I've seen the documentary, Hot Coffee, and listened to Susan Saladoff talk about the process of bringing this iconic American incident to film. What lingered longest in my mind's eye were the photographs of the scalded flesh. I served as a USNavy nurse caring for children with burns. Pictures of the injuries made me turn away my face while pressing my knees together.
As a storyteller I am familiar with a genre of stories called urban legends. You've all heard them: the traveling businessman who wakes up in his hotel bathtub packed in ice and a note telling him his kidney was surgically removed; the college coed who spent two romantic weeks on some tropical isle and on the flight home reads a note form her lover telling her she is his 23rd AIDS-infected victim; or the elderly lady who put her poodle in the microwave to dry him and ended up vaporizing the little pooch; or the high school boys who pick up a girl on a dark rural road only to find out when they try to return the sweater she left in the car that she is dead some 20 years; and so on.
Urban legends are example of modern folklore. These are stories we tell and retell for the sensationalism, for the fear factor, for the sense of safety that "We would never do [fill in the blank]". Urban legends serve as cautionary tales, propaganda, and cultural narrative.
I am curious to know what the reaction will be as the documentary gains traction in communities. Has the MacDonald's Coffee Story become a form of urban legend? And if so, will the movie more deeply root people in the distorted telling? Or, is this a chance to pull back the curtain to reveal the human faces and suffering of all those who became the legend?