1. According to Bruvand how are legends, rumors, and anecdotes "alike"?
Usually set in the here and now or in the not too distant past, legends, rumors, and anecdotes, according to Bruvand, are alike in that they recount some remarkable, if not bizarre, events which have supposedly happened to common, ordinary people in common and ordinary situations of day to day living. Traditionally, they are always unverifiable and unprovable incidents or experiences, although they are frequently offered with some validation, and are used to explain strange, and occasionally even frightening, phenomena. Like nearly all folklore, legends, rumors, and anecdotes are passed along orally; with their main purpose being to inform and warn.
2. How do legends differ from myths?
Myths are considered to be truthful accountings of something which has occurred in the remote past. They are usually religious in nature, involve God, gods, heroes and/or animals, and are typically regarded as being sacred. They are often narratives of activities that deal with providing explanations regarding the creation of the world and its inhabitants, and transmit culturally meaningful stories about the universe, the natural and supernatural worlds, and man’s place within them.
Legends, however, differ in that they are normally set in the recent or historical past, are usually secular, although they can be religious or have religious undertones, and generally recount events that involve humans. Whereas myths tend to be more serious and are characterized as explanations of how and why things are the way they are, legends, on the other hand, frequently come across as entertaining while offering some sort of moral instruction on how we should or should not behave.
Additionally, myths appear to be somewhat stable in their narrative and in their origins, and can often be traced back hundreds, if not thousands of years, unlike legends which, according to Bruvand, are usually migratory and circulated in cycles. Consequently, as legends are repeated over and over again, they are frequently embellished, and adapted to suit the location in which they are currently being told.
3. Give two examples of a "validating formula" you have heard.
Until this past week, I had never given any thought as to just how frequently "validating formulas" are used in our every day conversation, but as of late, it seems as if I am hearing them all the time. Although, I am sure this is probably due more to my new awareness or consciousness of what a "validating formula" is, there can be little doubt that we all use them without even realizing we are doing so. For example, while engaged in an argumentative discussion regarding the Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky situation with a somewhat opinionated but intellectual acquaintance of mine, I could not help but to stifle a snicker when he got a bit huffy and puffy with me as he blurted out, "Well, according to CNN’s Pat Buchannan, who got it straight from the White House...." In other words, since it was coming from Mr. Know It All Buchannan and the esteemed news channel, CNN, my acquaintance’s recanting of a statement made on the show, had to be true even though the statement itself was pure contradiction.
Then there is the one I heard while waiting in line at Taco Bell, about the teacher at COS. It appears that he was telling his class about a person he knows personally who lives in Mt. Shasta. Now, as the story goes, this person who this teacher knows, had become quite ill, and finally after much persuasion by his friends, sought the attention of a medical doctor. Upon completion of a thorough examination including the hair, which by the way, was braided in long dreadlocks and had not been washed for quite some time, the person was instructed that in order to cure what was ailing him, it would be necessary for him to shave off all of his hair. Of course, as luck would have it, this teacher just happened to be in the same barber shop at the same time as this other person was, when suddenly there was a loud scream from the barber. From what the teacher told his class, apparently this person’s head was crawling with black widow spiders. But here’s the real clincher; I just happen to KNOW the teacher who everyone says, "told this story," and since I can’t imagine that he would lie to a whole classroom, especially a classroom that I was sitting in at the time, this one has to be true.
However, I think the following anecdote has got to have the best "validation formula" I’ve heard yet. My fourteen year old son has a female friend of the same age, who, in the 9 years I have known her, is incapable of speaking to you about anyone or anything without coming across as condescending. Recently, I happened to "overhear" (as Mom’s occasionally do) a conversation taking place about a rumor that involved a family we all know. As my son tried to get a word in edge wise on behalf of the family involved, the young lady tossed her head back as she thrust her hip to the side and placed both of her hands at her waist in frustration. "Michael," she said patronizingly to my son while drawing in a deep breath, "it is definitely true because I heard my mom and dad talking about them, and they heard it from our minister, and he heard it from God...." So be it. How much more validation can there be than this?
4. Explain what a "memorate" is.
A memorate is a narrative of a supernatural experience as told by the person who the experience happened to. For example, there are thousands, perhaps even hundreds of thousands, of stories about supernatural experiences with Quija Boards. When these stories are told by the person or person’s who they happened to, they become memorates. Our Bruvand text goes on to explain that there can also be secular memorates, in which extraordinary non-supernatural personal experiences have occurred, and proto-memorates, that may provide background information for legends. Memorates, in general then, are first-hand descriptions of personal experiences with the supernatural.
5. (A) Elevator Urban Legend...
With regards to this particular event, it is very easy to see why people would believe that it actually happened; in fact, the first time I heard it, albeit the event took place at a well known restaurant in San Francisco and the black man was none other than O.J. Simpson, I believed it to be true. It wasn’t until the teller of the story started laughing at me, that I realized I had been had. First of all, to begin answering the questions as put forth, one must look at the society we live in. The papers and news hours are filled with stories of male perpetrators committing violent acts of rape and murder against women, regardless of their age, who find themselves in situations where they are alone. And like it or not, black men have certainly received a bad rap in that they are frequently accused, "blamed" and held suspect for many of the crimes committed and for those that the police cannot solve. This, accompanied with the year long televising of the O.J. Simpson saga involving the unsolved murder and mayhem of his wife and her friend, in addition to the clever skill of the storyteller, make the narrative prose in this type of urban legend that much more believable.
Second, having grown up and attended school in an area where there was a large Black population, it was often difficult to understand some of the dialect used by different Black people. Mistaking "floor" for "four" would not be unusual, and in fact, such mistakes were often pointed out and "made fun of" by other Blacks, as well as us "Whiteys."
Therefore, being an elderly white woman, and finding oneself in an elevator, all alone except for the company of a large black man, would certainly lend credence to the story. Whether the black man was O.J. Simpson, Richard Pryor, or Michael Jordan is unimportant. It is the idea that the man is big and black, and that the woman is elderly and white, and that they are alone in an elevator, that carries the legend. When the man shouts or, as in your story bellows, "Hit da four," it only makes sense, that this is exactly what one would do. God knows I certainly would have, and I have a feeling that many a white male would probably do the same, even though they most likely, would never admit to it.
As the story goes, the black man winds up being a celebrity and a kind and sympathetic one at that, so all ends well. This is not hard to buy into either, in fact, I think there are probably a lot of nice people out there who do nice things for other folks, we just never hear about them. We would much rather hold our stereotypical images that seem to be so ingrained in our brains. And why do we continue to hold onto these beliefs despite contradictory evidence? Most likely this is due to two main reasons, the first is called fear, and the second, humiliation.
We are all afraid of what we do not know and do not understand, and we are often even more afraid of trying to know and understand, since truth has been known to bring about more fear and more pain. We fill our lives with "buts" and "what ifs," and even when evidence is offered to refute certain beliefs we may hold, we fall back on the "buts" and "what ifs" over and over again, until we have lost site of the truth. After all, it’s a well-known proverb that states, "Let sleeping dogs lie," and far too often, that is exactly the choice we make. Our excuses become our safety zones and the older we get, the more difficult it becomes to venture out of those zones. Why stir up trouble when there is enough trouble in the world already?
Likewise, our aversion to humiliation does not allow us to admit to our failings and therefore, like fear, becomes something else we human beings seem to be incapable of dealing with. No one likes to be duped, made a fool of, or humiliated, especially in front of other people, so we choose to stick to our beliefs, rather than admit that we might be wrong. Once again, we close ourselves up in that safety zone, and rather than risk pain or injury to our own self esteem, we sit and watch, and do nothing at all, while others bear the burdens of suffering caused by our own insecurities. Consequently, I think we would rather believe a story such as this rather than to admit that we have been "had" or even worse, that the outcome could have been very different. Hidden between the lines of the elevator urban legend, is a story that tells us a lot about the fears that have been derived from "stereotyping" and about the types of values and beliefs our culture has participated in at the expense of others.
5. (B) Another Urban Legend...
This piece is straight out of our local newspaper The Siskiyou Daily News. It ran in the April 22, 1998 edition and is from the Ann Landers column:
Why I Fired My Secretary
I woke up early, feeling depressed because it was my birthday, and
I thought, "I’m another year older," but decided to make the best of it. So I
showered and shaved, knowing when I went down to breakfast my wife
would greet me with a big kiss and say, "Happy Birthday, dear."
All smiles, I went in to breakfast, and there sat my wife, reading her
newspaper, as usual. So I got myself a cup of coffee, made some toast
and thought to myself, "Oh well, she forgot. The kids will be down in a few
minutes, smiling and happy, and they will sing, ‘Happy Birthday,’ and have a
nice gift for me."
There I sat, enjoying my coffee, and I waited. Finally, the kids came
running into the kitchen, yelling, "Give me a slice of toast! I’m going to miss
the bus!" Feeling more depressed than ever, I left for the office.
When I walked into the office, my secretary greeted me with a great
big smile and a cheerful, "Happy Birthday, boss." She then asked if she could
get me some coffee. Her remembering my birthday made me feel a whole
lot better. Later in the morning, my secretary knocked on my office door
and said, "Since it’s your birthday, why don’t we have lunch together?"
Thinking it would make me feel better, I said, "That’s a good idea."
So we locked up the office, and since it was my birthday, I said,
"Why don’t we drive out of town and have lunch in the country instead of
going to the usual place?" So we drove out of town and went to a little out of
the way inn and had a couple of martinis and a nice lunch. We started driving
back to town, when my secretary said, "Why don’t we go to my place, and I
will fix you another martini?" It sounded like a good idea since we didn’t have
much to do in the office.
So we went to her apartment, and she fixed us some martinis. After
a while, she said, "If you will excuse me, I think I will slip into something more
comfortable," and she left the room.
In a few minutes, she opened her bedroom door and came out
carrying a big birthday cake. Following her were my wife and all my kids.
And there I sat with nothing on but my socks.
Now, in all honesty, I must admit that Ann Landers did precede this letter with a note of her own which was in reply to the original letter she had received requesting the reprint. It reads:
When that piece originally appeared, I tried, without success, to
track down the author. It was a big hit with office workers around the
country. I am delighted to print it again--on national Secretary’s Day.
Although I am not a big fan of Ann Landers, occasionally, if I am up real early in the morning having my coffee, for lack of better things to read, I’ll grab the paper and skim over the columns and ads that I normally don’t bother with, including the Dear Ann Landers articles. Having read this particular one at that time, I remember having found it amusing, and even sharing it with my hubby. After that, I presume that paper, like all the rest of our papers was tossed into the recycle pile and taken out; the column long gone and forgotten. That is until this week, when I was once again reminded of it.
While doing the required reading on Legends And Anecdotes in our textbook, on page 210 Bruvand cites several examples of urban legends. My first surprise came when he talked about the Neiman Marcus cookie recipe; my second feeling of wonder was when he cited the episodes in which Super-glue is used to bond certain parts of the body together, only to be followed by my third moment of astonishment, in which he states,
"A cycle of ‘nude surprise party’ stories describes a
businessman misunderstanding the secretive arrangements of his girlfriend
or secretary for a dinner party at her home; he removes his clothes in
anticipation of lovemaking only to discover that the event is really a surprise
welcome-home party or an office party thrown in his honor."
Ouch. Suddenly, and I might add, feeling pretty gullible and foolish, I remembered that over the last several months, I have read Ann Landers’ columns regarding all three of the above, but it is this last one that sent me to the Siskiyou Daily News building in Yreka to search out the article so that I might use it in this paper. With my blinders removed, it has now become quite clear and obvious, that both the Ann Landers column as well as the "Letter’s to the Editor" section, are often great carriers of urban legends. So why do we fall prey for this kind of stuff?
First of all, these letters or stories are printed in the newspaper. That alone, for many people, even though it may be an unconscious conclusion, gives them some validation. Second, this particular urban legend, not unlike several others, sounds plausible. People are caught in embarrassing, and often illegal or illicit, situations all the time. This incident certainly starts out innocent enough, but by the time it gets to the end, the web has been spun, the reader or listener as victims have been drawn in, only to find themselves anxiously contemplating the finish. Third, there’s no doubt that a story like this is not only humorous, but a little entertaining, as well. It does not take much imagination to picture this entire scenario taking place, right down to the guy sitting there, ready and waiting, in nothing but his socks (even as I write this I can’t help but snicker while envisioning the fool’s surprise). Finally, there is that nasty little side in all of us that enjoys witnessing "bad" people getting caught in the act.
As Bruvand points out, urban legends are cautionary tales. Despite contradictory evidence that supports the falseness of the majority of these stories, even if they are not true, they certainly could be true, therefore we continue to hold onto the belief that at some point, they were or are true. While almost all of these legends carry some sort of warning with them by pointing out what could or did happen to the guilty party, they quickly provide a moral lesson to those who might be contemplating taking a few risks, and since there is certainly no harm in our clinging to the old adage that states, "We all have to have something to believe in," it becomes virtually impossible to persuade people that these events, are in fact, nothing more than the results of someone’s overactive imagination. As long as we want to believe that they are true, they will continue to be so.
Finally, because urban legends make for great oral stories while providing all the things our society so enjoys such as anticipation, suspense, danger, fear, revenge, justice, and occasionally, a good scare, they remain much in demand, which accounts for their ongoing popularity. Not surprisingly then, as long as our cultural values continue to support gossip, fantasy, betrayal, stereotyping, etc., the need for urban legends will persist long after we are gone.
6. A Family Legend...
József and János were almost brothers. They came into this world in the same month of the same year, in the same tiny village frequently inhabited by the Czigány (Hungarian gypsies), and their fathers were related, although it is not for sure, known how. Together, and side by side, the two boys grew up, two sons of two poor horse traders, who were also the sons of poor horse traders, until they had reached the age of decision. With little more than song, drink, dance, and merriment of heart to fill their restless yearnings to wander, József and János, unbeknownst to their families, went off to the city of Munkács to become horsemen of another kind.
Although the two boys were near the age of conscription, most young men from their particular village in the county of Ung, were somehow, always over-looked or told that their service would be much more beneficial to the Emperor Fránz József, if they were to stay at home. However, József and János were not like most young men from their village, and with great determination, they presented themselves before the administrator as two fine specimens for service in the world famous Hungarian army known as the Hussár. Consequently, and as luck would have it, the two young men were not only accepted, but allowed to remain together when they were sent off to the same military encampment to be trained on horseback as cavalry officers.
And what admirable and distinctive officers they became as they excelled in every aspect of their learning and training. It has even been implied by some, that there was something strange and mysterious in the way and ease with which these two men were able to handle any horse upon which they found themselves, almost as if they were in actual communication with the beasts; but this is only rumored to be so. In any event, many months later, when József and János returned to their village for a short visit, they were quite a sight to behold, sitting high atop their thoroughbred stallions in full Hussár regalia, with their long sabers hugged tightly against both horse and man.
As the story goes, during this brief visit, another officer by the name of Lajós, who was not only older, but much higher in rank as well, was visiting in the next village at the same time. Although the three men had never met before, Lajós took it upon himself to not only befriend József and János, but to procure for them an assignment deserving of their talents and skills, although at some distance from their homeland. Since travel was in their nature, the two young officers were very appreciative and eager to be on their way.
Upon their arrival at their new post, they were much surprised to, once again, meet up with their new friend, Lájos, from the neighboring village. Almost immediately, as appeared to be Lájos’ custom, he took the two men under his wing and guidance, even offering to take a portion of their substantial pay home to their families every other month or so. Seeing how both József and János had both wondered about this exact problem of getting money to their families, they could not help but to see this offer from Lájos as an incredible solution to their financial dilemma, and in accepting his kindness and service, showed their gratefulness by reciprocating with a percentage for payment.
Now, this mutual agreement between the three officers worked out well for the next two years, as it was that long before Jószef and János were able to visit the village of their homes and families again. And although Lájos had been transferred to another regiment, he always managed to make time to meet with them for a few rounds of Bull’s Blood (Hungarian wine), and to exchange money and village news. However, to their dismay, upon their eventual return home, things had not gone as well as they had assumed.
It would seem that Lájos had never once gone to the village, nor had any monies ever been received by either family of József or János. In fact, upon further investigation, no one from the neighboring village had ever heard of Lájos, and it appeared that the two young men had become innocent victims of a grand swindle by an envious and jealous comrade. Now fortunately for József and János, Lájos knew nothing of the leave the two had been granted, and upon their return, all three met as usual for the ritual exchange of drink, money, and news.
It is said that when the scattered remains of Lájos were finally located and reassembled in enough form to allow for identification, each limb had been drained of blood, but that his gut was full of the dark, red liquid. Although no accusations or charges were ever brought forth against anyone for the grisly crime, legend has it, that in the small village where József and János came from, for some unknown reason, there was much music, drinking, dancing, and merriment among the Czigány, and to this day, one night per year, a celebration for events unexplained, takes place.
The József in this legend is my great uncle, and although it has never been declared outright, for years and years, there have been many insinuations that my great-grandfather, was indeed, a Czigány, or Gypsy, and that both József and János, were responsible for Lájos’ sudden demise. According to Angus Fraser in his book, The Gypsies, in the Hungary of the 1800s, when this story is alleged to have occurred, there were two classes of people who were "free" to do virtually anything they wanted, these being the nobility and the Gypsies. While the nobility was always considered to be above the law, the Gypsies, on the other hand, were viewed as below the law, and as such, were regarded by most outsiders with fear and trepidation. With ongoing rumors of magic, curses, and other phenomena surrounding the Gypsy, the best outcome for anyone, was to avoid dealing with the Czigány altogether, and for the most part, this remains the case today.
Within our family, there does not seem to be any particular occasion when this story gets retold, but whenever there is drinking and merriment, you can be sure that you will hear it once again. It also seems to be used by parents as a warning to their teen-agers, regarding the outcome of stealing, and in fact, I have heard it said more than once, that although it is not to be looked upon lightly, the killing of another man is usually an accident, but to steal from another person, takes planning and cunning, and is therefore worse than killing. Finally, there are the cautionary morals of the story, such as: 1) "Never trust a stranger," which is often restated as, "Beware the wolf in sheep’s clothing,." or "Beware the thief in Hussár’s clothing," only to be returned with, "Beware the Gypsy in Hussár’s uniform," and 2) "Never, ever trust someone else with your money."
Essentially then, I suppose like most urban legends, this story carries all the things that make it worth retelling, i.e. conspiracy, anticipation, revenge, death, and more important, a feeling that justice was done. However, what really amazes me, is the sense of pride with which the story has been passed within the family, almost to the point where I’m no longer sure if Great-uncle József was a hero or just another legendary hacker.