Urban Legends Research Assignment Templates

Urban Legends

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Urban Legends

     The subject of this report focuses on the phenomenon known as Urban Legend. Urban Legend, henceforth referred to as UL, is well known in the arena of folklore and other sorts of stories passed down through generations; however, it is relatively new to the world of literary composition as a legitimate genre to be analyzed and studied in texts by experts of literature. In fact, if it had to be labeled, UL would be considered a sub-genre of folklore by many of the experts. These stories are known as "modern oral folklore - typically a tall tale with a frisson of comeuppance of horror, related as having actually happened to a 'friend of a friend'" (Clute & Grant, 1997). UL is also considered to be very similar to myth and fantasy.

I originally became very interested in this phenomenon after seeing the film Urban Legend several years ago. My curiosity on the subject matter was rekindled when Stacey Burleson presented on "Legend" in our class. To be quite honest, I did not realize that UL was considered as being part of a genre of literature until Ms. Burleson's presentation. This newfound interest in the subject, as well as a desire to dig beyond the surface of the subject matter, is the reason I chose this topic. In doing this research, I realized that I have been participating in UL's every since I was a young boy. The simple fact that I never used the term "urban legend" is why I thought I was so unfamiliar with this subject area. During my childhood, my family and peers always referred to these legends as "campfire stories". It was not until college, when I saw the previously mentioned movie, that I associated the term with the countless stories I had heard and told to others.

According to Jan Harold Brunvand, considered by many to be the leading expert in the field of UL and fantasy folklore, UL's are "stories that are too good to be true. And are events that happen to a friend of a friend, or 'FOAF'."(Brunvand, 1999). Also, most of the time, the stories are told in such a believable manner because the storytellers themselves believe the story, or at least the probability that the actions in the stories could take place.

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Urban Legends         Subject Matter         Young Boy         Experts         Folklore         Heard         Arena        

The popularity of these tales is contributed to the familiarity of the audience to the format of the story. By that I mean that the characters in an UL are usually common, everyday people and the settings are very realistic - a house, a car, a hotel, shopping mall, etc. Those are places that everyone has been and everyone can relate to.

As popular as they are, and as much as narrators want to make believers of their audiences with these gruesome tales, the possibility of absolute truth in UL in next to impossible. The experts point out that, in the great majority of UL, the stories are just too neatly plotted to be believable. Nothing is extraneous, and every minute detail is relevant and focused on the conclusion (Brunvand, 1999). Another factor to the improbability of truth in UL is the countless duplications of a particular story. Human recreation of a spoken language is destined to be consumed with inconsistencies. The settings are changed, the stories are rearranged for association, the characters are slightly altered, etc. All of these things occur in the phenomenon known as UL for effect; yet all keep the same basic story-line, and they all still happen to the "friend of a friend" - not very likely. The following are some excerpts concerning the manned space program from one of my sources (Brunvand, 1999) to illustrate this point.

* Was it, as one 1978 source claimed, Apollo 15 astronaut David Scott who remarked about his thoughts before launch, "You just sate there thinking that this piece of hardware had 400,000 components, all of them built by the lowest bidder"?

* Or was it Walter Schirra who, according to a 1980 report, phrased the idea, "Just think, Wally, everything that makes this thing go was supplied by the lowest bidder"?

* Or was it really Gus Grissom who posed the quip as a question, according to a 1973 source: "How would you feel, taking off, sitting up there on top of fifty thousand parts, knowing that every one had been let to the lowest bidder?"

Experts are very quick to point out that fact or fiction does not define UL. The concept of UL lives in the oral variation through repetition of the same story. No one is for sure which, if any, of those astronauts made the comment in the stories mentioned above. It may have been someone totally different that first said it, or it may be an ongoing joke in the astro-aeronautical community used to excite interviewers. No matter who exactly said it or the exact circumstances they were in, the story has been told over and over has been changed and rearranged many times; yet it is as comical today as it was twenty-five years ago.

My research uncovered several characteristics of UL that I was not aware of prior to this report. I thought that all UL stories were limited to revolting, horrific, tales of murder and misery. Even though most of them are scary, many UL can be humorous, romantic, and/or enlightening. I think the popularity of the horrific, gruesome UL's is similar to the popularity of "tragedies" in more traditional literature. There seems to be an insatiable need in the human psyche for the occurrence of suffering and/or destruction of other human beings.

Whether the intended effect is that of insight or horror by the narrator, UL has a vital significance in our society as a means of communication and bonding from one generation to the next. Whether it is an old man at the park telling stories of hideous creatures running loose in the city to anyone who will listen, or whether it is your great-grandfather telling the story to you and your friends over a camp fire in the middle of the woods about the escaped convict with a steel hook for a hand being somewhere in the area, UL will always be a popular form off communication and will pass the test of time. I highly recommend the Brunvand book on my bibliography mainly because of the astonishing number of UL's that the book contains. Defining a UL is one thing, but the most enjoyable part of this research was getting to read many of the examples. Many people will find that they have heard many of these stories before, or similar variations, and did not even realize they were dealing with Urban Legend. As a teacher, I plan to involve UL much more in my lesson plans for the upcoming school year to help the students associate the terminology of the experts to the stories they have heard since early childhood. This project was very helpful in my understanding of UL and I hope I have shed some new light on it for others as well.

Works Cited

Brunvand, Jan Harold. Too Good to Be True: The Colossal Book of Urban Legends. NY: Norton, 1999.

Clute, John and John Grant. The Encyclopedia of Fantasy. NY: Saint Martin's Press, 1997.

Legends. The Phenomenon of Urban Legend, Retrieved June 29, 2000 from Yahoo Search Engine: keyword legend on the World Wide Web. HYPERLINK: http://www.legends.dm.net/index.html

Urban Legends. Definition of Urban Legend, Encyclopedia Encarta Retrieved July 1, 2000 from America On Line (AOL) Search Engine: keyword folklore on the WorldWide Web. HYPERLINK: http://www.encarta.msn.com

Все звонки принимались единственным оператором на двенадцатиканальный терминал Коренсо-2000. Телефонистка, державшая трубку у уха, мгновенно поднялась и поклонилась, увидев босса. - Садитесь! - рявкнул Нуматака. Она опустилась на стул. - В четыре сорок пять ко мне на личный телефон поступил звонок.

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