Urban Legends Essay, Research Paper
What is an Urban Legend? They are usually stories that have a wide audience, have circulated spontaneously, and have been told in several different forms. Many have chosen to believe these stories despite the lack of actual evidence to substantiate the story (Urban).
What makes an Urban Legend is how it is told. This depends on whether the story is being told in first, second, or third person. Most of the time the real event happened to someone entirely unknown to the person telling the story (Urban).
Some Urban Legends have roots extending as far back as twenty years or more (Roeper 15). One of these Urban Legends, called “Gang Initiation,” is one that many people believe to be true. In it a suburban woman is driving down the road at night when she sees an oncoming car with its head lights off. The woman flashes her bright lights to let the driver know that his lights are off. The driver then blinks his lights in gratitude as he passes by. The woman then feels good about doing a small favor for a fellow motorist (Roeper 35).
Ten minutes later, the woman is on a quiet side street when she realizes a car is riding her bumper. The car looked a lot like the vehicle she had signaled earlier. The car’s lights were off once again. This was not right (Roeper 35).
In her rearview mirror, the woman could make out the outlines of the driver and numerous passengers. All of the occupants were young black men wearing baseball caps and jackets. The woman began to get scared. She wondered why they were following her. A few minutes later, she found out. The car pulled up beside her, and the driver motioned for her to roll her window down. Hoping that the young men just wanted to tell her that she had a busted taillight or something she obeyed. Suddenly, the rear driver’s window rolled down and one of the young
men pointed a shotgun at the woman. He pulled the trigger before the woman even had a chance to scream. She was killed instantly. As they drove away, the driver said, “Your initiation is over, you are now in the gang (Roeper).”
The point of the story is not to let anyone know that their lights are off by flashing the car’s head lights. This could get someone killed (Roeper 36).
This Urban Legend is far from true. There is no record of this ever happening anywhere in the United States. No gang member would ever be stupid enough to do something like that. They have a lot more brains than what most people think (Roeper 37-38).
There is a form of racism in this Urban Legend. The victim is described as a “suburban woman,” which is assumed to be white. The attackers are “inner-city gangbangers,” which are assumed to be young black males. This story, like many others, preys on the fear that some whites have of black gang member or just blacks in general (Roeper 38).
“The Hook” is one of the oldest Urban Legends in circulation. In it a man, with a hook for one of his hands, has escaped from an insane asylum. It stems back to the late 1950s. This Urban Legend was well known among teenagers and college students both then and now. It will probably continue to be one of the most popular Urban Legends for many years to come (Brunvand 48-49).
Some Urban Legend became popular when they were published in Abigail Van Buren’s newspaper column. Others that surfaced in the sixties have been made more popular through the movies of today. A couple of these movies include “Urban Legends” and “Dead Man on Campus” (Roeper 38).
The movie “Urban Legends” is based on Urban Legends such as “The Roommates Death” and “The Killer in the Backseat” (Brunvand 58).
In “The Roommates Death,” two girls stay late at college over Christmas vacation. One had to wait for a late train, and the other wanted to go to a fraternity party. While they are waiting, both hearing knocking from the outside of the dorm. One girl thought it was her date for
the party and she went down. She never came back. Later that night the other girl hears scratching and gasping from down the hall. She became very frightened. She could not lock the door, so she locked herself in the closet. The next morning, she emerged from the closed to find that her roommate’s throat had been cut. If only the girl had opened the door, she could have saved her roommate (Brunvand 58).
“The Killer in the Backseat” is about a woman who was driving home late one night when she notices someone following her. Every time she would speed up, the car behind her would speed up also. This freighted the woman terrible, so she started running red lights to get away from him. That still did not work, he ran the red lights right behind her. When she finally arrived home, she noticed the car pull into her driveway behind her. She laid on the horn and her husband came out. He went to the man in the car and asked what was going on. The guy said, “I followed her because I noticed a man’s head bob down in the backseat. The husband went over, opened the door, and pulled out a guy from her backseat (Brunvand 52).
Another version of this legend involves a gas station attendant. The attendant sees the guy in the backseat and makes up a reason for the woman to get out of her car. Unfortunately, in the movie, the woman does not get away. She ends up driving away and the guy in the backseat kills her (Brunvand 52).
In the movie “Dead Man on Campus”, there are three guys who are roommates at college. Two of the guys find out that if their roommate commits suicide they will receive a four point grade point average for the semester. They decide to try to make their roommate insane enough to kill himself. Of course, they get their four point (Roeper 50).
That Urban Legend is the most ridiculous. There is not one college or university in the United States that would have a policy such as that (Roeper 50).
There are a few Urban Legend that are true. These took place in England where they were reported and printed in an English newspaper around the seventies. Two of these Urban Legends include “The Double Theft” and “The Packet of Biscuits (cookies)” (Choking 192-193).
In “The Double Theft,” a woman customer in a store goes to the restroom. She puts her purse on the floor beside her, and before she knows it someone has grabbed it. By the time she emerged the thief has escaped. She reports her loss to the shop manager, and returns home. A few hours later she receives a phone call from the store saying they found her purse. She returns to the store, but there is no bag and none of the staff had phoned her. Upon returning home again, she finds her keys in the lock of her door, and finds that her home has been burglarized (Choking 193).
“The Packet of Biscuits (cookies)” is about a traveler who buys a cup of tea and a packet of cookies in a dining car. The traveler sits at the same table as an colored man. The traveler begins drinking his tea and eating his cookies. The man that he is sitting with helps himself to one. The traveler, somewhat shaken, proceeds to take another cookie. The man across from him does the same. This continues until there is only one cookie left. The colored man then breaks it in two so it may be shared. The traveler gets angry, and yells at the man only to realize that his packet of cookies are still in his briefcase (Choking 192).
There is a racial prejudice implied in this Urban legend. Attention is called to the patience of the black man who is often despised and rejected. If a person were to do that in this country, whether they are black or white, they would probably regret it. Who knows, someone could even be killed over something like that in the United States (Choking 192).
Some people may think that Urban Legends are stupid and pointless. There are some that are, but they are just a form of entertainment like television or the Internet. There are a few Urban Legends that should not even be considered Urban Legends. There is one word to describe these Urban Legends, pointless (Choking 208).
One of these pointless Urban Legends is called “Dial 911 for Help.” In it, there is a family of seven that had practiced for fire drill so everyone would know what to do. They even had the emergency number posted by the phone. Their plan was for the father to take the baby
and two youngest children out of the house while the mother called the emergency number. After doing that, she was to take the other two older children and leave (Choking 209).
One night a fire woke them, the father did his part and was waiting on the neighbor’s lawn for the others. His wife did not come out. Finally, he ran back into the house to get her, but it was to late to get the two older children and they died in the fire (Choking 209).
The reason for this was in her hurry to call the emergency number, she could not find an eleven (911) on the dial. She tried over and over, but by the time she thought to call the operator the whole house was in flames and she was rescued by her husband (Choking 209).
There are no traditional themes in this story. This was just plain foolish behavior involving telephones and numbers. Some believe this Urban Legend to be true, but there is no substantial evidence to support it (Choking 209).
Arkansas even has Urban Legends of its own. Most of these are not very popular, especially in Arkansas, because they are intended to make fun of Arkansans. When these legends are told, they are told by Arkansans in a kind of confused resentment. There are very few outsiders of today that tell these tales (Masterson 1).
Arkansas legends are usually about backwood cabins and crossroad villages. Two French Captains created these Arkansas legends to arouse the wonder of transatlantic readers. These two captains told stories that made fun of how Arkansans lived, talked, and acted. The legends made Arkansas sound like a place where all of its inhabitants ran around barefoot with no sophistication at all (Masterson 15).
What they failed to mention was that the only real difference that Arkansas had was the was they spoke. This failure is what has made Arkansas look as though they are behind the rest of the country. In all reality, Arkansans are not really different than any other Americans (Masterson 15).
There is one Arkansas legend that talks about how everyone has double first names like “Billy Bob” or “Mary Sue.” In that same legend, it says that everyone in Arkansas is married to
their first cousin or their brother/sister. That legend is very old, but some outsiders still believe that it is true. Of course, this Urban Legend is not true in most cases (Masterson 16).
Some Urban Legends that circulated twenty or more years ago were told mostly by college students. These same Urban Legend are still circulating today, but they are being told by mostly high school students (Brunvand 52).
What is really ridiculous is most people believe all Urban Legends to be true, no matter how outrageous they sounds. Urban Legends will always be pasted down through the generations of believers and even non-believers for many years to come. They will just keep getting more interesting and more outrageous. No matter what, people of all ages will always want to sit down and enjoy a good Urban Legend.
Brunvand, Jan Harold. The Choking Doberman. New York, NY. W. W. Norton and Company, Inc. 1984.
Brunvand, Jan Harold. The Vanishing Hitchhiker. New York, NY. W. W. Norton and Company, Inc. 1981.
Masterson, James R. Arkansas Folklore. Little Rock, AR. Rose Publishing Co., Inc. 1974.
Mikkelson, Barbara and David P. Urban Legends Reference Pages. 29 April 1999
Roeper, Richard. Urban Legends. Franklin Lakes, NJ. The Career Press. 1999.
Urban Legends Research Centre. 20 Oct. 1999