Life and Family: Legend or Lie? Urban Myths. . . We've All Heard Them. but Where Do They Come from? and Are They to Be Believed? Ian Parri Goes in Search of the Truth

Daily Post (Liverpool, England), July 14, 2004 | Go to article overview

Life and Family: Legend or Lie? Urban Myths. . . We've All Heard Them. but Where Do They Come from? and Are They to Be Believed? Ian Parri Goes in Search of the Truth


Byline: Ian Parri

AN English couple walked into a bar while on holiday in Rhyl or Barmouth, only for everybody to immediately switch from English to Welsh just to cut them off from the hubbub of conversation. So you've heard that unlikely tale before, have you?

OK, how about the one about North Wales Police's traffic department out looking for speeding motorists when their radar gun went haywire, as it started clocking something travelling at an amazing speed? It turned out that they'd started tracking a fighter jet on a training exercise from RAF Valley. What's more, the police heard later that the aircraft's target-seeker had automatically locked onto the ``enemy'' radar, and would have launched a retaliatory missile attack had it not been flying unarmed.

These types of stories are variously known as urban myths or urban legends, tales which the relaters would often like to believe to be true rather than the actual truth. They are usually, but not always, attributed to a ``friend of a friend'', a source sufficiently remote not to be asked to provide confirmation.

This worldwide and age-old phenomenon will come under the academics' microscope next week as delegates from many parts of the globe descend on the University of Wales in Aberystwyth for the 22nd conference of the International Society for Contemporary Legend Research.

Folklorist Dr Mikel J Koven, from the university's department of theatre, film and television studies, is coordinating the event. Admitting to having long held an interest in ``the bizarre'', he says nobody knows for certain what is the catalyst which starts the ripple effect that disseminates and amplifies these legends so successfully.

``The relationship between legend and rumour is quite involved, and what often happens is that a rumour is passed on because it makes cultural sense to the group spreading it. It catches on and becomes legend, '' he says.

``The sociological argument is that when the quantity of news released on something is less than the public's demand for it, they will fill in the blanks. Often the legend is more believable than the truth. ''

There can be few urban legends more enduring than that which suggests rock king Elvis Presley faked his own death in 1977, and is still -- nowadays approaching 70 -- alive and well. He has reportedly been seen all over the world by people whose sanity would otherwise not come into question, including individuals who claim to have spotted him variously selling beefburgers, in supermarkets or out window shopping.

``It's more involved than people just not wanting to believe something, '' says Dr Koven. …

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Life and Family: Legend or Lie? Urban Myths. . . We've All Heard Them. but Where Do They Come from? and Are They to Be Believed? Ian Parri Goes in Search of the Truth
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