How Urban Legends Work
BY Tom Harris
Tom Harris has come up with a number of definitions for urban legend. To me, a legend must be a story, with characters and some sort of plot. Others lump widely dispersed misinformation into the urban-legend category. For example, the erroneous belief that you will automatically pass all of your college courses in a semester if your roommate kills himself is generally considered to be an urban legend.
While these "facts" don't always have the narrative elements of traditional legend, they are passed from person to person and frequently have the elements of caution, horror or humor found in legends. Particular urban legends may be spread either as fact or as a story. For example, someone could tell you that there are giant alligators in New York's sewers, or he could tell you a riveting story about a group of kids who stumbled upon such an animal. The methods of passing urban legends have evolved over time. In the past 10 years, there has been a huge surge of urban legends on the internet. The most common venue is forwarded e-mail.. This storytelling method is unique because usually the story is not reinterpreted by each person who passes it on. A person simply clicks the "Forward" icon in their e-mail and types in all his friends' e-mail addresses. Having the original story gives e-mail legends a feeling of legitimacy. You don't know the original author, but they are speaking directly to you.