“Did you hear about that one girl who died from spiders that made a nest of her hair?”
“Yeah, who could be so stupid as to not wash their hair?” As casual as this conversation may seem, it shows the power of urban legends at work. Although “The Beehive Hairdo (the urban legend which our pair of friends here are discussing) is no longer prevalent in culture and society, it still demonstrates an urban legend’s ability to modify, if not create, social ideals. Urban legends can be viewed as a societal tool, filling society’s need to spread morals, social values, and common knowledge. They are so perfectly suited for this role because of their ability to integrate themselves into our lives and discussions. Becoming aware of and studying urban legends can provide valuable insights into the current state of civilization and society as a whole (Brunvand 2).
Before looking at the meanings of urban legends, it may be necessary to first look at urban legends as a whole, divulging their anatomy and structure. Urban legends are a subset of oral folklore. While all forms of folklore share defining characteristics, urban legends are unique in many ways, several of which should be kept fresh in one’s mind throughout the reading of this essay. The first of these are the several elements an urban legend contains to make us more likely to remember and spread them throughout society. These are an interesting story, a moral or message, and a foundation in the beliefs of a target audience (Brunvand 10). Another important part of an urban legend is its ability to localize. This is the way in which urban legends adapt, often doing so based off of their performers. Despite the many variations resulting from this, there are always certai...
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...s life work. Regardless of what we may think an urban legend means, more important than this is the way that they can impact us, potentially re-wiring our brains (in a very literal manner). So, the next time you hear a story that’s from “a friend of a friend,” listen carefully, and you may be able to see the creation of a new society unfolding around you. After hearing them enough, you may start to tell them to friends of your own. Not purposefully, but out of casual connection. Out of instinct. This is the purpose of an urban legend, to become integrated in every part of our society, changing it all the while.
Brunvand, Jan Harold. The Vanishing Hitchhiker: American Urban Legends and Their Meanings. New York: Norton, 1981. Print.
Craughwell, Thomas J. Alligators in the Sewer: And 222 Other Urban Legends. New York: Black Dog & Leventhal, 1999. Print.