No Way of Knowing: Crime, Urban Legends, and the Internet

By Pamela Donovan | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FIVE

Debunkers and their Orbit

This chapter will examine the role that debunkers of urban legends, particularly those who gravitate to debunker-friendly sites on the Internet, have played in shaping the social life of crime legends in the 1990s. It will attempt to understand why debunkers find their enterprise important, how they approach the problem of truth and fiction, and how the collective development of an on-line debunkers’ culture ultimately fails to directly challenge a credulous and fearful culture that surrounds and provokes them. It is based upon my participation and observation during this time (1995-1999) in alt.folklore.urban and the Urban Legends Listserv.

Little has been written in social science to date on Internet news groups and listservs. (Wellman and Gulia, 1999:180, 186-188) 1 They are little societies in their own right; many of the older groups represent a vestige of the Internet’s early days where a highly formalized set of rules for participation reigned. (Donath 1999:30-36) Nonetheless, the culture of news groups is changing rapidly and the urban folklore groups are no exception.


URBAN LEGENDS AND THEIR DEBUNKERS

Debunkers have always played an important role in shaping the social meaning of the urban legend, but their visibility and influence have increased considerably in the last twenty years. A history of popular debunking and of the term, “urban legends” begins with its popularization by Jan Harold Brunvand’s work. Beginning with the publication of The Vanishing Hitchhiker in 1981, a popular audience for the urban legend began to build. By 1999, Brunvand could call his latest collection of tales a “colossal” book of urban legends, reflecting the increased level of interest. Both academic folklore circles, and later general audience readers of Brunvand’s popular works, adopted the term “urban legends” despite the term’s seeming narrow reference to cities. “Urban” is used in the sense of a modern and complex society; another variation used mainly among British folklorists is “contemporary legend” although the former still seems to dominate in academic folklore studies, likely due to its adoption by media sources who relied almost exclusively upon Brunvand as an expert up through the mid-1990s. Brunvand

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No Way of Knowing: Crime, Urban Legends, and the Internet
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Preface vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Chapter One - Introduction 1
  • Chapter Two - The Market in Snuff Films 27
  • Chapter Three - Stolen Body Parts 61
  • Chapter Four - Shopping Mall and Theme Park Abduction Legends 85
  • Chapter Five - Debunkers and Their Orbit 111
  • Chapter Six - Crime Legends and the Role of Belief 133
  • Chapter Seven - Crime Legends, Protection, and Fear 157
  • Chapter Eight - A Summary 189
  • Appendix 1 197
  • Appendix 2 201
  • Notes 203
  • Bibliography 217
  • Index 229
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