Urban Legends and Cautionary Tales Not Just Silly Fiction
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Urban Legends and Cautionary Tales Not Just Silly Fiction

important stories, cautionary tales, urban legend, urban narrative, why cautionary tales are important, urban legends are not just silly fiction, urban legends and cautionary tales

Most urban legends aren't just ridiculous, fictitious tales. Usually, urban legends are full of very strong warnings to an intended, targetted audience. Even if these warnings aren't spoken loudly and plainly in the narrative, most urban legends emote what people truly fear in general society. The exact purpose and message may be embedded and quite covertly placed within the tale, but the intended effect of a warning is usually well-felt by listeners. For instance, tales about young couples who seclude themselves away at lover's lanes and end up meeting with disaster or even death - these tales are "cautionary" in nature. There's a whole sub-genre of these tale types under the "cautionary tale" category, just because these tales and their versions are so numerous.

In the case of cautionary tales, the targetted audience is often youth - teenagers or children. Most tales which target younger youth (pre-teen, young teen, ages 11-15 or so) are about misjudgment and miscalculations about decision-making, mistakes in who to trust, and about vanity. Examples of these are the young babysitter stories where the babysitter is away from home, babysitting another family's children and something bad happens such as a stalker gets into the house, a freak accident with a child being babysat - or more commonly - the babysitter is required to perform a grown-up task in the home and messes this up because of lack of experience. These are commonly known as "Caller in The House," "Baby in the Washer," and by other titles. There is more about adult fears in these stories than there is about the abilities of pre-teens and teenagers. As well, the stories directly coincide with a time of development for the youth where childhood games are starting to be left behind for more responsibilities that come with increasing age.  

An example of the vanity tale, usually told to young teens, is the story where a teen is so wrapped up in trying to be hip, popular and fashionable that she (usually a female, but not always) employs some untested and strange remedy for hair styling and hair care. Due to her age, her parents either disallow her to wear a certain style or say she's not old enough and mature enough for them to spend money on certain very expensive hair products, cuts or styles. In turn, the rebellious teen proceeds with implementing a remedy overheard by a questionable source. This usually means a home-made hair styling concoction which, in some way, returns bad effects such as making the teen's hair permanently dyed, making her hair fall out, something which causes insects or rodents to be attracted to the teen's hair. Many available versions are even more severe whereby the home remedy ends with the teen's death. Death by poisoning from the home remedy, death by insect stings - the story versions are numerous but all involve one unmistakable feature - they're all macabre! They're designed to shock and disturb the listener.

People are more likely to tell cautionary tales against sexual conduct to older youth and young adults. These are tales like the "Hook Man," and "The Dead Boyfriend," whereby in each of the tales, a young couple has gone to a lover's lane for some one on one privacy. In both tales, a stalker or madman of some sort happens to be in the general area where the young couple has parked. In the "Hook" tale, usually there's a macabre but short series of events which brings both teens home safely - without having accomplished the act of sexual intercourse. In "The Dead Boyfriend," one of the partners ends up dead in a very gruesome manner. In either case, no sexual acts occur and the caution against pre-marital sex is an underlying theme within the tale, no matter how extraordinary the events become within the narrative structure. It can be argued that certaintly, The Hook Myth and Parental Control are closely linked - but it may be that for some urban legends, parental control may be an over reaching motive for many of these tales.

Although these tales work on only a small minority of listeners, to dissuade teens away from acts of vanity and sexual experimentation, the tales are interesting and important for people to study. They reflect the extent to which parents in certain societies have anxiety over their kids leaving home, detaching from the nuclear family and attaching to a life partner outside of the usual family structure. Vanity tales are also about parental fear surrounding the development of children: "is my child capable of looking after other peoples' children - is my child ready - am I making my child grow up and take on adult responsibilities too fast?" As well, vanity tales are usually about rebellion and respect - and parental anxiety over moderation of these things in the home.

It is better to take a look into what themes run through an urban legend and examine these themes - rather than to pass each urban legend or most urban legends off as just silly fictional items. Every story needs a witness/listener as well as a story teller. The fact that these tales keep existing, even when consistently proven to be tales of fiction, is also something interesting to think about. The tales wouldn't exist anymore if people didn't feel the need to tell them. The tales also can't continue to exist without an audience. The two (narrator and listener) are interactive and interconnected. The stories exist because they mean something, not necessarily because they are "true."

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Comments (5)

Fascinating. I love the old urban myhts. I never really thought of them as being more than twist-in-the-tale type yarns.

I enjoy reading urban legends too. You've done an excellent post about it and I enjoyed reading this. Too bad I ran out of votes but I did buzz it up :)

retweeted..please add me on Twitter http://twitter.com/2simplyoj Interesting urban legends..

Thanks for buzzing up, AJ Galvez. I'm glad you found the post decent and that you enjoyed it. "Member" thank you for your comments. I'm glad you realize urban legends aren't just "fiction." Simplyoj, thx for tweeting. I appreciate that - and I will add you to my twitter. Thanks, all, for stopping by, reading and commenting. Much appreciated.

I tried to add you on Twitter, Simplyroj - no luck. Thx for reading and commenting here tho'