Net Gains: Have you heard the one about...?
Saturday 10 January 1998
I have a friend (a friend of a friend, actually) who insists there's a hospital in the US where the staff have placed weird objects on wardrobes in the hope that when a patient next has an out-of-body experience, he'll identify them when he returns to Earth. At least, that's what a friend of his who works there said.
This urban myth - I'm sure that's what it is - will no doubt soon find its way onto the Internet, which has become an old folks' home for this kind of story. I hope, incidentally, that you've been on the alert in recent weeks for the stuff that inevitably crawls into print, often via the Internet, at this time of year. (News is scarce over Christmas, and journalists' thoughts traditionally turn towards their web browsers.) The parable is: don't believe everything you read. And that goes especially for urban myth websites.
There are two kinds of urban legend: firstly there are the strange things that happened to "friends of friends", and then there are commonly "known" stories about celebrities; the one about the film star who went to hospital with a gerbil up his anus, for example. It's extraordinary, though, when you start looking around, how even the most recent stories turn out to be updated variations of (largely untrue) myths which have been around for decades.
These stories, which have been around for longer than the Internet, crop up in various forms again and again, inevitably involving mistaken identity, sex, or unbelievable coincidences. The best sites don't just recite them, but make some attempt to establish whether they are true, false or unverifiable, although whether this is good is another question. Collating, and debunking is all very well, but formalising their dissemination also robs them of some magic. It does, however, demonstrate how resilient good stories are. More than once, I've rattled off a creaky old urban myth to somebody, only for them to say to me: "No, that really happened to a friend of mine."
San Fernando Valley's Folklore page offers a particularly good list of Disney-related urban myths. I'll leave to you to find out if Disney cameramen really herded lemmings over a cliff to "demonstrate" that they commit suicide en masse, whether a disgruntled artist really painted a penis into the background of The Little Mermaid video cover, and if there really is a secret drinking club near the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland.
And, in the meantime, if you come across that old chestnut about haggises being creatures with two legs shorter than the others so they can run round and round mountains, my dad claims to have made that one up in Istanbul in the Sixties. So now you know.
An excellent place to start: plenty of urban myths, both classic and recent.
Another wide-ranging archive.
alt.folklore, alt.folklore.aromatherapy, alt.folklore.college, alt.folklore.computer, alt.folklore.gemstones, alt.folklore.herbs alt.folklore.ghost-stories, alt.folklore.info, alt.folklore.internet, alt.folklore.kooks, alt.folklore.military, alt.folklore.peterdubuque, alt.folklore.science, alt.folklore.suburban, alt.folklore.urban
The San Fernando Valley Folklore society's site includes an excellent archive of Disney and Coca Cola urban myths ("cokelore").
Life & Style blogs
Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time: 10 worst gadgets of recent times
The secret to a great sex life revealed: Two cups of coffee a day
New Zealand 'the best country to work as a prostitute', says sex worker advocacy group
What do the emoji on Snapchat mean?
Facebook status updates indicates whether a user is narcissistic or neurotic, research finds
As a white man, I'm surprised more women aren't tweeting the hashtag #KillAllWhiteMen
Scotland may have to leave the EU even if it votes to stay in, David Cameron confirms
The day that Britain resigned as a global power
Almost a third of school pupils believe 'Muslims are taking over our country', study claims
SNP fury as HS2 finds 'no business case' for taking fast train service to Scotland
Gay marriage 'Bert and Ernie' cake bakery found guilty of discrimination in Northern Ireland
- 1 Woman accidentally shoots herself in the head while posing for a selfie
- 2 Isis burns woman alive for refusing to engage in 'extreme' sex act, UN says
- 3 Puerto Rico, island of lost dreams: People are leaving the debt-hit territory in droves as near neighbour Cuba's star rises
- 4 Female Muay Thai champion hustles coaches to give them a beating
- 5 16-year-old girl beaten and burned alive by lynch mob in Rio Bravo, Guatemala
£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...
£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...
£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...