We have all heard of strange and gory stories that are supposedly true, experienced by a friend of a friend. Whether true or not these so called “urban legends” tend to circulate throughout society thriving on each individual’s fears and curiosity. What most people don’t realize is, within these tales lies the attitudes and values of a community. These tales do not survive throughout the years solely on the basis of their entertainment level, but due to the fact that they reflect society’s fears and anxieties. In dissecting these tales one can indefinitely find the social fallacy against females that has existed for decades, as well as the fears women have against men. However, more importantly, the values that society hold are hidden within. Throughout these tales the idea that society values life and the sexual innocence of a female has proven to be a frequently manifested and completely pervasive underlying theme.
Stories that continuously circulate throughout our community often times are
horrendous in nature, yet believable and realistic enough such that a reader or listener can connect with it.
When Jane went to the store and returned to her car to find an old lady inside, she went to get help. It was a good thing too because the old lady was actually a man who had a machete hidden in the back seat.
Source: Amy Chermack oral presentation.
Now this story probably stirred up many people because it is reasonably sound and shocking. However looking beyond the surface, one notices subtle innuendoes about females, males, and violence. In this urban legend, females are portrayed as weak, frightful, and na?ve. Jane in seeking help from a male, suggest that she is weak and needed a man to protect her. This deceptive portrayal of females is typical because this is in fact how society has viewed females for decades. How often does one hear sexual violence inflicted on a man? Not very often, because it is uncommon. Males are accepted to be able to protect themselves against such crimes, because they are strong physically and mentally. This tale also implies that females often play the role of the victim while males are the perpetrator of these violent crimes. The predator male seeks and stalks its innocent female prey. If Jane was a man then the story would seem less frightening and interesting. However she is a female whose antagonist is a demented and neurotic male, thus greater fear and anxiety is created. This dominant attitude, though sexist, is a recurring theme that has existed in our society for centuries and continues to prevail till this day.
The theme of violence is a popular route for most urban legends. Violence can mean the threat of one’s life to the threat of one’s innocence. Society dearly values life, whether due to religious or cultural influences life is sacred and precious. Thus when hearing of others life threatening stories it gets the heart racing. That could happen to me. This connection is immediate because it asks for no suspension of belief. That is, it is very possible that the tale has some truth to it and that the actions of the tale are quite believable, distinct, and real.
At two in the morning when Susan got home from a party she realized that she had a midterm the morning. In getting her books she tripped in the dark because she didn’t want to wake her roommate up. The next day she finds cops everywhere and discovers her roommate’s bloody body where she had tripped last night and a note on the bathroom mirror that read: AREN’T YOU GLAD YOU DIDN’T TURN ON THE LIGHTS?
Source: Cousin who heard it from a friend of a friend.
This story sends chills to readers and listeners alike because the message at the end is surprisingly shocking and frightening. The death of the roommate is definitely a wake-up call for college students, especially those who are females and are alone. It is noticeable that this tale also implies that females are weak and again the victim. One should definitely note the fact that the tale never distinguished whether the perpetrator is a male or a female. Without any indication about the sex of the perpetrator, the audience assumes that it is indeed a male. This assumption clearly shows society’s attitudes towards males and females.
The threat to a female’s sexual innocence has also been a cause for major concerns, fears, and reforms in our world. We as a culture, has valued the virginity of females since the beginning of civilization. When Jane or Susan is figured to be threatened by a male figure, automatically fears of possible sexual violation arises. The sacredness of a female’s virginity is reflected in these tales through the use of implications. There is no real description of the action that takes place however, it is implied and assumed that when a male seeks to do harm to a female it is often through sexual violation or annihilation.
The fear of sexual violation against females have generated much concern and fear. However generating much more anger and fear now is the sexual violation of a child. Not only is the child’s virginity a major concern but the innocence of youth is violated.
When little Jenny was left home alone that night she heard a drip-drip sound in her bathroom and it scared her. She let her collie lick her hand and that made her feel better. The next morning her dog was found hung in the bathroom with a note that read, “HUMANS CAN LICK TOO!”
Source: Mary and Herbert Knapp’s One Potato, Two Potato, (1976)
This sickening tale sends shivers along one’s spine because it is perverted and utterly grotesque. The little girl so sweet and innocence is targeted by a perverse man (it is assumed) who preys on her sweetness. For example, we as the audience, at first, finds the girl to be very sweet because in fear she searches for comfort in her dog. The man turns this act into a grotesque one because the audience discovers that the dog is dead and that her hand was being licked by a perverted man. This could symbolize the whole act of act of intercourse, a beautiful experience, but when one is violated the act becomes sick and intercourse is no longer seen as beautiful, but dirty. This tale has recently surfaced because the rise in sexual offenses against our youth is rapidly increasing.
Urban legends often times provide us with a glimpse of the real world. From the sick and neurotic to the innocent and young, societies attitudes and concerns are portrayed within these tales. These attitudes, fears, views and concerns arise due to the strong values society embraces. These “urban legends” should not only serve to entertain, but to further enlighten an individual’s understanding of society.