Guest Author - Michelle Roberti
It is not easy being an Urban Legend. For the most part many people immediately discredit them as being “too good to be true.” Both old folktales and Urban Legends are considered to be too improbable to be factual. However, it is just that fantastical element that makes an Urban Legend border on the line of “truthfulness.” Whether the same tale has its origin in a variety of different locations, or is told in a slightly different way makes no difference. Those are just minor elements. However, we must also keep in mind that the world is not that big that any number of us can’t experience something similar, even if it does sound “too good to be true. “
The Urban Legend and the folktale are cousins, so to speak. Whereas some Urban Legends lend themselves to society in the same general way a traditional cautionary folktale does, by encapsulating a “moral” or “warning,” other Urban Legends are merely reinventions of old tales. These “retooled" tales resurface once again in compliance with “modern society.” Others are nothing less than sheer bunk. Unfortunately most Urban Legends fall into the “bunk” category simply because they carry the word “legend” in their name. However, a person has free-will to speculate as to whether a tale is true, or not.
To debunk a legend of any kind is nearly impossible since they often can’t be traced back to an original source. Urban Legends, like traditional folk tales, are “second –hand” stories and are often told as having happened to a “friend of a friend”, or FOAF. It is via FOAF that this “news” is spread. (People love to talk, especially when it is about something unusual.) Hence an Urban Legend seems to materialize, and the materialization itself is an indication that an Urban Legend or folktale must have had some roots buried somewhere in the truth.
A legend shouldn’t be considered untrue because it’s untraceable. Many small towns across the United States commemorate their “legend” by placing a marker. For others, perhaps the object itself (for instance a bridge) is testimony to a particular Urban Legend. To discredit their observance because the story seems fictional is doing the residents who believe a great disservice.
We shouldn’t discount a legend as being untrue because of its strangeness; for who hasn’t experienced something that “others just won’t believe?” That’s the beauty of an Urban Legend. There are many factors to take into consideration before readily dismissing whether a story has actually happened. Let’s consider this: the tales possibility and probability. Here is a condensed version:
Woman (A) pulls her car into a spot at the supermarket. (Its summertime and seasonably hot outside.) She notices the woman (B) in the next car is bent over the steering wheel, one hand on the back of her head. Woman (A) is slightly concerned about this woman’s position, but thinks it’s better to mind her own business. After she shops and returns to her car she takes notice once again that woman (B) is in the same exact position. Woman (A) determines that “this can’t be good” and opens the car door. Woman (B) tells her that she has been shot in the head and her brains are oozing out. Woman (A) immediately goes for help. Help arrives and after checking the woman out discover she had not been shot by a gun after all, but rather “shot” by the lid of a “pressurized” dough can. As for her brains that were “oozing out” –nothing more than dough that was sticky and stuck to her head. It was discovered that the poor woman was in that position for over an hour! Everyone had a great chuckle and moved on…and so did the story via the many routes of FOAF.
I came across this story in two ways. The first way was by Jan Harold Brunvand’s “Too Good To Be True” anthology on Urban Legends where I paraphrased the story. The second way was via the Internet, where I found the story again. Did this Urban Legend really happen? It supposedly did, to a woman named Betty from Tulsa, Oklahoma. The versions are slightly different, but the story is the same.
One thing to take into consideration when hearing an Urban Legend is whether it is probable. Is Betty’s incident probable? One would think not. If so, then dough cans would be exploding all the time under hot conditions. A certain blemish on the manufacturer’s reputation. However, since most bizarre stories such as this defy probability (for that’s what makes them unusual) is the story plausible? Of course it is! It is possible when certain factors are taken into consideration. To dismiss it because of its unlikely probability is an infraction to the truthfulness of Betty’s mishap. After all the truth is stranger than fiction.
Despite they’re compact sizes Urban Legends shouldn’t be discredited. Their lack of length is part of the allure in making them easy to tell and pass along. Minor differences, like settings and names, bear little meaning so long as the story is the same.
So let’s give the Urban Legend the benefit of the doubt and show it a little respect.