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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!
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".
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
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...
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
FICTION---------------------------------------------FACThoax folklore (legends and myths) rumor gossip
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.
* 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.
Abraham Lincoln was elected to Congress in 1846 and President in 1860
Websites like www.snopes.com
TV shows like “Mythbusters”