Urban Legends: Fact vs. "Fact"
For hundreds of years, various folklore and local legends have been prime subjects of human intrigue and fascination. Over the past century, such folklore has been dubbed "Urban Legend." Also referred to as contemporary or modern legends, urban legends have become sources of education, entertainment, and explanations. What often starts as a mere rumor can potentially develop into an urban legend; a tale which attains this status somehow gains "truthfulness," subscribed believers, and occasional media attention. But what causes these jokes or rumors to obtain such widespread belief? What determines the validity or fallacy of an urban legend, and how are the fictitious distinguished from the factual? These are just a few of the questions which arise in interpreting today's urban legends. While pin-pointing a single source of a particular urban legend is improbable and near impossible, the cause of a legend's survival is due to its lively and "factual" content.
Subsequently, urban legends are spread far and wide due to the fact that their subject matter--usually death, injury, tragedy, danger, or scandal--is of extraordinary human interest; and while urban legends are essentially unverified by credible sources (government agencies, police, news media, etc.), their attention to detail and appeal to close relation to the speaker (friend of a friend) creates a heightened sense of truth to all who hear them.
Urban legends are often characterized by their bizarre nature of subject matter and their ability to convince the reader or listener that the account is a truthful one. Many times, an urban legend is accompanied with some sort of precaution or moral in an attempt to protect the well-being or dignity of the recipient of the tale. Dr. Jan Harold Brunvand, a former professor of English at the University of Utah and author...