Urban Legends and Modern Myths in U.S. Popular Culture
Dr. Gregory John Orr
A friend of a friend of mine and his date drive to their favorite "lovers' lane" in a secluded area to listen to the radio and spend some time alone together. Suddenly, the music was interrupted by an announcer who said there was a killer who had escaped from an insane asylum in the area. He was described as having a hook instead of a right hand. The girl became frightened and told her boyfriend that they should leave immediately. At first, he tried to calm her down but she convinced him to leave and they drove quickly away. When the boy arrived at the girl's home, he went around to open the car door for her. There he found— a bloody hook on the door handle!
Definition of a Classic Urban legend
An Urban Legend is a modern short tale that is told and retold as true, although it usually has little or no basis in reality or can't be confirmed one way or another. Whether we know it or not we've all heard them, usually as something that happened to a "friend of a friend".
- It is a narrative.
- It is alleged to be true but its veracity is unproven.
- It is plausible enough to be believed.
- It is of spontaneous (or, at any rate, indeterminate) origin.
- It varies in the telling.
- It is likely to take the form of a cautionary tale.
- It is attributed to a trustworthy secondhand sources
- It is transmitted from individual to individual, either orally or nowadays in written form (e.g., via fax, photocopy or email).
to educate, to warn, to frighten, to amuse, to mislead
(often the case with traditional fairy tales)
Means of transmission
-word of mouth (traditionally)-nowadays by both WOM, internet/written form and imagesExamples
phantom hitchhikerMrs. Fields cookie recipekidney theftrazorblades in Halloween candy/applespoodle in microwave
- Despite a very few well-publicized cases of alleged Halloween candy tampering during the 1960s and 1970s -- nearly all of which were found to be false or unverifiable upon further investigation -- no child has ever been injured or killed as a result of ingesting adulterated or other treats collected on Halloween.
- Nevertheless, "the myth of the Halloween sadist" became so firmly entrenched in the American psyche from the 1970s on that aspects of the holiday were fundamentally changed. Most crucially, it became everyone's urgent priority to protect young trick-or-treaters from the malicious acts of strangers.
- Parents were warned by law enforcement officials to thoroughly inspect Halloween treats for tampering before allowing children to consume them. Hospitals offered the free use of x-ray facilities to detect foreign objects such as razor blades, pins, and needles. And though the moral panic that gave rise to these measures began to subside during the 1990s, parental accompaniment and supervision had already became a widely adopted addition to the trick-or-treat ritual.
The Vanishing Hitchhiker
A friend of a friend and his daughter were driving along a lonely country road at night and happened upon a female hitchhiker. The woman asked for a ride to her home just a few miles up the road. The travelers obliged and continued on with the woman riding silently in the backseat. As they approached their destination, the driver turned to inform the passenger they were arriving, only to discover she had vanished from the backseat without a trace! Thoroughly spooked, the travelers inquired at the house and learned that a woman matching the description of the hitchhiker had indeed once lived there, but died several years earlier in an automobile accident. Her ghost, they were told, was sometimes seen wandering beside the highway...
Alligator in the Sewer
Alligators in the NY sewers
It was once a fad among New Yorkers vacationing in Florida to bring back baby alligators for their children to raise as pets. The infant gators were destined to grow and outlive their cuteness, sad to say, at which point their desperate owners would flush them down the toilet to get rid of them.
Some of these hastily disposed-of creatures survived in the dank Manhattan sewer system and bred, the story goes, producing scattered colonies of full-grown alligators deep below the streets of New York City. Their descendants live down there to this day, hidden from human eyes apart from the occasional impromptu sighting by sewer workers. According to some reports the animals are blind and afflicted with albinism, having dwelt so long in constant darkness that they have lost their eyesight and the pigment in their hides.
A business traveler goes to a lounge for a drink at the end of the work day. A person in the bar walks up as they sit alone and offers to buy them a drink. The last thing the traveler remembers until they wake up in a hotel room bath tub, their body submerged to their neck in ice, is sipping that drink.There is a note taped to the wall instructing them not to move and to call 911. A phone is on a small table next to the bathtub for them to call. The business traveler calls 911 who have become quite familiar with this crime. The business traveler is instructed by the 911 operator to very slowly and carefully reach behind them and feel if there is a tube protruding from their lower back. The business traveler finds the tube and answers, "Yes." The 911 operator tells them to remain still, having already sent paramedics to help.
The operator knows that both of the business traveler's kidneys have been harvested.
Poodle in the Microwave
Poodle in the Microwave
A friend of a friend had a grandmother who was a little bit "dotty." One day, Grandma had just bathed her miniature poodle, Pierre, and was about to towel-dry him when the phone rang. It was her daughter, reminding her that they had arranged to meet for lunch a half hour earlier. Grandma apologized for being late and said she'd be there as quickly as she could.
As she began towel-drying Pierre, it dawned on her that there was a quicker way to do it: the microwave. So she put her beloved pet inside the oven, set the dial to "defrost" and switched it on.
A half a minute later, as Grandma was donning her coat to leave, she heard a muffled explosion in the kitchen.
Pierre the poodle was no more.
"The Poodle in the Microwave" (a.k.a. "The Microwaved Pet") enjoyed its first wave of popularity in the mid-1970s. In part, it's a cautionary tale reflecting societal ambivalence toward technological change (a recurrent theme in contemporary folklore). Greater convenience entails greater risks, such stories seem to say, so we should approach new technologies with caution. Yet "The Microwaved Pet" also hearkens back to warnings dating back to the 1940s, if not earlier, about dogs and cats suffering injury or death after crawling unnoticed into old-fashioned gas ovens. While one can always quibble over the "function" or deeper meanings of urban legends, it's safe to say that they almost always serve as a barometer of our everyday fears.
A woman who works at the a Bar Association called Mrs. Fields to get the recipe for its famous chocolate chip cookie. She was told there would be a “two-fifty charge.” “Put it on my Visa,” she said. Well, she got the bill for “two-fifty” all right - $250. For revenge, she began passing out the recipe to everyone in sight.
Mrs. Fields’ Cookies
Follow-up to Cookie Urban Legend
The spread of the rumor eventually prompted the founder of the company, Debbi Fields, to respond personally. She posted a notice in all Mrs. Fields’s stores:
“Mrs. Fields recipe has never been sold. There is a rumor circulating that the Mrs. Fields cookie recipe was sold to a woman at a cost of $250. A chocolate- chip cookie recipe was attached to the story. I would like to tell all my customers that the story is not true.”
The store also promised to reimburse the woman who was charged $250, if she ever identified herself. She never did.
Reportedly Debbi Fields herself, out of curiosity, prepared a batch of cookies based on the recipe that was circulating with the rumor. They turned out quite dry, because the recipe (unlike the real Mrs. Fields cookies) included oatmeal as an ingredient.
Urban Legend: the Rip-off recipe
The tale of the Rip-Off Recipe was one of the most widely circulated urban legends of the twentieth century (variations: Nieman-Marcus cookies and Waldorf-Astoria cake). The basic narrative remained the same: A customer at a restaurant, having enjoyed one of the items on the dessert menu, asks the management if they would be willing to share the recipe with her. The management responds affirmatively, but later sends her an outrageously large bill, which she learns that she is legally obligated to pay. In revenge, the woman decides to share the recipe with the general public, free of charge.
In the tale, the restaurant is usually an upper-class establishment, whereas the woman is middle-class (often from the midwest). Thus the story offers a lesson about the greed of the rich vs. the down-to-earth sense of fair play of the middle class.
Modern Urban Legends
- Stripped-down versions
- sometimes no narratives, characters, or personal elements
- often sent to thousands/millions by e-mails
- often called netlore
- sometimes only a manipulated image
- many reflect distrust of government, media, technology
Mistrust of technology
-Using a cellphone while it is recharging poses a risk of electrocution, explosion, or fire.-Entering one's PIN in reverse at an ATM will summon the police.
Mistrust of government, business, military
-The US government planned the 9/11 attacks.-The US government created the AIDS virus.
-Area 51-Moon landing was a hoax.
Sign, aliens, alien ship
UFO and other conspiracy theories concerning Area 51
- Area 51 is a remote tract of land in the southwestern portion of Lincoln County in southern Nevada in the western United States. Situated at its center, on the southern shore of a dry lakebed (salt lake), is a large military airfield, one of the most secretive places in the world. The base's primary purpose is to support development and testing of experimental aircraft and weapons systems.
- Its secretive nature and undoubted connection to classified aircraft research, together with reports of unusual phenomena, have led Area 51 to become a focus of modern UFO and conspiracy theories. Some of the unconventional activities claimed to be underway at Area 51 include:
- * The storage, examination, and reverse engineering of crashed alien spacecraft (including material supposedly recovered at Roswell), the study of their occupants (living and dead), and the manufacture of aircraft based on alien technology.
- * Meetings or joint undertakings with extraterrestrials.
- * The development of exotic energy weapons (for SDI applications or otherwise) or means of weather control.
- * The development of time travel technology.
- * The development of unusual and exotic propulsion systems related to the Aurora Program (see Aurora aircraft).
- * Activities related to a supposed shadowy one world government and or the Majestic Twelve organization.
FICTION---------------------------------------------FACThoax folklore (legends and myths) rumor gossip
- Gossip consists of casual or idle talk of any sort, sometimes (but not always) slanderous and/or devoted to discussing others, especially celebrities.
- Rumor: an assertion or set of assertions widely repeated as true though its veracity is unconfirmed.
- While they are similar in that and other respects to urban legends, rumors differ from legends in that they're shorter-lived and aren't typically passed along in narrative form. ("A legend is an actual story of doubtful truth," notes folklorist Jan Harold Brunvand, "whereas a rumor is just an unverified report.")
Examples of Rumors
- More military deaths under Clinton than under Bush-Fiction!
- Hillary Clinton's former boss says he fired her from an investigative position because she was a "liar" and "unethical-Truth!
- The fisherman who befriended a great white shark-Fiction!
- Young girl with serious health problems from Wal-Mart milk-Unproven!
- Listerine chases away mosquitoes-Unproven!
- The Four Finger Pianist-Truth!
- Healings at Barack Obama Rallies-Fiction!
- Cuban Flag at Obama Campaign Office-Truth!
Obama in Somali traditional dress
Slide 33 Slide 34
Rumor: Coca-cola light
Health scare artists have found a whole new medium for terrorizing the public - the Internet. Individuals in search of accurate health information may literally become caught in the Web, where health hoaxes and urban medical myths run rampant. Many of these health scares are spread wildly by email, and an email forwarded from a concerned friend certainly adds credibility to a hoax.
The American Council on Science and Health (ACSH) is now receiving daily inquiries regarding aspartame.The rumor links the sweetener to multiple sclerosis-like symptoms and systemic lupus using quasi-medical jargon. Like most of its kind, this Web scare appears to be credible, pointing to impressive-sounding names like the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation, the "World Environmental Conference" and the mysterious "Dr. Espisto."
In fact, aspartame, known as "NutraSweet" and "Equal," is safe. Aspartame is one of the most thoroughly tested substances in the U.S. food supply.
- A hoax is a deliberate attempt to dupe, deceive or trick an audience into believing, or accepting, that something is real, when in fact it is not; or that something is true, when in fact it is false. a hoax is often perpetrated as a practical joke, to cause embarrassment, or to provoke social change by making people aware of something.
Tourist on WTC; the facts
* September 11 was a warm and sunny late summer day, not the type of weather in which a tourist would have been decked out in a winter coat and hat.
* The airliner shown in the picture is approaching from the north and would therefore have been the plane that hit the north tower of the World Trade Center (WTC1), but WTC1 did not have an outdoor observation deck.
* The operating hours in September for the WTC2 observatories were 9:30 A.M. to 9:30 P.M., meaning they opened too late for a tourist to have been present on one of them on September 11 before the first plane hit the WTC at 8:49 A.M.
* The aircraft shown is a Boeing 757 bearing American Airline markings, but Flight 11, the only American flight to crash into the World Trade Center, was a 767.
Bush 41 and 43 in New Orleans
Barack Obama and the Upside Down Phone-Fiction!
Obama phone call
- The crop circles first appeared in England. They are areas in a field of corn or wheat that is flattened in an artistic fashion. Usually the pattern contains circles of various sizes. People began to credit spacecraft aliens for the creation of these patterns. The media just loved this one. They still show newly created crop circles and leave the viewer with the notion that they could have been produced by aliens.
- Claims are made that the area of the flattened crop gives off an electromagnetic radiation that is unnatural. The claim is made that this same radiation has been detected at the location of UFO sightings. The area is damaged to the extent that the pattern shows even after several plowings.
War of the Worlds
War of the Worlds
- Orson Welles' Mercury Theatre radio broadcast on October 30, 1938, entitled "The War of the Worlds" has been called the "single greatest media hoax of all time", although it was not — Welles said — intended to be a hoax. The broadcast was heard on CBS radio stations throughout the United States. Despite repeated announcements within the program that it was a work of fiction, many listeners tuning in during the program believed that the world was being attacked by invaders from Mars. (Rumors claim some even committed suicide.) Rebroadcasts in South America also had this effect even to a greater extent.
- Folklore is the body of expressive culture, including tales, myths, music, dance, legends, oral history, proverbs, riddles, jokes, popular beliefs, customs, and so forth within a particular population comprising the traditions (including oral traditions) of that culture, subculture, or group.
- Legends are fabulous stories that have some historical basis. Usually there are some big figures in those stories. The main characters in legends are often respected and remembered by people, despite having lived several centuries before. People often add some exaggeration to fact, and a legend is born that can come be passed from generation to generation.
- There are two kinds of characters in U.S. legends. One kind is imaginary (often called Tall Tales), and the other kind is a real person who grew "bigger than life".
Examples of U.S. Legends
- * Paul Bunyan
- * John Henry
- * Johnny Appleseed
- * El Dorado
- * The Fountain of Youth
- * George Washington and the cherry tree
- * Pecos Bill
- John Henry is a folk hero, who has been the subject of numerous songs, stories, plays, and novels.
- Like other "Big Men" such as Paul Bunyan, Pecos Bill, and Iron John, John Henry also served as a mythical representation of a group within the melting pot of the 19th-century working class. In the most popular story of his life, Henry is not born into the world big and strong. He grows to be the greatest "steel-driver" in the mid-century push to erect/extend the railroads across the mountains to the West. The complication of the story is that, as machine power continued to supplant brute muscle power (both animal and human), the owner of the railroad buys a steam-powered hammer to do the work of his mostly black driving crew. In a bid to save his job and the jobs of his men, John Henry challenges the inventor to a contest: John Henry versus the steam hammer. John Henry wins, but in the process, he collapses and dies.
Chicago Fire of 1871
- People on every continent have claimed to have seen the footprints of a large man like the mythological creature we call Bigfoot. In British Columbia, Canada, he is called Sasquatch; in the Himalayas of Asia he is called Yeti or the Abominable Snowman. The Amazon people call him Mapingauri. These myths gained little media attention until Roger Patterson took 24 feet of 16mm color film of a Bigfoot walking in the forest on October 20, 1967, near California's Bluff Creek Valley.
- There have been many reports of large footprints and sightings of a large manlike, hairy creature near Mount Everest in the Himalayas. Footprints were seen by Sir Edmund Hillary and his crew during his historic 1953 climb.
- These reports draw lots of media attention but lack any substance. Many facts reveal that these reports are hoaxes and jokes perpetrated for fun, money and fame.
The Reincarnation of Abraham Lincoln into John F. Kennedy
- The best example that I am aware of which shows how history repeats itself can be found in the lives of President Abraham Lincoln and President John F. Kennedy. Their lives had so many similarities that, in my opinion, they provide strong circumstantial evidence supporting the reality of reincarnation. According to the laws of probabilities, it is difficult to dismiss these similarities as pure coincidence. These similarities strongly suggests to me that President Kennedy was in fact the reincarnation of President Lincoln. Read the evidence below and decide for yourself.
Coincidences: Lincoln and Kennedy
Abraham Lincoln was elected to Congress in 1846 and President in 1860
- John F. Kennedy was elected to Congress in 1946 and President in 1960.
- The names Lincoln and Kennedy each contain seven letters.
- Both were particularly concerned with civil rights.
- Both wives lost their children while living in the White House.
- Both Presidents were shot on a Friday.
- Both were shot in the head.
- Lincoln's secretary, Kennedy, warned him not to go to the theatre.
- Kennedy's secretary, Lincoln, warned him not to go to Dallas.
- Both were assassinated by Southerners.
- Both were succeeded by Southerners.
- Both successors were named Johnson (Andrew born in 1808 and Lyndon in 1908).
- John Wilkes Booth was born in 1839.
- Lee Harvey Oswald was born in 1939.
- Both assassins were known by their three names.
- Both names are comprised of fifteen letters
- Booth ran from the theater and was caught in a warehouse.
- Oswald ran from a warehouse and was caught in a theater.
- Booth and Oswald were assassinated before their trials.
Whom do you trust?
Websites like www.snopes.com
TV shows like “Mythbusters”