Urban legends are folklore tales that are meant to be entertaining as well as a cautionary tale.
The latest batch of Pepsi has been tainted with AIDS by a worker. If you don’t forward this message to 15 people, Mary’s ghost will kill you tonight in your sleep. Any of these ring a bell? The above lines are classic urban legends that are being spread like wildfire because of instant messaging and smartphone technology. However, urban legends are not at all new.
What are Urban Legends?
Urban legends are apocryphal, secondhand story that are claimed as truths and include some horrific, embarrassing, ironic or exasperating series of events that has supposedly happened to some person. It is often designed to be as a cautionary tale with the idea that passing on chain letters or email (in today’s world) can help you be saved from a similar fate that happened to the person in the story.
Urban legends are believed to have their origins from folklore. Folklore or folktales are stories that are often handed down from one person to another via word of mouth. As the story increases being passed down, more information and details are added to it. Hence, it is not a result of a single author but rather multiple authors that make up the story. The stories are often never the same, but instead change overtime as they are continuously passed on.
Why is it known as Urban Legends?
The name urban legends are often confusing as many of the stories don’t even take place in urban settings. The term ‘urban’ is actually a misnomer and is actually supposed to mean ‘modern’ or ‘current’. The translation would mean modern legends or stories.
Another name for urban legends is contemporary legends, which is considered as a more accurate terminology for the stories. It is also a preferred name by folklorists. Some experts suggest that the urban legends has stuck around because of a recurrent theme in contemporary legends. It seems like the stories tell the ‘dark side’ of modern life and how certain things are often overlooked when residing in a big city.
Why Urban Legends still exist?
Urban legends are considered as cautionary tales that are often meant to scare people into being more careful. Certain stories such as Bloody Mary cautions people to not mess around with things that they might not understand. Another story regarding a couple being murdered when they sneak away to make out can provide caution that it is often best to stray away to places that can endanger you.
In addition to providing caution, folklorists claim that urban legends are just good fun. It is a means of scaring people. It also helps us point out the fears of our society and lack of information often leads to more urban legends.
According to About.com, urban legends often share a list of common characteristics:
- It's a narrative (a story).
- It's of spontaneous (or indeterminate) origin.
- It's likely to take the form of a cautionary tale.
- It's alleged to be true though its veracity is unproven.
- It's marginally plausible.
- It's likely to be attributed to a putatively trustworthy secondhand source (e.g., "a friend of a friend," "my boss's wife," "my sister's accountant," etc.).
- It circulates by being passed from individual to individual, orally or in writing.
- It varies in the telling.
Urban legends are believed to be a part of our culture and are meant to be fun in addition to offering a cautionary tale to the listeners. With the Internet and increasing communication, it is unsure how urban legends may develop.
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