as interesting) background to the goat story?

I saw this last week when I saw the headline on the main BBC site.

I must admit I did forward it and post it on a forum or two.

Shocked now to find out how old the story is.

Chris

Oddly enough I'd noticed the viral like nature of this story a week or two back and pointed it to my colleagues as a good (bad?) example of what happens when you democratise your website.

The logical conclusion is to give readers what they want - more stories about goats and their lovers.

Not that the BBC would ever stoop to publishing link bait, of course.

  • 12.
  • At 01:51 PM on 18 Sep 2006,
  • Ed wrote:

I think a follow up, with interviews is certainly required!

  • 13.
  • At 02:10 PM on 18 Sep 2006,
  • CLAIRE wrote:

DEFINATELY DO A FOLLOW UP. I ONLY READ THIS LAST WEEK FOR THE FIRST TIME AND WOULD LOVE TO KNOW HOW THEY ARE GETTING ON!!

  • 14.
  • At 02:26 PM on 18 Sep 2006,
  • Alex wrote:

I wonder if she's being lavishly 'doe'ted upon?

  • 15.
  • At 02:28 PM on 18 Sep 2006,
  • Mark wrote:

So a story about a man committing bestial rape against a goat is one of the most popular on the BBC. I'm not sure that's anything to be proud of, but at least we can see for what purposes the license fee is being used.

  • 16.
  • At 02:45 PM on 18 Sep 2006,
  • Eben wrote:

Did they sell their weddng photos to OK magazine? A follow up would be interesting. Lets hope they don't bump into Mary and her little lamb. There could be some further twists of lust, adultery and envy brewing....Eureka I have a new plot for the fading Eastenders series. That should boost their tv ratings!!!!!

  • 17.
  • At 03:14 PM on 18 Sep 2006,
  • Paul Jones wrote:

I think a follow-up story on the in-laws would be appropriate. Imagine the headline when she takes the man home to meet her father:

Billy goat's gruff!

  • 18.
  • At 03:28 PM on 18 Sep 2006,
  • Kevin Young wrote:

I see its back at number 3!

It just goes to show that you can't keep a good story down. Or alternatively, that it never pays to overestimate the intellect of your readership - me included.

  • 19.
  • At 03:56 PM on 18 Sep 2006,
  • Spoons wrote:

Did anyone ask the goat what she thought? (I take it the goat was female?)

Actually, this is not as jokey as it may seem - does the marriage mean he is now being allowed to carry on abusing the animal? While we're all chuckling we may appear to be condoning this.

  • 20.
  • At 04:18 PM on 18 Sep 2006,
  • Toby wrote:

It is a very sad state of affairs when the BBC as a supposedly reputable media organisation reduces such a story to be a laughing point and a source of humour. If the story is true, it is a sympton of the lack of education in some parts of the world and the fact that so many people find it so funny is a reflection of society today. Shame on us.

  • 21.
  • At 04:21 PM on 18 Sep 2006,
  • David wrote:

Another example of the Nanny State

  • 22.
  • At 04:22 PM on 18 Sep 2006,
  • Mark wrote:

Yes, a follow up would be grand. I missed this the first time round but spotted it when it was on the list of most emailed stories. My girlfriend is doing a dissertation on animal human relationships in ancient Greece and I emailed it to her: she intends to quote it and I'm sure would be interested in recent developments.

  • 23.
  • At 04:23 PM on 18 Sep 2006,
  • Tom wrote:

I heard the goat has since left the poor man. He's heardbroken.

Then again, I've also heard he just loves a good goat stew..

Don't know what to believe !!

  • 24.
  • At 04:32 PM on 18 Sep 2006,
  • MJ wrote:

I am a member of one of the plethora of message boards where photoshopped pictures are posted to illustrate the "what if" aspect of the news. Frequently a link will be posted to remind people of a particular news story and this can generate thousands of hits, especially since the site in question was recently featured in a nameless daily newspaper.

  • 25.
  • At 04:39 PM on 18 Sep 2006,
  • David wrote:

This has been the nature of the www (and the internet) since it was formed. Nothing new here. Move along.
Are the BBC that far behind with their understanding of the web?

Anyway, yes, a follow up article would be nice....

  • 26.
  • At 04:40 PM on 18 Sep 2006,
  • Tim wrote:

I know exactly what caused this. I read this story originally and remembered it very well as I'd read it out on my student radio show at the time. A couple of weeks ago, the BBC had an article about a swiss man who bizzarely used the excuse of "there being no goats on the road" to justify breaking the speed limit in Canada. I noticed that in the "see also" section, the Sudanese goat story I remembered so well appeared - presumably as one of the most recent news stories about goats. The next day I saw it suddenly at number one on the "most emailed" list.

So it is in fact not random that it should have surfaced now - it was sparked by being linked in a currently popular article. This then obviously started a chain reaction which caused it to be at number one for so long.

  • 27.
  • At 04:41 PM on 18 Sep 2006,
  • S van Adelberg wrote:

This story makes me sick to the stomach. I can not believe the very well respected BBC would lower standards to a story of a clearly twisted (human?) being and a helpless animal. The last sentence was truly in bad taste ... 'the children'... The only follow up that is really needed is to give the gentleman and the animal treatment to releave both out of their misery. Shame on those who think that this is entertaining...clearly forgetting the serious underlying issues.

  • 28.
  • At 04:53 PM on 18 Sep 2006,
  • Gary Brown wrote:

One reason for the strange story's popularity might be that it resonated with the many millions of fans of the sea-stories of the late Patrick O'Brian, whose 'Master and Commander' contains a hilarious exchange between Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin on what best to do with a drunken goat-sodomizer.....

  • 29.
  • At 05:04 PM on 18 Sep 2006,
  • David wrote:

You remember Googlewhacking (see http://www.davegorman.com/googlewhack.htm)

Well, this story seem to beg for a new internet game: "What is the most obscure story that we (the great browsing public) can get into the BBC News website top 5 most read?"

Find something really obsure in the archives with a sufficiently interesting/misleading headline and start copying the link to all.

  • 30.
  • At 05:15 PM on 18 Sep 2006,
  • Dilligas wrote:

The problem with making love to a goat is you have to walk so far to kiss them!

  • 31.
  • At 05:29 PM on 18 Sep 2006,
  • alice wrote:

Does this mean then that it's OK/funny to abuse a goat or any animal? Why is this funny?

  • 32.
  • At 05:46 PM on 18 Sep 2006,
  • Chris wrote:

I believe that Wilfred Thesiger mentioned this in one of the books on his travels. Anyone with an interest in recent tribal societies' customs should read his biography by Alexander Maitland published earlier this year.

If you want to have your mind opened to the wide variety of customs that human tribes have evolved for social cohesion then try "The Golden Bough" by Sir James George Frazer (1890).

  • 33.
  • At 06:18 PM on 18 Sep 2006,
  • Charlene wrote:

Brian (Luxembourg) asked:

I want to see the wedding photos!! I bet she looked gorgeous in her dress. And what would the first dance have been...?

I'm guessing "Billy, Don't Be a Hero".

  • 34.
  • At 07:18 PM on 18 Sep 2006,
  • Daniel wrote:

I sent that article to half a dozen sudanese friends around the world asking for comments. No one replied but one telling me it is common in rural Sudan. Any more goat or donkey brides to wrire about?

  • 35.
  • At 07:19 PM on 18 Sep 2006,
  • miika wrote:

So basically you're telling us that everyone else has finally gotten on[to] "your" goat?

*runs*

  • 36.
  • At 09:32 PM on 18 Sep 2006,
  • Nigel Smith wrote:

I was really pleased to see this post in the editor's blog as I'd seen the prominence of the goat story in the "most e-mailed" section and wondered why it had resurfaced so long after I'd first read it.

I suspected it'd be down to viral transmission over the IM networks and by e-mail but hadn't had anyone forward the link to me recently.

As for the Sun picking it up and probably calling it an exclusive..well that's par for the course.

  • 37.
  • At 09:44 PM on 18 Sep 2006,
  • Mohyeed wrote:

I would like to see a follow up article interviewing the man and his new goat-wife. I would like an update on how the goat spent its dowry. How he deals with his in-laws and things of that nature. I am very interested in this relationship. I emailed it many people and still find it hysterical.

  • 38.
  • At 09:47 PM on 18 Sep 2006,
  • John wrote:

Perhaps a follow-up interv-ewe would not goat amiss.

  • 39.
  • At 09:48 PM on 18 Sep 2006,
  • D. Fear wrote:

Talk about getting one's goat! :)

  • 40.
  • At 10:09 PM on 18 Sep 2006,
  • Halley wrote:

I think a follow up is very much needed. It's been seven months of marriage and I would think she is pregnant. Please send us pictures of the wedding and kids. And what did the daddy do with the $50 dowry? Did he buy him another daughter?

  • 41.
  • At 10:36 PM on 18 Sep 2006,
  • Viren wrote:

It's funny as hell! I send this story to a friend with the link and telling him that if it was Sudan you would've been married.. Of course I was kidding..

  • 42.
  • At 12:08 AM on 19 Sep 2006,
  • cp wrote:

I think it is ridiculous that you ever printed the story, much less a follow up. Considering the situation in Sudan I would expect that there are more newsworthy events taking place.

  • 43.
  • At 12:54 AM on 19 Sep 2006,
  • Susan Cloud wrote:

Heh, heh. I saw, and printed out the news item back in February about the Sudanese and the goat, so when I saw it again today on bbc.co, I thought 'eh, what gives here? This isn't a new story'. I work in a University library and check the bbc for a quirky 'news of the day' to print out for my student assistants (and my) amusement. There's always something good for a laugh. Thanks, because these days, we can always use humor in our lives.

Well, at least now this particular goat is safely married off; it's not wandering around causing road accidents.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/5322302.stm

I never read it till I saw it mentioned again on your blog today. Like Tom, I am also thinking about goat stew!

  • 46.
  • At 10:01 AM on 19 Sep 2006,
  • Neebs wrote:

I, along with another few radge ex-pats work in Sudan, this story did the rounds, I've been led to believe their maybe a donkey groom in the surrounding area, but its no been confirmed yet.

  • 47.
  • At 02:20 PM on 19 Sep 2006,
  • Evonne O wrote:

I saw this when it was first on the site! I am not suprised that the story is still popular as it is one of those stories that you quite do not believe that it actually true or not...

The curmugeons who complain about the noble BBC reporting this story are seriously out-of-touch. It barely cost the corporation anything to report, yet the license-fee payers clearly felt it was news-worthy.

Furthermore, we usually hear about these African tribal councils when they have exhibited some kind of intolerance. Their restraint and sense of humour here is interesting.

And opf course, if there was a follow-up story, I am sure many readers would be ungu-lated...

  • 49.
  • At 02:55 PM on 19 Sep 2006,
  • BMoyoz wrote:


This goat story is just a tip of the iceberg. l have heard stories of men doing it with donkeys and even cows. One wonders what has become of the male species these days.

I found the story rather sad. It shows what value wemon are held in Sudan. The goat was seen as a wife, just because the man had sex with it.

  • 51.
  • At 05:24 PM on 19 Sep 2006,
  • omar wrote:

I sent this story to my friend when I first read back in February - after he read, we were laughing and making jokes about this for days. I think it would great if the BBC does a follow up! Oh yeah, Toby above, relax man. Just have a luagh; I mean, we read 40 bomb blasts from Iraq everyday and all the other sad stories come out from Sudan, so at least this time there's funny story came out from the Horn.

I'll surely send it to my friends if you guys do a follow up.

Hahaha...

  • 52.
  • At 07:10 PM on 19 Sep 2006,
  • max wrote:

I want to see what the goat looks like!!! Maybe she a particularly attractive goat?

  • 53.
  • At 10:20 AM on 20 Sep 2006,
  • Chris wrote:

how many people actually use this email thing at any given time? Can someone skew it by simply sending a couple?

  • 54.
  • At 03:09 PM on 20 Sep 2006,
  • James wrote:

In the days before e-mail, Kuwait mid-eighties, the most-photocopied article was “Man Acquitted of Raping Camel”. Apparently, according to the judge, there had been an element of consent on the part of the camel. Such are the vagaries of the law.
Whether the story was true or not, I have no clue.

  • 55.
  • At 05:18 PM on 20 Sep 2006,
  • chandra wrote:

I consider myself very pro-animal rights, and anti-cruelty, but this story, and the dry reporting of it, is genuinely hilarious - anyone who can't see that has had a humour bypass.

Love the "Nanny State" comment above too - genius!

  • 56.
  • At 01:45 PM on 21 Sep 2006,
  • Chris wrote:

In general if there is felt to be a need for a law against something - then it is going to be a known, or even common, practice. An example is Peter The Great's attempt to stop men growing their beards.

The alternative reason for many such morality laws is that it is an expression of the inner desires of those who make, or rigidly enforce, those laws. Fearing their own potential, or actual, lapses - they then assume the general public also has a similar prediliction and no self-control. Thus by persecuting others they establish a saintly justication for their own mental self-flagellation.

Was it the Oz trial that promoted the saying that "pornography is whatever turns the Judge on"?

  • 57.
  • At 05:32 AM on 18 Apr 2007,
  • PSP wrote:

One year on, and it's STILL the number one most e-mailed story on the BBC news website. I think it might be interesting if you guys kept track of how long stories are on that list, and compile a top 10 list of the stories that have been listed for the longest time.

  • 58.
  • At 10:00 PM on 24 Apr 2007,
  • John Salkeld wrote:

I'm sure the liberal/Left will now be contemplating legalising marriage between humans and pets, maybe it will become enshrined in EU law.

  • 59.
  • At 10:19 PM on 03 May 2007,
  • Justin Kelly wrote:

So farewell then Rose,
Loving wife and goat to Charles.
Life in an abusive marriage
sent you over the edge.

"Plastic bags kill," they cried
but you didn't listen.
Divorce not an option,
you munched your way to goat heaven.

Goodbye.

  • 60.
  • At 10:35 PM on 03 May 2007,
  • John wrote:

The end of a sad "tail". Glad he wasn't caught sleeping with an elephant!

  • 61.
  • At 02:16 AM on 04 May 2007,
  • dstgr wrote:

Who was the best man?

  • 62.
  • At 07:08 PM on 04 May 2007,
  • Yunus Salami wrote:

Perhaps Tombe was not the only one to have done such a thing to an animal. But I think he was forced to marry the goat just to make him a SCAPEGOAT!

  • 63.
  • At 07:14 PM on 04 May 2007,
  • Yunus Dada Salami wrote:

There were initial concerns about how the offspring of man and goat would be cared for. But it turned out the goat had an older sister who became the NANNY for her KID.

  • 64.
  • At 10:22 AM on 05 May 2007,
  • Roger wrote:

Just goes to show - real life is always more funny than any attempt to satyrise it.

  • 65.
  • At 07:02 PM on 07 May 2007,
  • AL2003 wrote:

I think the man was punished by his tribe for a wrong act he did when he was drunk (as I read). So, no need to punish him more by laughing at him.

  • 66.
  • At 06:05 PM on 23 Jul 2007,
  • Taha wrote:

what i know ,as a sudanese, is that goats can not live in southern sudan for climate reasons,
and US 50 dolars were never equal to 15,000 sudanese dinars. southerners are open to life and having normal sex was never a problem there and even a drunk man in the south will never think in this way because this not his warry when he is awake. We were not told about the man's wife,children,mother,father,brothers or sisters or even friends. let us just judge. you people of BBC out there what do you think about people with normal state of mind.

  • 67.
  • At 05:41 PM on 05 Dec 2007,
  • yomi a. wrote:

hi BBC,

i read the first story about the "wedding" last year. i did copy and paste it and mail it to over 40 friends on my mail list then.

it was just too funny and a huge relief from the stories or war and disease all over the world.

reading about the fate of poor "rose" again, i did the same thing of mailing once more to more than 50 friends this time.

what a story! what a fate to befall the poor "goat lady", Rose.

how did she put up with the nightly needs of Tombe?

how inevitably it was, that Rose had to get into adultery, to have a child for probably another goat?

was she given a proper burial? did she end up again in a conscienceless Tombe's soup pot?

how has the "man-kid" child been growing, after Rose's death?

YES, please BBC, a follow up will be priceless....you need to give more clue on the reactions of Tombe's family, friends, wife, etc, for the readers to understand him more.

Yomi A, Nigeria

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