Latin pop's crossover coverboy sings of femmes fatales, but nothing in Ricky Martin's repertoire points to bestiality, corrupted minors or televoyeurism. In what's bound to become a case study in rumor psychology, the squeaky-clean ex-Menudo vocalist nonetheless fell prey to a twisted tale that tricked a nation.
The scandal "occurred" in February on Spain's live TV show Sorpresa, ¡sorpresa! (Surprise, surprise!) -- a primetime Fantasy Island sans midget, where a studio audience watches dreams come true. This time, a 15-year-old Martin fan was to get hers.
With parental consent and encouragement, show producers reportedly hired the Puerto Rican pop star to hide in the girl's bedroom closet. From the studio audience, mom and dad watched her return to a home mined with hidden cameras. Finishing her snack, she grabbed a jar of strawberry jam and headed for the bedroom. Surprise, surprise: Oblivious to the teen idol in her armoire, she quickly undressed from the waist down and began slathering the preserves on her privates. Faster than one can say "with a name like Smucker's, it's gotta be good," she beckoned her dog "Ricky" for his own after school snack -- all before a national television audience.
"Cut, cut!" the show's matronly emcee, Concha Velasco, reportedly screamed to the "Livin' La Vida Loca" singer. "Ricky, don't come out of the closet!"
The episode stuck like jelly on millions of Spanish lips. Pirate videos of canine crotch buffets allegedly sold for $3 apiece. Virtually everyone could name a trustworthy source who had "seen" the show.
In truth, the incident never occurred.
Spain's Children's Rights Association (Prodeni) nonetheless demanded publicly that the Madrid District Attorney's Juvenile Division investigate this alleged invasion of "child privacy." The chit hit the national media fan and authorities demanded answers.
The rumor wasn't without variations. Prodeni's version featured puppy bait in the form of pâté de foie gras. "I know there was jam, but I don't recall it as strawberry specifically," adds journalist Amalia Pérez. Another version seduces little Ricky with Nocilla, a Nutella-like proletarian chocolate-hazlenut spread.
"I sense this was prefabricated," says Jose Luis Muiño, a Madrid psychologist who fell for the foie gras version. "With rumors, the core story remains, but the elements always change. But in this one, the different versions matched so closely; really the main thing that changed was the, uh, spreadable material."
Muiño sees parallels to the "Orleans rumor," a classic rumor psychology case whereby hysterical pre-war French took to the streets to protest the disappearance of young women from lingerie shop fitting rooms. Authorities ended that rumor by summoning the families of dressing room "victims." None came forward.
In the regurgitated Martin story, Sorpresa director Giorgio Aresu offered a million peseta ($6,500) reward for a videotaped episode. Again, no takers.
Martin later surfaced at a press conference to offer a judicial remedy oft attributed to Islamic republics; Spain's penal code, though, makes no provisions for his suggestion that the rumor starter "should have his finger cut off."
Animal rights activists remained silent throughout the ordeal.
Brett Allan King is an American-born writer based in Madrid.