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

By Pamela Donovan | Go to book overview

CHAPTER EIGHT

A Summary

I hope this study has begun to examine the shape that folklore can take in a new medium. The specific social life of crime legends in this setting points to broader cultural strains. In the current study, ambiguity and a sense of social breakdown characterize the talk around the text itself. The former, ambiguity, is a consistent finding throughout the history of rumor studies; the latter, social breakdown, is consistent with the small and more recent literature about informal talk about crime.

These themes are united by a loss of cultural authority that characterizes the current scene, affecting both the form and content of crime legends. Since the time of the apex of rumor studies, in the immediate post-World War II era, the object of study itself has shifted as has the atmosphere in which it has flourished. This atmosphere includes a surge in both crime rates and rapid changes in the informational ecology of Western countries, particularly the United States. Both have affected the ways in which crime folklore is defined, deployed, and debunked. This situation is likely reflective of the more general way in which the relationships made between people and information have also been drastically altered.

I hope the study herein has suggested that belief and disbelief, in interlocutory settings, are complicated by different styles of belief and skepticism. It is likely that other interlocutory settings are also so characterized; however, this has not been emphasized in existing literature.

As for the content of crime legends, they appear to fulfill a function not met by existing media treatments, although the latter, too, has expanded and diversified. This function is to tame the threat of victimization, and it does so in a number of interrelated ways. First, it depicts violent crime as more complex than it generally tends to be, and something to which arcane knowledge and hypervigilance can be successfully applied. Secondly, when the crime legend is understood as a practice, it can be seen to mediate between the solipsism of individualistic crime prevention, and social solidarity through warning. Rebuke of the less-than-hypervigilant is never far behind.

-189-

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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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