January 21, 2010

No more urban legends?

Since the crime wave ended in the early 1990s, there haven't been many new urban legends -- the scary friend-of-a-friend tales, not a bunch of tiresome internet rumors. Jan Brunvand, the folklorist who popularized urban legends over several decades, has remarked that he sensed a decline in their popularity since the 1990s, although he attributed it to the rise of the internet. After all, you can fact-check on the web to see if an urban legend is true or not. I doubt that, since plenty of people told you it was "just a stupid story" and "obviously fake" before the internet. Snopes.com might have a more credible reputation, but not by much compared to your peers. I mean, really -- who are you gonna trust?

But his assessment of the health of urban legends still sounds right to me. I flipped through his most recent compilation to see what dates were attached, and there's hardly anything from the post-crime-drop period, aside from some silly email chain letters and internet rumors. It makes sense functionally: when the danger level plummets, you don't feel such a great need to tell cautionary tales, and you aren't so receptive to hearing about them. What would be the point? Getting worked up over some ghost stories -- that's, like, so gay.

We saw before that not only are kids not making up new kissing games, but they aren't even carrying on the tradition of the old ones. They're not making up new urban legends -- OK. But are they even keeping the old ones alive? I spent a fair amount of time around teenagers as a tutor and never heard anything like that, or else I would've chimed in and said that's only an urban legend. Of course, it's not a commonplace activity, so I could've easily not been around them when they did. Still, I've never heard my undergrad friends tell any, or spread them via Facebook, or overhear them at nightclubs where under-21 people hang out. You certainly don't see any cultural products aimed at them which feature urban legends. The last case of that was the 1998 movie Urban Legend, but that was geared toward teenagers and older audiences, not to Millennials (who were born at the earliest in 1987).

We ran a test before about how many under-25 people who read this blog had heard of the various kissing games like Seven Minutes in Heaven. How many of the following have you heard in-person, told orally -- not something you read about on your own at Wikipedia or Snopes?

1) Guy has a wild night, wakes up in a bathtub full of ice, and finds out his kidney has been surgically removed and the thief long gone.

2) Woman with elaborate and gross hair-do goes to hospital complaining about head pains, and doctors find a nest of baby spiders inside her hair.

3) Guy drinks soda and Pop Rocks at the same time, and his stomach explodes. (If younger people have heard this, I assume the anachronistic Pop Rocks has since been replaced with something else.)

4) Girl places tuna in her vagina for her boyfriend to eat out, but he doesn't get it all out and some days later she finds maggots up in there.

5) Closing your eyes and chanting "Bloody Mary" several times at a mirror in the dark will summon a ghost by that name when you open your eyes.

6) Customer at Wendy's takes a big bite into chicken sandwich, and white goopy stuff squirts out -- turns out it's not mayonnaise but a tumor that he bit into.

7) While trick-or-treating, children get apples that have razor-blades hidden inside.

8) Evil-doers run up to unsuspecting pedestrians and stick them with a syringe that has HIV.

9) Girl masturbates with raw hot-dog, but it breaks and most gets stuck far up inside her vagina. This occasionally featured the "maggots later on" detail, and I don't recall there being a stock answer for how she got it out. (There's probably a true case of this happening, but that doesn't mean it's not a folktale.)

10) Young girl is driving around while a killer waits hiding in the back seat of her car.

11) Babysitter is terrorized by lewd or gory phone calls and reports them to the police, who tell her they're coming from a room upstairs inside the house.

Those are just a few of the more popular ones as I recall them. I just wonder how many of these tales the Millennials have heard from someone in person, and who told the story as though they believed it themselves, or at least were credulous -- and where you too at least found it plausible, even if you didn't fully buy it.


  1. Wade Nichols1/21/10, 1:58 PM

    My favorite from my youth (almost 30 years ago!) - Rod Stewart had to get his stomache pumped from drinking a gallon of semen! At one of his concerts, they passed around a jar.....and you can figure out the rest!

    My friend and I used to joke about this one, since whenever you heard the tale, it got larger and larger - "I heard it was a mayonnaise jar"; "No, I heard it was a gallon container!"; "Well I heard it was a 55 gallon oil drum full of semen!"


    Does this story still float around today, but with whoever the current flavor of the month is - Justin Timberlake, Chris Brown?

  2. I've heard #5, #7, #9, #10, and #11. But I can't recall ever hearing them from younger people I know. The last two are both tales from the "Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark" trilogy (or more?) that was popular in the early nineties, when I was in elementary school.

  3. "some days later she finds maggots up in there"

    Dude, this really happened to my friend.

  4. Wade...in my youth Alanis Morissette was the subject of the legend you mention. It got grosser when you realized some of it probably came from Taylor Hawkins.

  5. The only urban legend you listed that I have heard from my friends was #5, when I was in Year 6 which be in 1999. All the other legends I have learned of were usually from movies, documentaries, etc.


  6. Girl places tuna in her vagina for her boyfriend to eat out

    Sorta redundant.


  7. I've distinctly remembered the spiders, bloody Mary, HIV, phone call ones passed around as a kid around the mid almost til the late nineties, which would probably be the last generation of kids growing up before internet use became popular.

  8. The young girl traffic with a killer in the back seat actually happened to a girl named Katina Moyer in Amarillo Texas


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