“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 certain motifs, or plot events, present. Rather than serving to modify the underlying messages, this act of localization serves to give an urban legend more basis in actual belief or relation to a specific location. The last, and perhaps most important, common trait of these urban legends is their pervasive nature. By ensuring many events and localizations, connections are created between the urban legends people hear and the world around them. With casual tones and a deep settlement in memory (many connections are often created, firing more synaptic pathways), urban legends maximize their chance of being told time and time again, something they depend on. All of these factors combine to create stories that can have a profound affect on the audience.
An example of such an urban legend is “The Hook,” an urban legend that appears to have risen in the late 1950’s. The base story elements and plot motifs generally involve a young couple that choose to go to a “lover’s lane.” While there they hear a broadcast on the news about an escaped convict with a hook for a hand. After becoming scared they drive off, to the home of the girlfriend (the boyfriend often angry). As he goes around the car to let out his companion, he sees the...