Urban Legends, is Truth Stranger than Fiction?
Just this weekend I saw Urban Legends on the Biography Channel and was totally awed by stories that I have heard told to me by family and friends, finally being put to the test. Many urban legends have been around for decades, even centuries. Why do these stories continue to fascinate, and why are they spread from place to place? Why is it that these stories are often retold with slightly different details?
I remember years ago my sister telling me the urban legend about the tanning booth. In my sister’s version of this story, there is a teenage girl that wanted to be bronzed for her prom. She needed the tanning to take place in a short amount of time. She went to a tanning place and they told her that she could only use the tanning bed for half an hour, and this could only be done every other day. The girl was impatient to get that perfect tan, so she came up with a plan. She booked appointments at all the tanning places in her town.She spent a lot more than the safe amount of time in tanning beds.
When it came time for the prom the girl was totally bronzed,but she was not feeling well. At the prom she fell on the dance floor and died.When the doctors examined her, the insides of her body had been cooked. Her organs were fried from all the tanning beds.
There is another version of this same story, except in this version instead of a teenage girl, who wants to be tanned for her prom, the subject of the story is a bride, who wanted to have a radiant tan for her wedding.
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These stories often revolve around the really bizarre, yet they boarder on the fringe of being believable. Some are actually true, yet many are just myth. Urban legends are often used to caution children or keep them from engaging in a certain undesirable behavior. For example there is the urban legend of a student that swallowed gum to avoid getting caught by his teachers at school, as a result he ended up not having a bowl movement for two weeks. Doctors had to do surgery on the boy’s colon and found a large mass of gum blocking the boys’ passage way.
This urban legend is not true, and can’t be true scientifically, but the story has been used to stop children from swallowing the evidence when they choose to chew gum at school. In a way urban legends are sometimes used as a way to deter undesirable behavior. This brings us to the next story about a man who chooses to urinate in a swimming pool, because he couldn’t find anywhere else to relieve himself, but cannot keep it a secret, despite his best efforts. This is another example of an urban legend used to keep children from engaging in an undesirable behavior.
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An urban legend is defined as a contemporary legend consisting of apocryphal stories, often believed by the teller to be true. It is circulated mostly by one’s friends of family and these stories often vary over time. These stories often carry some significance that motivates the community to preserve and keep propagating the story. Urban legends are even repeated in news stories, and often passed along in emails.
Jan Harold Brunvand, a professor of English at the University of Utah introduced the term to the public in a series of popular books published in 1981, although the term has been in print since 1968. Brunvand used his collection to make two points. The first point was to prove that folklore was not exclusive to primitive or traditional societies. The second point was that one can learn a lot about urban and modern culture by examining these bizarre tales.
Sometimes to make the story more believable the teller will claim it happened to a friend or someone he or she knew. Since they are told from person to person, facts are often changed and exaggerated. Many of these stories depict horrific crimes, contaminated foods, or situations that are common place. Many urban legends began as jokes and somehow ended up being believed by many to be fact. Many TV programs have resulted from the popularity of urban legends. Programs such as Urban Legends , Beyond Belief: Fact or Fiction, and Mostly True Stories: Urban Legends Revealed have resulted from the their popularity.
Here a couple of urban legends involving children that you may have read or heard of:
Metropolis, TN – A new mother had just decided that it was time to wean her year old daughter and stopped breast feeding her. Although this had been her first child, she had friends that had children and they all told her that weaning was a very difficult time and that the longer she waited the harder it would be. However, she found weaning to be easy. In fact, it seemed almost TOO easy. Her daughter hardly put up a fuss and in two weeks time she stopped trying to nurse altogether. Thinking this was strange; the mother started searching for the reason and soon discovered that the baby hadn’t been weaned to stop breast feeding at all. This was strange because the only people that lived in the house were the mother, her husband, and their daughter – so who was nursing the baby?
You can imagine the woman’s surprise when she found her daughter feeding off THE FAMILY DOG!
The dog, a rather large Dane cross breed had just recently lost her puppies when her owners decided it was time to give them away. However, the dog was still lactating and she had known the baby all her life, so she had no problem taking in this new "puppy." They should make a movie about this: "The Paw that Rocks the Cradle.”
No More Nursing, Baby | UrbanLegendsOnline
This girl was babysitting for some family friends one night, a little boy and a little girl. The parents had a fetish for clowns and had collected clowns from around the world for years, setting aside a room in the house just to put them on display. That night, the children were playing in this very room. Many of the clowns were just statues, and some were life-size,one in particular, was seated in a small child-like rocking chair.
The babysitter started to feel more and more uneasy about this statue throughout the night. She felt as though the eyes were following her, whenever she moved around the room with the children. She decided to call the parents. "I’m so sorry to bother you", she said, "but I was wondering if I could move this clown that you have in the rocking chair, it’s starting to scare the kids and I.”
"What clown are you referring to? I don’t recall us having a clown fitting that description. Are you sure its sitting in the rocking chair?" the mother asked hurriedly.
"Yes, I’m sure.” said the girl. "It’s sitting right here, I’m looking at it right now…Why? I know it’s probably very old and I shouldn’t attempt to move it out of the way, but."
"Take the kids and get out of the house, now. The neighbor across the street will let you in. Call me immediately when you get there." and with that, the mother hung up.
Frightened and confused, the babysitter grabbed the kids and ran out. When she and the kids arrived safely at the neighbors, she called and the mother answered. "What’s wrong? Did something happen? Are you all okay?" the girl asked.
"Yes, we are fine, but it’s not us we are worried about, it’s you and the kids. I’m so glad you called–we were afraid this would happen again. And the mother hung up.
The parents later explained to the girl that for some time,the next-door neighbor had been giving them problems. He was mentally ill, heard voices, the whole bit. On numerous occasions he had snuck into their house and tried to kidnap the children. This time, he dressed up in a clownsuit, painted his face, and waited quietly until he had the opportunity to do what he came to do.
The parents had informed the police many times but never had any proof until now about what was happening. They thanked the girl, paid her, and drove her home.
Clown Statue | UrbanLegendsOnline
I would also like to include some information about a child actor which Ioften saw on the Life cereal commercial, when I was a child. It is about the popular urban legend involving Mikey and his mixing pop rocks with soda and his stomach exploding, as a result. Here is a very good explanation of why this story was so broadly circulated.
There are rumors that mixing Pop Rocks with carbonated drinks would cause your stomach to explode. Further, according to playground lore, an overly-cute kid who achieved fame in LIFE cereal commercials had died of this.Why Little Mikey, of all people? Urban legends require victims who are known yet anonymous — the ubiquitous friends of a friend — to lend them a touch of credible realism without allowing for the easy verification of their details. Little Mikey was a kid known to all other children by virtue of his famous television commercial, yet he was still relatively anonymous — few people (adults included) knew his real name, and his non-appearance in any public role subsequent to his well known LIFE commercial could therefore plausibly be attributed to his untimely demise. (Contrary to the rumor, John Gilchrist, the lad who played Mikey, not only survived his childhood unexploded, but is now an advertising-account manager for a New York radio station. And no, that’s not him in the new LIFE commercial; that’s Jimmy Starace.)
The company stopped marketing Pop Rocks around 1983, and this is often pointed to as "proof" that the candy was so harmful it had to be pulled from the shelves.
Mikey LikesIt | UrbanLegendsOnline
Even though most urban legends tend to be fictional, some are true, which proves that sometimes truth is stranger than fiction. As someone once pointed out “Fiction has to make sense.” As long as there are campfires,those trying to make a point using exaggerations or well meaning parents trying to keep their children from harming themselves. Urban legends well continue to circulate.