Imagine chomping away at a delicious bowl of fast-food from a well known fast-food chain, and suddenly biting into something a little more ’meaty’ than your meal should contain. On closer inspection you realise this ’meaty’ object is sporting a fingernail. How bout munching on some spectacularly fried chicken nuggets and discovering a nugget that looks suspiciously similar to a nugetised chicken head.
In a society where we are increasingly uninvolved in the production, processing and even preparation of the food we eat, it is natural that there would be certain distrust for the outlets we purchase our food from. Both of the scenarios mentioned above are well known ’urban food legends’ and have -thankfully- proven to be completely untrue.
Anna Ayala and Jaime Placencia were both convicted for what has become known as the Wendy’s chilli finger incident earlier this year. It turns out the couple planted the finger in the hopes of making some money out of the well known fast-food chain.
The KFC ’chicken head nugget’ was a hoax email, which circulated last year and has since been proven false. Many large chains have lost millions of dollars in sales due to similar targeted attacks by urban legend hoaxers.
’Urban Legend’ as a term only really came about in the 30’s and 40’s, but has existed in some form or another for thousands of years. ’Urban Legends’ cannot be classified as mythology as these stories are about real people in semi-believable situations. Instead they are viewed as the modernised version of the traditional folktale.
Most cultures around the world have cultivated indigenous folktales which exist alongside -or instead of- recorded history. Whereas history is meticulous about the facts and the recording of sources, folktales are characterised by their ’oral’ nature.
Traditionally folktales are the passing of stories or information through word of mouth. As in most oral traditions, the storyteller adds new embellishments and twists to a story relayed to them by a previous storyteller.
On the other hand the circulation of ’urban legends’ has steadily evolved in the past ten years due to the accessibility of the internet. The most common distribution method being e-mail alerts. With e-mail the ’urban legend’ is not changed only forwarded.
This lends an air of legitimacy to the story, even though one still doesn’t know the original author; it still seems as if they’re speaking directly to you. It is often difficult to spot a hoax, although a clear warning -specifically related to e-mail forwarding- is if there’s no address to send the list to when it is completed. If a message begins with "this is not a hoax or urban legend," it more than likely is. Another thing to keep in mind is the fact that it is technically impossible to track forwarded e-mails. Therefore e-mail offering rewards for the number of e-mails forwarded are in fact rubbish.
Urban legends seem to have a life of their own, creeping through society one person at a time. And like a real life form, they adapt to changing conditions. It will always be human nature to tell bizarre stories, and there will always be an audience waiting to believe them.
"Urban Legends" -like old European folktales- focus on society’s fears, whereas they were warned about going too deep into the forest or witches, we are warned about terrorist attacks or gang initiations. We do, however, have some fears in common with our forefathers, point and case the fear of food contamination -an example- snow white and the seven dwarves.