Who starts Urban Legends?

James_H

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#1
Urban Legends are passed on Friend-Of-A-Friend style, presumably mainly by people who genuinely believe that they happened to a friend of their friend.

They also mirror fears, archetypes, etc - as we are all well aware.

But the chain has to start somewhere - are there some incredibly knowing pranksters out there, who go around telling their friends how their aunt had such-and-such a thing happen to them, for the sheer craic of it?

How do ULs generate? Do they come spontaneously out of the bedrock?
 
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#4
George Orwell pondered the whole issue of rumours, how they started and spread, especially during wartime. He decided to start a rumour that beer was going to be rationed and see if the rumour got back to him. By the last mention of the subject in his WWII diaries he hadn't heard it back.
 

OneWingedBird

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#5
maybe it's confabulation... people repeat something they think they heard from a foaf even if they didn't?
 

James_H

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#6
ramonmercado said:
George Orwell pondered the whole issue of rumours, how they started and spread, especially during wartime. He decided to start a rumour that beer was going to be rationed and see if the rumour got back to him. By the last mention of the subject in his WWII diaries he hadn't heard it back.
Was thinking about this. I was plotting with a friend to start a non-specific rumour among my group of friends, and see where it went, and who it got ascribed to.
 

Timble2

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#7
I suspect sometimes that a UL is based loosely on a news story or even a piece of fiction, that gets half-remembered, passed on as gossip and then grows in the telling.

I've tried the starting stories thing (not on this board before the mods attack ;)), but never had one take off.

As for where jokes come from, there's a short SF story (IIRC Asimov), where it's discovered that jokes are created by aliens, who are studying the human race, as a sort of test program for the human brain...
 
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#8
Yes!!! But then when humans work out that its a study it ceases. Suddenly no one can think of a joke anymore...
 

poozler

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#10
My theory about how urban legends 'begin': the first time someone changes ONE detail of a story he or she has heard, an urban legend has begun. For example, change 'I read in the paper ..' to 'A friend told me ...'; or 'Near the town where I used to live ..' to 'the town next to mine...'. People love to tell stories to entertain others. It stands to reason that they also love to embellish and personalize. I can't think of anyone I know who has not, in some way, altered a story told to them.
 

wembley8

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#11
Poozler - That sounds about right.

It's all about memes; a story can mutate every times it is told by the teller changing any given detail. If the mutation makes it more 'contagious', that version spreads more. Unsucessful stories die out. Mutations like happening more recently or closely (eg friend of a friend rather than something you read in the paper), and being more ghoulish or bizarre or funny, make legends work better.

Family legends - which are invariably not-exactly-true at best - seem to propagate the same way. The only stories which can survive 50 years are the ones that tinkering has made more appealing.
 

rynner2

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#12
wembley8 said:
Poozler - That sounds about right.

....

Family legends - which are invariably not-exactly-true at best - seem to propagate the same way. The only stories which can survive 50 years are the ones that tinkering has made more appealing.
We live in a web of lies...

A bit like the WWW, then! 8)
 

Quake42

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#13
My theory about how urban legends 'begin': the first time someone changes ONE detail of a story he or she has heard, an urban legend has begun. For example, change 'I read in the paper ..' to 'A friend told me ...'; or 'Near the town where I used to live ..' to 'the town next to mine...'. People love to tell stories to entertain others. It stands to reason that they also love to embellish and personalize. I can't think of anyone I know who has not, in some way, altered a story told to them.
Research has shown that people bring the subject of the story one step closer to them, so a FOAF becomes a friend etc. So the archetypical FOAF is actually a FOAFOAF.
 

amarok2005

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#14
My Jan Harold Brunvandt books are in storage, but I seem to recall him tracing one story back to its source: A person locked in a meat freezer and nearly frozen solid before being found. The original "victim" said the door to said freezer was "stuck for a couple of minutes."

He was also sent a report by someone trying to start a FOAF. This concerned a videotape of the Spielberg movie Always, in which Richard Dreyfuss' character dies and tries to affect the physical world from beyond. According to the pseudo-FOAF, after the film ended, the tape showed "snow", and suddenly Dreyfuss' ghostly image appeared and gave the viewer a message about some relative dying or being in dire trouble. Apparently the artificial FOAF didn't catch on.

The mention of half-remembered fictional story or news article started me thinking: Maybe the earliest listeners to the UL also sort-of kind-of half remember the original story and take that as proof that the UL is true -- so they pass on the UL (rather than go to the library stacks to research it -- like I would. :) ).
 

LordRsmacker

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#15
H_James said:
ramonmercado said:
George Orwell pondered the whole issue of rumours, how they started and spread, especially during wartime. He decided to start a rumour that beer was going to be rationed and see if the rumour got back to him. By the last mention of the subject in his WWII diaries he hadn't heard it back.
Was thinking about this. I was plotting with a friend to start a non-specific rumour among my group of friends, and see where it went, and who it got ascribed to.
I tried this. I started a rumour in town that I had a 12" cock. So far no-one has got back to me about it, but I have been called a complete tool from time to time, perhaps that's just embellishment (I'm 5' 9"). :D
 

barfing_pumpkin

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#16
I think I can make an interesting point on this, having inadvertantly set off a foaftale many years ago. Sadly, it was highly localised, but taken as a sample, it could shed some insight.

Anyway, I was working in an MOD establishment (NOT as a secret agent, as one decidedly paranoid UFO author came to believe, but as a mere wages clerk) and the office discussion of the day somehow got round to lesbians. Please note that there were women in the group too, so the fellas could not really work in the topic of what they had seen in certain films; the commentary, in fact, had to be fairly tame in tone.

Before I continue, a disclaimer: I was only seventeen - what else would you expect me to say?

Some young lady piped up about the fact that lesbians cannot have penetrative sex. A truism, I thought - until inspiration hit me:

"Depends if you got a cucumber handy, though, dunnit?"

As I said - I was only seventeen.

The girl who raised the point turned away in disgust. The chaps mused abstracedly for a moment, then went back to work. And then one particularly strange lady - let's call her Clarissa, just in case - fled the office, crying.

Seriously. She was that strange. She had reputation for it. The office leading hand informed me that she was very sensitive, and I should not have made the remark about cucumbers. Not in front of her, anyway.

Six months or so pass...

Coming back into work after a liquid lunchtime (I was eighteen by then, so it was allowed) meself and some of my office mates were accosted by one of the dockies (as opposed to dockers, who only work in civilian yards) from the other end of the establishment (and it was a big establishment, too - a good several miles square, at least) who raised the subject of Clarissa. "What happened with her and the cucumber sandwiches, then?" he asked? Clearly, he meant my remark - which we'd all pretty much forgotten about by then - and we explained the situation to him. How the story had ended up being about 'Clarissa and the cucumber sandwiches' as opposed to 'Clarissa and what somebody said about a cucumber' is anyone's guess. But it does leave me wondering if the Chinese Whisper explanation - that a relatively ordinary story can auto-confabulate into something more foaf-ish - has something going for it.

Alas, being three sheets to the wind at the time, I cannot recall the particulars of the 'cucumber sandwiches' story itself.
 

escargot

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#17
Using a cucumber - kinky.
Using a cucumber sandwich - downright weird! :lol:
 

GNC

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#18
I find it hard to believe any woman has actually used a cucumber in an intimate manner, but if they did, wouldn't they have to heat it up in a microwave or something first? They're pretty cold vegetables and I can't imagine they'd be all that comfortable straight out of the fridge.

Yeah, I know, it's one for the Weird Sex thread...
 

wembley8

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#21
gncxx said:
I find it hard to believe any woman has actually used a cucumber in an intimate manner
Try googling it.

I'm not about to, but I'd be amazed if there aren't a stack of video hits.
 

GNC

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#22
wembley8 said:
gncxx said:
I find it hard to believe any woman has actually used a cucumber in an intimate manner
Try googling it.

I'm not about to, but I'd be amazed if there aren't a stack of video hits.
I'd rather not, the very idea of it gives me the heebie-jeebies.
 

MrRING

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#23
H_James said:
Who starts Urban Legends?
Randolph "Vlendy" Edwards of 56 Chensworth Lane, Toxteth.





*note: this is a possible origin to a future IL. In 10 years time, this may well be the word on the street about where Urban Legends come from.

*note 2: Or not.
 

IvanVolle

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#24
Here's an interesting article on the subject of common beer myths. The one with the most relevance to this thread is number 4: Corona contains urine. Not true it turns out (though having once drunk the stuff, I leaned toward it being true), apparently the story was started by a rival beer company to damage Corona sales.

So there you go, that's how one urban legend got started.

The rest of the beer myths:
http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/herocom ... -back.html

snopes.com on the Corona myth:
http://www.snopes.com/horrors/food/corona.asp
 

Lanark_And_Rima

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#25
Some UL's (or at least L's) can of course be traced to definite(-ish) sources, whether the original author set out to start a legend (Robert Rankin's Brentford Griffin) or not (the Angel of Mons).



And on the subject of :

H_James said:
I make up jokes. :)

I did set myself the challenge one day of "improving" a Jimmy Carr gag about women being like buses (original punchline: "...no, those women are like buses") with a new ending. After hours of sweat and toil, the result:

"Why are women like buses?"
"They're difficult to mount in a wheelchair."

I'll get my coat now.
 

wembley8

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#26
barfing_pumpkin said:
How the story had ended up being about 'Clarissa and the cucumber sandwiches' as opposed to 'Clarissa and what somebody said about a cucumber' is anyone's guess.
One unsubstanatiated and wildly speculative guess - unbeknownst to you, she always brought in cucumber sandwiches for lunch. Some of her colleagues knew about it, so your 'cucumber' joke looked that it was aimed at her.

It may not be true, but it explains everything wonderfully, and isn't that the idea?

Besides, I got to use 'unbeknowst'...
 
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