Here’s a familiar scene, a group of people out in the night sitting by a campfire. One of them has a flashlight in his hands, and he shines it up at his chin, illuminating his face in a pale, white glow. He lowers his voice as he begins to tell a story, beginning with “it was a day like any other day”. This familiar re-telling of spooky stories was a bit of a pastime for us. And no stories got circulated in this fashion more than urban legends.
Despite the name, urban legends are not confined to an urban setting. Rather, the term “urban legend” is a slang term for “contemporary folklore” or “contemporary legend”, as the experts prefer to call it. You know the type, those tales told by a friend who insists it happened to a “friend of a friend” who is then either identified by first name only or not at all. It’s like when Fry from Futurama insists that there are alligators in the sewer. He says that its true because his “friend’s cousin’s case worker saw one once”.
Urban legends are those stories that are told as if they were true, when the reality is that their truthfulness is debatable. Personally, I feel like the vast majority of them are false. They are told or written with very little specific detail, which strikes me as a way to dodge efforts to confirm the story. Nevertheless, these stories are prevalent in modern culture, due to their aspects of horror, mystery, and occasionally humor. Many of them also take the tone of cautionary tales, such as the “Kidney Heist” story, where someone goes to a party and after heavy drinking passes out, only to wake up in a bathtub full of ice with stitches on their side. Soon enough they realize that, you guessed it, one of their kidneys is gone. Such tales are common, and will slightly change to better fit the time and place.
I have a book chock full of urban legends somewhere at home written by Jan Brunvand, a professor from the University of Utah. These urban legends were of great fascination to me when I was younger, despite the fact that I never really believed them (it’s the same with ghosts and the paranormal, something I touched on in my very first blog post). I remember I used to retell the stories in the book to friends of mine at school (without the “friend of a friend” business of course). I simply found them to be interesting and engaging. And their popularity hasn’t waned in recent years. More to the point, they simply evolved.
The internet has developed its own breed of urban legends, such as those chain emails that tell you about some horrible thing happening in your area. Or there are those chain comments that say “re-post this on X amount of pages/videos or you’ll die in X amount of time”. But more frequently, and more intriguingly, are those tales which are known as “creepypastas”. Creepypasta stories are internet horror stories that are circulated in a similar way to urban legends. They are designed to explicitly shock or unnerve a reader, and are typically much more supernatural in nature. It got its name from “copypasta”, an internet slang term for a block of text that gets copied and pasted over and over again from website to website. In much the same vein as urban legends, creepypastas are written as if they were true, usually happening to the person telling the story or happening to someone close to them.
The most notable example of a creepypasta (and something that I’m sure many of the internet-fluent are familiar with) is the Slenderman. The Slenderman originated from a picture contest on Something Awful, and has since grown in popularity. The Slenderman is a demonic-type entity who appears with abnormally long limbs and has no face. He is usually depicted as wearing a black suit and tie. The story commonly goes that he appears only in photograph form, stalking his victims (who are almost always children). The impact of Slenderman has been so great that two girls in Wisconsin tried to stab another girl to death because they believed that if they did they would become his disciples. This case shows just how much the Slenderman myth has spread since its inception. It’s one of those rare cases where something made up got spread around long enough that people started to believe it. The story became the myth became the legend.
Whether or not you believe in any of these urban legend type stories, it cannot be disputed that they have their effects on our culture. They are often used as a practical joke or a game in an attempt to frighten people. Sure, we may not hear the story of the hook hand, the story of the kidney heist, or the story of the babysitter getting strange and threatening calls much or at all anymore, but urban legends have not died. They are still around. They evolved like any organism would, adapting to suit the conditions of their time and the area they reside in. They live on in new forms in new ways with new details.
It’s true what they say: legends never die.
And that’s all I have for this week. Before I go I would like to recommend a Youtube series to you called Seriously Strange. It’s a video series by a man named Rob Dyke, and it covers a lot of creepy and weird things, sometimes delving into stories involving the fantastic and the supernatural (see the Haunted Dolls episode as an example). It’s a well done series that’s perfect for those fans of horror and urban legends, those who like reading about mysteries and all things weird.
Well I’ll see you next Wednesday with another post. Until then, have a great week.